by Justin Henry (@cynicjrh)
NFC East Beat Writer/Helping Search for Vincent Smith's Helmet
Before 2002, the only way Seattle could have played Washington in the postseason would have been in a Super Bowl.
Since realignment, the Redskins have made the playoffs just twice (2005 and 2007), and both of their exits have come at the hands of team from Space City.
But gone are Joe Gibbs, Mark Brunell, Mike Holmgren, and Matt Hasselbeck. In their place are two other coaches with multiple championships, and two other quarterbacks with sky's-the-limit potential (Brunell and Hasselbeck were better than most remember).
The Redskins revitalized the fortunes of their franchise with 2 world class rookies in Robert Griffin III and Alfred Morris under the oft-questioned Mike Shanahan, while the Seahawks have forged a playoff identity behind rookie Russell Wilson, as well as a pillage-and-plunder defense, coached by the polarizing Pete Carroll.
With the NFC being so airtight in terms of parity, it's certainly possible that either of these teams could make a run deep into the postseason.
But they can't get to the second game without winning the first game, and the late Sunday battle will provide an exciting battle that spotlights the best of 2012's rookie class.
1. Passing Game Comparison
Only 4 quarterbacks have a rating of 100.0 or greater in the 2012 season, and 2 of them are represented here.
Griffin was third in the league with a 102.4 rating, completing 65.6 percent of his passes for 3200 yards and 20 touchdowns. He's also minimized mistakes, throwing just 5 interceptions. He is the only quarterback in the league to start 10+ games and throw 5 or less picks.
Griffin's shown a high tendency to confidently air it out against a variety of secondaries. He's thrown 6 touchdown passes of 50+ yards, to proven talents like Santana Moss and Pierre Garcon (2 apiece) as well as lesser-knowns like Aldrick Robinson and Leonard Hankerson.
Wilson, meanwhile, is fourth in rating with a 100.0 rating, completing 64.1 percent of his passes for 3118 yards and 26 touchdowns, but also 10 interceptions. He's thrown the most touchdown passes for Seattle since Matt Hasselbeck in 2007 (28).
Wilson also matched a benchmark, tying Peyton Manning's record of most touchdown passes by a rookie. It's becoming more of a passing league each year (fellow rookie Andrew Luck had 23 TD passes), but Wilson's total is still highly impressive, as is his ability to lead fourth quarter comebacks.
2. Running Game Comparison
If you consider the Griffin/Wilson matchup to be anything of a stalemate, you're going to find an argument just as difficult among the running backs.
Morris is second in the league with 1613 yards, behind only Adrian Peterson's near-record 2097 yards. He's also the first running back to rush for over 1600 yards as a rookie since Eric Dickerson set the rookie record in 1983 with 1808. Only 2 other players have topped that milestone: Ottis Anderson and George Rogers.
The Redskins, as a team, average 5.22 YPA rushing, the second best average in the league behind Minnesota's 5.39. RG3 also contributes to Washington's ground game; he had 815 yards (twentieth in the NFL) and 7 rushing touchdowns to go with Morris' 13.
Marshawn Lynch, however, remains a Skittles-fueled beast capable of breaking seismographs nationwide. Lynch was third in rushing yards with 1590, and compliments that total with 11 touchdowns. It's his fourth 1000-yard season, and the highest total of his career.
Seattle ranks fifth as a team in yards-per-carry average (4.81), as Lynch is complimented not just by Wilson (489 yards, 4 TD), but an overlooked change-of-pace back in Robert Turbin (354 yards, 4.4 YPA).
3. Pass Defense Comparison
It's with the pass defense that we begin to see a bit more disparity.
Washington, particularly earlier in the season, was a sitting duck for opposing quarterbacks. Teams threw 636 passes against them, the most in the league. They've given up the third most passing yards (4511), fourth most touchdown passes (31), and allowed 8 300+ yard games.
On the flip side, the Skins have the third most interceptions on defense (21, led by the ageless London Fletcher with 5), and have a respectable amount of sacks (31, Ryan Kerrigan with 8.5). And the pass defense has improved over time; only 2 of the 8 300-yard games took place during their current 7-game winning streak.
Seattle, on the other hand, holds up considerably better in Gus Bradley's "Legion of Boom". Opponents have only managed 15 touchdown passes against them (second lowest in the NFL), and 3250 yards (sixth lowest).
Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner have combined for 11 of Seattle's 18 interceptions, although not without controversy (read: the Adderall story). Rookie Bruce Irvin's contributed 8 sacks, while journeyman Chris Clemons has 11.5 to his name.
4. Run Defense Comparison
Despite what's common knowledge about the images of both teams' defenses, it may surprise some to find that the Skins are a bit more adept at stopping the run.
The Redskins have allowed only 4.22 YPA rushing, which is a break-even point among the rest of the league. Washington has allowed only 3 100-yard rushers in 2012 (Ray Rice the max with 121), and they've recovered 10 fumbles.
Fletcher added 139 total tackles to his impressive resume, while outside linebackers Kerrigan and Rob Jackson each contributed a pair of forced fumbles. Perry Riley joins Fletcher with over 100 combined tackles (125).
Seattle, meanwhile, gives up 4.49 YPA, the ninth worst average in the NFL. Though they've only given up 3 100-yard rushers themselves, one of those instances was a 182-yard steamrolling from Minnesota's Purple Jesus in Peterson. Frank Gore had 131 yards himself in an October matchup.
But the run D isn't without its sunshine. Rookie second-round linebacker Bobby Wagner more than fills the void left behind by David Hawthorne. The Utah State star has 139 combined tackles of his own, while the defense as a whole claims 13 fumble recovers.
5. The Whole Picture
This game comes down to the more innovative of the squads. Jim Haslett has to build a two-fold wall to stop Lynch's cannonball runs, as well as Wilson's controlled whimsy. Gus Bradley is tasked with preventing the RG3/Morris Express from boring holes through his weakest spots.
This is Shanahan's first playoff game since losing the AFC Title game in early 2006, and Washington's riding a longer wave of momentum. The Skins don't make many mistakes on offense, and they may be the kryptonite that solves Seattle's impenetrable missile-defense system.
Seattle may struggle on the road, and you saw how lively FedEx Field was for that regular season finale against Dallas. If the Seahawks can't force turnovers, they need Lynch to be at his best, fighting for those extra yards (and imagining he's on the field with 11 Tracy Porters).
All told, I'd take Washington to win in a fairly close game, but where there's creative minds and forward thinking (as both teams demonstrate), anything's possible.