NFL: NFC Playoff Preview
The NFL postseason is just one week away. The NFC participants are all in place, jockeying for last-minute position.
The big question: who is going to represent the NFC in the big game in February?
From the beginning of the season, I have maintained that the NFC champion would come out of the NFC East. Dallas and Philadelphia, who meet in Week 17, may be a crucial matchup.
The winner of that division may very well be poised to be the NFC Champion as well.
Time will tell. Let's look at the contenders...
No. 1: New Orleans Saints
The Saints marched through the first 13 weeks of the season unbeaten.
That is very impressive, but the NFL season is a marathon and not a sprint.
Teams that peak too soon often unravel at the end of the year when the chips are on the line. Sorry for Saint fans, but this looks like it could be the case for the ’09 Saints.
They won some ball games they probably didn’t deserve to earlier in the season.
They had a 21-point comeback vs. the Dolphins, and somehow squeaked by the Redskins after trailing them for most of the game.
The Cowboys came to the Superdome and dominated the Saints 21-17, ending their undefeated season.
The tables seem to have turned; this week the Saints fell again at home in overtime to Tampa Bay.
Home field is not an advantage if teams can come push you around on your own turf.
This team really relies on big plays on both sides of the ball. When they fail to produce them, physical offenses can overpower the Saints D.
They have given up nearly 300 yards through the air in the last three home games. This team is limping into Week 17, perhaps doubting themselves a little bit. Not a good look!
Drew Brees' numbers might have won you a fantasy league title, but in the real game, the Saints probably won’t be marching into Miami in February.
No. 2: Minnesota Vikings
Brett Favre and the purple gang stayed in the headlines early this season as well, flying out of the gate 12-1, Including a last second, made-for-Disney-movie-type bomb from Favre to receiver Sidney Rice to beat the 49ers in Week Three.
With Favre remarkably enjoying the best year of his illustrious career, a great running game, and strong defense, the Vikes stayed atop the power rankings.
But along came December, where they have dropped three of four games when they could have gained on the Saints.
After a career low in interceptions, Favre came back down to earth, tossing four in two consecutive losses.
Coach Childress and his QB aren’t seeing eye-to-eye on audibles; their sideline arguing is not a good sign, no matter how they both downplay it to the media.
After missing training camp, it would have made sense for them to sideline the 40 year old until the postseason. But he would never go for that.
Peterson is a beast indeed, but he puts the ball on the turf entirely too much. He and Favre both lost fumbles in their loss to the Bears last Monday night.
Rookie Percy Harvin could be a factor in the special teams department.
This looks like another team that hit their stride too soon, and is looking very beatable at the wrong time.
No. 3: Philadelphia Eagles
The Eagles have a Week 17 showdown in the new $1 billion palace with the Dallas Cowboys to determine the NFC East crown.
Unlike the top two seeds in the NFC, this club seems to be coming together at just the right time.
Running back Brian Westbrook is back from multiple concussions, although he is just a hard shot away from being sidelined again. He is a big part of the team’s offensive attack.
Westbrook's absence actually forced the team to develop more offensive weapons. DeSean Jackson emerged as a big-play receiver, and also a great special teams player.
Donovan McNabb is playing solid football, looking very comfortable in coach Andy Reid’s system. Philly is a very well-rounded football team.
Believe it or not, backup Michael Vick could play a very prominent role in this NFL postseason. The Eagles have used the wildcat formation in various ways, but are figured to have many tricks up their sleeve.
Opposing teams will not be able to plan for the many ways Vick’s skills can be utilized. He gives the Eagles an ace in the hole that could be a huge advantage in their run for the trophy.
These Eagles could be soaring at just the right time.
No. 4: Arizona Cardinals (10-5)
The question with this team is: Which Arizona Cardinal team is going to show up?
The Cards went to Minnesota and solidly beat the Vikes earlier this year, but needed every minute to put away the lowly Lions a few weeks ago.
It would be easy to write off a team that is this inconsistent, but last year, this team showed that it can get hot at the right time.
When Warner has time to throw the ball to the best receiving corps in the league, this team is very good. Experience will help them greatly, but the inconsistency might hurt them too much.
They look good, very good at times, but when they look bad, it can be pretty ugly. Their only hope is to beat Green Bay in the season finale and hope to build momentum like last year.
I wouldn’t gamble on this year's Cards.
No. 5: Dallas Cowboys (10-5)
The Cowboys and Tony Romo seem to have shaken off their December curse.
They sent a strong message to everyone—including themselves, perhaps—by going into New Orleans and handily knocking off the hottest team in the league at the time.
The big win proved one thing: these are not last year's Cowboys.
A win against the Eagles would allow the Cowboys to host a playoff game in their brand new, Texas-size stadium, and that would be huge. Literally.
The teams could very well end up playing again in a win-or-go-home wild card game.
Powered by a strong running game and the emergence of receiver Miles Austin, the 'Boys will be looking to make a push in these playoffs.
With a healthy DeMarcus Ware rushing off the edge, the defense certainly looks to be championship caliber.
Although Romo is finally playing well in December, he must find a way to keep it up going into January, where things will only get more intense.
If he can do that, and Roy Williams can hold onto the ball, maybe Dallas can take a step towards being America’s team again.
No. 6: Green Bay Packers (10-5)
The Packers have quietly played pretty well without the hoopla that was trained on the Saints and Vikes. Green Bay has feasted on an easy schedule, with wins coming against inferior teams.
However, this is a well-coached bunch, and quarterback Aaron Rodgers is mobile and talented.
Green Bay’s defense was built for the playoffs, but losing cornerback Al Harris for the season last month really hurts the Pack’s secondary.
They have beaten Dallas and Baltimore, showing that they do have enough to run with the league’s elite. In Week 17, the Pack heads to the desert to face the Cardinals.
The two teams could end up squaring off again in a wild card game, so that should be interesting.
The Packers may be able to step up and win a playoff game, but it is doubtful. This team is just not good enough to represent the NFC in the big dance.