2016 NFL Playoffs: Key Scouting Match-Ups to Watch in All Four Wildcard Games

The 2015 NFL playoffs are finally here, and the match-ups aren’t exactly how a lot of people predicted going into the season. On Wild Card weekend, who would have thought that the Steelers and the Seahawks would be the two 6 seeds in their respective divisions? Answer: No one.

By: Mike and Matt Vahey

The Steelers, who are ravaged with injuries, are now entering the playoffs to what could be the hottest team in the NFL, a title the Seahawks could certainly challenge. What’s more, to think that the Colts wouldn’t make the playoffs at all and the Texans would win the AFC South. Here are a few of the key match-ups to watch for over Wild Card weekend.

NFC Matchups

Green Bay Packers vs. Washington Redskins

Matchup to watch: Packers Offensive Line vs. Redskins Front 7

It’s been no secret the Packers offensive line has not been playing up to par for what the Packers are looking to achieve this season. Aaron Rodgers does not look comfortable in the pocket and has been taking more hits than any fan or coach would like to see. David Bakhtiari has been riddled with injuries and thus the entire line has suffered and it is uncertain that he will even play this week. The Packers experimented with Josh Sitton at left tackle, and it was clear that Sitton isn’t going to be making a move to the edge anytime soon.

What the Packers are going to struggle with if Bakhtiari is out is the pressure from Ryan Kerrigan and Preston Smith on the edge. Sitton and Lang are the strong points up front for the Packers line, and both are some of the best in the game at the guard spot. They will need to be stout up front in order for Rodgers to be successful and keep his jersey clean. The line will need to really establish the run, which may be the best option as the Redskins line may be the most susceptible to giving up yardage on the ground. If Don Barclay ends up starting in place of Bakhtiari, the best bet for the Packers would be to establish the run game to help him out with play-action passes and hopefully keep the Redskins pass rush from pinning their ears back on every down.

On the flip side the defensive front 7 has improved vastly from the early part of the season. Becoming stingier against the run near the end of the season, though as a team they finished in 26th overall in overall team rushing defense. The team has sorely missed Perry Riley in both rushing and passing defense, but the emergence of Preston Smith has helped them turn the corner. In order for them to win this game, the front seven will need to shut down the Green Bay rushing attack, and it all starts in the middle with Terrance Knighton, if he can control the middle of the line and force the Packers to pass the ball Kerrigan and Smith will get their opportunities to get to Rodgers. With the state of the tackles for the Packers, it could another frustrating day for Rodgers in the pocket.

Seattle Seahawks vs. Minnesota Vikings

Matchup to watch: Teddy Bridgewater vs. Seattle Defense

Going into this game, everyone will be looking for Adrian Peterson to be the key to victory for the Vikings, including the Seahawks defense. Peterson ran for 1,485 yards and 11 touchdowns this year, and the ‘Hawks don’t plan on letting him loose this weekend. The Seahawks are going to try and take the run game away from them, and force Bridgewater to make plays and win the game for them.   Bridgewater hasn’t had had the pressure on his shoulders, and his inconsistent play hasn’t been an issue of late as the defense and running game has been doing most of the leg work.

Bridgewater is going to have to make very clear and concise decisions and be on time and on target with all of his throws, because everyone knows when the playoffs start the Legion of Boom is playing at the top of their game.   Bridgewater is going to have to make plays with his arm, and his legs in this game and perhaps play the best game of his career.

Seattle is no stranger to the playoffs and they are looking to continue their hot streak right into a third consecutive Super Bowl. The game they played earlier in the season is the blueprint they are looking to replicate this weekend. Holding Peterson to only 18 yards on the ground and forcing Bridgewater to only complete 17 passes for 118 yards and 1 interception.

There are weapons all over the field, at all three levels that have been in this position before, from Michael Bennett, to Bobby Wagner at linebacker and then the Legion of Boom (Thomas, Chancellor and Sherman). These veterans know how to win in the playoffs and will put the pressure on a young quarterback to beat them.

AFC Matchups

Kansas City Chiefs vs. Houston Texans

Matchup to watch: Marcus Peters vs Deandre Hopkins

This will be a scintillating matchup against two up and coming players. Despite having a complete quarterback carousel, DeAndre Hopkins established himself as one of the league’s premier Wide Receivers. Posting a career best in Receptions (111), Yards (1,521) and Touchdowns (11) and capping off with a Pro Bowl, Hopkins is a bona fide star on the rise in this league. Lining up across from him will be Marcus Peters, the Chiefs rookie sensation who is a legitimate candidate for Defensive Rookie of the Year (mind you he also made the Pro Bowl).

This should be an interesting matchup as Peters’ strengths play well to what Hopkins struggles with. While Hopkins is explosive off the line, Peters has the length and physicality off the line that can throw off Hopkins timing and could frustrate Hopkins off the line. However, if Hopkins can avoid the press, look for him to use his precise route running to expose Peters’ technique flaws down the field. We wouldn’t be surprised if Hopkins is able to draw several pass interference calls against Peters’ as he tends to get grabby when beat.

One thing you can anticipate is for the Texans to move Hopkins around the field to create mismatches against a vaunted Chiefs defense. This may prove to be difficult as the Chiefs bolster another solid corner opposite Peters in Sean Smith, but getting Hopkins on the move to avoid press coverage will be key to getting him open.

Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Cincinnati Bengals

Matchup to watch: Steelers run game vs. Bengals defensive front

While one a big question mark is whether Dalton or McCarron will play, one of the bigger question marks will be the health of DeAngelo Williams coming into this week. Pro Football Talk reports he has yet to practice and remains a question mark. Playing without Williams would force the Steelers to turn to the lightly used duo of Fitzgerald Toussaint and Jordan Todman. Losing Williams would be a huge blow, as he’s been a catalyst in the wake of LeVeon Bell’s injury. DeAngelo’s been able to help an over achieving offensive line missing Maurkice Pouncey and Kelvin Beachum produce just enough to complement the potent Steelers passing game.

In the trenches, the Bengals front could put pressure on the Steelers offensive line particularly Geno Atkins who’s had a resurgent season. Keep an eye on the interior trio of Ramon Foster, Cody Wallace, and David DeCastro against Atkins; if they can keep him from getting too much penetration up the middle, the run game should have a semblance of success even if they miss out on having Williams in the lineup. On the edges, the Steelers should be ok matching Villanueva and Gilbert against Johnson and Dunlap. While you can expect Dunlap to cause some problems with his length and size, both Glibert and Villanueva have both of these in spades to matchup. The biggest thing you can count on with these two groups? It’s going to be physical.

The key to this matchup will really come down to the health of Williams. If he’s able to go, the Steelers will have enough firepower to take it to the Bengals. However, if the Steelers have to rely on the Toussaint-Todman duo you can expect the Steelers to pass early and often… not that they weren’t expected to do that anyway.

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