NFC Playoff Picture: Worst Possible Matchup for Each Division Winner
Having the right matchup is more important than boasting the most talent in any team sport, and in the NFC playoff picture, even the juggernauts will want to avoid certain squads.
On that note, here are each of the NFC division winners that have clinched, or could clinch, on Sunday and their worst potential matchup to face off against in their first postseason showdown.
NFC East: Washington Redskins (If They Clinch)
Worst Possible Matchup: San Francisco 49ers
If the Redskins make the playoffs as division champs, they’re locked into the fourth seed. From there, they’d face off against the San Francisco 49ers or Seattle Seahawks, depending on who loses the NFC West.
As hot as the Seahawks are, Washington should be rooting for the 49ers to clinch the division, because their linebackers would give Robert Griffin III and Alfred Morris nightmares. The last two teams to defeat the Redskins, the Carolina Panthers and Pittsburgh Steelers, had phenomenal linebacking corps—Carolina with Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis and Pittsburgh with James Harrison, LaMarr Woodley and company.
Patrick Willis and Navorro Bowman would not only shut down Morris and the Redskins’ rushing attack, but they’re too athletic for RGIII to run circles around them like he can most linebackers.
NFC East: Dallas Cowboys (If They Clinch)
Worst Possible Matchup: Seattle Seahawks
If the Cowboys win the division, they’ll also play either the 49ers or Seahawks. But unlike the Redskins, Dallas should want to play the 49ers rather than Seattle.
Big D’s weakness is running the football—the Cowboys 31st in the NFL. An elite pass defense, which San Francisco and Seattle have, will give Tony Romo fits. The difference, though, is that the Seahawks’ secondary is better at creating turnovers—it’s forced 17 interceptions this season compared to 13 for the 49ers. And Romo has thrown costly picks in the Cowboys’ last two postseason losses.
NFC North: Atlanta Falcons
Worst Possible Matchup: Green Bay Packers
This could actually happen if the Packers lose to the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday.
Atlanta has only lost two meaningful games this season, one to the New Orleans Saints and the other, to the Carolina Panthers. In those two games, Drew Brees and Cam Newton torched the Falcons through the air (Newton did on the ground as well).
While an offense like the Redskins could also give the Falcons trouble, Atlanta already defeated them this season and Aaron Rodgers and the Packers field the next most dangerous air attack.
NFC: South: Green Bay Packers
Worst Possible Matchup: San Francisco 49ers
Green Bay’s worst matchup is a team that can not only take advantage of the Packers’ poor protection, but run the football and negate their own fierce pass rush. San Francisco and Seattle once again fall into the same category, but the Pack have to be dying to get revenge on the Seahawks, and 49ers actually beat them without controversy in Week 1.
San Francisco is fourth in the league in rushing and tied for 12th in sacks, while Green Bay has allowed the fourth-most QB takedowns.
NFC West: San Francisco 49ers (If They Clinch)
Worst Possible Matchup: Minnesota Vikings
San Francisco’s team identity is running the football and stopping the run. The Vikings are one of the only teams in the NFL capable of doing both of those better than the 49ers.
Minnesota defeated the 49ers earlier in the season. It isn’t outrageous to believe the Seahawks could do it again.
When he’s on, not even the league’s best defenses will be able to completely shutdown Adrian Peterson. And the Vikings just held Arian Foster to 15 yards last week.
NFC West: Seattle Seahawks (If They Clinch)
Worst Possible Matchup: Washington Redskins
If the Seahawks run into a team that fields an explosive offense as well as a defense that can stop the run, their hot streak will be in jeopardy. Seattle has only the 27th-ranked passing attack because Russell Wilson’s arsenal isn’t that talented.
With the fourth-ranked scoring assault in the NFL, as well as the fifth-ranked run defense, Washington excels in each of those aspects. The Redskins would have to earn a wild-card seed to play the Seahawks in the first round, though.
David Daniels is a featured columnist at Bleacher Report and a syndicated writer.
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