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Last weekend was not exactly a bright one in my history of picking games.  I was 1-3 with my only successful pick being the Bears.  The most interesting thing to me about last weekend is that each of the four teams that lost the regular season matchup in the stadium where the playoff game was played won the playoff game.  And, as a teaser for my picks, I think that trend will continue this weekend.

I was going to do more extensive write ups on the two championship games, but to be honest, I’ve been much more interested in the work I’m doing over at my NBA blog.  I’m researching and posting my mid-season rankings by position.  I just posted my mid-season point guard rankings.

Back to the NFL – I do think these championship games could be excellent.  Let’s take a look.

NFC Championship
Green Bay Packers at Chicago Bears
Sunday, 3:00 pm

The Packers and Bears split their season series, with each team winning on their home turf.  They most recently met in Green Bay in week 17 in a must win for the Packers who held off the Bears 10-3.  It’s almost amazing to me that Green Bay and Chicago have met 181 times but only once in the playoffs.

Key for the Packers: They have to contain the Bears’ return game.  Devin Hester is explosive and their coverage teams have struggled – see the Eric Weems 102-yard kickoff touchdown return from last weekend.

Key for the Bears: They have to get a strong pass rush from their front four.

Who do I like: Packers 20-13

Why: Rodgers is playing better than any other individual player so far in these playoffs and the Packers defense has been vicious. I like what the Bears have done but I think it ends here.

AFC Championship
New York Jets at Pittsburgh Steelers
Sunday, 6:30 pm

Both of these teams scored impressive wins over division rivals last week.  I was especially surprised by the Jets who I expected to get crushed by New England.  Their coaching staff deserves a lot of credit for their tremendously successful game plans.

Key for the Jets: They’ve had success switching to a coverage defensive approach in the last two weeks.  I think they need to go back to the attacking blitz scheme that got them into the Playoffs.  The Steelers offensive line is susceptible to the blitz and the Ravens had success with the blitz.  Baltimore’s switch to a conservative approach is a large part of what did them in.

Key for the Steelers: Stopping the run.  The Jets had over 100 yards rushing when they beat the Steelers in week 15.

Who do I like: Steelers 21-10

Why: It’s important to remember that neither Troy Polamalu nor Heath Miller played in the first matchup.  I think both of those guys make a difference in this game.  Also, the Jets are due for a let down after the huge emotional win over the Patriots.  Ultimately I like the ability of Ben Roethlisberger to make plays more than I like the ability of Mark Sanchez to make plays.

Who do you like in these games?  Let me know your thoughts in the comments section below!

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Sunday’s NFL playoff undercard is a matchup that you immediately want to write off as one-sided.  The Seahawks, who still don’t have a .500 record after winning a playoff game, travel to Chicago to face the Bears, who finished the season 11-5 and had a bye last week.  But after what the Seahawks were able to do against the defending champion Saints in the Wild Card round you cannot write them off.  Add to that the fact that Seattle has already won in Chicago this year, 23-20 in week six, and this game becomes a whole lot more interesting.

Cedric Tillman at snowy Soldier Field

Cedric Tillman and the Bears defense will not be the pushovers that the Saints were.

The Seahawks have demonstrated a lot of resolve by beating the Rams and Saints in consecutive weeks with their backs against the wall.  Very few NFL observers picked them to win either game.  Last Saturday night against New Orleans it was Matt Hasselbeck who had one of the finest games of his career, completing 22 of 35 passes for 272 yards and four touchdowns.  And it was Buffalo castoff Marshawn Lynch who clinched the game with a determined 67-yard touchdown run that thwarted the Saints fourth quarter comeback attempt.

Chicago had its doubters throughout the season, especially after that home loss to Seattle was followed by another home loss to Washington.  But they solidified their need areas during the bye week and finished the season winning seven of their last nine games against a tough schedule. 

The Seahawks win if: They can exploit the Bears’ formerly struggling offensive line to sack Jay Cutler and force him to rush his passes.  The Bears allowed 56 sacks this season, more than any other team in the NFL.  The Seahawks defense was in the top half of the league with 37 sacks and were led by Chris Clemons who had 11.  Seattle had six sacks in the first matchup.

The Bears win if: They take care of the ball and do not turn it over.

Who do I like: Bears 27-13

Why: The Bears team the Seahawks will play in this game is not the same team they matched up with in week six.  Chicago has solidified its offensive line and worked the running game into its offense more.  The Bears should completely shut down the Seahawks running game forcing Hasselbeck into third-and-longs that will enable their pass rush to get good pressure.  I expect the Bears to build a safe lead and cruise to the victory.

Photo source: The U.S. Army

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The Packers and Falcons will meet Saturday night in the Georgia Dome for what many will consider to be the de facto NFC Championship game.  The same teams met in the same place in week 12 with the home team winning 20-17 on a Matt Bryant field goal with nine seconds left in the game.  Aaron Rodgers led the Packers to major yardage, with 344 yards passing and 51 yards on the ground, but not enough scoring for a win.  Matt Ryan and Roddy White were relatively quiet while Michael Turner gained 110 yards on 23 carries.

Georgia Dome

The Georgia Dome will see an explosive game on Saturday night.

The Packers won a tight game in Philadelphia over the NFC East champion Eagles last Sunday.  Rodgers was solid but it was rookie running back James Starks who made the difference.  He racked up a surprising 123 yards on 23 carries.

While the Packers were battling to hold on against the Eagles the Falcons were home waiting to see who their next opponent would be.  At 13-3, Atlanta had a great year and won the NFC South behind the three-headed monster of Ryan, Turner and White.

The Packers win if: Their defense can keep Turner contained on first and second down.  Green Bay’s run defense is just 18th in the NFL and it hurt them in the first game against Atlanta.  They played the run well against Philadelphia last week, giving up just 49 yards on 13 carries to running backs.

The Falcons win if: They can slow down the Packers potent passing game.  The Falcons have not played the pass real well, ranking 22nd in the NFL in pass defense.  They rank only 20th in the NFL in sacks.  They’ll need to pressure Rodgers and excel in coverage to beat Green Bay.

Who do I like: Falcons 34-30

Why: This will be a shootout.  I think the Falcons defense will be able to stop the Packers running game and not allow Starks to break through for another big day.  I expect John Abraham to apply the pressure on Rodgers and the Falcons secondary to do just enough to slow down the Packers passing game.  I think Turner will put forth another solid effort and take some of the pressure off Ryan.  I would not be surprised to see Eric Weems break a big return.

Who do you like in this NFC heavyweight matchup?  Let me know your thoughts on the game in the comments section below.

Photo source: Chrisjnelson at en.wikipedia

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Both the Packers and the Eagles were favorites to win the NFC Championship at some point this season.  They met week one in Philadelphia.  Kevin Kolb, who was expected to be the star quarterback for the Eagles, got hurt in that game opening the door for Michael Vick, who became the star quarterback for the Eagles.

Green Bay Packers hearse

Will the Eagles' championship hopes be taken away in a vehicle that looks like this?

With all the injuries that they’ve had, it’s impressive that the Packers were able to win 10 games and make the NFC playoffs.  They’ve played particularly well as of late with back-to-back wins over the Giants and Bears.  Aaron Rodgers, when not concussed, has been spectacular and the Green Bay defense has been mostly stellar.  It’s second in the NFL in both sacks and interceptions.

The Eagles rebounded from that week one loss and went on to win 10 games and the NFC East title.  Vick was brilliant for parts of the season, working his way into the MVP conversation but then working his way back out of that conversation.  Philadelphia also showed a potent running game but struggled some on the defensive side of the ball.

The Packers win if: They can get Vick uncomfortable early.  It may seem counterintuitive but Vick has actually been a much more effective quarterback while throwing from the pocket than on the run.  Green Bay will most likely focus on making Vick move to his right, making it much more difficult for him to throw the ball as a lefty.

The Eagles win if: They contain the Packers passing game.  Let’s face it, Green Bay does not have a running game to speak of.  The Eagles need to either confuse Rodgers by changing up their defenses (more likely) or  individually excel in their assignments (less likely). 

Who do I like: Packers 27-20

Why: It’s really tough to go against the home team Eagles.  Especially when you consider that Andy Reid’s teams are 7-1 in playoff openers.  For me what it comes down to is this – I just think the Packers have more playmakers on both sides of the ball and I really like their defense, which was second in the NFL in allowing only 15.0 points per game.  I think Rodgers will be steady and the Green Bay defense will prevent the Philadelphia offense from doing what they want to do.

Do you agree or disagree with my analysis of this matchup?  Let me know your thoughts by posting a comment below.

Photo source: kevindooley

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The NFL Playoffs start Saturday afternoon when the New Orleans Saints and Seattle Seahawks kickoff at 4:30.  These two teams played in Week 11 with the Saints dominating the Seahawks 34-19 in New Orleans.  Drew Brees threw for 382 yards and four touchdowns to lead the Saints to victory.  Matt Hasselbeck had one of his best games of the season, completing 32 of 44 passes for 366 yards.

New Orleans Saints timeout

Drew Brees and the Saints offense should have a prolific day on Saturday.

New Orleans comes into this game on a down note, having lost to Tampa Bay last week at home.  But that came right after a solid 17-14 win over the number one NFC seed and division rival Falcons.  After winning the Super Bowl last year the Saints clearly know what it takes to go all the way.  The question will be do they have the horses to do it again.

As you’ve probably heard a million times, the Seahawks are the first NFL team with a record below .500 to make the playoffs.  They lost five of their last seven games but still won the NFC West.  They certainly don’t have playoff caliber talent so I think you’ve got to give a lot of credit to head coach Pete Carroll in his first year in Seattle.

The Saints win if: They take care of the football.  Brees was second worst in the NFL with 22 interceptions.

The Seahawks win if: Leon Washington really catches fire and pulls off a miraculous three returns for touchdowns.

Who do I like: Saints 35-10

Why: New Orleans is better than Seattle at every position on the field besides special teams.  The Seahawks were 27th in the NFL in pass defense and they’ll be facing the third best passing offense in the Saints.  I think Brees will come out hot early, quiet the great Seattle crowd and New Orleans will cruise to victory.

Do you see any scenario in which the Seahawks win?  Share your thoughts by posting a comment below.

 Photo source: smoorenburg

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There are two huge battles in the NFC on Sunday, Green Bay at Atlanta and Philadelphia at Chicago.  I’m going to start my week 12 NFL previews by evaluating the Packers-Falcons game – a matchup that I think could go a long way toward determining who has home field advantage in the NFC Playoffs.

At 7-3 the Packers are a tiebreaker behind the also 7-3 Bears in the NFC North.  After starting the season at 3-3 they’ve settled in and won four in a row.  That streak includes an extremely impressive 9-0 shutout of the Jets in New York (New Jersey).  In their last two wins Green Bay has absolutely throttled their opponent, leading to the firing of that opponent’s head coach.

Atlanta Falcons in the Shotgun

Will the Packers pass rush get to Matty Ice?

Atlanta brings a four game winning streak to the Georgia Dome on Sunday as well.  If you look even further down their schedule they’ve won eight of their last nine.  I was not buying the Falcons until I watched them play the Ravens.  During that game they convinced me that they have everything it takes to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl.

The Packers win if: Their pass rush can bring down Matt Ryan.  This matchup is strength versus strength.  The Packers are fourth in the NFL with 29 sacks while the Falcons are tied for fifth in the NFL having allowed only 15 sacks.  Clay Matthews is going to have to introduce himself to Ryan early.

The Falcons win if: They contain the Packers passing game.  Atlanta’s secondary is less than stellar and they are currently ranked 24th in the NFL against the pass.  Aaron Rodgers has thrown seven touchdowns and zero interceptions in the last two games.  The Falcons have to keep the Green Bay receivers out of the end zone.

Who do I like: Falcons 31-27

Why: This is a spectacular matchup.  I think both teams will rack up the yardage.  Rodgers will exploit the Falcons secondary but I think the Atlanta defense will hold up a little better in the red zone than the Green Bay defense.  To me the difference is that the Falcons have a much more dangerous running game that they can employ inside the 20.  However, I will say that I don’t think the Falcons can rely on their home field advantage as much as they can against other teams.  With wins at Philadelphia, New York and Minnesota the Packers have proven they can win on the road.

Do you think the Packers can upset the Falcons?  Let me know your thoughts by posting a comment below.

Photo source: © BrokenSphere / Wikimedia Commons

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I’ve made my AFC predictions and have projected the Baltimore Ravens into Super Bowl 45.  Now it’s time to shake the magic eight ball for the NFC:

NFC East

Cowboys   11-5
Giants   10-6
Redskins   9-7
Eagles   8-8

Vince Lombardi Statue

Happy Cheeseheads at Lambeau Field

NFC North

Packers   12-4
Vikings   10-6
Bears   5-11
Lions   2-14

NFC South

Saints   12-4
Falcons   11-5
Panthers   5-11
Buccaneers   4-12

NFC West

49ers   10-6
Cardinals   6-10
Rams   4-12
Seahawks   4-12

NFC Wild-Card Games

49ers over Falcons
Cowboys over Giants

NFC Divisional Games

Saints over 49ers
Packers over Cowboys

NFC Championship Game

Packers over Saints

Where did I miss the boat?  What picks do you like?  Let me know in the comments section below.

Photo source: P Pogo

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