If you missed the AFC Preview, you can check here. Now it’s time for the NFC Divisional Round Preview.
Seattle Seahawks at Atlanta Falcons
This is what the Atlanta Falcons have been dreading all year-long. Despite easily capturing the overall number one seed in the NFC, no one has any faith in the Falcons to win this game, or any playoff game. Matt Ryan has had 3 chances to win a playoff game and has come up short every single type. Despite breaking franchise records in yards and touchdowns and posting a generally magnificent statistical season, there is little reason to believe in this Falcons team. Despite the solid offensive season, the Seahawks match up perfectly with Atlanta’s offense. Atlanta’s strength offensively comes from their two big wide receivers. The Seahawks strength defensively comes from their two big corner backs and two talented safeties. Julio Jones has become the more explosive of the two Falcons pass catchers, but he is going to have his hands full trying to win one on one battles with Richard Sherman the whole game. If Jones and White doesn’t consistently beat their men one on one, Matt Ryan is going to have a long. Part of the reason the Falcons don’t inspire any faith is their putrid run game. Falcons GM Thomas Dimitroff made a serious error not upgrading the offensive backfield over the last year. Micheal Turner, Jacquizz Rodgers and Jason Snelling just are not capable of getting the job done. Turner has lost all the burst and lower leg drive that once made him an intimidating inside runner and Jacquizz Rodgers has proven that he is just another guy at the running back position. All of this leaves offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey with a difficult task. He will have to design an intricate game plan to put Matt Ryan and the offense in position to succeed against the physical Seahawks defense. The Falcons may have gotten a small saving grace with news that defensive end Chris Clemons suffered a torn ACL in Sunday’s victory against the Redskins; if they are able to move the ball effectively, Seahawks fans will be able to point to Clemons injury as a serious reason why.
The Falcons defense doesn’t inspire much confidence either. The team that ranked 24th in yards per game for opponents is going up against an offense that is just now hitting their stride. Last weeks debacle on a field that could kindly be referred to as a death trap aside, the Seahawks offense over the last month and a half has been absolutely fearsome. Russell Wilson and Marshawn Lynch running the read option is a nightmare for defenses. Lynch is exactly the type of violent runner that gives defenses heavily reliant on linebacking play fits. The read option also helps take linebackers out of the play, by freezing them in the wrong position or goading them into attacking the wrong player. I fully expect Wilson and Lynch to have solid days against the Falcons front seven. The running game, in combination with Wilson’s hyper efficient offensive style will make it hard for the Falcons to play comeback ball if they get down by more than 10 points. While the Falcons do have incredible offensive firepower with Julio Jones and Roddy White, I fully expect the 3 point underdog Seattle Seahawks to emerge victorious. Final Score: Seahawks 28, Falcons 20.
Green Bay Packers at San Francisco 49er’s
The late Saturday night game between the Packers and Niners is going to be an all-time classic and probably the best game of the playoffs. The philosophies that built both of these times combine perfectly into epic matchups. While the Niners came out on top all the way back in week 1, much has changed for both of the teams including the emergence of Dujuan Harris and Randall Cobb for the Packers and the quarterback switch to Colin Kaepernick for the Niners. The first time the Packers played the Niners they faced the dink and dunk, run heavy offense with Alex Smith at quarterback. This weekends match up will be the first time all season that they will play a team that heavily features the read option. Much as I expect Russell Wilson and Marshawn Lynch to have success against Atlanta, I expect Kap and Frank Gore to use the read option to neutralize the presence of Clay Matthews and B.J Raji in the middle of the field. The loss of Mario Manningham hurts the Niners offense because it makes them rely more on the radically inconsistent Delanie Walker and the disappearing act that is Vernon Davis in the middle of the field, but the recent play of Micheal Crabtree should leave Niners fans very excited. The play of Casey Hayward, the Packers stud young corner, should not excite them as much. Alot of the Niners offensive gameplan will come to Kaepernick being efficient; if he replicates what he did against the Bears in his first start, Niners fans should feel alot better.
That being said, there is a reason that the Packers are nine-point favorites. Despite the poor showing against the Giants in last years playoffs, Aaron Rodgers is still Aaron Rodgers. Greg Jennings and Jordy Nelson are finally healthy, and Randall Cobb is the best offensive weapon that Rodgers has ever played with. Smaller, shifty slot and backfield players give the Niners fits, going back to last year’s divisional round; Darren Sproles exploded for 14 catches in that game. That should result in Cobb getting a few carries out of the backfield and 10 or so targets in the intermediate passing game. These space plays will allow the offense to work against the suffocating Niners defense. In week one against the Niners, Cobb converted all 9 of his targets for 74 yards and returned a kick. There is a very good chance that he is the key player for the Green Bay offense. My boy Dujuan Harris has revitalized the Packer’s running game, sparing cheeseheads from having to watch Alex Green run into the ass of his lineman and falling down repeatedly. While the Niners defense has proven stout all year, they struggled mightily against the spectacular Patriots and Seahawks offenses and similar scenario could emerge here. While Justin Smith is expected back from injury, if he isn’t at 100%, that will be a small advantage that Aaron Rodgers could really use. Green Bay’s offense line is absolutely putrid; the recipe for a San Francisco win will be mixing blitz packages and continuing to get after Rodgers on passing downs. If they can harass him early on and get him to take his eyes away from down the field and shift them to the oncoming rushers, they have a solid chance of earning an upset victory. That being said, Rodgers will be too motivated to avenage the week one loss and last years playoff woes to lose this game. While it will be closer than most think (hint: take the Niners to cover), the Pack will emerge victories. Final Score: Packers 28, Niners 24