It’s almost that time. The Redskins on Sunday will make their long-awaited return to the playoffs, hosting the Seattle Seahawks at 4:30 p.m.
It’s a rematch of the Redskins’ last playoff game – a 35-14 loss at Seattle in the wild-card round – but much has changed since then, and Washington’s players expect a different outcome.
Despite hosting the game, the Redskins are three-point underdogs.
They’ll try continue the high level of play that saw them reel off seven consecutive victories to win the NFC East and reach the postseason. Meanwhile, Seattle looks to extend a hot streak of their own, having won five straight games.
Here are five storylines to follow in this game:
1. Rookie quarterbacks – Two of the most impressive rookie quarterbacks the league has seen, Robert Griffin III and Russell Wilson, go head-to-head and look to continue their stellar campaigns. Griffin has completed 258 of 393 pass attempts for 3,200 yards, 20 touchdowns and just five interceptions. He also has rushed for 815 yards and seven touchdowns. Meanwhile, Wilson has completed 252 of 393 passes for 3,118 yards, 26 touchdowns and 10 interceptions while rushing for 489 yards and four touchdowns. Wilson and Griffin are the first rookies in league history to post passer ratings of 100 or better. Both are hard to contain and do a great job of throwing on the run. Both are threats to take off and pick up big chunks of yardage on the ground. Griffin didn’t have his strongest passing performance last week against Dallas, but will need to be better this week. Both quarterbacks will face stiff pressure from aggressive defenses. Griffin always likes to point out that he’s playing against the opposing defense and not the quarterback. But, this could be an impressive shoot-out.
2. Rushing attacks – The similarities between these teams continue. Alfred Morris last week overtook Seattle’s Marshawn Lynch for second place in the league’s rushing standings. Morris has rushed for 1,613 yards and 13 touchdowns while Lynch rushed for 1,590 yards and 11 touchdowns. Lynch is more of a complete back as he is used more in the passing game as well. But Morris boasts more big-play ability with 55 runs of 10 yards or more (second in the NFL). Washington and Seattle both run zone-blocking schemes and love to pound the ball. Both teams will look to establish the run first and ease pressure on their quarterbacks while also ensuring balance. The defense that does the better job of containing either of these workhorses has a very good chance of seeing their team come out victorious.
3. Secondaries – The Seahawks own one of the most talented collection of defensive backs in the league. Their cornerbacks are big and physical and love to use their long arms to jam receivers at the line and disrupt opponents’ passing games. The Redskins, meanwhile, have seen their share of struggles before showing significant improvements since the bye week. The Seahawks, who rank sixth against the pass, are led by Richard Sherman, who has eight interceptions this season. They get their other starting cornerback, Brandon Browner (three interceptions) back from a four-game suspension an look to limit the big-play potential of Pierre Garcon and his fellow Redskins receivers. Meanwhile, DeAngelo Hall, Josh Wilson and Washington’s defensive backs are coming off of their best game of the year and look to carry that performance over into this game. They’ll have to limit the production of Sidney Rice and Golden Tate, who both average better than 15 yards a catch and have seven receiving touchdowns apiece this season. Safety play has been an area of weakness for the Redskins, and Jim Haslett could have to do even more mixing and matching this week with Madieu Williams and DeJon Gomes both battling injury this week. The Redskins get Cedric Griffin back from suspension and hope his size and aggressive style of play gives them an extra spark.
4. Home-field advantage – The Redskins never were able to get past the Seahawks when they faced them for playoff games in Seattle in 2005 and 2007. Now the Seahawks come to them, and waiting to greet them is what figures to be a rowdy Redskins crowd that is elated to pack into FedEx Field for a playoff game for the first time since 1999. Crowd noise could be a big factor in disrupting the Seahawks offense. Another factor that could come into play is the long flight an change of time zones that the Seahawks will have had to deal with.
5. Field position – Special teams is important every game, but the Redskins will need their unit to be at its best this week as field position could play a big part in determining teams’ success. If Washington can pin the Seahawks deep in their own territory, their defense can pin back its ears and play with a more aggressive style of play. Conversely, a big returns day from Niles Paul and Richard Crawford will set the Redskins up nicely on offense. Kai Forbath made 17 straight field goals and then missed his first last week against Dallas. He will look to get back on track this week and supply the sure-footed performances he sported all season. Seattle’s Steven Hauschka is a talented kicker as well, having made 24 of 27 field goals this season.
Bonus: Packers-Vikings – The Redskins will be watching the other NFC wild-card game this weekend as the Packers host the Vikings. The outcome of that game will impact the road that Washington could have to travel if they defeat the Seahawks. If the Packers win, the Redskins would travel to Atlanta for what appears to be a more favorable matchup. If the Vikings win, the Redskins would travel to San Francisco the following week, and the 49ers could present a stiffer challenge.