The Super Spiffing Gridiron Gentlemen's Playoff Preview: NFC Wild Card Round
In part one we looked at the AFC, so in part 2 it only seems right to look at…you guessed it Oakland’s Secondary and the merits of this unit. OK that was a joke, lets look at the NFC.
New Orleans Saints @ Philadelphia Eagles (Sunday 1:10am GMT)
It is fairly rare that this Saints team (11-5) will face the Philadelphia Eagles (10-6) as the underdogs. Never the less that’s the case in this one as the Saints venture out of their dome only to be faced by some serious adverse conditions…and the weather.
The series record for these 2 is 16-12 in favour of the Birds, but in their last meeting last year the Saints won 28-13 in Andy Reid’s final year. Whatever record the Saints had in the past few years is irrelevant though as this is a very different Eagles team.
The “No Longer Ain’ts” Saints
So the one thing everyone is and will be talking about is the Saints away record this season and there is no denying that it will have an effect when I’m trying to decide the winner here, but we should give the Saints a round of applause for even being in the Playoffs after last season and there’s no denying how much their Head Coach improves this team. That being said this team is really up against it this year. They have dropped a few games that they should have won and on occasion they have left me scratching my head a few times. When you look at the Saints chances to win this one, you have to think that one player stands out and that player is obviously Drew Brees. Whatever record there is, Drew Brees has the ability to ignore all stats and is one of those guys that gives you a chance in pretty much any game. The Saints also have the stats in their favour with the no. 4 ranked Offence and the no. 4 ranked Defence. More specifically they have the no. 2 ranked Pass Defence. This could be instrumental in the result of this game. If they can take Foles out of the game, then you have to think Brees gives them enough of a chance to outscore the Eagles. That being said, I’ve seen improvements in their Running game, which will be a big deal if they are to play in a cold weather game, which no one from New Orleans wants to see, but unfortunately don’t have a lot of choice. Make no mistake this is a tough game for this team, but it’s a lot closer than people think.
The “High Flying Birds”
If the season ended today I would be very happy with everything I’ve seen from the Eagles. Not just are they easily the most exciting team in the league and a joy to watch, but they also have improved their form and taken full advantage of a very poor NFC East this season. There will be a lot of talk about a QB battle in this one, with Nick Foles who has shown some exceptional form goes up against future Hall of Famer, Drew Brees. This strikes me as being irrelevant. For starters Foles will have more chances to score points as they make plays so quickly. But more importantly they have the edge in the Running Game, with leading rusher LeSean McCoy who has stepped up in the Chip Kelly Offence. The problem the Saints will face with the Eagles is the same problem teams have had with the Saints in the past. You never know who will get the ball. With McCoy running like he is and Foles having the ability to spread the ball to a wide variety of Receivers, as well as the general misdirection that comes with this amazingly exciting Offence, then the Eagles have to be favourites here. But it’s what the Defence does that will truly decide this game. With the Offence working so quickly the Defence have had to step up and spend a lot of time on the field. In truth this Defence is a huge reason for the success of this team. The worry early on was the Secondary, but in recent weeks they’ve really picked up their game and now look like they could be a genuine Super bowl contender and if we think they are good now, just wait to see what they do in the future. This team will only get better.
The Gentlemen’s Opinion
Dan: This is a tough one. I never want to bet against Drew Brees, you never know when he’ll just pull it out of the bag and is the difference maker in this one. However when you have a player like LeSean McCoy in adverse weather conditions (see the Lions game in the snow where he broke the Franchise Rushing Record), you have to think the Eagles stand a serious chance of taking this one. Foles probably won’t be a huge factor in this one, therefore taking their Receivers out of the game. Whatever happens this will be a close one and in truth I think it comes down to a single mistake and I think it’s the Saints that make the mistake. I also always go with the hot team, which in this case are the Eagles so…
Duncan: The Saints have been 3 -5 on the road. The Eagles have been 4 -4 at home and have been on an amazing roll, dropping only three games since week six. And that defence hasn’t been all bad. I quite like the Saints but there is something about how the Eagles have played this season, sort of stuck to the game plan and it has now fallen into place that makes them quite irresistible in this match up. Foles has been so impressive and Brees has sometimes been a bit lacklustre. Then there is Jackson, McCoy, Cooper and Ertz, all playing superbly and linking up with Foles. In short, I favour the Eagles, even though the Saints have probably a better defence but the Eagles offence just clicks.
Jon: The Eagles Offense is on stonking form right now and a joy to watch. Likewise the Saints are boasting an excellent, versatile passing attack, which the Eagles could struggle with. I think it’s the Defensive teams that are going to be the difference makers here, in that both will be leaky, but the Eagles will be leakier.
Charlie: Drew Brees and the Saints become human when they play away from home but this is the Playoffs and where big players make big plays.
San Francisco 49ers @ Green Bay Packers (Sunday 9:40pm GMT)
This is going to be epic. The Niners, who have hit form, recently go up against the Packers, with the newly returned Aaron Rodgers at Lambeau in the cold. Can Rodgers improve on a game winning drive at the end of the Bears game? Or will one of the best Defences in the game make him a non-factor?
This is a battle between 2 of the historic NFL teams and the Packers have the Series 34-29-1 (yup they drew one), The Niners however have them in the last couple of years, including a win at the start of the season and a dominating performance in the playoffs last year. This game is rapidly becoming a rivalry as both teams have exchanged a few choice words in the last couple of games.
The “Gold Rush” Niners
At the close of play in last year’s Super bowl, I was convinced the Niners would be back in the big game again in the following season and that their young team was ready to take the next step. Over the course of the off season, various changes were made across teams and I fell out of love with the Niners. But it’s taken me pretty much a whole season to see that I should never have lost faith in this team and they could be my NFC favourites for the Super bowl. So where is the strength of this team? Pretty much everywhere, but if I had to single out a unit, then it has to be the Defence. The Linebacking duo of Bowman and Willis is one of the best in the league, the Secondary are bruisers and the D-line is huge. This team is set up to cause serious problems both through the air and on the ground. The Packers throw, they’ll attack the Receivers, if they run, they’ll keep Eddie Lacy at the line. On Offence, it couldn’t have worked out better for Kaepernick, who has found form with the return of Michael Crabtree, who sets up Boldin and Davis to have epic post seasons. Down side in this game? They’re up against Rodgers…That’s always a downside. Also Kaepernick on occasions has made some questionable decisions which has to be a slight concern for this team. One final point. If this game is decided on the ground due to poor weather, then the Niners have the perfect team to do this and can rely heavily Frank Gore to pound the ball regardless of the weather.
The “Frozen Warriors”.
On record, the Niners have this game. On season record, on recent match up records and in general, on paper this is the Niners game. But to make it to the off-season the Packers needed some incredible things to happen. For starters it helps that both the Lions and the Bears collapsed so spectacularly and it almost felt like they were waiting for Rodgers to come back to make it fair. Another thing they needed was to get a win without Aaron Rodgers, which looked nothing short of impossible. But regardless, it happened and it set up the Packers to take a win against the Bears when Rodgers came back from a collar bone injury. Which leads us to the no. 1 reason this team could win this. Aaron Rodgers. Aaron Rodgers ensures that if this game becomes a shootout, they could easily take the victory here. But for it become a shootout will require a collapse of the exceptional Niners defence which is not something we’ve seen happen too often. But for Rodgers to be affective, they will need Eddie Lacy to get some yards on the ground. The Defence hasn’t hit any form recently and could get easily exploited by the Niners young Offence. But on their day they can haul in a few Interceptions which could keep them in the game. Finally it looks like Rodgers will have his full complement of weapons in front of him, including Randall Cobb, who always has the ability to provide a different challenge at the Receiver position. If the Packers are to win in this one, they will need more than just adverse weather conditions.
Are you not impressed I got all this way without saying “Frozen Tundra”.
The Gentlemen’s Opinion
Dan: Adverse weather conditions or not the Packers are hugely up against it in this one. In fact if the weather is as bad everyone is saying, it might actually favour the Niners, who are set up to pound the ball down field with a Defence set up to stop the run. The Packers do always stand a chance to win this one simply because of Aaron Rodgers, but even he needs to be better than he was in the Bears game. The Niners however are probably healthier than they were at the start of the season and in particular with the return of Crabtree, I think this team are unstoppable.
Duncan: A replay of the start of the season and how exciting that game was. This one will be no different. The 49ers did take their time to gel properly, due to their injuries but now are firing and have been playing beautifully, winning all their games since losing to the Saints in week 11. The Packers, well it is at Lambeau and Eddie Lacy is up for Rookie of the Year, Rodgers is back but can he save the day against that formidable defence? Again it’s at Lambeau but of all the teams that can do it away from home, the 49ers can. Their record on the road is the same as their home record. Lambeau is not as much of a fortress it seems that it once was (or portrayed as). My gut says 49ers and I think rightly so.
Jon: All predictions seem to suggest that Lambeau is going to be colder than my bathroom in the morning this weekend, and that’s pretty damn chilly. Will Colin Kaepernick cope with the weather? I’m more concerned with the lack of Clay Matthews for Green Bay and (apologies Dan) scraping a win over the Bears in odd circumstances isn’t the same as going up against the 49ers Defence.
Charlie: 49ers are one of the hottest team entering the playoffs on a six game win streak. The playoffs will be someone’s coming out party and it will be Kaepernick.
And it’s another sweep, so all that’s left to say is enjoy the weekend people, we have some awesome games and I for one am super excited. Don’t forget to hit us up with your opinion, it is always valuable, oh and thanks for reading this and everything we’ve written, it means a lot and we wouldn’t be here without you guys!
pip pip, let’s have some Wild Card Football.