Green Bay Packers (10-6 SU, 9-7 ATS) vs. Washington Redskins (9-7 SU, 9-7 ATS)
NFL Wildcard Playoff
Date/Time: January 10/ 4:40pm ET
Where: FedEx Field
by Evergreen, NFL Handicapper, Predictem.com
Point Spread: GB +1/WASH -1
Over/Under Total: 45.5
The NFL’s regular season zipped by like it usually does and here we are heading into the first weekend of the playoffs. There are twelve teams alive in the tournament to take home the ultimate NFL prize but there seem to be fewer true favorites this season so many of these early round matchups carry some extra intrigue. Green Bay heads to Washington this Sunday and while both teams are longshots to make the NFC Championship game, someone has to win this one and take a step closer to winning it all.
I am always interested in what Vegas and the online betting sites will do with the Packers as they are routinely one of the heaviest bet teams, regardless of opponent or odds. This game opened as a pick’em but has moved quite quickly and the Redskins are a one-point favorite as of Tuesday morning. I had thought that the Packers were going to wind up a modest favorite in this one given their usual public love but it appears that the linesmakers are taking Green Bay’s struggles very seriously. This is just the fourth time this season that Washington has been installed as a favorite and they enter the game riding a four game ATS win streak and have won 5-of-6 against the spread against NFC opponents. The Packers are 4-1 against the spread in their last five playoff games as the visitor but are just 1-4 ATS in their last five against teams with a winning record.
After a 6-0 start, Green Bay looked anywhere from inconsistent to just plain bad as they finished up 4-6 after their bye week. One of those wins was the Hail Mary finish in Detroit and the Pack had to scrape to pick up wins against a Matt Cassel-led Cowboys team and the Raiders. They lost all three of their division home games for the first time since 1968 and became the first team since the NFL-AFL merger to make the playoffs after failing to record a division win at home. Green Bay handed the Vikings the NFC North after an uninspiring 20-13 loss to end the season and to make matters worse, it appears that Head Coach Mike McCarthy and Aaron Rodgers aren’t anywhere close to being on the same page. The Packers might be the more experienced team in this matchup but they are on the short end of the stick when it comes to momentum and all the wrong kind of things are being said about this team. Former Packers tight end Mark Chmura stated that the locker room believes there is no hope to flip a switch. That isn’t the kind of thing you want being said about your squad as you head into the playoffs.
Washington might not be the most dominant division winner in recent years but the fact remains that they were the only team in the mediocre NFC East to post a winning record and they have been playing their best football of late. The Redskins finished up on a four game winning streak and lost just once in the final six weeks to secure the division. Their playoff seed was set prior to last week so they were able to rest some players in Week 17 and they even got the psychological bump of playing well in the final game despite approaching the week like a pre-season contest. Despite being the best of a bad division, Washington showed it can play remarkably well at home, especially on offense with Kirk Cousins gaining more and more confidence through the back portion of the season.
It has been puzzling to watch Packers struggle on offense this season. The Jordy Nelson injury loomed large over the season but Green Bay appeared to be almost unaffected by that loss through the first six games. James Jones was rejuvenated by his return to Green Bay and there was enough playmaking from Randall Cobb and Davante Adams to suggest that it was going to be business as usual for Aaron Rodgers and the Pack. Injuries to the offensive line started the downward turn and the Denver and Carolina games really exposed the Packers as an extremely limited team. All of a sudden, none of the wide receivers could get open, Rodgers was on the run and the running game dried up as well. It was as if the curtain was pulled back on the wizard. Since the bye week, few teams have looked scared of the Packers defense and it appears that some of that initial success was due to the thought that they would still be a high-powered offense. Green Bay enters the week 23rd in total yards per game, an astounding 25th in passing yards and has slipped to 15th in points gained after being top-5 in the early going. It has been a shock to see an Aaron Rodgers-led team become a bottom-10 offense but the proof has been right there in HD for the last 10 weeks.
Washington has survived this season much the same way a cockroach survives a nuclear blast. They have done just enough right to hang on while the rest of the division just wilted away. Cousins has been the team MVP by a mile, throwing for 4,166 yards on nearly 70% completions and has a 29/11 TD/INT ratio. Rodgers has two more touchdowns and three fewer picks but Cousins has more yardage and a better completion percentage and the comparisons favor the Washington QB even more if you look at just the back half of the year. Jordan Reed will play a massive role in this game. The oft-injured but talented tight end will pose matchup issues a Green Bay secondary that has struggled to cover the middle of the field. Even if used as a decoy, Reed should see Clay Matthews in coverage enough to take some punch out of the Packer pass rush and ultimately be a plus scenario for Washington. Pierre Garcon and Jamison Crowder are capable possession options for Cousins and both run the kind of routes that have burned Green Bay recently. DeSean Jackson missed much of the early part of the season but has re-emerged as a deep play threat, averaging 17.1 yards per reception. The Packers might also be without CB Sam Shields as he continues to deal with a concussion, making a tough overall coverage job even more difficult. I do not think Washington will be able to lean on the run game as Alfred Morris has just one touchdown on the season and averaged just 3.7 yards in his limited role. Matt Jones was given more touches as he looked to be a better playmaker but the young back is dealing with a hip issue and is questionable for the game. Chris Thompson has been active as Washington’s third-down and pass-catching back and poses another matchup problem if the Redskins want to spread out the Packers defense and work the underneath.
I think you can give an edge to Aaron Rodgers still given talent and experience over Cousins but it actually appears that Washington is the better offensive unit. They appear to have more playmakers at this point and they are certainly more productive and efficient on offense. If the Redskins can avoid the Clay Matthews and Julius Peppers pass rush, they should have no issues staying ahead of the sticks as the Packers are pretty average in terms of giving up yards. Green Bay will have to play a nearly perfect game from an offensive line perspective to keep Rodgers in a clean pocket and allow time for the complex Packer pass routes to come open. Ryan Kerrigan has been the most consistent Redskin pass rusher but LB Preston Smith has come on hard with five sacks in the last three games. Expect Washington to rush Rodgers and disrupt the offense the way so many opponents have done to the Packers this season. Washington has not been a good statistical defense at any point this year but they have played better at home and rely on making the opponent one dimension at some point. It is odd to say it but the Redskins would probably prefer to get a lead and put the ball in Rodgers’ hands in obvious passing situations. The run game might be the best option for Green Bay but they are so hit-or-miss with the production from Eddie Lacy and/or James Starks that it becomes tough to trust, especially as Green Bay has trailed in so many games. The Packers finished the regular season without a 1,000 rusher or receiver and that might be exactly what their season is…finished. I thought I was going to get the ‘Skins at plus two or three but laying the point doesn’t scare me a bit. Green Bay might unleash a vintage effort like they did against the Vikings in Week 11 but they have put up more duds in the back half of the season than solid efforts and that is not a good sign for a team heading away from home. Washington 23 Green Bay 17
Evergreen’s Pick to Cover the Point Spread: Washington
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