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NFL Playoffs Divisional Preview: NFC

by Photo of Ross Bernhardt

Two great games are lined up in the NFC this weekend.

NFL Playoffs Divisional Preview: NFC

Yesterday, I took a look at the AFC Divisional Round match-ups.  If those games don't particularly whet your appetite, might I suggest the NFC games?  The resurgent New York Giants take on the powerhouse Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field.  The New Orleans Saints and their juggernaut of an offense travel to San Francisco to take on the 49ers terrific defense.  It's a weekend ripe with interesting match-ups and plot lines, like:

  • Can the Giants recreate their 2007 magic?
  • The Saints' offense versus the 49ers defense: which side wins out?
  • Will the Packers roll through the playoffs again?
  • Can the Alex Smith and the 49ers score enough to keep up with New Orleans?
  • Can the Giants sustain their pass rush and running game?
  • Will Aaron Rodgers file a lawsuit to protect his touchdown dance?

And so on and so forth.  If nothing else, these games will be intriguing.  Let's break it down.

Saturday, 4 PM: New Orleans Saints (14-3) at San Francisco 49ers (13-3)

The Skinny:

Jason Lisk at The Big Lead did a very nice job previewing this game already.  Here's a brief excerpt from his post:

It’s understandable that the Saints are a slight favorite. Teams with powerful passing games are decent propositions on the road, particularly against lesser offensive teams. The two other teams that are most similar to this year’s 49ers are the 2001 Bears and the 2008 Titans, neither of which show up because of the opponent not being like these Saints. Basically, teams like the 49ers, built around strong run defense, and an opportunistic offense that tends to love field goals, don’t fare well, despite what the talking heads might tell you.

San Francisco, of course, has a chance. They are at home, have the Saints on grass, and New Orleans is not the greatest defense. It’s possible that the 49ers contain the Saints offense and limit it to less than 24 and still lose, though. Kicker David Akers set a field goal record this year; if they want to win this one, they are going to have to cash in a few touchdowns in the red zone instead.

These really couldn't be more different teams.  The Saints really haven't played a defense as good as San Francisco's either.  How will New Orleans respond to San Francisco's defense?  What can the 49ers offense scrape together against Gregg Williams' manic blitz packages?  I'm really looking forward to seeing how all of this plays out on Saturday.

X-Factors:

Offensive Line, San Francisco - Alex Smith was sacked more times than any other quarterback in the NFL this season.  It wasn't Jay Cutler in 2010-2011 sack numbers, but he still was brought down 44 times by opposing defenses (almost three times a game).  New Orleans is going to bring the heat.  Everybody knows it.  If San Fran is going to be able to do anything offensively, they are going to have to neutralize the Saints' pass rush and sustain a balanced offensive attack.

Jimmy Graham, Tight End, New Orleans - Outside of Rob Gronkowski in New England, there might not be a more dynamic force at tight end in the game right now.  Graham's combination of size, strength, athleticism, and pass-catching ability makes him almost unstoppable.  With all of the other weapons the Saints have, it will be hard for San Francisco to focus too much attention on him.  If Graham keeps putting up his usual lines, New Orleans should continue to roll.

Prediction: New Orleans 27 - San Francisco 16

I think San Francisco's defense will be able to tone down New Orleans' offense to the tune of 27 points, but I just don't see them scoring enough in this one.  Like Lisk said in his preview, they have to settle for field goals far too often.  Field goals usually don't win you playoff games, unless Adam Vinatieri is drilling them at the end of regulation.  I like the Saints here.

Sunday, 4 PM: New York Giants (10-7) at Green Bay Packers (15-1)

The Skinny:

I think people are reading too much into the "2007 Giants" angle this week.  Yes, they played the undefeated Packers earlier this year, and it was a great game.  The Giants came oh so close to knocking off the Packers during the regular season.  Eli Manning manufactured a touchdown drive to tie the game at 35 all and left just 58 seconds on the clock.  But that was more than enough time for Aaron Rodgers to maneuver the Packers into field goal range for Mason Crosby to kick the game-winner.  Yes the Giants now travel to Green Bay in the playoffs and will have to win for a shot to get back to the Super Bowl.  But that's about it as far as those comparisons go.  These two teams match up well against each other.  Both have dynamic offenses.  Both have above-average defenses that are prone to giving up lots of points at times.  This should be an explosive game.  

X-Factors:

Justin Tuck, Defensive Lineman, New York - A pass rush isn't enough to stop a quarterback like Aaron Rodgers.  He can evade the pass rush and scramble with ease if he senses trouble.  The problem for the Giants early on was their inability to generate any pass rush from the interior.  Osi Umenyiora and Jason Pierre-Paul were coming off the edges, but because the tackles weren't getting and push, quarterbacks had those alleys to step up or escape up the middle.  Tuck's move to the inside, along with Chris Canty's emergence lately, have really helped round out the pass rush for New York.  If Tuck can continue to play well and contain Rodgers in the pocket, that will really help the Giants.

Jermichael Finley, Tight End, Green Bay - By now, most are aware of all the injuries the Giants have suffered on defense.  As a result, they are thin at linebacker and in the secondary.  This should be advantageous, especially for someone as dangerous as Finley.  The Giants don't really have anyone that can match up with him (Michael Boley is probably the most likely candidate).  Finley was the one who burned rookie linebacker Jacquian Williams during that game-winning drive during week 13.  If Finley can exploit these mismatches and get open early, he can negate a strong Giants pass rush.

Prediction: Green Bay 31 - New York 27

This should be a great one, and I think it will come down to the wire.  Manning and Rodgers will provide plenty of fireworks on offense, but Green Bay will get a chance to win it at the end.  We all know how that story ends.

Enjoy the weekend of football everyone, and don't forget to let CHARGED.fm get you tickets to your upcoming events.


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