Believe It: Pack Will Hunt Falcons Next WeekendPosted:Jan 8th, 2011 5:09 pm
As the Packers get set for their third consecutive playoff game, it's important to look at how teams are trending right now. In the NFC, no team is trending better than the Pack. The Falcons, Bears, Saints and Eagles are all coming off losses and/or games that didn't mean too much. And the Seahawks? Well, they are invited to the dance but don't figure to stay too long.
Meanwhile the Packers have been in "lose and you're out" situations the past two weeks and put together strong efforts to knock out the Giants and Bears at home--first on the arm of Rodgers, then riding their strong big-play defense.
Now the real playoffs begin in a game billed as Rodgers vs. Vick. It's clearly the game with the most star power of the weekend and many experts believe the winner of this game will advance to the NFC championship.
Vick claims to be 100%, following a quad injury suffered early on in the Vikings game, a game that cost the Eagles the chance to rest this weekend. Outside of the historic comeback at the end of the Giants game, Vick and the Eagles have looked lost and disinterested for the better part of the past month. But Andy Reid knows how to win wildcard games. His loss to the Cowboys last season was his first in this round of the playoffs.
The Eagles will need a mobile Vick to have a chance in this game. He's thrown interceptions in his last six games and lost three fumbles. He'll still make the big play in the air and on the ground, but he'll also make key mistakes when rattled by pressure. You can bet the Packers are licking their chops looking at the right side of the offensive line. Mediocre tackle Nick Cole will get help from tight end Brent Celek in holding off Clay Matthews, but the Pack will blitz from that side all day. Right guard Max Jean-Gilles is unlikely to play.
Erik Walden is unlikely to post last week type numbers against Pro Bowl left tackle Jason Peters. But his performance against the Bears was a revelation. With Zombo out again, Walden will get plenty of snaps and the Eagles will have to account for him. 16 tackles and three sacks gets your name on the opposing team's chalkboard.
As I blogged about a couple of days ago, I expect RB LeSean McCoy to be a focal point of the Eagles' offensive gameplan. Mike Martz took the ball out of Matt Forte's hands last week and played right into Dom Capers' strengths. Reid loves to throw the ball, but he will recognize that Vick will have a much better chance in the second half to spring a few big plays if McCoy has established things on the ground. Green Bay will also have to watch him in the passing game, just like they used to keep an eye on Brian Westbrook. He caught 78 passes and will be an effective security blanket for Vick, when he's getting heat.
Where the Packers have a clear edge is offensively. Rodgers and the passing game should have their way with the Eagles D, which lacks playmakers beyond lineman Trent Cole and cornerback Asante Samuel. Expect McCarthy to pick on CB Dimitri Patterson who's been getting torched lately. With two key guys out due to injury: LB Stewart Bradley and FS Nate Allen, the Eagles' depth has been tested and they haven't been up to the task against good QBs. They've allowed 30 TD passes, 29th in the league and are dead last in red zone defense. If Rodgers looks anything like he did against the Giants, the Pack should find the end zone four times.
The Eagles have the edge on special teams, with the dangerous DeSean Jackson returning punts and the reliable David Akers, who's been booting a lot of kickoffs into the end zone lately.
Coaching edge goes to Reid, who's been in more of these big games than McCarthy. The Pack needs to jump out early--if they fall behind quickly like they did in Arizona last year it may be tough sledding fighting back. Green Bay needs to move the ball on the ground from the start to keep the defense honest and just withstand the first punch.
Interesting stat: they've gone all season never trailing by more than a touchdown. If they keep this one close early, they'll have enough firepower to overtake the Eagles in the end. Huge game for Aaron Rodgers: if he wants to be called an elite QB, this is the kind of game he needs to win. He did it two weeks ago against a better defense in the Giants, in a game that was just as big for the Pack as this one.
I believe he has that kind of game in him. This will be a game where he needs to outscore the Eagles, because they will score on the Pack.
Bring on the dirty birds. Packers 31 Eagles 27.