Whew, we made it…the playoffs have officially kicked off. 17 weeks down and four games remain until the Lombardi trophy is awarded. Seattle has done what they needed to do to this point. The Seahawks are able to sit back for a week while four other NFC teams have to compete to stay alive. Seattle won’t be adding to their frequent flyer miles over the next three weeks either because as long as they keep winning the other teams have to visit our digs. In other words, the second half of the season now starts and the real fun begins.
I thought I would take this opportunity to highlight the 6 NFC teams and give you my insight into what they bring to the playoff picture (listed in order of seeding).
#6 New Orleans: A team with a high-powered offense…as long as they play in New Orleans. On the road they are 3-5 and put up a very pedestrian 18 points/game. Couple that with the weather report for this Saturday having a maximum temperature of 32 deg which should give the edge to Philadelphia. New Orleans is an offensively potent team with Drew Brees and all of his targets, add to the mix that their defense has significantly improved under Rob Ryan. This can be a dangerous team. But looking at the remaining teams I don’t fear them as much I do a San Francisco or Carolina. Over the last four weeks they have blown out two teams at home and lost moderately to two teams on the road. Really their only impressive game was four weeks ago when they beat Carolina 31-13. The playoffs are a breeding ground for teams that are hot…this is not New Orleans right now.
#5 San Francisco: The team most pundits are saying nobody wants to face right now. The way they are playing how can you argue? The 49ers bring a terrific defense and very solid offensive game plan to the playoffs. Over the last six games they have blown out the three teams they were expected to and beat the three teams that were expected to be tough. Offensively they have started to click and have consistently put up 20+ points in 5 out of the 6 games. Frank Gore gives them a solid ground game and the combination of Vernon Davis and Michael Crabtree make their passing game very formidable. Colin Kaepernick has resumed his stellar play and solid decision-making on the field. The weather should play a factor, it is supposed to be cold…really cold…12 deg cold. That may affect a San Francisco team that is not used to playing in the cold. Still I would hate to be Green Bay this coming Sunday.
#4 Green Bay: A surprise in anybody’s book to be in the playoffs. They feature a recovering Aaron Rodgers, and even at less than 100% is still very dangerous. They have won 3 of the last 4 games, with three of those games scoring over 30 points. However their defense has allowed the most points of anybody in the playoffs, can you see San Francisco salivating? But there is something about playing at Lambeau field, cold weather and their golden boy (Rodgers) back on the field that just screams “this is going to be a game”. They also have Randall Cobb who played his first game last week since an injury in week 6. Eddie Lacy looks to be a running back with a lot of potential and Jordy Nelson definitely can present some problems. Don’t get me wrong I think that the 49ers will win, but I have hope that Green Bay will pull off the improbable and generate a win.
#3 Philadelphia: Probably the most intriguing team of the bunch. It is plain to see that they have a ton of potential. And with Chip Kelly at the helm there is a certain sense of panache that exudes from the team. Offensively you can’t go to sleep on them, they will beat you on the ground or through the air. Nick Foles has been playing lights out; having played in 13 games, throwing 27 touchdowns while only giving up two interceptions and fumbles respectively. That’s good. Really good (said in my most authentic Nacho Libre accent). The ‘Seans’, LeSean and DeSean, make up the rest of their offensive prowess. Both are scary good and can have huge games at any given moment. But, and there is a big ‘but’, their defense leaves a lot to be desired. They are ranked near the bottom of the league in most defensive categories. They aren’t going to stop many teams and that is going to be trouble in the playoffs. Defense wins championships. I foresee New Orleans and Philadelphia being a shoot out…OK Corral style.
#2 Carolina: A very scary team indeed. The Panthers defense started out as a small ripple this season but now have achieved tsunami status. Their front defensive line is the most ferocious in the NFL and put pressure incessantly on the quarterback. Speaking in general, their secondary is very good, not great, but they don’t have to be much of the time. But Luke Kuechly is great and he will disrupt a large number plays throughout the course of a game. Offensively they are an up and down team. Not enough consistency to leave anybody fearful, but just dynamic enough that you have to be leery. Steve Smith is making strides to be ready in two weeks and that should cause concern, especially now that Cam Newton and him have gotten on the same rhythm. Home field advantage helps them, but it doesn’t scare any opponent.
#1 Seattle: The team anybody not from Seattle loves to hate. The personality of this team is defined by it’s defense. They have a hard-nosed, daring defense that will hawk to the ball like they are looking for their last meal. If you can move the ball against this defense consider yourself lucky, if you can’t…it is going to be a loooong game. The only question mark on this team is which offense will you get, the average or above average one? Russell Wilson and company definitely have the capability to put up a lot of points but they have been hard pressed to do that this season. Now if we are so lucky as to add Percy Harvin to the mix, we suddenly become very potent on offense. We can’t count on that happening…but it is hard not to fantasize. Having excellent special teams allows for great field position on one side of the ball and kicking field goals from the next county on the other. Add in the fact that this team gets to play at home until the Superbowl and you have a powder keg of excitement in this town.
How I expect this to play out: San Francisco beats Green Bay. Philadelphia beats New Orleans. Seattle beats San Francisco. Carolina beats Philadelphia. Seattle beats Carolina.
How I want this to play out: Green Bay beats San Francisco. Philadelphia beats New Orleans. Seattle beats Green Bay. Philadelphia beats Carolina. Seattle beats Philadelphia.
This is the best part of football season (as long as your team is still playing). One win you move on, one loss and you empty out your locker. Anxiety. Exhilaration. Fanatics. Excitement. Sllrrppp…sorry, got the keyboard a bit wet, salivary glands kicked into high gear for just a moment there. Go Hawks!