Super Bowl Predictions: Michael Vick-Matt Ryan and the 20 Most Likely Matchups
With the AFC and NFC Wild Card round of the 2011 NFL Playoffs coming up this weekend, the road to Super Bowl XLV has become clear, but the Big Show is still a good ways off in the future.
With all of the predictions and assumptions being thrown around, I'm sure it can get overwhelming at times, so let's scale it back a big.
For now, let's just take a look at player matchups, things that can make games a whole lot more interesting for all of us.
So then, here are the top 20 matchup that could be, or that we want to see, heading up to and during the biggest game of the year.
20. Chicago's Offensive Line Vs. Everyone
Matthew Stockman/Getty Images
That would be Jay Cutler being sacked by Clay Matthews. Sure, Matthews is a one-man demolition crew, but regardless, a pattern has developed this year of Jay Cutler ending up on his back multiple times per game.
I'm not going to list a particular team here because, in all honesty, any team that the Bears are going to face is going to bring the heat up front.
Whether their offensive line steps up and keeps Jay Cutler vertical is going to determine how far Chicago goes this year.
19. New York Jets Defense Vs. Peyton Manning
Andy Lyons/Getty Images
Peyton Manning certainly appears to have cleaned up his act since pitching a mid-season performance that almost sent the Colts packing for the first time in a long time, but he faces a new challenge this weekend in the defense of the New York Jets.
The Jets haven't quite been at the form they were in last year on defense, but they still get it done, and they are still always a threat to force turnovers.
Peyton Manning is going to have to watch himself against the Jets, or the Colts could be one and done.
18. Thomas Jones Vs. Baltimore's Defensive Line
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
If Kansas City is going to go anywhere in the post season this year, it has to start up front with Thomas Jones and Jamaal Charles establishing an effective running game.
Without that, the Chiefs are going to struggle passing the ball, and that is going to lead to bad things.
It is going to be tough for Kansas City in this one, since the Baltimore Ravens have a fierce line led by big man Haloti Ngata. This is a big matchup to watch.
17. Charlie Whitehurst Vs. New Orleans Defense
Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images
The Seahawks crawled into the playoffs at 7-9 as the NFC West champions, much to the dismay of teams like, say, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who missed the playoffs with winning records.
That is neither here nor there, though, so let's go with this: If the Seahawks plan on pulling the big upset, it all has to start with Charlie Whitehurst, who has been thrust into the starting role a little early due to injury concerns with Matt Hasselbeck.
It is going to be up to Whitehurst to get the Seahawks going on offense, and it won't be an easy task, as he faces a secondary notorious for grabbing errant passes.
16. Mark Sanchez Vs. Colts Defense
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
How Mark Sanchez comes back from his brief stint on the sideline is going to be a big difference maker in their AFC Wild Card game against the Colts.
Sanchez has to get smarter with the football and make smarter throws against the Colts, because while they may not be the best secondary in the League, one turnover in the playoffs could be very costly.
15. Clay Matthews Vs. Michael Vick
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
This matchup could be one of the best of the playoffs.
Matthews, the one-man sack machine, up against Vick, the most mobile quarterback in the NFL.
If Matthews can effectively corral Vick and bring him down in the backfield (or at least for minimal gains), it will go a long way towards securing a victory for the Green Bay Packers.
If they can't stop him, though, Vick and the Eagles could end up making easy work of Green Bay.
14. New England's Defense Vs. Kansas City
Should the Kansas City Chiefs move on from the Wild Card round to Divisionals, they will have a tough task ahead of them offensively, but how they match up with New England's defense would be a determining factor.
With Vince Wilfork in the center of a 3-4 defensive line made up of space eaters, running the ball to the inside will be very difficult for them.
It will be important for the Chiefs, then, to establish a good outside running game and a passing game, or they could fall easy victim in a game that could be determine by who forces the first three-and-out.
13. Shonn Greene and LaDainian Tomlinson Vs. Colts Run Defense
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
While the Jets still rank No. 4 in the League with 148.4 rushing yards per game average, they still aren't quite as dominant as they should be with Shonn Greene and LT in the backfield.
The Jets are going to need a 100+ yard combined effort between the two of them to take the pressure off of Mark Sanchez and to eat up clock.
If they cannot play a more physical game than the Colts, winning will be a tough task.
12. DeSean Jackson Vs. The Packers Secondary
Nick Laham/Getty Images
The Packers secondary has been playing very well this season, in large part due to the pressure that their front seven has been able to put up, but regardless, they have been getting it done.
DeSean Jackson, on the other hand, has been making good defenses look bad with his great hands and blazing speed.
The Packers are going to need to stop Jackson if they have designs on winning the game. Otherwise, expect the age-old phrase to be true: speed kills.
11. Drew Brees Vs. NFC Secondaries
Chris Graythen/Getty Images
Discounting the Seattle Seahawks, every team that New Orleans could face in their run to the Super Bowl has the potential to give Drew Brees problems.
Even Tampa Bay, who didn't make the playoffs, managed to give him trouble.
Brees is the heart and soul of the New Orleans Saints, and if he can't get it going, neither will the rest of the team, plain and simple.
10. Matt Ryan Vs. New England's Secondary
Scott Halleran/Getty Images
Moving on more into the territory of Super Bowl matchups....
Matt Ryan vs the New England Patriots secondary is the big key should it come down to the Falcons vs. the Patriots.
Matt Ryan probably won't be facing a whole lot of pressure, as the Patriots have been unable to muster much throughout the season, so it will be up to him to take advantage of that and move the ball through the air against a secondary that, while improving, still shows signs of weakness.
9. Danny Woodhead Vs. The World
Danny Woodhead, New England's secret weapon, has been making defenses pay all season long, especially in his roles as a third down and goal line back.
When he is out on the field, defenses need to be looking out for him, because he always has big play potential.
8. Aaron Hernandez Vs. Thomas DeCoud
Jim Rogash/Getty Images
In all my time watching football (which, granted, isn't terribly long, but let's run with this one), I have never seen a tight end move like Aaron Hernandez. He is a massive human being, but he moves like a nimble wide receiver.
It's going to be up to Thomas DeCoud to keep him in check. DeCoud is a very good safety, and he will have his work cut out for him in this one.
7. New England's Receivers Vs. Everyone
Rick Stewart/Getty Images
The Patriots have so much going for them in terms of guys who can catch passes that it makes my head spin.
Their five-receiver sets will cause instant matchup problems for opposing defenses. How teams deal with that will determine how far New England can go.
6. Ben Roethlisberger Vs. Himself
Matt Sullivan/Getty Images
Here's a different playoff scenario: the Steelers representing the AFC in the Super Bowl.
Should that happen, it will be all up to Ben Roethlisberger. He has been playing very well this season, but his tendency to extend plays too long with his legs can get him into real trouble.
Big Ben is going to have to settle himself down and play fundamental football, because the Steelers cannot afford to stall on offense because he won't throw the ball away.
5. Pittsburgh's Offensive Line Vs. Opposing Pass Rush
Larry French/Getty Images
This one follows in the footsteps of the slide before it.
The Steelers have dealt with a lot of injuries on the offensive line, which makes their struggles somewhat excusable.
Now that they're playing for the big stage, though, they're going to have to step it up.
A vertical Ben Roethlisberger is much better than a horizontal one.
4. Haloti Ngata Vs. AFC Offensive Lines
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images
I would never want to go up against this guy on the playing field, and I'm sure there are plenty of people who will be facing the Baltimore Ravens that feel the same way.
Ngata will get in the backfield, that's for sure, and he will cause some disruption. How much disruption is a big breaking point for the Baltimore Ravens.
3. Michael Vick Vs. Matt Ryan
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images
This is just a simple battle of who can be the bigger quarterback threat.
On the one hand, you have Matt Ryan, your more traditional pocket/roll out passer who is part of the dual threat that is Atlanta's offense.
On the other hand, you have Michael Vick, the one-man army.
It's going to be plain and simple: Whoever of the two puts up the bigger showing is going to lead their team to victory. Sure, the running game is important, but we all know this is a battle of quarterbacks.
2. Troy Polamalu Vs. Aaron Hernandez/Rob Gronkowski/Tony Gonzalez
Jared Wickerham/Getty Images
Here's an interesting scenario: the Pittsburgh Steelers riding a stellar performance from star safety Troy Polamalu all the way to the Super Bowl.
It's definitely possible.
Polamalu is the best in the game when he is healthy, and the Steelers are going to need that all-star effort out of him.
1. Tom Brady Vs. Atlanta's Secondary
Tom Brady is the be-all, end-all in this playoff push. If he stays cranking on all cylinders, it's hard to think of a team that can stop him.
Therefore, it makes sense that the logical No. 1 matchup in the Super Bowl, and in the playoffs at large, will be how the opposing team's secondary matches up against Tom Brady.
The future Hall of Famer works with the precision of a surgeon and hasn't thrown an interception in weeks, which begs the question, when does the Law of Averages come in?
If Atlanta/Green Bay/Philadelphia/Baltimore/Pittsburgh/New York/Kansas City/Chicago/New Orleans can force an interception or something, they'll have a chance.