The Playoffs- NFC Wildcards

The Passion of the White(hurst)

It’s Playoff Time! It’s RUDDY PLAYOFF TIME. The sleep is getting more deprived, the games more frantic and overtime more complicated. We at UKNFL are upping our coverage for the most important and exciting time of the NFL season with previews and live coverage of every game (as well as some pre-superbowl coverage FOR YOUR EARS), and here we’ll start by looking at the NFC wildcard games this weekend, with an AFC one to follow. (Just as a sidenote, I’ve written a less comprehensive preview of the weekend with some betting tips for Talking Sports here).

The two NFC games this weekend couldn’t come with more different expectations.

New Orleans @ Seattle

Surely, surely this game is no contest. A wilcard team playing a divisional champion. The Champion of one of the most competitive divisions playing the runner up in a division whose winner has looked certain for most of the season, like I said, no contest. I of course jest, despite being lower in the NFC seedings (and hence facing a trip to Seattle) the Saints have won 4 more regular season games (in a far tougher division) than the Seahawks and start this one as heavy favourites.

Despite a stuttering start to year, perhaps a product of the perennial ‘Superbowl Hangover’ (Copyright- Every lazy NFL journalist or writer) the Saints ended the season on fire and were only kept from the top of the NFC South by an astonishing season by the Atlanta Falcons. Drew Brees continues to lead a high-powered offense that has been bolstered this year by running back Chris Ivory, who took on a significant amount of the workload after injuries to Pierre Thomas and Reggie Bush. Unfortunately, Ivory and Thomas’s seasons are over following injuries so Heismann Trophy winner (though now stripped of his award) Reggie Bush will need to step up, and will be supported by Julius Jones. Their defense, explosive in it’s turnover-ability last year has taken on a more solid look this term and has stifled opposing offenses, relying less on the spectacular.

The Seahawks on the other hand only secured their playoff place with a turgid win over the St Louis Rams on Sunday night, which put them on top of the NFC Worst (West), becoming the only divisional champions in the league’s history with a losing record (7-9). Charlie Witehurst led the Rams to their weekend way but may be replaced at quarterback by expected starter and 3-time Pro-Bowler (and figure of South Park fun) Matt Hasselbeck. Their running game has struggled all season (putting up the second-least amount of yards in the league), and whilst the defense contained Sam Bradford and the Rams at the weekend, over the rest of the season they have only the 25th best De in terms of points conceded. In fact, only their special teams have stood out, with the side returning 3 kickoffs for touchdowns.

Ones to Watch

For the Saints, well, just about look at anyone on the offensive side on the ball. With a pair of explosive runners, a wide array of recievers they can hurt you in just about any way. The unit is spearheaded by Superbowl MVP Drew Brees, who, despite less impressive numbers than last year, continues to mature, and now has both the experience, and the ring, that a Superbowl win brings. He’s got so many options to hurt you with, it seems impossible to concieve the Seahawks controlling them all. The only way Seattle win this is by Brees having an off-day of the Seahawks finding some improbable way to shut him down.

In Seattle, the brightest spark for them this term has been kick returner and running Leon Washington. In one of the most spectacular performances of the season, Washington returned two kickoffs for touchdowns against the Chargers earlier this season for a total of 200 yards. He remains a threat to give Seattle good field position when he has the ball in his hands. Whilst he has lost all possibilities of carries to Lynch and Forrsett, his explosive nature in special teams means he is one to watch.

Prediction

I do not think it’s too strong to say that only a fool would bet against the Saints in this game, and I am no fool. The Saints look stronger in every department, despite crucial injuries in the running game,  and in reality this game may be over by halftime. Saints by 17.

Green Bay @ Philadelphia

This game looks far tighter to call. Both teams ended the regular season with 10-6 record but due to the Packers being in the same division as the impressive Chicago, and despite beating the Eagles in week 1, Green Bay find themselves as bottom seeds in the NFC, and facing a trip to the 3rd seeded Philadelphia Eagles.

The Eagles started the season with Kevin Kolb as starting QB, but after he was injured in an opening defeat to the Packers, the walking redemption-story Michael Vick came in, and despite a 3-week injury layoff, impressed enough to become the Eagles started. Vick mixes up some impressive deep passing (especially to rapid wide reciver DeSean Jackson) with the kind of speed that would send Wil E Coyote ACME anvil storehouse. Vick, combined with emerging running back Lesean McCoy, has created one of the most exciting and explosive offenses in the league, and, despite losing their last two regular season games, one that will be feared by all 12 teams still in the running. The Eagles weakness this season has been their defense which has only been the 21st in the league in terms of points, and is the worst in the Red-Zone.

Facing them will be a Packers unit with one of the most one-sided offenses in the league. Aaron Rodgers has continued to impress whilst stepping into Brett Favre’s shoes (in a strictly on-the-field sense) but have struggled to run the ball since the early-season injury of starting running back Ryan Grant. This despite the best efforts of full-back and UKNFL favourite John Kuhn, who aside from jumping over half of the league, has chipped in with some useful scores late in the season. Rodgers has carried the Packers, and with targets such as Donald Driver and Greg Jennings, it’s easy to see how this has been successful. The Pack have been even more impressive on the other side of the ball, conceding less points than anyone other than the Pittsburgh Steelers. Previous defensive MVP Charles Woodson has starred whilst contender for this years award Clay Matthews has caused opposing QBs problems all season.

Ones to Watch

For the Eagles, it may be obvious, but Michael Vick, has provided THE story of the NFL season. After serving a prison sentance for, erm, a dog-related crime (no, not THAT sort of dog related crime) Vick has exploded back in his first season as starter and provides such a varied threat that he’s a nightmare for opposing defensive co-ordinators. On one monday night against Washington Vick seemed to beat the team by himself through the air and on the ground and a similar show would dump the Pack out of the playoffs.

Looking to stop Vick, will be Clay Matthews. Aside from having the second best hair in the league (behind Tom ‘heart-throb’ Brady) the second-year linebacker has had a breakout season, gaining 13.5 sacks, as well making 60 tackles and forcing 3 fumbles. Offensive co-ordinators the league over need to come up with gameplans purely to deal with him and the matchup between him and Vick will be key to deciding the outcome of this game.

Prediction

This matchup is so close, both passing attacks are dangerous and whilst the Packers have the defensive edge, the Eagles can outrun them. Ultimately I think the Packers ability to deal with Vick will be crucial and will see them sneak home. Packers by 3.

Whilst the two games look contrasting, it promises to be an exciting weekend in the NFC Wildcards. Both games are well worth a watch and we’ll be covering them live on twitter- @UKNFL. Dave will be here soon with his preview of the AFC matchups.

Jamie Cutteridge

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    • Rodders
    • January 6th, 2011

    As soon as I read ‘ruddy’ I knew I found your blog Jamie.

    Giving it to the Saints by 17 is a bit generous and I think it will be a lot closer than it should be. The Saints running game has become even more suspect and if you ask Drew Brees to throw the ball 40 times there will be a mistake. The Seahawks are on a high, Hasselbeck played the Saints exceptionally well earlier this season (the Saints have improved since then but still) and if the 12th man can force a couple of drive ending false starts the Seahawks can keep it interesting until the end. I’d say the Saints by 10.

    With regards to the Packers Eagles game. A running game and homefield advantage mean the Eagles sneak it by 3. There’s also the possibility that Rodgers scrambles…

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