NFC Divisional Round Playoff Preview
This should be a tremendous football weekend. We have four top teams and eight (maybe seven) huge name quarterbacks playing. The NFC boasts the best and worst game of the weekend.
Unfortunately, they start with their worst foot forward. The Green Bay Packers travel to the dessert to take on the high-powered Arizona Cardinals. The Cards are excellent in all three facets of the game, and the Packers are only still in the playoffs because they were lucky enough to draw the Washington Redskins in the first round. Arizona is superior in just about every aspect of the game. It would be very surprising if this game is at all competitive. These teams just faced off Week 16 and the Packers were beat down from every possible angle losing 38-8 in a game that was over by half time. The Packers are by far the worst team left in the playoffs and you can make a strong case that the Cardinals are the best.
However, the Seattle Seahawks heading to Carolina to take on the Panthers may be the best matchup of the playoffs. This is such a tough one to judge. This game is by far the game I’m most excited to watch this weekend and even this year. I personally believe these are the two best teams other than the Patriots. There is an abundance of intrigue and plenty of subplots here. It’s the established champions against the up-and-comers. The most polarizing players are very comparable as well. You have Russell Wilson and Cam Newton who have both had great years but have struggled to earn universal respect as top-tier quarterbacks. Richard Sherman and Josh Norman are both elite outspoken corners who claim to be the best in the business. Then you have Luke Kuechly and Bobby Wagner who are both ultra-talented young linebackers. Neither team’s weapons can compare to their defensive counterparts. This is just such a great matchup and this one could really go in either direction. The Panthers were a dominant force this season, but it’s so hard to bet against the Seahawks. I can’t wait to get into this one, but first we’ll suffer through the Cards and Pack.
Green Bay Packers @ Arizona Cardinals
Saturday, January 16, 2016 8:35 pm NBC
This is an extremely close comparison all of a sudden. Carson Palmer is coming off an MVP caliber season and Aaron Rodgers looked very human all year. When you look at the matchups, Palmer should have a much better game, the Cardinals’ secondary and pass rush is just brutal, while the Packers defense in general isn’t awful but is uninspiring for the most part. With that said, Rodgers overall body of work throughout his career cannot be ignored, nonetheless, Palmer has been fantastic with the Cards when healthy. Rodgers gets the edge here but ever so slightly.
David Johnson has looked like an excellent young prospect this season and has made the most of every opportunity he’s been given. Eddie Lacy on the other hand looks like he’s eaten a young prospect and has done everything in his power to try to lose his starting job. The Cardinals’ eighth ranked ground attack should trample the Packers 21st ranked rush defense. Since taking over as the starter, Johnson has posted over 120 yards in four of five games and punched in five touchdowns during that span. The one game he didn’t hit the 120-yard mark was due to a lack of touches Week 17. The Cards fell way behind and stopped utilizing their key players in an effort to rest up for the playoffs. Not to be outdone, Lacy has run up a $120 tab at Smash Burger four of the past five days.
The Packers wide receivers have flat out been a nightmare. None of them can get separation, and to make matters worse, they’ve struggled to catch the ball and make plays when given the targets and opportunities. Now Davante Adams is out after getting injured last week. Randall Cobb who was signed to a big contract this offseason and considered a top-10 wideout by many heading into the season, but he would probably be the fourth-best wideout in Arizona this season. Shockingly, their passing attack ranks 25th in the NFL.
Arizona has an elite level defense that can both shut you down and score points on their own. They are stocked with playmakers, even with Tyrann Mathieu out for the season. They are ranked as a top five defense statistically and their ability to make big plays makes them one of the three or four best defenses in the league this season. The Packers are, eh. Like I said, they aren’t historically bad like they’ve been in the past, but they also certainly don’t strike fear in the heart of opposing defenses. When you invest so much money in an inept passing attack, it’s hard for your defensive to thrive.
Green Bay: 14
Packers: Richard Rodgers
Cardinals: David Johnson
Seattle Seahawks @ Carolina Panthers
Sunday, January 17, 2016 1:05 pm FOX
This is as close as they come. Cam Newton will likely win the MVP this season, but Russell Wilson has been nothing short of spectacular down the stretch. These two have both taken huge steps this season. All Cam did was win 15 games, account for 4,473 yards and 45 touchdowns and was only picked off 10 times. Wilson over the last seven weeks of the season threw for 1,906 yards, 24 touchdowns and just one interception. This one is almost too close to call. Wilson has a very slight edge due only to his big game experience.
This is a tough one because of injuries. If the unbearably incompetent Christine Michael is starting against Jonathan Stewart or anybody for the Panthers really, this is a slam dunk for the Panthers. However, Marshawn Lynch, even coming off injury, would be by far the best running back in this game, especially when you consider Stewart is coming off injury as well. But the Panthers have some depth with Pro-Bowler Mike Tolbert and rookie Cameron Artis-Payne, plus Cam is a big factor on the ground.. Still, if Beast Mode plays it’s very close.
This is another that is extremely close. The Seahawks lead with Doug Baldwin who quietly caught 78 passes for 1,069 yards and 14 TDs, while Carolina attacks with their tight end Greg Olsen. He racked up 77 receptions, 1,104 yards and seven touchdowns. Those two are almost a push. The difference here is their deep threat. I’m taking rookie Tyler Lockett over Ted Ginn. Lockett is like Ginn but better in every way. Lockett first and foremost can catch. He’s also younger, faster and a better route runner. Both guys are very versatile and contribute in the return game as well.
I really don’t know which way to go here. How can you? On one hand you have the Panthers ultra-talented young, athletic defense. They may have two of the top four Defensive Player of the Year finalists in Josh Norman and Luke Kuechly. On the other side of the field you have the Legion of Boom. They’ve had the most dominant defense for years and have led an average offense to two straight Super Bowls. Their secondary has stars like Richard Sherman, Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor, and what’s scary is the fact the defensive front may be better than the secondary. Carolina may not have the names (yet), but they have all that talent as well. Both defenses are athletic, make plays and terrify offensive coordinators. This is so close.
Seahawks: Russell Wilson
Panthers: Cam Newton