The Super Spiffing Gridiron Gentlemens Playoff Preview: NFC Divisional Round
After a year of everyone talking about home field advantage, it was 3 away teams that took wins, why? Because NFL that’s why. So don’t be surprised if we see a few “fortresses”, turn into sand castles this weekend, anyhoo…
NFC Divisional Round
New Orleans Saints @ Seattle Seahawks (9:45pm GMT, Saturday)
The Saints defied the odds, form, the weather and LeSean McCoy to take a rare away victory against the Eagles. However now they go to the loudest outdoor stadium ever recorded to face the exceptional talented Seahawks.
The Seahawks have the matchup record, with a narrow 7-6 lead, but the Seahawks took the win when they met in December and in a convincing manner, not to mention the victory the last time they met in the Playoffs, where Marshawn Lynch’s Touchdown caused a small earthquake.
The Road Warriors
Ok so they won one game away, but at least we’ll stop going on about…well except for me going on about it here, anyway the Saints will hopefully be feeling pretty confident after convincingly out coaching the Eagles. A victory at Century Link will be harder however. Drew Brees is a head scratcher here and the Saints will be hoping a more competent version of him turns up against a mean Seahawks Secondary that loves turning mistakes into big mistakes. Jimmy Graham will need to be on his A-game also against a dangerous Defence that knows how to stop a Tight End. After last week’s outing Mark Ingram will feature heavily and provide some much needed balance for a team that on occasions likes to throw the ball a little too much. Make no mistake; this is an Offence that looks decidedly different to the one the Seahawks faced a month ago. The Defence is one of the nice surprises of the year. Not least because they got good at a time where people had lost faith in Rob Ryan. I strong Defensive line will have to cover for a depleted Secondary and stopping Lynch hit “beast mode”, should be a major priority, much like McCoy was. But Wilson is not Foles and has a considerably quicker release than the Eagles QB and is in general a completely different challenge. So has the run game come at the right time? Could the Saints win this? Obviously they could win it, but it will take another masterfully game planned outing for Peyton in yet more exceptionally adverse conditions.
The High Flying Birds (yup I used it again)
There is an argument that by having a week off, whilst teams do get healthier, they may actually lose some momentum. That being said, the Seahawks had taken their foot off a little towards the end of the season (and I do mean a little), so a much needed break to assess their needs and let players get healthy might be exactly what this team needs. The million dollar question though is, will we see Harvin and the closer we get to the game the more likely it is looking we will be seeing his many talents, which will be a big part of the game plan. To me this game comes down to the abilities of one man on the Offence. Russell Wilson. Regular listeners and followers will know that I am not sold on Wilson. I just think he is in the right place at the right time, with the right skill set and truthfully there is nothing wrong with that. But I just don’t think you can compare him with the greats. I don’t think you can have the same faith in him to bring you back from the brink of disaster like you can with Luck, Rodgers, Brees and Brady. But in this game, if the Saints can take away the run game and the Seahawks have Harvin back, then it becomes about what Wilson can do and if he can keep up with a Drew Brees that will be going up against the Seahawks Defence. The Defence will have to make a statement in this one to help the Seahawks promote themselves as genuine Superbowl contenders and I think they have the talent to do it. Brees has been a little “pick happy”, throughout the season. If he makes the same mistakes in this one then he will be punished. I’ve got this far without mentioning the 12th man. Truthfully in this instance and on this occasion I think it will lose a little potency on an experienced QB like Drew Brees, who will still have full control over his Offence. When it boils down to it though, the Seahawks have the talent to take this game. But can they match minds with Sean Payton.
The Gentlemen’s Opinions
Dan: This game is exceptionally close. Drew Brees will probably put up a decent amount of yards with Ingram probably taking a step back. However I don’t think Brees plays mistake free and maybe gives the ball to Sherman and co. giving the Hawks decent field position to work with. Whilst I don’t think Wilson is clutch, I don’t think that will matter in this one as a truly great Defence makes their statement and stops the Saints Offence.
Duncan: There is a bit of a trend to talk about this being all about the Saints offence against the Seahawks defence especially their Super Secondary. But the Seahawks have a good offence, which can sometimes take time in getting going. Let us not forget that they had to come back against the Bucs and the Rams. Most importantly the Seahawks can be beaten at home. Yeah ok so I haven’t mentioned specific players, bigger picture kind of thing. The Seahawks appear to play with a certain arrogance, which I think has caused them problems. I think the Saints could use this against the Seahawks. Also the Saints defence, though allowing more yards per game than the Seahawks, still have allowed the 4th fewest per game. As such I think this could be close and could go to the Saints, who do have excellent game management.
Seattle are favourites to win by a reasonable margin, but I think this will be a close game with the Saints on a roll after beating the Eagles. Seattle’s secondary stopped Brees from relying on deep passes last time round with devastating results, but since then the Saints have built a solid running game with Ingram looking a lot more Heisman-y. On the flip side, Harvin should be up to speed, and with only a few games left and the Lombardi in sight if Alex Smith was prepared to leap about the field last week how much more is Russell Wilson going to move?
Charlie: It’s these streak breaking runs that teams go on shortly before they go on to the big game. I think the Saints take it and we have one more game at the ‘Stick.
San Francisco 49ers @ Carolina Panthers
A battle here between a team that were considered favourites for the Superbowl against a team that looked set for an awful season a couple of games in. The brutal Defences could step in and take control here. There is a very good chance this gets very violent, very quickly.
The Panthers have a significant lead on the series (11-7) and also have the win in the game played previously this season. That being said the relatively low scoring affair might be a little too much to wish for against a very different looking Niners Offence.
The “Going for a Sixth”, Niners
All season I have preached about the importance of hot streaks and the Niners are scorching. There is no doubt that if they played this well at the start of the season, they probably wouldn’t have played last week. Kaepernick in recent weeks has been given license to do his own thing, if the play blows up he can run, if he sees a play he can make the pass. But in this game he will have the likes of Kuechly breathing down his neck and when put under pressure he does have a tendency to make mistakes, more often than not attempt a pass he can’t make. There is no denying however that Kaepernicks job is made a lot easier by the return of Crabtree, who stretches the field and takes pressure of clutch Receiver Boldin. But to take this game the Niners will need to assert their dominance on the ground and use Gore to his full potential, something Niners fans have been screaming till they are blue in the face, particularly in the Red zone where they have a history of passing for the 3 downs, before taking a field goal. On Defence they just need to do what they do best. If they can get in a few early hits on Cam Newton, they can rattle him a bit and force him to make a few mistakes. A tough, mean Secondary will be an advantage when trying to take chippy Receiver, Steve Smith out of the game and expect a few fights between Smith and whoever is charged with watching him. All in all the Niners have to play as near to perfect as they can to win this one, I don’t think it will be as low scoring as their last meeting but it could come down to one mistake.
The “Surprise Package”, Panthers
Anyone who claims they saw the Panthers making the Playoffs at the start of the season is either a liar or owns the Sports Almanac from Back to the Future 2. What I like is, when this teams Coach was threatened, they rallied to make the playoffs. There is no denying that on Offence a lot of players are playing way above their ability and in large parts this is down to the many talents of QB Cam Newton who is the size of a Line-backer, runs like a Running back and yet can launch a bomb when needed to. However he’s not infallible. He has been prone to make bad decisions and can be easily rattled by a few mistakes or constant pressure from a hungry Defence. At Running Back the Panthers could add the talents of Jonathan Stewart to help out DeAngelo Williams and provide a nice change of pace to the brutal running style of Full Back Mike Tolbert, who shows exceptional skills when given the chance to run. On Defence this team will need to force Kaepernick to make mistakes give him as little time as possible to make plays, whilst stopping him from making plays on the ground. There is no denying that Kuechly has that innate ability to be everywhere at once and he could be the player to force that mistake from Kaepernick. A stated the team that wins this one is the team that plays as near to perfect as possible. There is no denying the talent is there, but can they do it?
The Gentlemen’s Opinions
Dan: The Niners go into this one as favourites and whilst I think they do take this one, I also think it’s a lot closer than people think. That being said, to take it they will need to get to Newton and force him into a bad day. The Niners will know they’ve done their job when Cam’s head drops and he becomes his own worst enemy. To do this though they will need Kaepernick to play one of his best games all season and use all of his weapons. A close game, but…
Duncan: Who hasn’t loved the Panthers defence this season? And to come from a shaky start to clinch the NFC South, they are like a steamroller! It’s a battle between two of the most mobile QBs and also two top tight ends. And two top defences. I really do think this is incredibly even matched and will come down to who makes the first mistake and by that I mean Col or Cam. Cam does throw an interception more frequently than Col but both threw an interception in their last games. The 49ers allow fewer points per game than the Panthers, but the Panthers have made more interceptions and turned more into TDs. It is a big game situation, Col and the 49ers have been here a year ago, and in a way it pains me to say but with that experience, the ability to fight back and not get overawed, I reckon the 49ers take the game and Panthers break first.
Jon: Charlie and I waxed lyrical about Kaepernick’s running game in the podcast against Green Bay. I think the Panthers Defensive line has as good a chance of catching him as any, but I don’t see it happening somehow. It’s a superb matchup though and if the Panthers can seriously up their passing game to their running ability that should keep the 49ers guessing, but ultimately Crabtree isn’t actually human, he’s a giant man-sized ‘win button’.
Charlie: The Niners have got hot and they look unbeatable. I think sheer will to get through this one wins out and the Niners take it. A close game, but…
That’s the NFC folks. The AFC will be up very shortly