With Wild Card Weekend on tap, this week's edition of our NFL chatter previews the playoffs, including key players, possible upsets and predictions for Super Bowl XLVI.
Fellas, with the regular season officially history, it's time to turn our attention to the playoffs and the run to Super Bowl XLVI. Which player must have the biggest post-season impact for his respective team?Jesse Campigotto:
Both of the No. 2 seeds have question marks at quarterback, and it's going to be up to Baltimore's Joe Flacco and San Francisco's Alex Smith to show they can do enough to not blow it for their stellar defences. Smith finished 17th in the league in yards per pass attempt, while Flacco was way down in 24th, behind the likes of Tarvaris Jackson, John Skelton and (ouch) Rex Grossman. Smith was more accurate (completing 61.4 per cent of his passes to Flacco's 57.6) and less mistake prone (five interceptions to Flacco's 12), but Flacco has far more playoff experience (seven career starts to Smith's zero) and it's all come on the road, so you can at last say he's battle tested.Tony Care:
To me, the answer is simple: Ray Rice. The Ravens need to feed their running back the ball or they have no shot. In the last two seasons, including playoffs, Baltimore is 20-1 when Rice carries the ball at least 20 times. When he doesn't the team is a dismal 5-8. What this stat shows is Flacco can't get the job done without a running game.Jason Davidson:
Drew Brees has to be at his absolute best if the New Orleans Saints are going to get a sniff at the NFC Championship and a spot in the Super Bowl. I can see them getting by the Detroit Lions rather easily at the Superdome, but it will be up to Brees to keep his team going any farther than that, especially if they want any chance of beating Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau. Of the top two seeds in each conference - Green Bay, San Francisco, New England and Baltimore - which is most likely to suffer an upset in their first game?Jesse Campigotto:
Based on what I wrote in the previous answer, it's probably either San Francisco or Baltimore. But, depending on the matchup of course, I think the Patriots could go down too. You may already know that New England ranked near the bottom of the league in yards allowed per play (interestingly, Green Bay was even worse and New Orleans only slightly better), but did you know that the Pats did not beat a team that finished with a winning record this season? (Hat tip to my CBCSports.ca Podcast partner Chris Iorfida for that tidbit.) The only two opponents on New England's schedule that finished above .500 were the Steelers and Giants. The Pats lost both those games, by a combined 12 points.Tony Care:
I'm going with the 49ers because there is a good chance they'll be pitted against the red-hot Saints, who should defeat Detroit in the Wild Card game. The biggest problem the 49ers would face is falling into a large deficit against Brees and the Saints early, then having to rally behind an offence that simply isn't build to score in bunches. In order for San Francisco to be victorious, Alex Smith must make more plays than he's been asked to do this season, and I just don't see that happening.
I see the Ravens as the team most likely to suffer a loss on home field following the bye week. Their offence concerns me big time. Flacco will have to find a way to score points even though we all know the Ravens boast a stellar defence. They just seem to me to be the weakest of the four bye teams, as I see the Packers, 49ers and Patriots all moving on to the final four. Then again, the Ravens could very well be in that mix as well. Which team should be considered the most dangerous squad of the playoffs?Jesse Campigotto:
To inflict actual bodily harm? That's always the Steelers and the Ravens, no? To pull off an upset? The Bengals' underrated pass rush (fourth in the league in sack percentage) makes them dangerous against a banged-up Houston team that's starting a third-string quarterback (T.J. Yates) who left the regular-season finale with an injury to his non-throwing shoulder. One well-placed hit and the Texans' hopes may rest on, that's right, Mr. Jake Delhomme.Tony Care:
I'm starting to get the feeling that the New York Giants have the same look they did when they shocked the Patriots in Super Bowl XLII. There is no better defensive line in the league. The Giants have registered 11 sacks in their last two games and boast the most athletic linemen in the game. Eli Manning is playing the best football of his career, and wide receiver Victor Cruz (82 catches for 1,526 yards and nine touchdowns) has been one of the biggest playmakers in the NFL this season.Jason Davidson:
The Packers. Now we can put to rest all the talk that the Pack would be doomed should Rodgers become sidelined with an injury. Matt Flynn looks like a suitable backup and I'm not just talking against his unreal performance against the Lions either. Late in 2010, when Rodgers was out with a concussion, Flynn played very well in a loss to the Pats at Foxborough. This team is deep and will be very difficult to beat at home. Yes, the Packers may give up a bunch of points but they'll score even more to compensate like they always do. It's time to revise your pre-season Super Bowl predictions. Which two conference representatives will be battling in Indianapolis on Feb. 5, and who walks out with the Lombardi Trophy?Jesse Campigotto:
My pre-season prediction was San Diego over New Orleans, so I guess I look like only half a moron. How about this: I'll stick with the Saints, who finished with a league-best point differential of plus-208 and an eight-game winning streak, and I'll take New England to come out of the AFC. Yeah, the defence is worrisome, but the Texans and Steelers feel too banged up, Denver is Denver, and Baltimore finished only .500 on the road, which is where they'd have to beat the Patriots. New England's defence isn't good enough to steal a game if it falls on the wrong side of the turnover battle, but takeaways are an area in which the Ravens' defence wasn't particularly strong this year. A Patriots-Saints Super Bowl: think that would be exciting at all?
Why didn't I go with my first instinct in September and take the Patriots in the AFC? But no, I had to go with San Diego, which missed the playoffs for the second straight year. Well, I'm taking the Patriots now. They have home field throughout the post-season and Tom Brady masks a lot of the team's defensive problems. Over in the NFC, I picked the Green Bay Packers to win it all again at the start of the season and there's no reason to change it now. Regardless of what the Saints have done in the last few weeks, there is no offence I'd rather have than the one Rodgers leads. The Packers will defeat the Patriots in a high-scoring Super Bowl in Indy.Jason Davidson:
Well, at the beginning of the year I said Brady vs. Rodgers and I'm sticking with it. I still think they are the best teams in their respective conferences and having home-field advantage throughout will make a big difference. Without a doubt, it will be an offensive battle but when all is said and done, the Packers will repeat as Super Bowl champions, beating the Pats for the Lombardi trophy for the second time in 15 years. Final score: 38-31.
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