NFL Wildcard Preview

Kate Arhar
Senior Sports Editor AFC North and NFC South

By Kate Arhar // @ClvlndK8 

This year’s NFC Wildcard Round of the NFL Playoffs will start on Sunday, January 5th.

The first matchup will feature the New Orleans Saints (13-3) hosting the Minnesota Vikings (10-6) at 1:05pm EST.

Then, we’ll have the Seattle Seahawks (11-5) heading to Philadelphia to face the Eagles (9-7) at 4:40pm EST. Frankly, I’m still not sure how the Eagles get home-field for this game but that’s how it worked out.

 

 

Minnesota Vikings – Finishing 2nd in the NFC North, the Vikings have come a long way in just one season. Last year their disappointment in high-priced quarterback Kirk Cousins was evident among fans as they team finished 8-7-1. They are much improved this year. They’ve had their fair share of injuries to overcome as well, but the return of wide receivers Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs, tight end Kyle Rudolph and running back Dalvin Cook should definitely help their chances.

Key to the game for the Vikings – In the past few weeks, the Vikings have gotten away from the passing game due to some untimely interceptions by Cousins. Leading up to week 14, he had 23 touchdowns with only 3 interceptions. He’ll need to get back to that form in order to win a shoot-out with the Saints.

 

New Orleans Saints – They’ve just been quietly taking care of business all season long. I know many folks wrote them off early in the year when QB Drew Brees was going to be out a few games due to injury, but backup Teddy Bridgewater held the ship on course and they’re looking really good right now. Not to mention Brees battling back and forth with Patriots QB Tom Brady over the NFL Passing Touchdown Record!

Key to the game for the Saints – Turnovers. The Saints have given the ball away only 8 times so far this year, compared to 20 giveaways by the Vikings. If they can keep moving the chains and putting up points, they can easily win a shoot-out.

 

My Pick – No brainer, Saints 38 – Vikings 23

 

Seattle Seahawks – This is a very different Seattle team from the one who beat the Eagles in Week 12 by a score of 17-9.  RB Rashaad Penny had 129 yards and a TD in that game, but he’s out due to injury. Luckily, they brought back Marshawn Lynch and the guy still looks really good running the ball! Still, QB Russell Wilson only managed 200 yards that week with one TD and one INT. It was enough to win but will that kind of performance be enough this week? The Seahawks defense gave up 256 yards and a TD to Eagles QB Carson Wentz in that matchup but they also took the ball away a few times, including two interceptions. Hmmmm.

Key to the game for the Seahawks – Russel Wilson. Period. Paragraph. End of Story.  He is just that kind of player – where he goes is where the team will go. He’ll most likely need a game-winning drive to end this one, but if anyone has proven all season that it can be done, he has.

 

Philadelphia Eagles – Carson Wentz is healthy and playing in January – whodathunkit? It’s hard to compare this team to the one Nick Foles led to a Super Bowl championship, but nothing they do surprises me anymore. I give a ton of credit to head coach Doug Pederson. Somehow, regardless of injuries and everything else, he manages to get these guys ready to win each week and keeps them in games.

Key to the game for the Eagles – DEFENSE. Facing Russell Wilson reunited with Beastmode is a daunting task, but this the Eagles defense can stay on them, they’ve got a chance. Safety Malcolm Jenkins leads the team with four fumble recoveries and defensive end has 6.5 sacks this year. Both of these guys will have to make their presence known to keep the Eagles ahead on the scoreboard.

My Pick – Plan to watch this one until the final seconds tick off the clock:  Seahawks 24 – Eagles 23

 

 

Talk NFL with Kate on Twitter / @ClvlndK8 

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