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NFC wild card is NFL's version of Groundhog Day

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NFC wild card is NFL's version of Groundhog Day

GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) It's not just wild-card weekend in Minnesota and Green Bay.

It's Groundhog Day.

Six days after facing off in the regular-season finale, and five weeks after their first meeting of the season, the Minnesota Vikings and Green Bay Packers are at it again Saturday night. This is no yawner of a sequel, though, not when the stakes are win or winter vacation.

``Like I tell the team, it doesn't matter who comes out of that tunnel, I don't care what color they have on,'' Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. ``It's about fundamentals, matchups, and that's what we're focused on. We're playing at home, it's going to be a great environment. ... The Vikings obviously have done a great job to get into the tournament, and we respect that, but this is a different deal.

``This is what everybody's been fighting for, and this is what we're excited about.''

Minnesota (10-6) and Green Bay (11-5) split their first two meetings, with the Vikings' victory last Sunday in Minneapolis giving them the last wild-card spot. It also dropped the Packers from the No. 2 to the No. 3 seed, and forced the NFC North champs to work a weekend they were hoping to have off.

At least neither team had to scramble to dig up film or scouting reports.

As division rivals, the Packers and Vikings already know plenty about each other. After playing twice in December, they know each other so well they could probably call each other's plays. There won't be any big surprises, no new wrinkles to the offense or defense that the other hasn't already seen.

``So much familiarity with the team that we are playing because of the number of times we have played them in the last month and a half,'' Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said. ``So not a whole lot that needs to be discussed as far as getting motivated to play this game.''

The Vikings game plan will be simple: Give the ball to Adrian Peterson and get out of the way.

That's the plan pretty much every week, but particularly against Green Bay. He's rushed for 409 yards in their two games, more than some running backs manage in 16, and is averaging a whopping 7.4 yards per carry. He had the longest run of his career, 82 yards for a touchdown, in the Dec. 2 game, and a career-high 34 carries on Sunday.

Peterson has gained more yards against Green Bay (1,442 in 12 games) than any other team, and he chews up the Lambeau Field grass as easily as the Metrodome turf.

``It's just the rivalry,'' he said. ``There's more emphasis on that game because we know that's a team that we have to beat in order to accomplish our goals we've set forth.''

Yeah, but the Packers had a goal last weekend, too, and that didn't help against Peterson.

``We had the right calls, we just need to be a little smarter as far as where we fit and then a little more accountable and reliable as far as what we do,'' Packers linebacker Clay Matthews said. ``There were a couple of times where, perhaps playing somebody else, we could fall inside somebody else's gap. With this team, they'll make you pay and that's exactly what happened.

``It was a good test and obviously we'll come back here ready.''

Now, having the Vikings come to Lambeau for the playoffs would seem an advantage for the Packers. Minnesota hasn't won in Green Bay since 2009, the last year the Vikings made the playoffs, and the Packers have won 20 of their last 22 games at home.

But the Packers have lost their last two home playoff games, including last year to the Giants when they were the NFC's No. 1 seed.

``It's not something we've thought about or really talked about since probably April,'' Aaron Rodgers said. ``We want to be playing the right way obviously. We had a good stretch there. We won nine out of 11 games and played a lot of really good opponents, tough opponents, tough games on the road.

``I like the way we're playing,'' he added. ``I think we have the right mindset, a good group of leaders in this locker room and a lot of guys who've won a lot of regular season, a lot of postseason games. We're excited about our team and excited about our opportunity in front of us.''

Especially since Green Bay's high-powered offense is finally at full strength.

The Packers' top four receivers - Greg Jennings, Jordy Nelson, James Jones, Randall Cobb - have played less than three full games together this season, with Jennings (torn groin muscle), Nelson (hamstring) and Cobb (ankle) missing a total of 13 games. But all are healthy now, and the Vikings got an idea of how tough it will be to contain them last week, when the Packers piled up 405 yards of offense and scored 34 points.

Expect this week to bring more of the same.

``We'll tweak our offense, they'll tweak their defense. Each team's going to look at what transpired on Sunday and try to make some adjustments to make sure they're better than they were on Sunday,'' Green Bay offensive coordinator Tom Clements said. ``Playing outside, it can be a different type of game depending on what the weather's like. But it's still going to be a battle. They're a good defense, we're a good offense. They run the ball on offense, we've got to play on defense.

``It's the same type of game. Just different location.''

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Game 60: Capitals vs. Lightning Date, Time, How to Watch, Game Thread

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USA TODAY Sports

Game 60: Capitals vs. Lightning Date, Time, How to Watch, Game Thread

What: Washington Capitals vs. Tampa Bay Lightning

Where: Capital One Arena, Washington, D.C.

When: 7:00 p.m. ET

How to Watch: Capitals-Lightning will be broadcast on NBC Sports Washington (Channel Finder)

Live Stream: You can watch the Capitals-Lightning game on NBC Sports Washington's live stream page.

You can also stream the game online with no cable TV subscription on fuboTV (try for free!).

WHEN IS THE CAPITALS-LIGHTNING GAME?

The Capitals (34-18-7) take on the Lightning (39-17-3) Tuesday, February 20 at 7:00 p.m. ET in Washington.

WHAT CHANNEL IS THE CAPITALS-LIGHTNING GAME ON?

The Capitals-Lightning game will be broadcast on NBC Sports Washington. Coverage kicks off with Capitals FaceOff at 6:00 p.m. followed by Caps GameTime at 6:30 p.m. Stay with NBC Sports Washington for Caps Extra following the game, Caps Overtime at 10:00 p.m. and Caps in 30 at 11:00 p.m. for all your postgame coverage. (NBC Sports Washington channel Finder)

6:00 p.m. — Caps FaceOff
6:30 p.m. — Caps GameTime
7:00 p.m. — Capitals vs. Lightning
9:30 p.m. — Caps Extra
10:00 p.m. — Caps Overtime
11:00 p.m. — Caps in 30

WHAT ARE THE PROJECTED LINES FOR THE CAPITALS-LIGHTNING GAME?

Here are the projected lines for the Caps-Lightning game:

Forwards
Alex Ovechkin - Nicklas Backstrom - Tom Wilson
Jakub Vrana - Evgeny Kuznetsov - T.J. Oshie
Brett Connolly - Lars Eller - Andre Burakovsky
Chandler Stephenson - Jay Beagle - Devante Smith-Pelly

Defensemen
Christian Djoos - John Carlson
Dmitry Orlov - Matt Niskanen
Brooks Orpik - Madison Bowey

Braden Holtby starts with Philipp Grubauer as backup

Scratches: Alex Chiasson, Taylor Chorney

WHERE CAN I STREAM THE CAPITALS-LIGHTNING GAME?

The Capitals-Lightning game, as well as Caps GameTime and Caps Extra, is available to stream live here through NBC Sports Washington's live stream page and is available to authenticated NBC Sports Washington subscribers on desktops, tablets, mobile devices and connected TVs anywhere in the United States.

The game is also available to stream, along with all the pregame and postgame shows, on fuboTV (try for free).

CAPITALS-LIGHTNING OPEN THREAD

Use the comment section below to discuss the game action with other Capitals fans. 

For all the latest Caps coverage, follow Capitals Insider Tarik El-Bashir, Capitals correspondent JJ Regan and the NBC Sports Capitals account on Twitter. Be sure check out our Capitals page and NBC Sports Washington's Facebook page.

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Need to Know: Redskins' Junior Galette will be a valued free agent

Need to Know: Redskins' Junior Galette will be a valued free agent

Here is what you need to know on this Tuesday, February 20, 22 days before NFL free agency starts.

I’m out this week so I’ll be re-posting some of the best and most popular articles of the past few months. Some may have slightly dated information but the major points in the posts still stand. Thanks for reading, as always.

Galette to be a valued free agent

Originally published 12/13/17

Like the Redskins, the Broncos are no longer relevant in 2017. Both teams’ fan bases have started to look towards the coming offseason.

To give their readers what they want, the Denver Post published an article by Mike Renner of Pro Football Focus that discussed some of the top pending free agents who have done the most to increase their values in the past year. There were two Redskins named, one you would expect to see on such a list and one that might surprise some people.

Kirk Cousins is at the top of the list. “The Washington signal-caller is grading as a top-10 quarterback (82.8), and soon he’ll have the long-term contract of one,” Renner wrote. “Only this time its value will be exponentially higher than any one he would have signed back when he first became a free agent in 2016.”

But the surprising name is that of Junior Galette. After missing the last two seasons with two torn Achilles tendons, he played this year on a one-year, $800,000 deal. And while he hasn’t been on fire in the sack department with just two on the year, he has been getting pressure on the passer.

“He’s accumulated the 27th-highest pass-rushing grade of any edge defender this season, but in only 264 snaps,” wrote Renner. “At 29 years of age, it’s doubtful he ever gets back to the level of the contract that he once had on the table with New Orleans. With how he’s played this season though, some pass-rush-needy team will pay handsomely for his services.”

One team that could be considered to be pass rush needy is the Redskins. Preston Smith is the starter and supposedly one of the Redskins’ top pass rushers. But in 100 fewer pass rush snaps this year, Galette has only three fewer quarterback hits than Smith and six more hurries.

And after missing those two seasons, Galette has remained healthy. Although he was limited with a hamstring during much of the preseason, he has not missed a practice or appeared on an injury report this year.

But would the Redskins be willing to pay him “handsomely”? Perhaps a good comp would be Connor Barwin, who moved from the Eagles to the Rams this past offseason at the age of 31. He had five sacks in Philly in 2016. That got him a one-year deal worth $3.5 million.

Barwin likely will have more sacks on his ledger going into free agency so let’s say Galette could command around $3 million. Perhaps he could offer Washington a bit of a hometown discount and agree to something in the $2.75 million range. If that is the case, the Redskins would be smart to keep him around for another year.

Plenty of things could alter the equation. If Galette gets hot in the last three games and posts a few more sacks his price could rise. With Smith and Ryan Kerrigan both back next year, perhaps Galette will want to go somewhere that he might get more playing time.

The details need to be sorted out but don’t be surprised if Galette gets a lot of attention in free agency, as much as teams need pass rush, and if the Redskins have to make a very tough decision about how much he is worth.

Stay up to date on the Redskins. Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page Facebook.com/TandlerNBCS and follow him on Twitter @TandlerNBCS.

Timeline  

Days until:

—NFL Combine (3/1) 9
—NFL Draft (4/26) 65
—2018 NFL season starts (9/9) 201