Who could have forecast last summer that, potentially, the most entertaining game of the NFL playoffs would involved two exciting rookie quarterbacks?
Russell Wilson of the Seattle Seahawks and Robert Griffin III of the Washington Redskins will be the focus of attention today when their teams meet in an NFC wild-card game in Landover, Md.
The game also matches teams utilizing the newest in offensive fashion. Both quarterbacks operate much of the time out of the “Pistol” formation, running the read-option that takes advantage of the running ability of each.
In the AFC matchup, old wounds will be reopened when the Indianapolis Colts play the Ravens in Baltimore, which was the home for the Colts from 1953 to 1983 before the move to Hoosierland. Baltimore fans never have forgiven the Irsay family for taking away their franchise. By now, though, the Colts have played more games in Indianapolis than they did in Baltimore, 487 to 440. Indy has a 4-3 all-time record against Baltimore, 2-0 in postseason games.
Colts coach Chuck Pagano will be facing the defense he coached last season.
A thumbnail look at today’s games:
Colts at Ravens
TV: Ch. 4, 1 p.m.
The line: Ravens (-7)
The scoop on the Colts: A wholesale shakeup of the organization after a 2-14 season produced a surprising playoff season. Indy drafted QB Andrew Luck with the first pick in the draft, but almost as valuable were astute selections of WR T.Y. Hilton, RB Vick Ballard, TE Toby Fleenor and WR-KR Lavon Brazil. Luck had ordinary statistics (76.5 passer rating, 23 TDs, 18 INTs), but was effective late in games, especially at home. Ballard ran for 814 yards. Veteran Reggie Wayne led with 106 pass receptions and a 12.8 average. Hilton backed him with 50 catches for a 17.2 average and seven TDs. The Indianapolis defense gave up 28 passing touchdowns and opposing ballcarriers averaged 5.1 yards per attempt.
The scoop on the Ravens: If Baltimore loses, it may mark the end of an era for the Ravens. Veteran LB Ray Lewis, who has been out since Oct. 14 after triceps surgery, may play today. This week he announced that he will retire after this season. ... When QB Joe Flacco is effective, the Ravens usually are. Baltimore finished 3-4 with two of the wins by three points. Three of the losses were to playoff teams, however. Flacco had an 87.8 passer rating and threw 22 TDs with 10 INTs. His completion percentage was 59.7. ... Anquan Boldin led the team with 65 receptions for a 14.2 average but more dangerous on deep throws was Torrey Smith, with 49 catches for a 17.4 average and eight touchdowns. Durable RB Ray Rice ran for 1,143 yards and a 4.4 average with nine touchdowns. ... The Baltimore defense isn’t as fearsome as it once was but Lewis’ return should provide an emotional lift and safety Ed Reed has been making big plays throughout his career. Besides Lewis, OLB Terrell Suggs, DT Haloti Ngata and S Bernard Pollard, all who were held out of last Sunday’s loss at Cincinnati, are expected to play today.
Outlook: Colts have been getting by on inspiration and Luck’s late-game magic. Baltimore, 20-13.
Seahawks at Redskins
TV: Ch. 29, 4:30 p.m.
The line: Seahawks (-3)
The scoop on the Seahawks: Wilson and defense have been the story of Seattle’s remarkable rise. Seattle made the playoffs in Pete Carroll’s first season (2010) and upset New Orleans. Only 14 players are left from that team. ... The Seahawks allowed a franchise-low 245 points, holding opponents under 20 points 11 times. ... Wilson passed for 26 TDs with only 10 INTs. He had a 100 rating and completed 64.1 percent. He also ran for 489 yards and four TDs, three of which came against the Bills in Toronto. Sidney Rice and Golden Tate has seven TD catches each. Ex-Bill Marshawn Lynch was third in the league with 1,590 rushing yards and a 5.3 average. ... The defense got All-Pro level play from rookie LB Bobby Wagner, CB Richard Sherman and rookie DE Bruce Irvin and hard-hitting S Earl Thomas.
The scoop on the Redskins: Coach Mike Shanahan still has his amazing touch with the running game. Washington led the NFL in total offense (6.131 yards). Of that, 2,709 came on the ground with a team average of 5.2 per attempt. An unsung rookie, Alfred Morris, finished second in the league in rushing (1,613, 4.8 with 13 TDs), the latest example of Shanahan getting maximum production out of running backs who appeared to have ordinary credentials. Griffin had a sensational season for a rookie, completing 65.6 with 20 touchdowns and just five interceptions. His rating was 102.4. He also ran for 815 yards, a 6.8 average and seven TDs. RGIII has a variety of targets to throw to including Pierre Garcon, Santana Moss (7 TDs) and Leonard Hankerson.. ... Ex-Bill Jim Haslett’s defense ranked only 28th in the league but was tough (No. 5) against the run and effective enough during Washington’s seven-game win streak at the end of the regular season with blitzing compensating for a lack of rush from the front four.
Outlook: Should be fun, but Seattle’s defense should carry the day. Seahawks, 31-20.