Clay Matthews will need to be a difference maker in this matchup for the Packers to win (packers.com)

Wild Card Preview: Packers at Redskins

#5 Green Bay (10-6) @ #4 Washington (9-7)
FedEx Field in Landover, Maryland
Sunday, January 10th at 3:40 p.m. CT (FOX)

Welcome to the 2016 playoffs, where Kirk Cousins and his NFC East Champion Washington Redskins are hosting the NFC Wild Card Green Bay Packers. You know, just as everyone expected. Green Bay’s roller coaster of a regular season came to a disappointing close with a loss at home to Minnesota for the NFC North title. The team finished 4-6 in their last 10 games after a celebrated 6-0 start and their inconsistent play has resulted in a round one road playoff game.

The Washington Redskins, meanwhile, won five of their last six games and rattled off four straight wins to end their surprisingly successful season. Few expected Washington to be in contention for the playoffs, let alone win the division. Now, the Redskins put themselves in position only 11 other teams are in – a chance to hoist the Lombardi Trophy.

Injury Report

Packers inactives: QB Brett Hundley, CB Sam Shields, T David Bakhtiari, G Josh Walker, TE Justin Perillo, TE Kennard Backman, and LB Jayrone Elliott.

Quinten Rollins will start at cornerback for Shields and J.C. Tretter will start at left tackle for Bakhtiari. Both did not play last week, but these are huge losses for the Packers, who will need stability at both positions in order to win against Washington.

Key Matchups

Micah Hyde vs. Jordan Reed – Dom Capers loves using Micah Hyde’s size to shadow the opponents’ most lethal tight end. Schemes are going to be mixed and matched but expect the majority of coverage on Jordan Reed to be played by Micah Hyde. Reed has taken his game to another level this year, tying Rob Gronkowski for second in touchdowns by tight ends (11). His speed, size, and ability to separate off the snap makes him a matchup nightmare and has opened the field for the rest of the offense. Hyde had has his struggles against tight ends but has shown recent success, holding Kyle Rudolph to zero catches last week. Slowing down Reed will be the key to slowing down the Redskins offense but much of that success will be predicated on the Packers’ pass rush, which leads to the next key matchup.

Packers’ pass rush vs. Kirk Cousins – This game will be won at the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. Defensively, expect Dom Capers to be aggressive getting after Kirk Cousins in hopes of creating opportunities for his defense to force turnovers. Cousins has done a fairly good job protecting the football with only 11 interceptions, but he’s lost five fumbles and had four games with two interceptions. The Redskins’ rushing attack has averaged only 3.7 yards/attempt so the bread and butter of Washington’s offense resides in their ability to pass the ball downfield. Clay Matthews will have a big role in both pass rushing and coverage as he hopes to get his hands on the ball. Collapsing the pocket and forcing Cousins to get rid of the ball quickly will be the key for Green Bay’s defense.

Packers O-Line vs. Redskins Front 7 – Again, winning at the point of attack on the line is the point of emphasis in Washington. The Washington defense is extremely vulnerable to the run allowing an average of 4.8 yards/carry, tied for 31st in the NFL. Success starts up front with the offensive line. They must be better than they have in recent weeks and the effectiveness of the line will ride on how Tretter performs in Bakhtiari’s place. In order to open up the pass game for Rodgers, the run needs to be established early and often with a mix of Eddie Lacy and James Starks. Expect to see more Lacy than Starks due to Starks’ issues protecting the ball (Washington is tied for first in fumbles forced and recovered), but the change of pace still maintains its value.

Numbers to Know

5 – Both Washington and Green Bay are +5 in the turnover differential on the year.

8.9 – Kirk Cousins has a passer rating (101.6) 8.9 points better than Aaron Rodgers (92.7), as well as a QBR 5.2 points better than Rodgers (70.1 compared to Rodgers’ 64.9).

18 – Packers wide receiver James Jones has been the lone deep threat with 18 catches of 20+ yards this season. If Green Bay is looking for big shots, expect Jones to be the target.

31 – This is Green Bay’s 31st postseason appearance, which is tied for the most in NFL history (New York Giants).

Prediction

Who would have thought taking Kirk Cousins and the Redskins to win a playoff game over Aaron Rodgers and the Packers would be the safe bet? Right now, that’s the case. There aren’t many Green Bay believers left out there, except for inside the locker room where players have radiated confidence heading into the Wild Card round. I believe for the Packers to win this game they will need a non-offensive touchdown, be it a special teams return TD or defensive TD.

Too many close games have been lost because the offense could not finish drives at the end of games. These are games that should have been won. Poor situational football in crunch time is what put Green Bay at 10-6 and a 5th seed instead of 11 or 12 wins and a possible first-round bye. My gut tells me this is another one of those close games that the offense won’t keep pace with Kirk Cousins and time will run out on yet another comeback opportunity. Unless the Packers can score in ways other than their offense, I believe they will fall short of first round victory and head into the offseason with an all-around disappointing year.

Final Score: Redskins 27, Packers 23


Photo: Packers.com

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