Before the season, most people (including me) had the Packers as a Super Bowl contender. Injuries and occasional lapses slowed them down and forced them to struggle just to make the playoffs.
Now that they’re in, the Packers seems as dangerous as anyone. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers has had an excellent season, and the Packers passing game looks like it should be able to do some significant damage against the Eagles’ shaky pass defense.
The Packers defense is also playing well. Linebacker Clay Matthews had an excellent season. Eagles fans will remember him as the guy who knocked Kevin Kolb out of the game in Week 1. They may be a little susceptible to the run, but that shouldn’t be a huge concern against the pass-happy Eagles.
Before the season this looked like a rebuilding year for the Eagles, as they entered the season with unproven QB Kevin Kolb. But of course, Michael Vick became the starter in Week 2 and had a phenomenal season, carrying the Eagles to a division title.
Towards the end of the season, Vick’s play dropped off a bit. Some attributed it to injuries. Others said that defenses were figuring out a way to stop him. Others claimed Vick was reverting back to some bad, old habits.
It should be noted that even though Vick didn’t play as well as he had earlier, the Eagles offense was still scoring a lot of points. Even in the loss to the Vikings, the offense looked to be moving fairly well, but was undone by turnovers.
At first glance this looks to be a mismatch in favor of the Packers. They seem to have more across the board talent, and their strengths match up well against the Eagles’ weaknesses.
But that won’t mean a thing if the Eagles are able to make some big plays.
The Eagles have been the most proficient big play team in the NFL. The long touchdowns by DeSean Jackson and the electrifying runs by Vick have been well publicized. But the Eagles also have big play threats in WR Jeremy Maclin and RB LeSean McCoy. With that kind of explosive talent, the Packers will have to be constantly on guard, knowing that the Eagles are capable of scoring on one play from any spot on the field.
Even on the vulnerable-looking defense, there are guys capable of making some big plays. They were among the league leaders in takeaways this season, highlighted by Asante Samuel’s seven interceptions. Playoff games can often hinge on a key turnover.
Last week’s games also give the Eagles an advantage. While the Packers were fighting for a playoff spot, the Eagles—their playoff seeding locked in—rested most of their starters, giving them a virtual bye week. That week of rest could do wonders for their hobbled players.
I think this game comes down to whether or not the Eagles can make enough big plays to overcome the Packers’ talent advantage. If Michael Vick plays as he did for most of the season, the Eagles will put up a lot of points. But if defenses really figured out how to neutralize him, or if he’s truly slowed down or reverting to past form, then they may struggle.
I was about to pick the Packers, but then I realized that Michael Vick has overcome quite a bit this season. Is one subpar week against the Vikings enough reason to doubt him? I think he finds a way to pull out the win.
Prediction: Eagles 31-28
Originally published on my blog: Stranger in a Strange Land