NFL Nation: 2014 Quick Takes NFC

Quick Take: 49ers at Seahawks

January, 12, 2014
Jan 12
6:25
PM ET
Three things to know about next Sunday's San Francisco 49ers-Seattle Seahawks NFC Championship Game at CenturyLink Field:

1. Inevitable meeting: The matchup has been brewing since the offseason. This is one of the most heated rivalries in the NFL. The players have gotten chippy. The coaches have gotten chippy. The teams have poached each other’s rosters. It only makes sense that a Super Bowl berth comes down to these two NFC West adversaries.

2. The quarterbacks: San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick and Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson are two of the most dynamic young quarterbacks in the NFL. They have similar games and are great leaders for their teams. This game likely will come down to which quarterback makes the most plays with his arm and legs. Kaepernick has been to this stage before; Wilson hasn’t. Will Kaepernick's championship game experience give him the edge?

3. Can 49ers figure out how to win at Seattle? The 49ers were hammered in Seattle 29-3 in Week 2 and have been outscored 71-16 in their past two games at CenturyLink Field. The 49ers were greatly affected by the infamous noise level in those two games. Sunday, after beating the Panthers, several 49ers said the key will be to play as perfect as possible to take the crowd out of the game.

Quick Take: 49ers at Seahawks

January, 12, 2014
Jan 12
4:20
PM ET
SEATTLE -- Three things to know about next Sunday's San Francisco 49ers-Seattle Seahawks NFC Championship Game at CenturyLink Field:

1.The rubber match: This is the game most people expected to see when the season began, bitter NFC West rivals going head to head for a trip to the Super Bowl. They split in the regular season, with the Seahawks winning 29-3 in Seattle and the 49ers winning 19-17 at Candlestick Park in December. The 49ers have been the big boys on the NFC West block in recent years, but the Seahawks took that crown in the regular season. Now they want to prove they can do it in the playoffs. Playing on the road has not been a problem for San Francisco the past two months. The 49ers have won five consecutive road games, including the past three.

2. An honest hatred: This is the best rivalry in the NFL today and one of the best in professional sports. Most players on both teams will deny it all week, but the truth is these teams can’t stand each other, and that goes for the head coaches, as well. The two fan bases do everything they can to berate each other, and all of that animosity adds to the intrigue and hype for a title game. These are two of the most physical teams in the league. They are going to pop each other right in the mouth on every snap. It won’t be an easy game to officiate, having to find a balance between letting them play with so much on the line and knowing when a player’s actions get out of hand.

3. Dominant defenses: They say defense wins championships, and you certainly can make that argument with both of these teams. Seattle, the No. 1 defense in the NFL this season, has not allowed more than 19 points in any of its past six games, averaging only 11.2 points per game over that stretch. The 49ers, the No. 5 defense in the league, have allowed only 15.2 points per game in its past 11 games.

Quick Take: 49ers at Panthers

January, 5, 2014
Jan 5
9:15
PM ET
Three things to know about the San Francisco 49ers' matchup at the Carolina Panthers in the NFC divisional round at 1:05 p.m. ET Sunday:

1. Rematch: All Colin Kaepernick said about the Carolina Panthers on Sunday night, after the 49ers secured their trip there with a 23-20 win at Green Bay was “we owe them.” The Panthers beat the 49ers in San Francisco, 10-9, on Nov. 10. It was one of the NFL’s most physical games of the season. Both offenses struggled as both teams played brilliant defense. Expect another low-scoring game, although the point total likely will exceed 19 this time around.

2. Young quarterback battle: This will be a terrific national spotlight game for two of the better young quarterbacks in the league, Kaepernick and Carolina's Cam Newton. One of these two quarterbacks is heading to the NFC Championship Game. Newton was the No. 1 overall pick in the 2011 draft. Kaepernick, who already has been to one Super Bowl, was taken in the second round.

3. Great linebacking play: The first meeting was highlighted by stellar defensive play, particularly by the inside linebackers. San Francisco’s NaVorro Bowman and Patrick Willis and Carolina’s Luke Kuechly are among the game’s best middle linebackers. Bowman and Kuechly are legitimate NFL Defensive Player of the Year candidates. Expect this matchup to be run through these guys once again.

Quick Take: 49ers at Panthers

January, 5, 2014
Jan 5
8:45
PM ET
Three things to know about the Carolina Panthers' Jan. 12 playoff game against the San Francisco 49ers at Bank of America Stadium:

1. Mirror image: The Panthers (12-4) proved they were legitimately good this season with a 10-9 victory at San Francisco on Nov. 10. To prove they are a legitimate Super Bowl contender, they must get past the 49ers again. This arguably was the toughest of the three opponents Carolina could have drawn, as the teams are almost mirror images of each other. Both have an athletic quarterback -- Carolina in Cam Newton and San Francisco in Colin Kaepernick -- who can beat you with his legs as well as his arm. Both have a solid running game, with Carolina eighth in the NFL and San Francisco third. Both have a stout defense, Carolina second and San Francisco fifth, built around stopping the run first. This one should be just as close and physical as the first.

2. Contain Colin: Minutes after rushing seven times for 98 yards and throwing for 227 yards and a touchdown in a 23-20 victory over Green Bay, Kaepernick was asked what he thought about the rematch with Carolina. "That we owe them for the first time they came to our house," he told Fox Sports. The Panthers won at Candlestick Park in large part because they contained Kaepernick. They held him to 16 yards on four rushes and 91 yards passing. They sacked him six times. He was 0-for-6 on throws of more than 10 yards, the first time he's failed to complete a deep pass with multiple attempts in his career. For the first time this season, he was held without an official scramble, and he was 0-for-4 with two sacks when he did escape the pocket. San Francisco's 151 total yards were its fewest since Week 9 of 2006. The Panthers, who have 15 sacks in their past two games, likely will need to duplicate that to advance to the NFC Championship Game.

3. Flair controversy: The Panthers have been using professional wrestler Ric Flair's famous "WOOOOOOO" chant as part of their locker room celebration much of the season. It's become so big that cornerback Drayton Florence, who started the chant with the defensive backs before it caught on with the rest of the team, has been looking for a way to get "The Nature Boy" to give a motivational speech before the upcoming game. Florence, safety Mike Mitchell and corner Captain Munnerlyn taped this past week a "WOOOOOOO" pump-it-up video to play on the giant video screen before the game. Now we find out that Flair, who lives in Charlotte, gave the 49ers a motivational speech in their hotel the night before the Green Bay game. During the speech, Flair said his heart was with the 49ers all the way to the end. This could get touchy. Fortunately for Carolina, it has won seven straight at home since a 12-7 loss to Seattle in the season opener, so it can depend on the home crowd more than the hometown Nature Boy.

Quick Take: Saints at Seahawks

January, 5, 2014
Jan 5
8:00
AM ET
Three things to know about the New Orleans Saints’ matchup at the Seattle Seahawks on Saturday in the NFC divisional round at CenturyLink Field:

1. Ugly memory: This is a rematch of a game played just five weeks ago -- and it was by far the Saints’ ugliest performance of the season, a 34-7 loss on “Monday Night Football.” The Saints' normally potent offense gained just 188 yards, and an early sack-fumble set the tone. The defense was just as ugly. It sold out to stop running back Marshawn Lynch, but got burned by play-action fakes and Russell Wilson’s arm and legs.

Obviously it’s safe to expect a much better performance from the Saints this time. But will it be good enough? The Saints showed reason for optimism with the way they won their first playoff game Saturday in chilly Philadelphia -- relying on their run game, defense and special teams as much as they relied on Drew Brees. Now they’ll never be labeled as a team that can’t win a big game on the road again, right?

2. Battered secondary: The Saints had the No. 2-ranked pass defense in the NFL this season (behind the No. 1-ranked Seahawks). But they keep losing their best defensive backs to injuries. Cornerback Jabari Greer suffered a season-ending knee injury in November, then safety Kenny Vaccaro suffered a season-ending ankle injury in December. Now top cornerback Keenan Lewis will be questionable after leaving Saturday’s playoff win with a concussion. Judging by the way he was pleading to stay in the game, it’s possible the concussion wasn’t too serious. But those types of injuries are impossible to predict. The Saints are extremely thin behind Lewis -- as the Eagles proved by attacking deep after Lewis left.

3. Saints can run: Seattle’s top-ranked pass defense obviously caused problems for Brees, tight end Jimmy Graham & Co. in that first meeting. But the Saints proved at Philly that they can trust their run game if needed. They ran for 185 yards on 36 carries, led by a huge effort from resurgent running back Mark Ingram (18 carries for 97 yards and a touchdown). Whether or not running back Pierre Thomas is able to return from a back injury, the Saints obviously have multiple options they can feature.

Quick Take: Saints at Seahawks

January, 4, 2014
Jan 4
11:30
PM ET
SEATTLE -- Three things to know about next weekend's New Orleans Saints-Seattle Seahawks divisional round playoff game at CenturyLink Field:

1. Back where Who Dat was handed its hat: The Saints were 0-5 in road playoff games in franchise history before defeating the Eagles 26-24 in Philadelphia on Saturday night. Now New Orleans returns to the site of its worst defeat this season, a 34-7 victory by the Seahawks in a Monday night game on Dec. 2. Seattle held the Saints to 44 yards rushing, and Russell Wilson had one of his best games of the season, completing 22 of 30 passes for 310 yards and three touchdowns.

2. And where the Beast Quake beat them: The last home playoff game for the Seahawks was a 41-36 victory against the Saints three years ago, when Seattle running back Marshawn Lynch rocked the world (literally). His 67-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter, when he broke seven potential tackles, was the scamper that came to be known as the Beast Quake after registering seismic activity from the frenzied crowd.

3. Strength versus strength: Saturday's game will match the No. 1 pass defense in the NFL against the No. 2 passing offense. The Saints averaged 307 yards passing per game in the regular season, and had four players with more than 70 catches, an NFL first. The Seahawks led the league in passing yards allowed per game (172), and interceptions (28).

Quick Take: Saints at Eagles

December, 30, 2013
12/30/13
12:36
AM ET
ARLINGTON, Texas -- Three things to know about next Saturday's New Orleans Saints-Philadelphia Eagles wild-card playoff game at Lincoln Financial Field:

1. Unsteady Brees: It has often been said the Saints are a different team at home and on the road, but really, Drew Brees is a different quarterback. In seven home games before Sunday, Brees threw 23 touchdowns and three interceptions. His passer rating was 122.5. On the road, Brees has thrown 12 touchdowns and nine interceptions with a passer rating of 84.8. Brees averaged almost two more yards per attempt at home than on the road.

New Orleans’ defense is actually a bit better on the road. The Saints have eight interceptions and 26 sacks on the road and had three picks and 21 sacks in the Superdome before Sunday.

2. Subplots and storylines: The game will draw huge ratings in Philadelphia, New Orleans and Austin, Texas. Brees and Eagles quarterback Nick Foles went to Austin’s Westlake High School a decade apart. Foles broke Brees’ school records for touchdowns in a season and a career and yards in a game and career. Brees held on to the mark for passing yards in a season.

Saints head coach Sean Payton and assistant head coach Joe Vitt were both assistants on Ray Rhodes’ Eagles staff. Vitt coached linebackers from 1995 to 1998, while Payton coached quarterbacks in ’97 and ’98.

Saints defensive tackle Brodrick Bunkley was the Eagles’ first-round draft pick in 2006. As a rookie, he played against the Saints in a divisional playoff game. The Saints won, 27-24.

Back in the 1980s, Buddy Ryan was head coach of the Eagles. Bill Davis, who had been an assistant on Dick Vermeil’s staff, was a personnel guy. They didn’t exactly get along, and Davis left in 1989.

Almost a quarter-century later, their sons are first-year defensive coordinators for the Saints and Eagles. Rob Ryan has done a dramatic job revamping the Saints' defense. New Orleans was worst in the NFL in yardage and points allowed in 2012. The Saints are fourth in yards and fifth in points under Ryan. Davis has engineered a transition to the 3-4 that has the Eagles playing markedly better defense in the second half of the season. The Eagles have held 10 of their past 11 opponents to 21 or fewer points.

3. Graham cracking: In Jimmy Graham, the Saints have arguably the most dangerous tight end in the league. The Eagles have had mixed success against tight ends this season.

San Diego’s Antonio Gates caught eight passes for 124 yards, but that was early in the season, before Davis’ unit hit its stride. Just last week, Chicago’s Martellus Bennett caught five balls for 85 yards. Tampa Bay’s Timothy Wright caught seven passes for 91 yards.

Going into Sunday night, tight ends have caught an average of 4.3 passes for 52.7 yards per game against the Eagles this season. Jason Witten had 12 catches for 135 yards for the Cowboys on Sunday.

Quick Take: Saints at Eagles

December, 30, 2013
12/30/13
12:25
AM ET
Three things to know about next Saturday's NFC wild-card playoff game between the New Orleans Saints and the Philadelphia Eagles:

1. Road woes: The Saints (11-5) have to reverse a trend that has gotten uglier as the season has progressed. They finished 3-5 on the road, including three straight road losses in December (at Seattle, St. Louis and Carolina). There’s no great explanation for why the Saints have been such a different team away from home. They’ve struggled to score points and hit on deep passing plays. They’ve turned the ball over too often early in games. And they’ve had trouble stopping the run. All of those things are curable, in theory. But the Saints need to prove it on the field; they came close at Carolina in Week 16 but still managed only 13 points. Weather could be a factor, but early forecasts seem somewhat manageable (temperatures in the 20s or 30s, with no precipitation).

2. Eagles on fire: The opponent might even be scarier than the location. The Eagles (10-6) are one of the NFL’s hottest teams, having won six of their last seven. Nick Foles has been a revelation since taking over as the starting quarterback, with 27 touchdown passes and just two interceptions. And Philadelphia has by far the No. 1 rushing offense in the NFL, led by dangerous running back LeSean McCoy. The Saints will need their safeties to step up and be sure tacklers -- a bigger challenge now that rookie Kenny Vaccaro is out for the season. Increasing the degree of difficulty is the fact the Eagles are an unfamiliar foe for the Saints, led by rookie coach Chip Kelly and his unconventional offense.

3. Saints on fire: Of course, the Saints are no slouches themselves on offense. Although they’ve struggled to bring their show on the road, it’s still some of the most dazzling theater in the NFL at times. Drew Brees just threw for another 381 yards and four touchdowns in Sunday’s 42-17 win over Tampa Bay (three of the TDs for 40 yards or more). And he just wrapped his fourth 5,000-yard passing season, with 39 touchdowns to boot. That will put a scare into the Eagles’ defense, which ranks in the bottom five in the NFL. The Saints finished the season ranked No. 4 on offense and No. 4 on defense. Despite their low seeding, they have one of the highest ceilings of any playoff team.

Quick Take: 49ers at Packers

December, 29, 2013
12/29/13
10:20
PM ET
Three things to know about the Green Bay Packers’ matchup against the San Francisco 49ers next weekend in an NFC wild-card playoff game at Lambeau Field:

1. Fourth time the charm? This will be the fourth meeting between these teams since the start of the 2012 season, and the first three did not go the Packers’ way. From the season opener in 2012 at Lambeau Field to last year’s NFC divisional playoff loss at Candlestick Park to this year’s season opener back in San Francisco, the Packers have come up short each and every time.

2. Up to Capers: This is a chance for redemption for Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers. In the 45-31 playoff loss to the 49ers last season, his defense was embarrassed. It was completely fooled by the 49ers’ read-option plays and gave up 579 yards, including 181 yards rushing by quarterback Colin Kaepernick. Part of Capers’ defensive plan will have to center around receiver Anquan Boldin. In Sunday’s win over the Arizona Cardinals, Boldin had nine catches for 149 yards against his former team. It was reminiscent of what he did to the Packers in Week 1, when he caught 13 passes for 208 yards and a touchdown in the 49ers' 34-28 win. Capers’ defense has struggled in the past three meetings with the 49ers, so it will be up to him to devise a different game plan.

3. The Rodgers factor: As long as the Packers have Aaron Rodgers, they have a chance. That was proven once again on Sunday when he returned after missing seven starts because of a broken collarbone to lead the Packers to their NFC North-clinching win over the Chicago Bears. If Rodgers looked rusty in the first half, he quickly regained his old form in the second half.

Quick Take: 49ers at Packers

December, 29, 2013
12/29/13
9:30
PM ET
Three things to know about the San Francisco 49ers' matchup against the Green Bay Packers in an NFC wild-card game at 4:40 p.m. ET Sunday at Lambeau Field:

1. Two teams no one wants to play. This rematch of the 49ers’ Week 1 home victory is easily the most intriguing matchup of the first weekend. The 49ers are the NFL’s hottest team. They have the longest active win streak in the league at six games and have won 11 of their past 13 games. This is a 12-4 juggernaut. However, the Packers are dangerous. A healthy Aaron Rodgers makes them a contender, and winning at Lambeau Field in the playoffs is never easy for the road team.

2. Will the read-option live? This should be an interesting cat-and-mouse game. Last year in the divisional round in San Francisco, 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick ran all over the Packers using the read-option. It was a huge storyline heading into Week 1 -- and then the 49ers barely used it as Kaepernick threw for a season-high 412 yards, including hitting Anquan Boldin 13 times. They used it sparingly the rest of the season, but they do break it out now and again. Will it happen again at Green Bay? I can see it being used, at least a bit. The Packers will definitely be on their toes.

3. Check the weather. It is expected to be cold with a chance of snow next weekend in Green Bay. Of course, it is Green Bay in January. The 49ers are a physical, grinding team. They fancy themselves as a cold-weather team. It shouldn’t be a big problem, but the weather is always an advantage for the Packers.

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