Given the Vikings-Packers rematch of Sunday's classic season finale and the Russell Wilson-Robert Griffin III showdown, the NFC certainly has the more intriguing matchups during wild-card weekend.
In fact, between Wilson, Griffin, Andrew Luck, Christian Ponder, Colin Kaepernick and Andy Dalton, half of the quarterbacks in the playoffs this season are either rookies or in their second season. Four of the six are in the NFC bracket, so get ready for what should be an unpredictable ride.
Here's a breakdown of the first-round NFC matchups:
Minnesota Vikings (10-6) at Green Bay Packers (11-5)
Keys for the Vikings: They are a throwback team of sorts, an offense that starts with the running game. That, of course, is Adrian Peterson, who in two games against the Packers this season has 409 rushing yards as part of his total of 2,097. That said, the growth of second-year QB Christian Ponder has been phenomenal over the past quarter of the season. Ponder came up with three critical plays in the second half against the Packers in the season finale to get the Vikings to the playoffs.
Keys for the Packers: When you have perhaps the best quarterback in the league in Aaron Rodgers, there is one really important point of emphasis – get a turnover or two to get him an extra possession, particularly one in good field position. The Packers' secondary has been inconsistent all season and missed a couple of chances to pick off Ponder in the season finale. Beyond that, the Packers weren't always sharp, committing three false-start penalties and burning timeouts.
Bottom line: The Packers are the better team in this matchup and have home-field advantage. That should be enough to carry them, particularly if Rodgers continues to play the way he did on Sunday in Minnesota. That said, this is a tougher matchup than most would expect. The Packers are probably not too happy about having to play a first-round game after blowing the No. 2 seed in the NFC.
Prediction: Packers 31, Vikings 17
Seattle Seahawks (11-5) at Washington Redskins (10-6)
Keys for the Seahawks: While the Seahawks went on a nice scoring binge at the end of the season (150 points in three games) and rookie quarterback Russell Wilson has been sensational, this team still leans on its defense and running back Marshawn Lynch to set the tone. The defense gets cornerback Brandon Browner back, giving it perhaps the best corner tandem in the league. The issue for Seattle is that it generally hasn't played well on the road (3-5 this season and two wins were by less than a touchdown).
Keys for the Redskins: Inspired by the play of quarterback Robert Griffin III, Washington has become a symbol of the wide-open type of offense that has taken over the league. Griffin is a matchup problem for even the best defenses, testing the discipline of defenders to remain focused on their assignments. He can beat defenses with his legs or his arm. Moreover, he has to do that for Washington to survive because the Redskins' defense is not particularly good.
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Bottom line: Wilson vs. Griffin has the early makings of one of the great rivalries in NFL history. Sure, it's early, but these two look like they're on a different level. While Griffin is a great runner, Wilson has special talent in that regard as well, but is just more selective about when he takes off. This could be the best game of the first round.
Prediction: Seahawks 24, Redskins 20
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