For a second straight day, the NFL will take to the field for wild card playoff games.
This time, it’s the teams in the NFC facing off. The day starts with a match-up between the Minnesota Vikings and New Orleans Saints, and ends with the Seattle Seahawks taking on the Philadelphia Eagles.
Here’s what to watch for:
Vikings look to take down the Saints
Players who are drafted by the Minnesota Vikings seem to stick with the team. Their top three rushers and top five receivers have all spent their entire careers in Minnesota. Of course, part of that may be due to youth: top running back Dalvin Cook is in his third year, while leading receiver Stefon Diggs is in his fifth season. But then there are veterans like wide receiver Adam Thielen (6 years) and Kyle Rudolph (9 seasons) who have stuck with the squad despite only three playoff appearances in the past decade.
Rudolph, a tight end, thinks the team’s continuity has made them stronger. In an interview for Vikings web series “The Voyage,” Rudolph said: “Made the playoffs in ’15, and we don’t in ’16. Make it in ’17, not in ’18, and now we’re back in the playoffs. And all those experiences, all the trials and tribulations, a lot of our core guys have been there for those.”
On the other hand, Thielen noted that the New Orleans Saints have a similar situation: “They (the Saints defense) have a ton of veterans who have played a lot of football and have experience in the playoffs.”
Still, Thielen is confident, especially with multiple 100-yard receiving games against the black and gold. “It’s tough to hold back the emotions, I’m just trying to have that calm before the storm,” he said. “But we’re here now, and it’s go time.”
For the Saints, the motivation is a little different, as the taste of last season’s playoff loss lingers. After a blown pass interference call, New Orleans was eliminated by the Super Bowl runner-up, the Los Angeles Rams. But the Saints are trying to avoid overthinking, says cornerback Marshon Lattimore. “We’re not going to get in our heads or psyche ourselves out, thinking we always have to be perfect,” he said.
In fact, the Saints are expecting it to be fun. One former Viking who moved on is Latavious Murray, the Saints running back who accounted for five New Orleans touchdowns this season. Murray told reporters he is definitely looking forward to facing his old teammates: “It definitely fuels me … what’s better than beating your friends and people you know? Nothing better than that … it’s no different than a video game, we’re playing to win.”
Watch: Minnesota Vikings at the New Orleans Saints at 1:05 p.m. ET on Fox.
Seahawks look to flip script, remain successful on the road against Eagles
The Seattle Seahawks are well-known for their supposed home-field advantage. In 2013, Bleacher Report published a deep dive into the supposed advantages of CenturyLink Field and found some compelling research. Between 2005 and 2013, the Seahawks forced opponents into 130 false-start penalties (penalties that are often due to crowd noise), far more than any other team. And in those same eight years, only the Green Bay Packers had a better home record than Seattle.
This season, the script is flipped: the Seahawks have relied heavily on road victories in their run to the playoffs. At the normally intimidating CenturyLink Field, Seattle went 4-4, buoyed by a 7-1 record on opposing teams’ turf. Luckily for the Seahawks, they’ve already won on the road against the Philadelphia Eagles, a 17-9 victory in Week 12.
But Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson isn’t looking back to old matchups, instead viewing the playoffs as the start of a new campaign: “It comes down to having a fresh start, a new season. There’s nothing magical … the team that can focus and settle down the quickest is the team that does the best.”
Meanwhile, the Eagles are looking to build off the momentum they ended the regular season with. In four straight games against division opponents, the Eagles went from a mediocre 5-7 to a respectable 9-7 with an NFC East division title. But just making the playoffs isn’t the end goal for a squad that won the Super Bowl two seasons ago.
For Eagles veteran defensive end Brandon Graham, blocking out the noise is nothing new. After being named captain for the playoffs, the Super Bowl champ said he was looking to help young players avoid the pitfalls of the postseason.
“I’m not letting stuff get to me like it used to get to me,” Graham said. “I’m just trying to grow and pass it on to other guys. You have to work to make sure there’s no distractions or mental clutter.”
That mindset has led to a deep team bond among the Eagles, especially as injuries took their toll on the starting unit. Running back Boston Scott is living proof of its success. A practice squad player who was put on the active roster in October, Scott ended up scoring three touchdowns on the last day of the regular season to help clinch a division title for Philadelphia.
“We always talk to guys on the practice squad, let them know you’re part of the team, too,” Graham told reporters. “Your opportunity will come one day, just make sure you’re ready.” The Eagles hope their backups, not to mention their starters, are ready for the road-tested Seahawks on Sunday afternoon.
Watch: Seattle Seahawks at the Philadelphia Eagles at 4:40 p.m. ET on NBC