Divisional Playoff Preview – NFC

By Kevin Garber

The Wild Card Round has ended and the Divisional Round in this weekend. Let’s look at the two NFC Playoff matchups:

 

Carolina Panthers @ Seattle Seahawks
5:15 PST SAT
FOX

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Carolina may have slipped into the playoffs with a lousy 7-8-1 record, but they also did so by winning 4 in a row. A Wild Card win at home over a depleted Arizona team gives them 5 consecutive wins and officially makes them a hot team.

Seattle on the other hand pounded their way to the top seed in the NFC riding the strength of a defense that gave up only 39 total points over a 6 game winning streak to end the season. The Seahawks finished the year ranked 1st in the NFL in both DVOA and Weighted DVOA, meaning they were the most effective all year long as well as finishing the year out the strongest.

Att

Comp

Comp %

Yds

TD

INT

480

280

58.3

3334

20

13

 

Att

Yds

Avg

TD

Fum

103

539

5.2

5

3

Cam Newton is without a doubt the key to the Panthers. Their defense is a bit of a studs and duds concept, with a shocking number of duds despite talents like Charles Johnson at DE and Luke Kuechly at ILB. The RB stable is finally mostly healthy, and Jonathan Stewart has been running like an All-Pro lately (5.1 YPC in his last 5 games) but it came against sub-par run defenses. Greg Olsen at TE is talented and productive and Kelvin Benjamin has put together a very strong rookie season (though the 11 drops have hurt). All that is a long way of saying that Cam Newton will need to step up big this weekend if Carolina is going to pull the upset. But can he?

Newton’s rushing attempts, yards, average, and TDs were all career lows this year. His completion percentage ranks between Derek Carr and Jake Locker, below such all time greats as Blake Bortles and Geno Smith. Cam Newton is not a bad quarterback, but he is not likely the quarterback you want to have going up against a team like the Seahawks.

Tackles

Sacks

Hurries

Stops

74

2

5

44

Pro Bowl linebacker Bobby Wagner is somewhat the X-Factor in this game. The secondary was beat up, playing without Maxwell, Lane, and functionally half of Kam Chancellor during the last meeting with Carolina in Week 8, but so was Wagner. Wagner is a matchup challenge for Carolina. His ability in coverage and his tackling ability stifle run plays. In just 11 games Wagner ranked 12th in the league in stops, which constitutes forcing a negative offensive play. Jonathan Stewart’s hot play is a big part of what the Panthers have put together for this win streak, but Wagner and the rest of the defense put it back on the shoulders of Cam, who does not match up well with the Legion of Boom.

 

Dallas Cowboys @ Green Bay Packers
10:05 PST
FOX

Dez Bryant, Sam Shields

After what constituted a somehow “disastrous” start for Green Bay at 1-2, Aaron Rodgers told everyone to r-e-l-a-x as they proceeded to go 11-2 the rest of the season and win their division as well as home field advantage in the divisional round. The Cowboys got old, got worse talent wise over the offseason, and got injured in some key ways. Coach on the hot seat, QB in the dog house…and then a 6-1 start shut just about everyone up. There were some stumbles in the middle of the season, but a strong 4 game win streak to end the season pushed them past the free-falling Eagles and into the NFC East title.

Rec

Yds

YAC/Rec

TD

Drop

Missed Tackles

89

1320

4.5

16

5

16

Dez Bryant had 16 missed tackles in the regular season. That ranked him 5th among WRs. That would have ranked him 7th among RBs. DeMarco Murray and Tony Romo have deservedly grabbed headlines with great seasons, but Dez had his own stand out year as well and is a weapon that cannot be forgotten. He is a fairly sure handed receiver who still provides big play capability. It will be up to Dez and Jason Witten to help out Tony Romo, because DeMarco Murray is going to get a lot of attention from a Green Bay defense that struggled much of the season against the run.

Tackles

Sacks

Hurries

Stops

45

11

27

32

However, if Clay Matthews has his way Romo will spend so much time on his injured back he won’t be able to see Dez Bryant no matter how open he is. Clay once again was a one man wrecking crew, setting up shops in QB’s faces all year with 11 sacks and 27 hurries. Matthews lines up in a lot of positions and rushes a lot of gaps, making him a potent pass rushing weapon against a celebrated Dallas O-Line.

Seattle Angle:

Really, both of these represent the type of team that the Seahawks need to be wary of. Both teams have the type of potent offense that can actually hang with Seattle’s mighty defense, while providing enough defense to at least somewhat challenge the Seattle offense.

Dallas already defeated Seattle this year, so one could argue that is either a big advantage or a massive disadvantage depending on how you feel about the chip that likely put on the collective shoulders of the Seahawks. Green Bay fell to the Seahawks in Week 1, but I doubt the team would be cocky enough to take them lightly with that being the last hurdle to a second Super Bowl appearance.

All in all, I would slightly prefer Dallas to win this game as it’d put the revenge factor in Seattle’s favor. Jimmy Johnson’s South Alaska dig and a host of other reasons always make me enjoy seeing the Cowboys fall, and climbing this close to the Super Bowl to be knocked off would be all the better. That, and I feel like they have a much weaker defense to operate against.

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