2011 NFL Playoff Predictions: Analyzing Each Starting QB Ahead of This Weekend
Sixteen weeks a year, we get to focus on the NFL's star quarterbacks, including Michael Vick, Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers, Joe Flacco, Mark Sanchez, Matt Cassel and Drew Brees.
None of this can compare to the upcoming Wild Card weekend that is about to unfold in a few days' time.
In a troublesome time in the NFL's new year, 2011 has been the complete opposite of a happy new beginning. Tom Cable has lost his job, Terrell Owens is now starting a new search for yet another home team and Brett Favre is preparing for a teary farewell speech sometime soon after failing to lead the Minnesota Vikings to the playoffs.
If you can look past all of the weekly headlines, however, try and focus on the few players that matter most this week—the quarterbacks.
The best of the best will be on display, and even though Tom Brady and Matt Ryan take a seat and attempt to remain cool, calm and collected while the Wild Card round expires, some extreme passing talent will take the field in the NFL's "do or die" round.
Here's a quick analysis of each quarterback, along with how they might perform on Saturday/Sunday.
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Green Bay's offense was far from pretty against the Chicago Bears in Week 17, but when it was all said and done, the Packers came through in a must-win situation, earning themselves a playoff berth in the Wild Card round.
On Sunday afternoon, the Packers will take their second trip to Lincoln Financial Field this year, after knocking off Andy Reid's side in a close but convincing 27-20 win in which Kevin Kolb was knocked out with a concussion midway through the game.
However, this weekend poses a new set of circumstances for the Packers in comparison to 17 weeks ago.
Although the threat of Michael Vick still looms over Green Bay's head, Aaron Rodgers needs to be pinpoint accurate against the Eagles' 12th-ranked defense, which also features prolific cornerback Asante Samuel.
Last season, Rodgers carried the Packers on his back against the Arizona Cardinals, rallying to force a heroic yet disappointing overtime finish in the desert.
This time around, Rodgers may be that much better behind the up-and-coming James Jones, Jordy Nelson and always-reliable Greg Jennings and Donald Driver in the passing game. Rodgers has passed for 3,992 yards and 28 touchdowns this season and hasn't had to worry about avoiding defenders, thanks to Green Bay's solidified offensive line.
The weapons are still there for the Packers, and this season has been full of highlights from Green Bay's passing game. Mike McCarthy may lack a decent run game at the moment, but Rodgers should feel comfortable after notching a win in Philadelphia back in Week 1.
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Amongst the eight starting quarterbacks that will suit up this Sunday, Charlie Whitehurst is by far the most fickle passer in the Wild Card round, simply due to his inexperience and questionable talent at the helm in Seattle.
This isn't to say that Whitehurst can't excel, though.
Scraping into the playoffs with the very bare essentials, the Seahawks relied heavily on Whitehurst and wide receiver Mike Williams on Sunday night, knocking off the St. Louis Rams in a close yet sloppy affair out west.
Yet, as unconvincing as the Seahawks' display may have appeared to some, this dynamic duo must stand up strong against the New Orleans Saints on Saturday, if Seattle is to pull off the seemingly impossible this postseason.
If there's one thing that the Seattle faithful can hang their hat on right now, it is the pure fact that the Seahawks have at least clinched home-field advantage for Saturday's game. Qwest Field was rocking on Sunday night, and seeing as though the playoffs have been far and few between, expect a sea of blue in several days time to rally against Sean Payton and company.
It may not be favorable, heck, it could become a potential disaster zone. For the time being, Whitehurst is continuing to develop as the Seahawks' main man, and with Matt Hasselbeck out of the picture, confidence is beginning to flow for Seattle's fifth-year player right now.
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Much more than a win is on the line for the New Orleans Saints on Saturday, as Drew Brees' offense prepares to defend their Super Bowl crown nice and early against the Seattle Seahawks.
Aside from the uncertainty about what opposes the Saints at Qwest Field, New Orleans' offense is booming right now following a win in Week 16 win over the Atlanta Falcons that saw the Saints defeat their biggest division rival.
Standing as a mild question mark, though, is the Saints' loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers this past Sunday.
Brees threw for 196 yards, one touchdown and one interception on the day, and even though the game was more or less meaningless, the Saints offense still looks a little shaky, much to the surprise of Sean Payton and the fans.
Still, Brees has thrown for 4,620 yards this season, not to mention 33 touchdowns. Yes, Brees' interception numbers have been a little high (22), but this isn't a huge concern against a team like Seattle, which is ranked 27th in pass yards allowed.
This time last year, we saw Brees turn on the afterburners against some of the NFC's best, and the rest of the story is history. Now, the competition is a little heavier, and the Saints aren't labeled as one of the best teams in football at the present time.
It would be insane to write the Saints off, and only a fool would question New Orleans' chances. At the same time, this season has had both its ups and downs, so deciphering what Saints team will show up on Saturday is quite tough.
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Stepping up to the plate has been the theme for Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco this season. No. 5 may not be Albert Pujols, but he sure has taken a major swing for the fences.
In yet another postseason appearance, Flacco looks to lead the Ravens further this time around by taking advantage of the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday in front of a sure-to-be loud and proud Arrowhead Stadium crowd.
What do Flacco's stats tell us?
With 3,662 yards and 25 touchdowns, Flacco has been stellar this season and has formed a new identity under center in Baltimore.
Why will Flacco excel in the postseason?
There is nothing certain about it, but seeing as though the Ravens have become less run dependent and more pass savvy, there is a new-found confidence in John Harbaugh's 16th-ranked scoring offense this season.
Fans that are planning on watching this Sunday know running back Ray Rice will, of course, be a factor. Moreso however, wide receiver Anquan Boldin should complement Flacco immensely in the passing game, having caught for 837 yards in the regular season.
A select group of people still choose to exclude Flacco from their Top 10 list of quarterbacks, and perhaps this is for valid reasons. If the Ravens' main man takes control and leads his team to the predicted Super Bowl spot many experts had in mind back in August, though, don't be surprised to see Flacco granted a few brownie points.
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Mark Sanchez has experienced another hit-and-miss season in 2010, that has fortunately been saved by wide receiver Santonio Holmes toward the end of the year.
To think, this time last year, the Jets were in the exact same position they are now—seems almost uncanny. 2009 saw Rex Ryan's team step into the postseason as serious underdogs, but once the Jets backed themselves all the way toward the AFC Championship Game, New York found themselves amongst the top dogs heading into the annual break.
Not to bring back unwanted memories, but this week the Jets will take on the very same team that defeated them in the big dance last year—the Indianapolis Colts.
The keys to the game for Sanchez are simple. He must avoid rushing his passes, and he must also avoid rolling out of the pocket unnecessarily, considering that Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis await at the opposite ends.
However, once again Sanchez sees luck play a serious factor, as many of the Colts key defensive players are nursing injuries at the present time.
Yes, Sanchez has experienced another rocky year, but another playoff spot still outshines his struggles. This time around, maybe Sanchez, like Joe Flacco, will play more of a factor in his team's efforts.
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It's Matt Cassel's first big date with the playoffs as a Kansas City Chief, and as a result everybody will be tuning into see if Todd Haley's team really are contenders as the weeks progress.
Standing in the Chiefs' path this weekend will be the Baltimore Ravens, an obviously strong AFC team that have balanced themselves on a mix of pass/rush with a pinch of defense led by Ray Lewis and Ed Reed this year.
Funnily enough, it isn't the Ravens that the Chiefs must worry about.
No, the main concern for Kansas City is Matt Cassel. Several times this year, we have seen the Chiefs collapse when Cassel underperforms, and as grateful as Arrowhead fans are to make the playoffs, Cassel's two-interception performance last week simply looked ugly.
So what does this leave us for the Wild Card round?
Realistically, a number of questions that are still left unanswered.
Perhaps a solution will be found for the Chiefs from the likes of rookie tight end Tony Moeaki, who many people believe to be a big-time impact player for Kansas City if they are to delve deep into contention for the first time in years.
Moeaki has been responsible for three of the Chiefs' touchdowns this year, along with 556 yards to his name—making for a big impact on Kansas City's 10-win season.
Cassel is certainly a threat against Baltimore this week, but expect a few nerves to play part. One way or another, Cassel will perform, so if it's good, the Chiefs stand a shot; if it's bad, well, who knows what may happen.
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It wouldn't be the postseason without Michael Vick this year, and hence the Philadelphia Eagles' MVP candidate is ready to take on the Green Bay Packers this weekend at home in front of a hostile Lincoln Financial Field crowd.
If Vick was expecting a tough task heading into the Wild Card round, he certainly had his prayers answered. The Packers' 3-4 defense has crept into the fifth overall ranking this week, after limiting Jay Cutler to just 168 yards on the day.
The main statistic that has gone unnoticed from the Packers' play on the weekend, however, is Cutler's two interceptions that were forced by Dom Capers' extreme blitzing system.
You see, Vick must watch out for the following players this weekend: Charles Woodson, Clay Matthews, Tramon Williams, Nick Collins and AJ Hawk—all of whom have recorded at least one interception this year.
Adding some more spice to the situation, Vick will also have to keep an eye on the Packer blitz. Last week was a fast-paced game that stopped Cutler dead in his tracks, and now, Capers must make the tough decision between rushing Vick or playing the zone/man coverage, by far a much safer option.
One way or another, Vick will most likely find a way around Green Bay's defense, but as far as Andy Reid is concerned, sending his prized possession outside of the pocket is a hard and well-timed hit waiting to happen.
Vick will be the main reason the Eagles either soar or stall this year, and after a disappointing playoff run in 2009, Philadelphia is ready for another promising run. Hopefully this time, Vick can ensure that possibility.
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Let's face it, this isn't Peyton Manning's first playoff game.
What is a first for the Sheriff, however, is the fact that Jim Caldwell's quarterback has experienced one of his most turbulent seasons under center, after enduring a month of November to forget for No.18.
In the nick of time for the Colts, luckily Manning bounced back from his woes and has now led the Colts to another postseason appearance and another AFC South division crown, even though a Wild Card seed still awaits.
A shortened week is the fate for Indianapolis as the Colts have drawn one of two Saturday night games, against the New York Jets at Lucas Oil Stadium.
Looking past Manning's interception woes this year, the Colts frontman has thrown for 4,700 yards and 33 touchdowns. While no MVP award may come as a result, Manning is a huge threat for any opposing team this year.
If the Colts are to pinch a victory over the Jets, Manning will need to rely on his receivers—Reggie Wayne, Austin Collie and Pierre Garcon. Many of the Colts receivers have dropped several passes in recent weeks, much of the reason for Indianapolis' close win over the Tennessee Titans last week.
Manning is the man—this much we know. In a rare turn of events, maybe the Super Bowl champion isn't the favorite to make an impact this postseason.
Nevertheless, Manning's record at Lucas Oil Stadium is superb ahead of this weekend, and his stats also paint a possible picture of what is to come. The Jets defense is strong, and so is their offense, but Manning has a postseason knack that only the best of the best possess.