Eagles On the Brink, Chargers Rally and Other NFL Notes

Kelly
Kelly
Has the glitter disappeared from Chip Kelly's offense which has lost three straight?

It wasn’t that long ago that Mark Sanchez was the darling of Philadelphia and right alongside of him was his head coach Chip Kelly. Now, both might as well be the red-headed step-sisters at the nearest Philly orphanage.

The Eagles went into Washington last night and lost on a Kai Forbath field goal with five seconds left by the final of 27-24. The loss sends the Detroit Lions into the playoffs and now means the only way that Philly can get in is as a division champion. They will need the Cowboys to lose to the Colts today, then to the Redskins next week and they have to beat the Giants in their finale.

In other words, things aren’t so good. Chip Kelly’s no-huddle system is the greatest offense in the history of football when the team is doing well but he is now about to be run out of town after three-straight losses. On his coat tails will be Sanchez whose numbers don’t look too bad (37/50 374 yards 2TD/1INT) but he had a costly fumbled and his interception came at a horrible time and led to winning field goal.

To be fair, Sanchez as far from the only problem. Cody Parkey was one of three in field goals, the Eagles had 13 penalties and also dropped four passes. The imperfect storm happened at the worst possible time for the Eagles.

If you’re in Philly today, you are a Colts’ fan for sure.

McCoy
Mike McCoy's Chargers rallied to stun the Niners and kept their playoff hopes alive.

Bolts Stay Alive

On the left coast last night in the late game, San Diego rallied from a 21-point deficit to defeat San Francisco 38-35 in overtime. The victory keeps the Chargers playoff hopes alive as they move to 9-6 on the season. Denver has already won the AFC West so the best the Bolts can do is a wild-card but it’s a logjam in the AFC to say the least.

Division rival Kansas City is in Pittsburgh today. The Chiefs are 8-6 and are looking to keep their playoff chances alive as well with a win over the 9-5 Steelers who can clinch a playoff spot with a victory. Also at 9-5 is Baltimore and then Buffalo is 8-6.

While we entered this week knowing all 12 playoff spots could be filled, I’m starting to think we’ll see a few contests next week that will determine both positioning and berths into this year’s playoffs/

Nothing in LA in 2015

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell made it clear yesterday that there will not be an NFL franchise in Los Angeles in 2015. Goodell told St. Louis, San Diego and Oakland that any relocation would not happen until at least the 2016 season.

That doesn’t mean the Rams, Chargers and Raiders can’t file for relocation on or after January 1st though. The problem is that a “super majority” is needed and Goodell made it pretty straight-forward comments that this won’t happen for 2015.

The question in my mind is why is the league so adamant about having a team in the LA area? It’s a bit of a rhetorical question because LA is the second biggest TV market in the country but is there really a fan-based demand for a team? I’m not saying there isn’t because I don’t live in SoCal but from everyone I talk to and listen to I get the distinct feeling a team in LA would be a rather “ho-hum” type of move.

Of those three teams I would think the Rams have the greatest chance of heading to Los Angeles and I say that because their owner seems dead-set on it. The Raiders are flirting with San Antonio which appears hungry for NFL football and I believe the Chargers will eventually get a new stadium.

Stranger things have happened though…

 

Random Thoughts on the NFL for a Thursday in December

Snyder
Snyder
Perhaps Daniel Snyder needs to look in the mirror if he wants to find the problem in Washington.

I sat down to write and discovered that there were a number of things on my radar and couldn’t decide on just one. Therefore you’re getting my thoughts on several issues related to the National Football League.

SI.com’s veteran NFL writer Don Banks finally became the first true writer to say what we mere little folk have been saying for a long time; the problem in Washington is Daniel Snyder. When he took over in 1999, the Redskins had gone through a period of great success that including winning seasons and Super Bowl wins. Snyder has now been through eight head coaches and his team just set a dubious mark by losing double-digit games in five of the last six seasons.

Banks calls Snyder “the one constant” throughout this period of futility and he’s absolutely right. While some suggest owners like the Rooney Family in Pittsburgh can often be “too hands off” Snyder has proven to have his hands in everything and nothing he does seems to work. Perhaps it’s time to let football men do their jobs rather than be micro-managed by Snyder.

If couldn’t get any worse with Head Coach Jay Gruden, the defense and Robert Griffin III, yesterday there was a fight at practice between two teammates. Good times in the beltway once again…

New Discipline Policy Already Off to a Bad Start

Yesterday the NFL and Commissioner Roger Goodell announced the new player discipline policy. This was needed because of the mess surrounding the Ray Rice domestic violence situation. The National Football League Players Association immediately issued a statement saying the following;

Our union has not been offered the professional courtesy of seeing the NFL’s new personal conduct policy before it hit the presses. Their unilateral decision and conduct today is the only thing that has been consistent over the past few months.

The NFL claims it involved the NFLPA each step of the way so again, we have someone not telling the truth which sums up this entirely ridiculous situation. Things got worse for Goodell Wednesday when transcripts of the Ray Rice Disciplinary Hearing were released. TO say that there are “inconsistencies” with Goodell’s comments would be a gross understatement. As they say, stay tuned.

Manziel
The Johnny Football Era officially begins Sunday in Cleveland.

Johnny Football is Coming

We saw a brief glimpse of former Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel in Buffalo nearly two weeks ago but that was a dress rehearsal. The real thing is about to go down this week at home when the Browns host the in-state rival Bengals.

While Head Coach Mike Pettine will have to answer all kinds of questions related to this decision, I feel it’s the right one. The Browns have slipped to 7-6 and are now looking up at everyone in the AFC North. Brian Hoyer has struggled and even though I don’t think he’s received a lot of help from his pass catchers, the move had to be made.

Besides the fact that Hoyer has been less then average recently, Pettine feels this is the right time because the Browns are at home but I can also see where this could backfire. If Manziel struggles early, the home fans in Cleveland aren’t exactly known for patience and they could get on him especially if the team is trailing. Playing on the road can sometimes galvanize a team in times like this but I could be wrong too.

The move also sets into motion the placing of Manziel at the QB position for years to come. Should he play well in the final three games, it’s unlikely the team would sign Brian Hoyer to another contract. One way or another, the Johnny Football era has begun.

The Redskins Host the Seahawks in Monday Night Football

Lynch
Lynch
Marshawn Lynch and the Seahawks head to the nation's capitol to play the Redskins.

The defending Super Bowl Champions make the long trip across the country to play Washington in a game that is critical for both teams. The Redskins are 1-3 and all three NFC East foes are above .500. Philadelphia and Dallas are both 4-1 while the New York Giants are 3-2. A loss by Washington makes a playoff spot extremely difficult even this early in the season.

For Seattle, the Arizona Cardinals dropped their first game yesterday at Denver and are now 3-1 while the San Francisco 49ers defeated Kansas City to move to 3-2. A win lets the Seahawks keep pace with Arizona while a loss drops them to .500.

Look below this game for some early lines for next week’s NFL games.

Seattle (-7.5) at Washington (O/U 45) – Washington returns to the field ten days after quarterback Kirk Cousins threw four interceptions in a 45-14 beat-down at the hand of the New York Giants. That poor performance likely is making people re-think just how badly they want to see Cousins take over permanently even when Robert Griffin III comes back.

Cousins has thrown two touchdowns with no interceptions in wins while he’s thrown four touchdowns and five interceptions in losses. His QB rating is 109 vs 78 in wins versus losses. What can we expect from him as he takes on one of the best defenses in football?

Cousins
Kirk Cousins has to play better for the 'Skins to have a shot at beating Seattle.

Some think the secret is out on Seattle’s Richard Sherman because the Chargers went after him and had some success. In order for Cousins to find similar success against Sherman and the Seahawks’ secondary his line is going to have to give him adequate time to throw and I’m not sure if that can happen.

For Seattle offensively it will be pretty much status quo. Establish the running game with Marshawn Lynch and then work the play-action with Russell Wilson off of that. The earlier the success of the Seattle running game the tougher it will be for Washington defensively. My guess is that Redskins’ defensive coordinator Jim Haslett will force Seattle to throw as quickly as possible.

Trends: Seattle is 5-2 straight up in their last seven games on the road… The Redskins are 1-3-1 against the spread in its last five games playing Seattle… The total has gone OVER in four of the Seahawks last five games on the road against Washington… The Redskins are 2-4 ATS in their last six home games.

Key Injuries: SEA: TE Zach Miller, Out WAS: CB Tracy Porter, Out, QB RGIII Out

The Pick: I just can’t see a scenario where the Redskins win here. Take Seattle to cover and I like the OVER.

Intriguing Early Lines for Next Week

Denver (-6) at New York Jets – Not sure how this isn’t a lot larger of a spread after yesterday.

Pittsburgh (+2) at Cleveland -Steelers are not playing well and Browns are coming off an epic comeback.

Chicago (+3) at Atlanta – Both the Bears and Falcons suffered tough losses on the road yesterday. Matt Ryan comes back to the dome where he is much better than he is on the road.

New York Giants (+3) at Philadelphia – This is will be a major NFC East showdown with huge implications considering the Cowboys will have played at Seattle earlier in the day.

Odds to Win the NFC East Division for 2014

McCoy
McCoy
LeSean McCoy and the Eagles should win the NFC East behind a dynamic offense.

Today begins my journey through the six divisions of the National Football League as I look at the odds for each and give you my winner. First up, the NFC East.

Philadelphia Eagles +125 –  The Eagles made the playoffs in Head Coach Chip Kelly’s first season and it wasn’t behind Michael Vick who is now with the Jets. It was behind Nick Foles who played tremendously and got the Eagles a home playoff game where they were beaten by the New Orleans Saints. Gone from the team is DeSean Jackson who is now with the rival Redskins.

To make up for his numbers the Eagles brought in Darren Sproles who should provide an amazing compliment to LeSean McCoy. If the defense improves, the Eagles could be viable contenders in the NFC. The schedule features the AFC South and NFC West so it’s the extremes in that case.

Record prediction: 10-6

New York Giants +300 – The Giants have missed the playoffs the last two seasons and I for one thought Tom Coughlin would be out of a job after they started 0-6 last season. Coughlin is back but things are different on the offensive side of the ball where more of a West Coast offense is installed. It’s really pretty simple for there; Eli Manning has to take care of the football a lot better than he has in recent years.

Jason Pierre-Paul looked good in the team’s first two preseason games and that’s good because they need him to anchor the defensive line. The secondary is upgraded and should be better as well. The G-Men get Indianapolis, San Francisco and Arizona at home but do have to go to Seattle. If the running game is clicking then good things are on the horizon.

Record Prediction: 9-7

RGIII
Can RGIII handle the transition to Jay Gruden's new offense?

Washington Redskins +375 – The ‘Skins welcome new head coach Jay Gruden whose number one job is keeping Robert Griffin III healthy. We shouldn’t see nearly as much read-option if any at all which means RGIII is going to be more of a pocket passer. What will help that transition is Alfred Morris running the ball well again. DeSean Jackson should help balance the offense as well.

Defensively, there is plenty of talent on that side of the ball but it can’t be utilized unless the front seven can get to the quarterback. Trent Murphy, defensive end from Stanford should help in that department. The second half of the schedule is brutal with trips to Indianapolis, San Francisco and the Giants but they do finish with Dallas and Philly at home.

Record Projection: 8-8

Dallas Cowboys +400 – If I had looked at the Cowboys back in the spring I might have said this team had a chance to compete in the NFC East but then Sean Lee was lost for the season and then Orlando Scandrick was suspended for four games. Toss in a few other injuries and you’ve got a defense that could rival last year’s in terms of ineptness.

Offensively, the Cowboys will ride only as far as Tony Romo can take them and I think his health is a serious question mark. Jason Garrett knows they have to run the ball to keep Romo healthy and his defense off the field. The question is, will he be able to do that? It’ll be tough with all the ‘toys’ that Romo has to play with but if he wants to win, he’ll have to.

Dallas has a favorable schedule with only a trip to Seattle being the toughest out of division road trip.

Record Projection: 6-10

Overall Thoughts: I don’t know how you can go in any other direction here other than the Eagles. I can see a scenario where the Giants start pounding opponents with their running game but I don’t think it’ll be enough.

Giants Short Chalk on the Road at Washington

The New York Giants take on the Washington Redskins in a matchup of two teams that odds makers had as the top contenders for the NFC East in the start of the NFL season.

However, at this point both teams are virtually eliminated from the post season. New York would need to win out and then get lots of help from other teams to have a shot at a wildcard or the NFC East title. New York is 4-7 SU and ATS.

Washington is even worse off. The Redskins are 3-8 SU and ATS and their odds of grabbing a playoff berth are far, far less.

The meeting on Sunday in the nation’s capital, or close to it, will feature two rivals that are coming off losses. It is the first of two games the two will play head to head over their final five games of the season.

The Redskins struggled Monday night and suffered a humiliating loss to the San Francisco 49ers 27-6.

New York lost last Sunday to Dallas 24-21, after they rallied to tie only to see Dallas drive the length of the field and kick a game winning field goal.

At this time, the Giants are favored on Bovada and topbet by 1.5 points, while the point total on betonline and sportsbook.com is currently 45.5.

On topbet and Bovada the line opened at 2 or even as high as 2.5 but with Washington as the favorite. However, their dismal showing on Monday night had the bookmakers flip and repost the line with New York as a short chalk.

Washington also showed little if any ability to score and that was reflected in the total points for this matchup. The line opened at 48.5, but has been bet down on betonline to just 45.5.

Dating to 2010, Washington is 5-0 ATS head to head with New York. However, in its last three games of this season, Washington is 0-3 ATS.

New York has been the favorite in each of their last 12 head-to-head meeting. Since 2009, New York is 16-21-1 ATS as a favorite.

New York’s offense has struggled this season especially Eli Manning. The Giants quarterback has 14 touchdown passes and 17 interceptions.

Andre Brown returned to running back in November from injury. His presence has helped the maligned running game and given Manning another target in the passing attack.

Many people have scrutinized and criticized the play of Robert Griffin III the Redskins quarterback. He had an ACL tear in the playoffs last season, but returned to play this season, but has not been the same as he was last season.

Even though Washington has covered their past five games with New York, this game feels different.

With the problems Griffin III has faced with media and fans, this matchup leans in favor of New York.

Pick: New York 21-17

SI’s Peter King is Out of Bounds

Redskins
Redskins
The Redskins' name is once again under fire.

There was once a time when the first thing I read every single Monday morning of the National Football League season was Peter King’s Monday Morning Quarterback. MMQB was the first and foremost piece for pro football fans on the si.com website. It became so popular that King has done what ESPN’s Bill Simmons did with Grantland and has made MMQB its’ own entity.

King is one of the preeminent NFL writers and one of its most senior. While he’ll never hold a candle to the great Paul Zimmerman, King is well read and well researched. The problem I have come to find with King over the last several years is that he has become a New England Patriots’ homer and shill for the commissioner Roger Goodell.

King is a denier of Spygate and instead of accepting that it was much more than what the league made it out to be, he went along with them. In turn, he lost a lot of fans along the way.

His writing during that time has also become political in its’ nature. He has used his forum to spew sermons on such things as gun control and his disdain for the former President Bush. I have my opinions as well on those subject but I know where and when to share them.

King
Peter King has apparently decided to stop using the term 'Redskins' when discussing them.

To be fair, King has done positive things too. He is a major supporter of the Pat Tillman Foundation and has called attention to the plight of former players battling diseases such as Lou Gehrig’s and the like. I think King means well in most of what he does but if the reports are true about his latest political stance then I have a problem.

According to the websites awfulannouncing.com and deadspin.com, King’s MMQB has informally announced they will not use the term ‘Redskins’ any longer when writing or reporting on them. While King himself has yet to say anything publicly, it sounds as if the foundation for this political stance has been laid.

As you and I know, King has the Constitutional right to say, write and do as he chooses on his website. He is also fully aware that there will be a backlash because he’s seen it before when commenting on other testy political topics.

Owner of the Washington Redskins Daniel Snyder has made it clear he has no plans to change the name despite very minor political pressure to do so. I say “minor” because there are not a lot of people calling for this name change. It’s being pushed by a small group who find the term offensive and you know what? It is in fact an offensive term for a Native American. Not the point however.

Someone said it’s no different than calling them the Washington N-words. I disagree with that because the original intent of Redskins did not start out as racially insensitive. The term was coined by the British who saw a tribe of Native Americans who had painted their faces red using tree roots and other materials. It has since been used

Maybe that doesn’t matter in all of this because it is still ‘offensive.’ Is it offensive because it details the skin color or is it offensive because of it’s’ relationship to Native Americans? If it’s the latter, then King should stop using the term ‘Chiefs’ because that also deals with Native Americans. In fact, King should also stop using the term ‘Patriots’ because I know descendants of Great Britain who live here and they are offended by that name.

King should also not use terms like ‘Celtics’ because that could upset someone who isn’t Irish. He should also avoid ‘Packers’ because that would offend vegetarians and he should also avoid the term ‘Saints’ because that might upset non-Catholics or perhaps some atheists.

Maybe what King should be doing is working with Native American tribes and the Redskins to bring together an understanding of the culture much in the way the Seminole tribe of Florida has done with Florida State University.

If Peter King is going to report on all 32 NFL teams then he should respect that portion of his job and save his political stances for another forum. Sports are the release for millions and the last thing they want to be inundated with is more political opinion.

 

Analyzing NFL Team Win-Totals for the NFC

Tony Romo
Tony Romo
The Cowboys need an improved running game and more consistency from Tony Romo in 2013.

Two days ago I broke down the over/under win totals for each team in the American Football Conference and today my attention shifts to the National Football Conference. In the 47-year history of the Super Bowl, the NFC holds a 25-22 advantage in the win column and has won four of the last six including two by the New York Giants.

Will an NFC team help them continue their dominance? Let’s see who might have a chance at getting there at the very least.

NFC EAST

Dallas 8.5 (-105 over/-125 under) The Cowboys draw the NFC North and AFC West in divisional crossovers. That looks positive but I’m not so sure. Dallas was 31st in the league in rushing last year and the defense needs to improve significantly. This is the toughest call of the NFC because of Tony Romo’s ups and downs. I’ll go the over but just barely at nine.

New York 9 (-115 over/-115 under) The Giants will move forward without Ahmad Bradshaw who is in Indy now but the defense is where the focus is. They ranked 28th against the pass and 25th against the run. This is a situation where they will go as far as Eli Manning can take them. I say it’s a step back. Take the under.

Philadelphia 7.5 (-105 over/-125 under) Chip Kelly brings his up-tempo offense to the NFL and I can see it catching teams off guard early in the season but I have concerns about it long-term. The other concern is Michael Vick’s health. This offense will be great for him but he’s going to get hit a lot too. I like the under.

Washington 8.5 (+105 over/-135 under) The offense built around Robert Griffin III is effective as long as he is healthy, but don’t forget Kirk Cousins is a talented back-up. If Alfred Morris picks up where he left off and the pass defense improves, I like the over in D.C.

NFC NORTH

Cutler
I expect more efficient play from Jay Cutler under new coach Marc Trestman.

Chicago 8.5 (-120 over/-110 under) The Bears enter the Marc Trestman Era which should help Jay Cutler be more efficient and take less hits. The defense will miss Brian Urlacher’s leadership but I still think it’s good. The problem is the schedule. Besides the North, they have the NFC East and AFC North in crossovers. I can’t see them getting the over.

Detroit 8 (-105 over/-125 under) The Lions lost a ton of close games last year and this is clearly the make or break year for Jim Schwartz. Reggie Bush will help the running game and four of the last six games are at home. I like the push here though as I see them winning eight.

Green Bay 10.5 (-115 over/-115 under) The Packers should benefit from the addition of Eddy Lacy to the running game. They will also like the fact they have no back-to-back road games this season. The defense will be tested after their poor showing against San Francisco in the playoffs but I like the Pack to get to the over here anyway.

Minnesota 7.5 (-105 over/-125 under) Adrian Peterson is not going to rush for 2,000 yards again so the pressure falls to Christian Ponder to make throws. Greg Jennings was a nice signing but how healthy is he? I see a step back for the Vikes this season. Take the under.

NFC SOUTH

Atlanta 10 (Even over/-110 over) The Falcons Super Bowl hopes died at the doorstep of the end zone last year. Can they rebound behind Matt Ryan and the addition of Steven Jackson? I say, “yes.” Take the over.

Carolina 7 (-135 over/+105 under) The Panthers get the AFC East and the NFC West in crossovers and have to deal with Atlanta and New Orleans twice each. I expect Cam Newton to be better but still like the under against that schedule.

New Orleans 9 (-145 over/+115 under) This is the Sean Payton-Revenge Tour that will go only as far as the defense can take it as they ranked near the bottom in 2012. I like the over here with improvement on defense.

Tampa Bay 7.5 (-130 over/Even under) This is the defining moment for QB Josh Freeman who in four seasons hasn’t gotten the Bucs to the playoffs. Four of the last six on the road is a concern, but I like the balance on offense and better pass defense. Take the over.

NFC WEST

Arizona 5.5 (Even over/-130 under) New coach Bruce Arians will work well with Carson Palmer and that means more receptions for Larry Fitzgerald. They also get the NFC South and AFC South which will pose challenges, but I love the over here.

San Francisco 11 (-120 over/-110 under) The Niners will log a ton of miles this year with trips to Washington, Tampa Bay, Jacksonville and New Orleans. I love their draft but history is not kind to Super Bowl losers in follow-up seasons. Take the under.

Seattle 10.5 (-135 over/+105 under) The Seahawks are already everyone’s darlings heading into the season despite long trips to NYG, Carolina and Atlanta where their season ended last year. I fear the lack of maturity in this club will be their downfall. Playoffs? Yes. Over? No.

St. Louis 7.5 (-130 over/Even under) The Rams final five games are all against NFC heavyweights. I really like Jeff Fisher but I’m concerned about the lack of running game even though I think this offense goes pass-heavy anyway. Take the over, but just barely.

 

NFL Wild-Card Sunday Betting Tips

Playing his last game at home, Ray Lewis will hope to prolong his retirement with a Ravens win over Indianapolis in Sunday's early kickoff.

The NFL postseason got off to a good start for bettors backing favorites to cover the spread. Both Houston’s win over Cincinnati and Green Bay’s victory over Minnesota on Saturday saw the bookies’ favorites advance to the divisional round of the playoffs, scoring a win against the spread in the process. Both games saw the total go under.

Sunday sees the remaining two fixtures of the wild-card round and Casino Review has all the information you need. Let’s start with a matchup that pits Charm City’s past against its present.

 

Indianapolis Colts @ Baltimore Ravens

1:00 PM ET

There’s little left to be said about an Indianapolis (11-5, 4-4 road) side that has defied the odds and the experts just to make it to the postseason. All that’s left to do is see how far Chuck Pagano, Andrew Luck and Co. can take this ride. Of course, the team has every belief it will be well beyond Sunday’s wild-card matchup in the Colts’ former home city.

Rather than concern itself with the Colts’ impressive run, Baltimore (10-6, 6-2 home) will look to put the skids on a run of poor form. The Ravens have dropped four of five and look like a wounded animal coming into the playoffs. The return of Ray Lewis – who will be playing his final home game after announcing he’ll retire at the end of this run – may be enough to buoy the Ravens. But then again, it might not.

Baltimore defeated Indianapolis the last time these two sides met (Dec. 2011), snapping an eight-game Colts winning streak. The two sides have met in the playoffs twice previously (following the 2006 and 2009 seasons) with Indianapolis running out victors both times. Of course, the team that took those wins, and those eight straight, included a certain Peyton Manning. Such records may as well be thrown out of the window at times like these.

There’s no denying that the Baltimore defense of old was not on show this season, but completed to the Colts, even this so-so Ravens defense is a beast. Baltimore outranked Indianapolis in points and yards allowed this season, including rushing and passing yards.

Surprisingly, a Baltimore offense that spluttered throughout the year also ranked better than Indianapolis, but there was a certain amount of magic surrounding Andrew Luck, who dragged the Colts back time and again. Doing the same this weekend would really set out a stall.

Odds: Baltimore opened as 6½-point favorites, a number that has risen to seven. The over/under is 47, up from 46 at opening.

Take: Baltimore – As has been the case with this opening round, it wouldn’t be that big a surprise to see either of these teams come out with a victory. Of course, were the Colts to win, it would prove the bigger story. But ultimately, Baltimore has a huge edge in experience, and somehow the Ravens always seem to find a way to win at this stage of the playoffs. The Ravens have won three straight wild-card games, and four straight playoff openers. You have to go back to Jan. 2004 to find a Ravens team that was one-and-done in the postseason. Take the Colts to cover the spread and keep this a close game however. An improved defensive display will keep the total from going over.

 

Seattle Seahawks @ Washington Redskins

4:30 PM ET

Andrew Luck isn’t the only rookie quarterback turning franchises around. In fact, two individuals that have done exactly that will meet at FedEx Field in Sunday’s late afternoon game.

Robert Griffin III may have been drafted behind Andrew Luck but more and more people are cottoning on to the idea that the Redskins’ triggerman may just be the best candidate for Offensive Rookie of the Year. Meanwhile, Russell Wilson may not have been a starter when the season commenced, but he’s certainly earned his spot, and again, is rated higher than Andrew Luck in many people’s eyes. Both will look to add to their legacy with a debut playoff win.

Washington (10-6, 5-3 home) outlasted Dallas and the New York Giants to win the NFC East, booking its first playoff trip since the end of the 2007 season. The Redskins provided the league’s best rushing attack, averaging 169.3 yards per game. The side ranked fifth overall in total yards gained (383.2 YPG) and fourth in points scored (27.3 PPG).

Seattle (11-5, 3-5 road) navigated some early road woes to finish the season strong. Really strong. The Seahawks averaged 42.5 points per game over the last four games of the season, stuffing opponents defensively to the tune of 10.8 points per game in the process.

The Seahawks were unbeaten at home this season, but will not get to play at CenturyLink Field after finishing one-half game behind San Francisco in the NFC West. Seattle’s early season road woes – which saw the team go 1-5 – seem to have turned around with wins in Chicago and Buffalo. Still, this is a side that will not be relishing a road game at this time of year.

Seattle has produced a 1-8 all-time road record in the playoffs, including seven straight. The last time the Seahawks won on the road in the playoffs was on Dec. 31, 1983, in Miami. For those too young to remember, the Seahawks were an AFC team until the 2002 expansion year.

Washington on the other hand has not lost a home playoff game since Dec. 30, 1984. Granted, the team has only played five games in that 18 year period, but that won’t dampen this side.

Washington is 11-6 all-time against Seattle, and has won six of the last eight. Worryingly for the Redskins though, the two losses that have fallen in that eight-game span both came during the playoffs (following the 2005 and 2008 seasons).

Odds: Seattle is the only road favorite of wild-card weekend. The spread opened at just one, but has subsequently risen to three. The over/under is 46, up from 45½.

Take: Seattle – History denotes that it is more likely than not that there will be one lower ranked seed beating a higher ranked seed during the wild-card round of the playoffs (see yesterday’s article). Well, this looks like this year’s candidate. Seattle is almost as solid as Washington in the running game – ranking third in the league (161.2 YPG) and much more effective defensively. No team in the league gave up fewer points than the Seahawks (15.3 PPG) this year. That may be just the advantage Seattle needs. Take the Seahawks to cover the close spread. Take the total to go over as these two teams look to run some points on to the board.

Season of Upsets to Filter Through to Playoffs?

Russell Wilson and the Seahawks are one of four wild-card teams looking to knock-off higher-ranked opposition this weekend, a task in which bookmakers expect Seattle to succeed.

After 17 weeks of physical play, shocking results, unexpected storylines, and some true battles of attrition, we’re just hours away from the start of the NFL playoffs, and this year, we’re in for something special.

The 2012 NFL season relished in unexpected victories and the emergence of some unlikely contenders. Think, San Francisco’s Week 1 upset win in Green Bay; Seattle’s wins over New England, San Francisco, and Green Bay, with the assist going to the replacement referees in the latter; surprising playoffs runs by the Colts and Vikings; and the Washington Redskins fending off the entire NFC East behind rookie quarterback, Robert Griffin III.

In a season that specialized in dealing out surprise win after surprise win, we have a playoff bracket loaded and waiting for more of the same, and it all starts with this weekend’s wild-card fixtures.

Upsets in the wild-card round of the playoffs are nothing new. Since the NFL expanded to 32 teams for the 2002 season, only two seasons have seen the No. 3 and No. 4 seed from both the AFC and NFC advance to the divisional round of the playoffs.

That feat happened following the 2007 season and again last year. In each of the other eight seasons, at least one lower seed has advanced. In fact, more often than not, more than one lower seed has advanced, and in three instances (following the 2010, 2005, and 2004 seasons) three lower seeds have moved on. There has yet to be a season in which all four lower seeds advanced. In total, 17 (out of 40) lower seeded sides has advanced in a decade of play.

One of the reasons that might explain this trend of lower seeds advancing is the structure of the playoffs. With the current setup, a winner of a weak division will be seeded higher than a team with a better record that finished second in its division. Seattle and Indianapolis are both examples of this as we enter this weekend’s playoffs. Both finished with a better record but seeded lower than Washington and Baltimore respectively, and both will be on the road to start the playoffs.

But this explanation would generally relate to the No. 5 seed beating the No. 4 seed. Very rarely (if ever) would you see a No. 6 seed that had a superior record to a No. 3 seed, yet in nine instances the No. 6 seed has defeated the No. 3 seed, most recently following the 2010 season when Green Bay upset Philadelphia and the New York Jets upset Indianapolis. That’s more times than the No. 5 seed has beaten the No. 4 seed (eight), which means there’s more to it than simply who has the better record.

We all know that there are extenuating circumstances that can be identified as helping or hindering a playoff run: the pressure of a playoff game (the 2006 Dallas Cowboys); a team getting hot at the right time (the 2007 New York Giants); or even sheer good luck (the 2009 ‘Music City Miracle’). What we also know is that it’s all but impossible to predict when such upsets and playoff runs will happen.

So, will we see upsets this weekend?

In the ‘Season of Upsets’, its seems nobody is really expecting the No. 3 and No. 4 seeds in both conferences to be playing next weekend.

For starters, Seattle (11-5, 3-5 road) is favored over Washington (10-6, 5-3 home) going into Sunday’s clash at FedEx Field. Granted, oddsmakers have only been so bold as to make the Seahawks a one-point favorite, but that still suggests the Pacific Northwest side should come out of the game with a win, and, in all honesty, you’d be hard-pushed to find somebody that would consider such a result a surprise.

But it’s not only the Redskins that need to be on guard. A slumping Baltimore (10-6, 6-2 home) will host a surging Indianapolis (11-5, 4-4 road) on Sunday in what could easily be an upset. Baltimore may be the favorite (-6½) heading in, but the Ravens have lost four of five while the Colts have won nine of 11. It’s not hard to envisage another No. 5 seed upsetting a No. 4 seed.

Before we get to Sunday’s games, Houston (12-4, 6-2 home) finds itself in the same predicament as Baltimore. The Texans have slumped at the wrong time, losing three of four, while Cincinnati (10-6, 6-2 road) is on a charge, winning seven of eight, with that one loss coming by just one-point. There are a lot of big name pundits already backing the Bengals over the Texans.

Which brings us to the Saturday night game at Lambeau Field. Green Bay (11-5, 7-1 home) and Minnesota (10-6, 3-5 road) clash for the third time this season, and the second time in two weeks. As you’d expect, Green Bay is favored (-9½) in this one and you’d be forgiven for passing this off as a dead cert. After all, the Packers have won 10 of 14 against the Vikings and the game is in cold Wisconsin. Except…

Except, last week’s game between the two sides – a 37-34 win for the Vikings – has left some wondering if the Packers can stop Peterson and Co. Add to this the fact that Green Bay is 1-3 in its last four home playoff games, a streak that started with a 31-17 loss to, yes, the Minnesota Vikings in Jan. 2005, and you have enough doubt to feel compelled to wonder whether we have another upset on our hands.

Could this be the first season in which all four lower seeds advance to divisional play? The way things have gone this year, it’s not the most far-flung idea out there.

Of course, it wouldn’t be a huge surprise if Houston, Green Bay, Baltimore, and Washington all came out this weekend and did exactly what is needed to win. That would certainly set-up some intriguing matchups next week.

One thing we can count on though is that this season still has a sting in its tail, which makes for a fantastic ride for all of us.