NFL Nation: Final Word NFC 2010 Wild Card

Final Word: Packers-Eagles

January, 7, 2011
1/07/11
4:00
PM ET
Wild-card Final Word: NY Jets-Indy | Baltimore-K.C. | N.O.-Seattle | G.B.-Philadelphia

Three nuggets of knowledge about Sunday's Eagles-Packers wild-card game:

[+] EnlargePhiladelphia Eagles running back LeSean McCoy
AP Photo/Scott A. MillerPhiladelphia Eagles running back LeSean McCoy had just five attempts for 24 yards in last year's wild-card game loss against the Cowboys.
Are Andy Reid and Marty Mornhinweg capable of committing to the running game? If they were ever going to do it, this would be the game. The Packers allow 4.7 rushing yards per game -- among the most generous in the league. LeSean McCoy is also a weapon in the passing game with 78 catches, and I think he needs at least 20 touches in this game. In the second half of the season, the Eagles rarely gave him more than 15 carries per game, and that needs to change against the Packers. The longer you keep Aaron Rodgers off the field, the better chance you have of winning. Rodgers' numbers over the past seven starts are pretty remarkable in terms of TD/INT ratio (16-2). The Eagles have a big-play offense, but they've shown the ability to sustain drives with the running game in the fourth quarter this season. Why not do some of that in the first half Sunday?

Can the Eagles' secondary do anything to slow down the Packers' receivers? You hear coaches talking all the time about "tackling the football." We know the Eagles are going to give up some plays against the Packers, but the defensive backs have to be fundamentally sound when it comes to wrapping up the Packers' wide receivers. Greg Jennings is about as good as it gets at running after the catch (RAC). The Eagles will concede some of the underneath passes, but they can't get caught gambling on interceptions. Asante Samuel's a Pro Bowl corner, but he's also a boom-or-bust player. He has to keep his eye on these receivers before looking back at the quarterback Sunday or he'll get beat on a double move. And the same thing goes for Dimitri Patterson on the other side. You better believe that Rodgers will be throwing to Patterson's man from the start.

The Eagles need to put points on the board early. Every team talks about setting the tone early, but the Eagles are one of the best teams in the league at making it happen. Eagles tight end Brent Celek told me last night that the Eagles have emphasized starting quickly all week. And this goes for both sides of the ball. I think Reid and Mornhinweg will try to send a message early in this game. If they can get DeSean Jackson or Jeremy Maclin loose on a double move, it could put the Packers in a tough spot early. I realize the Packers are prolific on offense, but remember that they had to win one game this season 9-0, and they beat the Bears last Sunday by scoring only 10 points. If the Eagles can open the game with one of those patented big plays, the Packers might feel a little pressure. And yes, I'm predicting a deep ball to Jackson on the first play from scrimmage.

Final Word: Saints-Seahawks

January, 7, 2011
1/07/11
4:00
PM ET
Wild-card Final Word: NY Jets-Indy | Baltimore-K.C. | N.O.-Seattle | G.B.-Philadelphia

Three nuggets of knowledge about Saturday's Saints-Seahawks wild-card game at Qwest Field:

Hasselbeck at home: Matt Hasselbeck's 4-5 record as a postseason starter includes a 4-1 mark in games played at Qwest Field. Although Seattle's 7-9 regular-season record differentiates this Seahawks playoff team from its predecessors, you might be interested in the raw numbers. Hasselbeck completed 61.1 percent of his passes with eight touchdowns, five interceptions and an 88.0 rating in home playoff games. He has completed 55 percent with three touchdowns, three interceptions and a 71.5 rating in postseason games away from Qwest Field. His home-and-away splits are nearly identical this season, however.

[+] EnlargeSaints quarterback Drew Brees
AP Photo/Bill HaberThe Seattle Seahawks need to force Saints QB Drew Brees into the kind of bad passes that led to 22 interceptions this season.
Hands in the air: Disrupting Saints quarterback Drew Brees ranks high on the list of priorities for any opposing defense. Brees' quick decision-making puts defenses in a bind, even when they get pressure. What to do? Seattle had success against St. Louis in Week 17 by anticipating throws and batting passes near the line of scrimmage. The Seahawks might need more of the same Saturday. Brees had 28 passes either picked off (eight) or defended (20) by defensive linemen and linebackers this season, tied for fourth-most in the NFL, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Seattle's front seven finished the 2010 season with the third-most passes defended. Side note: NFC South quarterbacks had 12 touchdowns and four interceptions against Seattle this season.

Wrap and roll: The Seahawks' tackling has improved over the past few games after coach Pete Carroll asked players to adopt a technique he taught at USC. The basic idea: aim low, grab onto the ball carrier somewhere from the hip down, then spin and roll while wrapping up the legs. The approach might help the Seahawks' defensive backs hold up better. Cornerback Marcus Trufant suffered a concussion against the Saints when trying to tackle Chris Ivory. Safety Earl Thomas was shaken up during a collision with Saints receiver Marques Colston, who scored on the play.

Final Word: Saints-Seahawks

January, 7, 2011
1/07/11
4:00
PM ET
Wild-card Final Word: NY Jets-Indy | Baltimore-K.C. | N.O.-Seattle | G.B.-Philadelphia

Three nuggets of knowledge about Saturday’s Saints-Seahawks wild-card game:

A game made for Brees. A lot is being made of the fact the Saints will be without injured running backs Chris Ivory and Pierre Thomas. That’s a legitimate concern, and Reggie Bush and Julius Jones will have to pick up the slack in the running game. The Saints are going to need some balance in their offense if they advance in the playoffs. But this is one game where, despite the possibility of less-than-ideal weather, I think they’ll put everything on the shoulders of quarterback Drew Brees. By himself, Brees is good enough to beat a team like the Seahawks.

[+] EnlargeNew Orleans Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma
AP Photo/Gail BurtonLinebacker Jonathan Vilma (51) and the Saints defense have been solid all year, but could do a better job forcing turnovers.
Don't forget the defense. The story about the Saints that has sort of been underplayed this year is the defense. It’s not producing the turnovers and big plays it did in last year’s Super Bowl season. But overall, this defense has been much better and much more consistent. Rather quietly, middle linebacker Jonathan Vilma has had another outstanding season, and he is the Brees of the defense. This unit might not be spectacular, but you don’t see a lot of defensive mistakes by the Saints.

Prediction time. Those who have read this blog for a long time know I generally don’t make predictions. That’s because I think they’re meaningless. My opinion on that hasn’t changed, but I’m going to break tradition because I’ve got a strong feeling on this one. I’m saying the Saints win 31-14, despite all their injuries. Yeah, the Atlanta Falcons got the bye. But the Saints got the next-best thing. They drew a 7-9 team.

Final Word: Packers-Eagles

January, 7, 2011
1/07/11
4:00
PM ET
Wild-card Final Word: NY Jets-Indy | Baltimore-K.C. | N.O.-Seattle | G.B.-Philadelphia

Three nuggets of knowledge about Sunday's Packers-Eagles wild-card game:


Legacy: We've already had plenty to say about this matchup; you can view those posts through this handy "Packers in Philly" filter. But it's worth noting that this game will be a career-changer for one of the two starting quarterbacks. Either Aaron Rodgers will get his first playoff victory for the Green Bay Packers, or, as ESPN's Sal Paolantonio notes, the Philadelphia Eagles' Michael Vick will conquer the crossroads he finds himself in. No quarterback is defined by his performance in one wild-card playoff game or the team's result. But for different reasons, both Rodgers and Vick would start in a new direction with a victory.

[+] EnlargeGreen Bay Packers running back John Kuhn
AP Photo/Charles KrupaRunning back John Kuhn has established himself as the Packers' best option in short-yardage situations.
Short-yardage issues: Fullback-turned-cult-hero John Kuhn has been the Packers' best option in short-yardage situations, and he finished the year with 26 first downs on 84 carries. But overall, the Packers' biggest offensive weakness is their limited options in short yardage or at the goal line. In an ESPN Insider piece, Bill Barnwell of Football Outsiders ranked the Packers No. 25 in the NFL in converting "power" situations, defined as "carries on third or fourth down with two yards to go or less, or carries on first or second down within two yards of the end zone." It's been a particular problem near the goal line, and sometimes the Packers' best option has been for Rodgers to scramble. Everything is magnified in a playoff game, where the falloff from a touchdown opportunity to a field goal can be severe. The Packers need to capitalize on every opportunity to score.

History: Before defeating the Eagles in Week 1 this season, the Packers had lost their previous nine games in Philadelphia. Nearly 48 years passed between victories. But coach Mike McCarthy's teams generally have not been flummoxed by difficult road environments or winter weather. Since McCarthy took over in 2006, the Packers are 21-19 on the road and 15-8 in December/January games. Lincoln Financial Field isn't the friendliest place for an unfamiliar opponent, but the Packers aren't likely to be affected much by that segment of this matchup.

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