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NFC Wild Card Playoff Preview

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The NFC playoff picture as a whole looks very intriguing - except for the Saints-Seahawks game.
Unfortunately, this year's post-season schedule opens in Seattle, so let's address the game once, and then never think about it again when it's over.
Qwest Field is a tough place to play for visiting teams.
The 12th man advantage is a potent one.
But the Seahawks are going to need a lot more than a loud crowd to pull this one out.
Seattle's Defense will have to change its tune come Saturday.
The Seahawks are one of the worst disciplined teams in the league in terms of playing their responsibilities, especially against the pass.
Flying around out of control and blowing assignments won't cut it against the Saints Offense.
Head Coach Sean Payton does a better job than probably anyone in the league of forcing opposing defenses into vulnerable positions via personnel use and receiver alignments.
The Saints can light it up against the best.
I'm not sure Seattle's 27th ranked pass defense will be able to cut it.
There are a couple of things the Seahawks do have working for them, though.
The Saints are badly banged up at running back.
And they haven't run the ball that well in the first place all season.
One of the seldom mentioned keys to the Saints' 2009 Super Bowl run was the success of their running game - they ranked 6th in the NFL last year.
That takes a tremendous burden off the quarterback, and obviously gives an offense more options.
This year, New Orleans' struggles on the ground certainly have contributed to their lack of explosion on offense.
Another thing that the Seahawks have going for them is the return of Matt Hasselbeck.
He might not be a top 15 QB, but anything is better than Charlie Whitehurst.
I swear I was about to turn my television off about halfway through the 3rd quarter last Sunday night.
It's not as fun as it sounds to watch a quarterback playing dodge ball with his running backs' ankles on pass after pass.
Where Hasselbeck gives Seattle a chance is with his experience.
He's a wily old veteran who has seen it all.
He's the type of quarterback that uses everything at his disposal to manipulate a defense - pump fakes, shoulder rolls, etc...
Saints Defensive Coordinator Greg Williams attacks with the blitz.
He takes chances, and while this pays huge dividends at times, it also results in the occasional blown coverage and some big plays allowed.
It takes a veteran quarterback like Matt Hasselbeck to be able to recognize these schemes and take advantage when a mistake is made.
He did a few times vs.
the Saints in their week 11 match up earlier this season.
In the end though, the Seahawks need too much to go right to pull off the upset.
I'd be absolutely shocked if they won.
But that doesn't exactly make me a unique thinker.
The toughest game to call this weekend has to be the Packers-Eagles matchup.
These teams are pretty evenly matched, and they both have that Jekyll and Hyde aspect to them.
One week they look like Super Bowl contenders.
The next week, they look like...
well...
the Seahawks.
Michael Vick is the X-factor here.
This season, he played the best football of his career, primarily because he was better from the pocket.
He didn't move to run as often as he did in Atlanta.
Instead, he moved to buy time and then throw, making him twice as dangerous.
However, in recent weeks, he's reverted back to the old Vick.
He still doesn't recognize blitzes well.
He doesn't seem to know when the free blitzer is his responsibility instead of the O-line's.
He's been frenetic in the pocket, ready to run if his first receiver isn't open or if he perceives any type of pressure.
Now if you're on defense, Vick running too often can be a good or bad thing.
If Vick runs, he will surely make some big plays.
The question is will it be enough to win the game.
Every defense that has attacked Vick with pressure this season has prevented the Eagles from getting into a consistent, sustaining rhythm on offense.
Is it worth it as a defense to attack him with pressure knowing that he won't march the offense down the field drive after drive, but that he might burn you for some big plays? I think the Packers will attack often with the blitz.
They have the athletes on defense in guys like Charles Woodson and Clay Matthews to match up with Vick.
And they love to blitz Woodson from the slot.
This is probably the best approach for Green Bay's defense, but being aggressive vs.
Vick certainly has its problems.
When the Packers have the ball, I expect a lot of completions.
Green Bay can't run the ball, and even if they try to, their line isn't as physical as Philly's front four.
This game will most likely be won or lost through the air.
Dimitri Patterson gets the start at right corner for the Eagles.
He WILL BE ATTACKED by the Packers offense.
He has poor speed, lacks quickness, and has lousy awareness.
If he plays off, like he did in the first half vs.
the Giants (3 TD passes allowed), Aaron Rodgers will pick him apart with quick underneath passes.
If Patterson plays press, Green Bay's receivers will eat him up.
In their week 15 game against the Giants, the Eagles gave Patterson help by playing mostly cover-2 to his side in the second half.
The Giants then stopped going after Patterson - so this approach kind of worked.
But then Eli Manning started working the middle of the field, where naturally there are less defenders and more one-on-one coverage if Patterson is getting safety help.
The Eagles' linebackers and safeties struggle in pass coverage, so forcing them into more one-on-one matchups isn't exactly an ideal situation for Philly.
They'll have to pick their poison against Rodgers and his quick release this Sunday.
I wish I didn't have to pick this game.
It's too close to call and I don't feel confident that either team has a distinct advantage.
But if I have to, I'll take the Packers.
They have more consistent elements to their team overall.
This game truly is up in the air, though.
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