Ok, the inevitable is finally here, its put up or shutup time. The NFC playoffs have officially started and the Saints have the #1 seed which gives them the best chance to make it to the SB. First off lets look at the NFC field. I think the NFC field is overall better than the AFC top to bottom although Indy and the Chargers make the AFC stronger at the top. All of the playoff teams in the NFC are remarkably similar. They have top flite QB's, high scoring offenses and aggressive and fast defenses that do give up their share of points but create turnovers. They all run the ball for show, but the bread and butter of every team is the pass. Here is how I rank the teams going in:
1. Dallas-Playing the best overall at this stage and most importantly, their defense is playing far better than anyone else at this stage. Their pass rush is what sets them apart and was the Saints undoing in week 14. Their offense is very tricky with the delays, plus they have good receivers and backs and of course Romo is one of the better signal callers in the league. Special teams, especially placekicking, are suspect which may haunt them.
2. Green Bay-Probably clicking better on offense than any other team right now. We know how good McCarthy was at coaching offense when he was here. The offensive line still remains an issue and a good pash rush could really hurt this team. Their defense has been improving through the season, but they are still susceptable to big plays. Also have a struggling kicker.
3.Da Saints-3 game swoon or not, this team has not been the same since they embarrased the Pats. However, I think the rest will help them immensely. As we know, the Saints are the most explosive team overall in the NFC on both sides of the ball, but we have not seen this recently which leads to the 3 ranking. Special teams is pretty good, but the jury is still out on Hartley.
4. Arizona-I rate Zona just ahead of the Vikes because I think overall they have better leadership, receivers, and coaching. Warner is a great gunslinger throwing to ridiculously talented WRS. Their running game will keep you honest, but fumblaya can creep in at times. They have the no-name defense of 2010. No obvious stars, but they are very fast and disruptive at times. Not known for special teams and Rackers has missed some big kicks in his career.
5. Minnesota-Injuries to the Vikes defense have really hurt this team down the stretch. The Bye will help a little bit, but losing EJ Henderson was IMO the glue to that D. It would be equivalent to the Saints losing Vilma. The offense is clicking although similarly to Green Bay, a good pass rush will really hurt them as their line has been suspect lately. I think the disharmony down the stretch may creep back in if they get behind at home. Good special teams.
6.Philly-IMO, McNabb is the weakest QB of the above teams, but he is still one of the better QBs in the league. Pass heavy offense, but they do throw in more trick plays and wildcat than the other teams. Critical injury to their center hurt them the past couple of weeks and I think their performance against Dallas today is worriesome and one of the main reasons for this ranking. When clicking, their offense is right behind the Saints in explosiveness and their very aggressive defense is built to rush the passer when they have the lead. In fact, the Eagles and Saints defenses are very similar in aggressiveness and have gotten a lot of turnovers. The Eagles have far and away the best special teams of the NFC field as the abilities of David Akers and Desean Jackson speak for themselves.
HOWEVER...Just because I think Dallas and Green Bay are playing the best right now mean that they will meet for the NFC title. HELL NO!!! You have to consider bad matchups, homefield advantage, coaching, mental edge, pressure. Plus Dallas and Green Bay have to win one more game than the Saints or Vikes and will also have to win on the road too both of which are big disadvantages. Lets look at the matchups.
Philly at Dallas-The game yesterday was UGLY for Philly. Philly was playing for a BYE week so they were going full throttle. Part of this is a testament to how good Dallas has been playing of late. Dallas has the better defense of the two, offensively I think its a wash, but the Eagles have a huge advantage in a few areas:1) Special teams-Eagles are top notch, Cowboys are awful, 2)Coaching-Andy Reid is one of the best coaches around and Wade Phillips is a better coordinator, and 3)pressure. The pressure is a biggie. This is a must win game for the career of Wade Phillips and to a lesser extent Tony Romo. Another playoff failure where the Cowboys were the favorite and Jerry Jones wil change coaches. The Eagles will be under pressure too, but the pressure on the Cowboys will be immense. I think Dallas comes out ver aggressive and will take a 2 score lead, but will tighten up as the game wears on. The Eagles will make some big special teams plays to hang around. The 4th quarter will be a nail biter and I think the Eagles take the lead late. Tony Romo will have to lead a late drive. Unfortunately, the Cowboys have to rely on a kick to win it or lose it. I say they lose it, 24-21, and the hottest team in the NFC loses first round. Very good result for the Saints as I think if Dallas finds a way to win this, they will go to the Super Bowl as their defense is the best in the NFC right now.
Green Bay at Arizona- Unlike Dallas and Philly, I think the game between these two teams yesterday means very little. Zona mailed it in once the Vikings won earlier in the day. The Cards and Pack are very even in almost every phase: Offense, defense and special teams, although I give GB a very slight edge in defense and ARIZ the slight edge in special teams. Some intangibles in this game are coaching and home field. I think both coaches are very good with a slight edge to Whisenhunt and his staff since they made the Super Bowl last year. Homefield has not been a big advantage for the Cardinals this season, and GB has been good on the road. The only advantage that may put Arizona over the top will be the fact that they saw GB at their best this week while Zona showed little. But this may be offset by the confidence the Packers will have from beating Arizona. This is the most evenly matched game of all the teams and most likely the winner will come down to luck and turnovers. GB pulls it out barely as Rodgers is too good to be stopped on the final drive. Pack 41, Cards 38.
Which brings us to the next round...Eagles at Saints, Pack at Vikes.
Eagles at Saints. Rematch from week 2 where the Saints romped. First off, this is a good matchup for the Saints, much better than Ariz or Green Bay whose wideouts we cannot cover and who have power running games. Offensively, the Eagles have a big playmaker at WR and a good TE, but they lack a good power running game which has demoralized the Saints at times this season. McNabb is dangerous with his legs and arms and will annoy the Saints by making 3rd and longs with his scrambling ability. The Eagles like to blitz and are very aggressive, but Brees beats the blitz like no one. The Eagles also tend to turn the ball over a bit. I do think the Saints can negate the Eagles advantage in special teams, because 1)the Saints don't punt much and 2) Morestead can kick and punt the ball into the endzone from distance inside the dome. The dome will be a big advantage to the Saints in this one with the noise and that it helps the kickers. The biggest disadvantage for the Saints in this one will be the pressure. I think Brees handles it and there will be no fumblaya from Reggie, Colston and the boys. The Eagles will score and the game will be close, but the Saints will win 35-27 with the help of some turnovers to move on. ASIDE-I think the Cards or Pack may beat the Saints if one of those teams turns out to be the matchup. Go Philly, Beat Dallas!!!!!
Pack at Vikings. Another rematch, might be the highest rated football game ever. Vikes dominated the Pack twice earlier this season. Vikes are undefeated at home and that will be their biggest advantage. They will also have a slight advantage in special teams. Both teams are pretty equal on offense and defense, especially since the Vikes pass rush has fallen off lately. However, the Pack will win this game as they have more momentum at the present, a more positive midset coming in, better coaching, and less pressure. Favre and Minnesota will be under extreme pressure to win this ballyhooed contest. I do think it will be close, but Favre will not be able to lead a last minute TD drive. Pack 31, Vikes 24. Favre retires again, only to come back with the Bears next season.
Finally, to go to the Super Bowl------Pack at Saints. Yikes!!! I hate this matchup for the Saints defense. Power running game with the perfect mix of west coast passing, and just when you think Mike McCarthy will call a dink and dunk play again...Rodgers deep for the TD. The Pack will control the ball while they have it, but so will the Saints. The Packers D is known for creating pressure and forcing mistakes, a la what the Saints want to do. Brees will pick them apart per usual and the running game will be open because of it. These teams are even on offense and defense, with the Saints having the edge in special teams. However, the Saints have more explosive potential in each facet. Home field will be a big advantage, but the pressure will once again be squarely on the Saints who have never been to a Super Bowl. This will be a back and forth game and the Saints will need to score TD's on almost every drive. This will be the closest, most well played game of the year. My brain tells me to lean Pack, the homer in me says Saints. Here is hoping Rodgers cannot come through on the final drive and Sharper makes the saving INT vs his old team with 20 seconds left. Saints 42, Pack 38.
Super Bowl Chargers vs Saints. Chargers will beat Indy and roll to the Super Bowl. The Saints will be emotionally spent and the Chargers offense will run roughshod. Saints make a game of it late, but cannot complete the comeback. Chargers 38, Saints 30.