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NFC Divisional Playoff Preview
Beware of Unruly Visiting Guests
Two intriguing match-ups dot the NFC Divisional Playoff Calendar this weekend, games in which legitimate contenders pay visits to a pair of teams who came into the Season with their sights fixed squarely on the Vince Lombardi Trophy.
The four team field that has managed to stay alive is as evenly matched as any foursome in recent years, and one could make a compelling case for either of the four to represent the NFC in New Orleans on the first Sunday of February. The red hot Green Bay Packers and equally sizzling Seattle Seahawks pay visits to San Francisco and Atlanta respectively, so let's break down the match-ups and see who will live to fight for the NFC Title next week:
Green Bay Packers at the San Francisco 49ers- Green Bay heads to the City by the Bay on a hot streak, having won 10 of their last 12 and getting significantly healthier along the way. The Packers are of course led by their Quarterback Aaron Rogers, who has quietly cobbled together an MVP-caliber season despite the fact that Peyton Manning and Adrian Peterson have grabbed the majority of the spotlight and subsequent discussion relating to that Award.
Although a much stronger and slightly more confident team when playing on the Frozen Tundra, Green Bay will emerge victorious if they can achieve some success in the running game while shoring up a few of the glitches they experienced in the rhythym of their passing game during last Saturday Night's Wild Card Victory over Minnesota. Rogers was at times visibly frustrated with a few miscommunications with his receivers and went so far as to vow that they would be remedied in time for this much tougher match-up against the 9ers.
The 49ers come into this game playing good football as well, having won 7 of their last 9 with a tie vs. the Rams nestled near the front of that streak for good measure. Much has been made of Coach Jim Harbaugh's bold decision to roll the dice with rookie signal-caller Colin Kaepernick over proven veteran Alex Smith. Thus far the 2 year phenom out of Nevada has made Coach Harbaugh look like the smartest guy in the room, managing to bewilder and befuddle opponents with both his arm and legs, the hallmark of any successful Quarterback that operates out of the Pistol Set. Green Bay benefits greatly from a healthy Charles Woodson, the undisputed veteran leader of a group that ranks 17th and 11th in the League against the run and pass respectively. The 9ers will undoubtedly look to establish the run early, thereby minimizing Kaepernick's potential for committing a game-changing mistake in his playoff debut while relegating Aaron Rogers to the role of spectator.
In what promises to be a thrilling, nip-tuck affair, look for the 49ers to escape with the victory by virtue of Frank Gore's ability to make hay between the tackles while the 49er Defense, which ranks 4th in the League in both Run and Pass Defense, plays their trademark brand of intimidating and physical defense.
49ers 22 Packers 20
Seattle Seahawks at the Atlanta Falcons - So Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III walk into a bar....to watch Russell Wilson play the Falcons in the NFC Divisional Round of the Playoffs.
Weak comedic efforts aside, Russell Wilson is clearly no joke. Fresh off of his maiden playoff voyage, one in which he calmly led Seattle back from an early 0-14 hole on an afternoon when the Redskins threatened to run him and his mates out of the yard, the rookie signal caller from Wisconsin has proven the critics wrong week after week during his breakthrough rookie season. Armed with the best running back remaining in the tournament and a stifling defense that's equally adept at stopping the pass and the run, the Seahawks provide the even keel Falcons with a number of match-up problems on both sides of the ball. Adding to Atlanta's conundrum is their recent playoff failures, a 48-21 loss to a red-hot Packers Team 2 years ago in the Georgia Dome serving as an eerily similar reminder, not to mention last year's 24-2 drubbing at the hands of the eventual Super Bowl Champion New York Giants.
But this well-coached Falcon Team sits at 13-3, and with an offense that ranks 6th in the League in passing, it hasn't been been about running the ball and getting stops on defense, prior hallmarks of Falcon Football. Like shards of broken glass, the pieces don't quite fit together when a team that earns 13 wins and the undisputed top seed in the NFC can rank 29th in the League in running the football as well as 23rd in pass defense and 21st against the run. But like all good teams, the Falcons have an uncanny knack for winning close games in the waning moments as Matt Ryan continues to solidify his reputation as one of the League's best quarterbacks when all the chips have been shoved to the middle of the table. Ryan threw for over 4,700 yards and 32 TDs this season, but as he sets out to redeem the Falcons for their past Playoff shortcomings, he is clearly the man in most dire need of a playoff victory of those still remaining.
Expect Seattle to follow the 49ers' script as they look to establish superiority on the ground so as to slow things down for their extremely talented albeit inexperienced quarterback. This will be Wilson's toughest test to date, but by pounding this vulnerable Falcon Defense with Marshawn Lynch, protecting the football and allowing the Seahawks defense to do the rest, look for the Seattle to leave Hot'lanta with a narrow victory.
Seahawks 27 Falcons 23