Packers struggling, Redskins soaring into postseason
LANDOVER, MD. >> Aaron Rodgers has been a Super Bowl champion and a two-time NFL MVP. He owns the best passer rating in league history. His Green Bay Packers are in the playoffs for the seventh consecutive season.
Kirk Cousins started a grand total of nine regular-season games entering this season, wasn't chosen as Washington's QB until a couple of weeks before the opener, and his only postseason experience to date consists of 10 passes as a backup in a loss three years ago.
Look at each of them now, though.
Heading into Sunday's playoff matchup between the wild-card Packers (10-6) and NFC East champion Redskins (9-7), Rodgers struggled through a poor-by-his-lofty-standards season, certainly hurt by the absence of top receiver Jordy Nelson, and his team won only four of its last 10 games. Cousins, meanwhile, soared, breaking team passing records and setting a league mark for completion percentage at home while leading Washington to four victories in a row down the stretch.
Fans attending the game will be given white towels with burgundy lettering that pay tribute to Cousins' catch phrase: "You like that?!"
And get this, given their comparative careers to date: An actual topic of debate in the D.C. area this week was which of the two QBs would be the player you'd want for the next five years.
As for the Redskins players themselves, they express nothing but confidence in Cousins, who replaced Robert Griffin III as the starter late in the preseason, but they're not exactly disparaging Rodgers in any way.
"He's still got 31 touchdowns — how can you say he's not really having a good year? He's still got the intangibles of an elite QB," Washington cornerback Bashaud Breeland said. "Sometimes his supporting cast is not there to bail him out, but I feel like he's one of those guys you've got to be on your toes with, every play."
Here are other things to know about Sunday's game:
PESKY PEPPERS: Julius Peppers is still going strong in his 14th year in the league. His 10 1/2 sacks led the Packers and was his highest total since getting 11 1/2 in 2012. Peppers and fellow OLB Clay Matthews give the Packers a pair of dangerous veteran pass rushers, and their solid play has been key to a generally effective defense.
ALONG THE LINE: A young Redskins offensive line — RG Brandon Scherff, RT Morgan Moses and LG Spencer Long became starters this season — allowed only 27 sacks. C Kory Lichtensteiger returns after missing half the season on IR. "It's like he never left. ... Should be like riding a bike," Pro Bowl LT Trent Williams said. "There's hardly any looks that we're going to come across that he hasn't seen and doesn't know how to diagnose."
GROUND GAME: Heading into the season, the Redskins vowed to be a run-first team, and Alfred Morris and Matt Jones topped 100 yards rushing once each in Weeks 1 and 2. And then it all fell apart. Morris did not reach the 100-yard mark in a game again until Week 17. "We've never lost faith in Alfred," coach Jay Gruden said. "We haven't killed him throughout the season (by) giving him 25-30 carries a game. He's fresh, and this is the perfect time to start to utilize him."
'BACKERS: OLB Ryan Kerrigan, who led Washington with 9 1/2 sacks, is a known quantity. But during its 4-0 finish, the team benefited from strong play by three other guys at linebacker — Will Compton and Mason Foster, neither of whom was a starter at ILB when the season began, and rookie OLB Preston Smith. Compton had his first career sack and first career interception in Weeks 16 and 17. Smith picked up five sacks over the final three games. They'll go up against a Packers offensive line that allowed Rodgers to be sacked 46 times.
THIRD DOWNERS: Among plenty of problems for Green Bay's offense has been an inability to convert on third downs. Green Bay was 28th in the league in third-down conversions at 33 percent, partly a reflection of an inconsistent running game. The Packers were just 2 of 15 on third downs in the loss to Minnesota in Week 17.
While Washington's defense ranked 28th in yards allowed, it was 12th in opponents' third-down conversions at 37 percent.
"We need to be more disciplined and execute," Packers offensive coordinator Edgar Bennett said.
AP Sports Writer Genaro C. Armas in Green Bay, Wisconsin contributed to this report.
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