Green Bay Packers (-1, 45 o/u) at Washington Redskins
I wasn’t in the locker room of the Green Bay Packers (10-6, 5-3 Away) or the Washington Redskins (9-7, 6-2 Home) last weekend; but I would have to imagine both teams were breathing a sigh of relief after getting matched up with one another in the playoffs. Each side has reason to be optimistic about their chances this weekend, which is why the final game of Wild Card Weekend (4:40 PM Eastern, Sunday, Jan. 9, at FedEx Field) should be the closest of the quartet.
Against Minnesota, Green Bay was getting manhandled at the line of scrimmage all night, yet came very close to tying the game late in a 20-13 loss. But even if the Packers had pulled that one out, they couldn’t have felt good about a rematch with the Vikings, who held them to just 76 yards rushing and sacked Aaron Rodgers five times. Washington’s defense is solid, but nowhere near Minnesota’s level.
For the Redskins, relief comes in the form of not having to play the Seahawks this weekend. Not only have the defending NFC champs rounded into form in the second half of the season, they are responsible for Washington’s last three playoff losses (2005, 2007, and 2012).
Washington actually opened the week as the favorites in this game, which made sense the way these two teams played down the stretch. The ‘Skins won their last four games, allowing the NFC East representative to enter the playoffs with a somewhat respectable 9-7 record. The offense was especially potent in the final quarter of the year, averaging 32.8 points per game.
The Packers opened the year like gangbusters, racing out to a 6-0 start. But a 29-10 loss to the Broncos quickly went from “anomaly” to “harbinger of things to come.” Green Bay’s offense sucked in the second half as they closed the year out 4-6 (which could have easily been 3-7 were a Hail Mary not answered) and slid into the playoffs as a five-seed.
It’s understandable that bettors would rush to an Aaron Rodgers-led team that’s getting points in the postseason. The best quarterback in the game is 6-4-1 against the spread in his playoff career. However, this has not been the usual Aaron Rodgers season. Without his top pass-catching option Jordy Nelson, Rodgers hasn’t been able to get in a rhythm with his other receivers. In fact, you could argue the quarterback who will stand across the field from him on Sunday had a much better season: I’m sure he’d “like that!”
Finally getting the reins to the offense in his fourth season, Kirk Cousins rode that horse all the way to the top of Redskin record books. Cousins had the most passing yards (4,166) and highest completion percentage (69.8) in the franchise’s 84-year history, leading the team back to the playoffs for the first time since he was the backup QB in his rookie year.
Cousins can’t get all the credit though; he’s surrounded by some nice offensive weapons. Tight end Jordan Reed had a breakout campaign with 952 yards and 11 TDs, while rookie receiver Jamison Crowder also emerged as a playmaker worthy of slotting in between Pierre Garcon and DeSean Jackson. Together, they should be trouble for a Packer defense that is average on its best day, and is thoroughly hurting entering this game.
Cornerbacks Sam Shields and Damarious Randall are just a couple of the 18 players on the Green Bay injury report this week. Once again it looks like the Packers will need Clay Matthews and Julius Peppers to make the most of their plays on the defensive side of the ball if this one is going to stay close.
As for the Packer offense, they’ll keep their fingers crossed that the ground game shows up this week. The team finished 12th in the league in rushing, but consistency was not the strongest part of Eddie Lacy and James Starks’ game: in the last six, the Packers as a team averaged 6.3, 2.8, 5.2, 3.7, 3.9, and 2.9 yards per rush.
Green Bay could have success running the ball, but it’s far less likely if they’re running behind a patchwork offensive line, which may be the case this Sunday. (Six of those 18 players on the injury report are offensive lineman.)
That also means Ryan Kerrigan (9.5 sacks) and Preston Smith (eight sacks) should be in Rodgers’ face all afternoon, helping a so-so Washington pass defense against a so-so group of Packer receivers. It will likely also mean more takeaways by a Washington D that had 26 on the season from a Green Bay offense that had eight in their last three games.
The Redskins went 9-5 ATS this season as an underdog and 5-3 as a home team. The Packers went 4-2 ATS as a road favorite and are straight-up winners in five of their last six against Washington.
A month ago, when every team in the NFC East was two games under .500 and looking miserable, you might have laughed at the notion of putting money on the division winner against the Packers. But looking at the matchup in light of recent events, it’s pretty clear the smart money lies with the home team.
This one’s for you, Kirk Cousins: I like that! I like the ‘Skins.
Pick: Redskins (+1).
(Photo Credit: Keith Allison (Originally uploaded to Flickr. Photo has been cropped.)[https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/])
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