Saturday, January 15, 2011

NFC Divisional Playoff Preview and Prediction

Green Bay Packers (10-6) @Atlanta Falcons (13-3)

The Packers are coming off a big win over the Eagles in the Wild Card round, which saw them get a boost from an unexpected player. James Starks provided a much needed spark in the running game for the Pack. Starks ended up setting a franchise rookie record for rushing yards in a playoff game with 123.

Green Bay will need Starks to have another big game in order to get by the Falcons. Aaron Rodgers has been playing like a man possessed, and he is clicking will all of his receivers. Donald Driver, Greg Jennings, and Jordy Nelson all had good games last week, and they are going to need to be running sharp routes to get open against Atlanta's athletic secondary. I see a big day out of Green Bay's Tight End's and maybe we'll be lucky enough to get a John Kuhn sighting.

The Packers D is going to have a long day ahead of them. The Falcons offense is one of the best in the league with Matt Ryan, Michael Turner, and Roddy White. Ryan is one of the best in the NFL at reading and reacting to the blitz, so the Packers must disguise and switch up their packages in order to be successful. Also, they're going to have trouble deciding whether to key on Turner, and load the box, or focus on Roddy White and Tony Gonzalez in the passing game.

Keys to Packers victory: Starks and Jackson must combine for 140 rushing yards and a TD, Packers D need to limit Turner, make Matt Ryan beat you.

The Falcons finished the season with a 13-3 record, and a lot of momentum, winning 9 out of their last 10 games. The offense has been clicking on all cylinders, and the bye only gives them time to refuel.

In their lone regular season meeting against the Packers, Atlanta won a low-scoring battle 20-17. The difference in that game was RB Michael Turner, he had 110 rushing yards and a TD. I think Turner is the key to this game as well. He needs to be able to establish the run against Green Bay's phenomenal defense, so he can open the pass game.

The Falcons have a middle of the road defense that will struggle against teams with a good QB, and Green Bay has one. Atlanta is 22nd against the pass, allowing more than 220 passing yards per game. If they allow the Packers weak rushing attack to have success, I don't see any chance of the Falcons winning.

Keys to Falcons victory: Establish the run early, don't let Starks, Jackson, or Kuhn to get off.

Prediction: I have liked the Packers to the Superbowl all season, and I'm sticking with it - Packers 27-21

Seattle Seahawks (7-9) @ Chicago Bears (11-5)

Seattle must like the Pete Carrol Rah-Rah college boy act, because they were fired up enough to beat the defending Superbowl champs. QB Matt Hasselbeck has a lot of playoff experience, and it showed. He threw for 272 yards and 4 TD's which helped the Seahakws to a 41-36 win. The highly touted Marshawn Lynch "Beast Mode" run truly demoralized the Saints.

Hasselbeck needs to have another big day against a defense that is much better than what he faced last week. Lynch and Forsett also need to be on top of their games, because the Bears secondary should have a good game against Seattle's receivers. WR Mike Williams will be the guy that needs to break through. If he can have a big game, I see Seattle having a serious shot at winning this game (or covering the spread).

The Seahawks actually beat the Bears in Chicago, 23-20. That victory was in large part due to their defense. Seattle got to Cutler, sacking him six times. The Seahawks were coming off of a bye week, and Cutler missed the previous game with a concussion, but, a big win like that can give an underdog team a lot of confidence. Lawyer Milloy will key the Seahawks defense, and try and make Jay Cutler into the mistake-prone QB that he can sometimes be.

Keys to Seahawks victory: Get to Jay Cutler, force at least two turnovers, and Hasselbeck needs to have another good game.

The Bears are the oddest team in this years playoffs. At times they look like a team who could easily challenge for a Superbowl, and other times, not so much. It all depends on which Jay Cutler shows up to play. There's the Cutler who uses his canon for an arm to shred defenses, then there is the pseudo Brett Favre version of Cutler, who makes tons of terrible decisions that leave even the opposing defenses confused about his decision making.

If the good Cutler shows up, he should have a career day against Seattle's weak secondary. WR's Johnny Knox, Devin Hester, and TE Greg Olsen should see a lot of open looks if Cutler is on his game, as Seattle's secondary will struggle to keep up with the speed and athleticism that the Bears receivers possess. Matt Forte is also in line for a big day, his versatility will be a tough cover for the Seahawks D.

Chicago's second ranked defense against the run will be key in this matchup. If they can stuff Lynch and Forsett at the line, Hasselbeck will have trouble finding receivers.

Keys to Bears victory: Good Jay Cutler

Prediction: Bears 28-13

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