Friday, January 7, 2011

NFL Playoff Edition: Wildcard Weekend

It's time for a little NFL Wildcard Playoff preview. I'll do a little write-up on the Birds/Packers game, and then give some predictions on the rest of Sunday's games.

Packers at Eagles

To start off, I will try to take as objective a point of view as is possible. Yes, it will be difficult. But, in my honest opinion, this is a winnable game for both teams. Green Bay clearly has the better defense which ranked 2nd overall by giving up only 15 points a game while the Birds have struggled all year long yielding 23.6. However, they will still have their work cut out for them dealing with the explosiveness of the Eagles offense which ranked 2nd in the NFL by averaging almost 28 pts and 390 yards per game. The Pack put up a respectable  358 yards per game, but they were much more of a one sided attack after the season ending injury to Ryan Grant in Week 1. While the Eagles averaged 244 yds passing and 145 rushing, the Pack aired it out for 258 yards but only rushing for 100 yards per game. This discrepancy could come back to haunt the Packers especially given the amount of pressure the Birds were able to bring on Aaron Rodgers in their week 1 meeting where he was sacked 3 times and threw 2 interceptions. Here are the factors that I think will be most important, and  will ultimately decide the winner:

The turnover battle

In my opinion, most crucial factor in this game is the turnover battle.  The Birds are 8-1 this season when they win the turnover battle. Through the first 10 games of the season they had no problem holding onto the ball. The same cannot be said for the last couple of weeks as Mike Vick has come back down to earth and shown his vulnerability to fumbles (9 times in weeks 11-16). The one bright side is Vick has yet to have a multiple interception game so far this season, compared to Rodgers' 3 games. Both team defenses are opportunistic when it comes to interceptions, with the Birds snatching 23 and the Pack picking off 24 passes this season. Both teams also do a relatively good job at forcing fumbles as well, still the Pack do have 4 more on the season. Overall, you have to give the advantage to Green Bay simply because they have more playmakers on defense and a QB on offense that simply does not turn the ball over. Still, anything can happen in the playoffs (see Aaron Rodgers against Arizona) and I'll stick to my point that whichever team wins the turnover battle, wins the game.

The redzone battle

This is fairly obvious, but I will lay it out for you anyways. The Eagles boast one of the leagues worst red zone defenses, allowing opponents to score TD's 76.7% of the time when inside the 20 yard line. The Packers own the NFL's sixth best red zone offense. The numbers don't lie, if the Birds can't stop Aaron Rodgers in the red zone, they will not win this game. Also, they can't lose track of Rodgers down near the goal line, his 13 career rushing TD's show that he's not afraid to pull it down and make plays with his feet as well.

The run game

The Eagles are 5th in the NFL in rushing (wow, never thought I'd type that blurb so long as Andy Reid was coach of the Eagles) led by Lesean McCoy's breakout year (5.2 yds/carry, 1,672 total yds). The Pack have struggled all year after Grant's injury, ranking 24th in the league led by a combination of Brandon Jackson and John Kuhn. Clearly this already spells advantage Eagles, and we haven't even mentioned Mike Vick (676 yds, 9 TD's). For the Eagles to have a chance at penetrating the tough Packers defense, they must take advantage of their improved rushing attack (the Pack allow 4.7 yds/carry on defense). *UPDATE* - hopefully they actually follow through with the game plan, instead of abandoning it after the first 10 plays. If McCoy gets 20 carries, I think we're in good shape.

Home field advantage

Though the Eagles didn't get the #1 or #2 seed they had been in position to obtain, they still lucked out with a home game in the first round due to their securing yet another NFC East Division title (what time do the Giants play by the way?). They need to take advantage of the atmosphere that comes with Philadelphia post-season play and get the crowd into the game early. If the Eagles offense comes out flat then it will give the Pack a window to suck the excitement out of the stadium, something that will definitely not help their chances.

Playoff experience

Andy Reid Playoff Record 10-8 (3-0 in Wildcard playoff games at home)
Mike McCarthy Playoff Record 1-2

Say what you want about Andy Reid's post season success, but the man has coached a shit-load of playoff games in the last 10 years. To me, regardless of wins or losses, that means something. I think McCarthy is a hell of a football coach and I have always been a proponent of the 3-4 defense that Dom Capers instilled, but the playoffs are an entire different animal. You probably remember McCarthy's last two post-season losses because they were both memorable ones. In 2007 the Pack had a chance to knock off the Giants who were en-route to their Super Bowl victory (gag) over the Patriots but Mason Crosby choked the game away in Green Bay. More recently, the Pack lost that ridiculous wildcard game to the Cardinals in overtime, which ended up being the highest scoring game in NFL postseason history. Either way you look at it, the Pack had chances to win those games, and failed to come through. I should also mention that was Aaron Rodgers only post-season start, a game which he lost by fumbling into the hands of Karlos Dansby (Additional stat nugget for you all, Aaron Rodgers is 0-5 in ovetime games for his career). So, while Andy Reid has been doing that for about a decade, Mike McCarthy isn't all that much better. All-in-all, you have to like your chances with a coach who has been there before and knows what it takes to get to a Super Bowl. Now all we have to do is win one. Please.

Rest of the weekend games...

Saints @ Seahawks

Saints have way too much firepower for the Seahawks. Not to mention the Seahawks are TERRIBLE. I refuse to write, or research for that matter, any more about Seattle. Ugh.

Saints 34 - Seahawks 13

Jets @ Colts

Yikes, hello AFC Championship rematch. What a game. I think the Jets are a better team then the one who lost to Indy last year, but still not good enough to overcome Peyton Manning at home. The Jets defense just has not looked like the beast they were last year and if you can't get to Peyton Manning, you're not going to win the ball game. I don't care what "island" you have, if Revis is all over Reggie Wayne, Peyton will find another way to beat you, bottom line.

Colts 27 - Jets 17

Ravens @ Chiefs

What a juicy game. First Chiefs playoff game in ........ 20 years? Just kidding, it hasnt been that long, they were a wildcard seed in 2006. But, it almost feels like that long. The Chiefs have been down for quite some time, but they stepped up this year behind an efficient Matt Cassell and a breakout year from Jamaal Charles. However, I don't see them being able to take down the Ravens and their vaunted defense. Ray Lewis and Co. are getting older, but they still bring it every day and know how to force turnovers, something that can derail a ball control offense like that of the Chiefs. Outside of Dwayne Bowe and Charles, the Chiefs don't have many options to go to and I see that limiting them in this game. Their defense is very opportunistic, but not dominant in any aspect of the game. Expect a big game from Joe Flacco, he has shown the ability to lead in the playoffs and has more weapons at his disposal this year then the previous two.

Ravens 28 - Chiefs 20

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