NFC South: 2011 Quick Takes

Quick Take: Packers at Falcons

January, 9, 2011
Three things to know about Saturday's Atlanta Falcons-Green Bay Packers divisional-round playoff game:

1. Tough draw. Of the three teams they could have drawn out of the wild-card round the Packers probably are the team the Falcons least wanted to see. Seattle, which went 7-9 in the regular season and would have had to travel across the country, would have been the top choice. There also were some people in the organization wishing the Falcons would draw their NFC South rival, the New Orleans Saints. New Orleans won in Atlanta late in the season and some Saints posed for pictures on the Falcons’ logo. The Saints said it wasn’t a sign of disrespect, but the Falcons didn’t see it that way. There would have been plenty of motivation for revenge if the Saints were coming back to the Georgia Dome. Although they are the No.6 seed, the Packers are hot right now and that makes them more dangerous than Seattle or New Orleans would have been.

2. The sequel. When the Packers came to the Georgia Dome on Nov. 28, Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan took a huge step in his growth process. With the game tied, 17-17, and 49 seconds left, Ryan calmly led the Falcons on a six-play drive to set up a game-winning field goal by Matt Bryant. This game could be another huge challenge for Ryan as he tries to establish himself as an elite quarterback. He can win his first playoff game. Ryan’s only other playoff appearance came in a loss to Arizona in his rookie season.

3. Not a rookie anymore. One player I think could make a big difference in this game is Atlanta rookie linebacker Sean Weatherspoon. He started the season well and was showing signs he could make some big plays happen. But Weatherspoon got banged up and missed some time. When he came back, he was used as more of a situational player in a rotation with Stephen Nicholas. But the bye week gave Weatherspoon some time to get rested. He’s fully healthy and he should be comfortable with the defensive system by now. Don’t be surprised if he plays a bigger role in this game.

Quick Take: Saints at Seahawks

January, 2, 2011
Three things to know about next Saturday's New Orleans Saints-Seattle Seahawks wild-card game:

1. Is Seattle’s home-field advantage really a disadvantage for the Saints? Qwest Field can be very loud and the weather could be a factor. But this Saints team doesn't seem to know the difference between home and the road.

In the 2009 and 2010 seasons, the Saints have lost only three games on the road. One of those losses was at Carolina at the end of the 2009 season when the Saints were resting their starters. The Saints played perhaps their worst game of the last two years at Arizona earlier this season. But the only other road loss this year was against a quality opponent (Baltimore) and the Saints won in the Georgia Dome, one of the league's toughest venues.

The logistics of a short week and traveling to the Pacific Northwest are a challenge. But the Saints are experienced at handling inconvenient situations. They traveled to London in 2008 (and won) and have practiced on the road several times in recent years when hurricanes were approaching New Orleans. Playing a team that was only 7-9 in the regular season isn't the biggest challenge the Saints have faced.

2. Don’t look for a repeat of the regular-season matchup in which the New Orleans defense allowed 424 yards of offense to Seattle. The Saints won that game 34-19, but the Seahawks moved the ball with ease. Matt Hasselbeck passed for 366 yards in that game.

But the Saints have been better on defense recently. They always are aggressive on defense, but they may be even more aggressive than usual against Seattle. Hasselbeck has been banged up and Charlie Whitehurst doesn’t have a lot of experience. Defensive coordinator Gregg Williams is likely to throw a lot of blitzes at whoever is playing quarterback for the Seahawks.

3. The running game will be a key. Chris Ivory ran for 99 yards in the regular season meeting. Seattle’s run defense has been among the weakest in the league. The Saints need to exploit that weakness to keep the Seahawks from devoting too much attention to the passing game.

But Ivory and Pierre Thomas both have been banged up and Julius Jones hasn’t done much when given playing time. The Saints have brought Reggie Bush back slowly from his broken leg. But it might be time to give Bush a little added work.