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Each team’s biggest question mark heading into the 2013 season: NFC Edition

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It’s that time of year again in the NFL.

All 32 teams have now returned for training camp and with preseason games fast approaching, it won’t be long until the new season kicks off.

Let’s see how things are shaping up in 2013.

*NFC only

East

Dallas Cowboys

Is Tony Romo maturing as a leader in Dallas?

It seems like every summer is the same old story when it comes to Tony Romo and the Cowboys. Scratch golfer Romo spends his summer playing in Pro-am tournaments and attempting to qualify for PGA Tour events. In the words of Lee Corso, “not so fast my friend!”

It appears as though Romo has decided to focus on football this summer instead. All reports coming out of Dallas are that he has been busy preparing for the new season and showed up for training camp in great shape. Perhaps his new six-year contract extension worth over $100 million has something to do with it?

Whatever the reason for this new turnaround, it is time for the 33-year-old to become a leader in Dallas.

If Romo can continue his recent success with wide receiver Dez Bryant, the Cowboys will be a dangerous team in the NFC this season.

New York Giants

What are the Giants going to do at running back?

It looks as though the Giants are going to use a running back by committee strategy this season on offense. The last time they tried this was back in 2008 when the team had a highly productive trio of Ahmad Bradshaw, Brandon Jacobs and Derrick Ward. They combined for almost 2,500 rushing yards that season and it seems like Tom Coughlin and co. are looking to reproduce that production this year.

The only problem is that the running backs on the Giants roster in 2013 are nowhere near as good as the ones they had five years ago. Their current depth chart sees David Wilson as their starter with Andre Brown and Ryan Torain providing backup.

None of those players have shown any signs that they are capable of being an every-down back in the NFL.

If their running game fails to impress in the preseason, don’t be surprised to see the Giants dive into the free agent market and add a veteran running back like Michael Turner or Willis McGahee.

Philadelphia Eagles

Can head coach Chip Kelly translate his collegiate success into the pros?

New Eagles head coach Chip Kelly has had an interesting few months. After drawing interest from numerous NFL teams this offseason, Kelly decided to decline all offers and return to Oregon. A week later, he changed his mind and signed a five-year $32.5 million contract with the Eagles.

Already one of the league’s highest paid coaches and with no experience of coaching in the NFL, the pressure is on the former head coach of the Oregon Ducks to produce in the pros. He was very successful during his four years at Oregon with a 46-7 record whilst running his infamous “blur offense.”

Kelly is now looking to implement this offense with the Eagles and although he has some terrific players at his disposal like DeSean Jackson and LeSean McCoy, he still needs to pick a quarterback to lead the team forward.

His former Pac 10 rival Pete Carroll has done a great job with the Seahawks, but question marks surrounding the Eagles quarterback situation may make it a tougher transition for Kelly in Philadelphia.

Washington Redskins

How healthy is RG3?

Robert Griffin III should never have continued to play in the playoff game against the Seattle Seahawks. Despite not being cleared to play by team doctors after sustaining an injury early on in the game, RG3 carried on playing and ended up re-injuring his right knee.

Seven months on from surgery on both his ACL and LCL, the Redskins quarterback is still recovering from injury and isn’t expected to play any part in the Redskins preseason games. He is back at practice but head coach Mike Shanahan is taking every precaution to ensure that he makes a full recovery.

This should serve as a warning to all NFL teams and in future when in a decision needs to be made regarding injury to your best player during a wildcard game, perhaps a different decision will be taken.

Despite the daily updates from Redskins training camp regarding the health of RG3, only time will tell if he will be ready for the season opener vs the Eagles on September 9th.

Tony Romo

Tony Romo

North

Chicago Bears

Can a former CFL head coach succeed in the NFL?

The Bears have moved on. After nine seasons and 150 games, Lovie Smith was fired and Marc Trestman was hired as the new head coach.

Trestman is a two-time championship winner and a former coach of the year so why was it a shock when he was hired by the Bears? Well that’s because those achievements didn’t come in the NFL or in college football and instead occurred when he was coaching the Montreal Alouettes in the Canadian Football League.

The CFL isn’t a common place to go when searching for a new coach but that’s exactly where the Bears went. How this experiment works out is anybody’s guess. It could go well (see Bud Grant) or else it could go horribly wrong (see almost every other coach hired from the CFL).

Change has been a common theme for the Bears this offseason and although the decision to hire Trestman came as a surprise, a head coaching change was definitely needed in Chicago.

Detroit Lions

Will Matthew Stafford put an end to his awful record against teams with a winning record?

The polite way of putting it is that Matthew Stafford does not have a good record against winning teams. In 25 games against teams with winning records, Stafford has won just once. That’s not exactly the type of record you want from your franchise quarterback.

It’s also not the type of return you would like to see from someone who was recently given a three-year $53 million contract extension. If Stafford doesn’t improve his record against winning teams, Donovan McNabb’s criticism could turn out to be correct.

The Lions are counting on Stafford to return to his 2011 form and lead them back to the playoffs.

Green Bay Packers

How will the Packers offense perform in 2013?

The offense is going to look a little different this year in Green Bay without wide receivers Greg Jennings and Donald Driver. Driver has now retired from the NFL after fourteen seasons with the Packers. Jennings on the other hand has decided to do his best Brett Favre impression and join up with the Minnesota Vikings.

There are more than capable replacements in place with wide receivers Jordy Nelson, James Jones and Randall Cobb all set to contribute along with tight end Jermichael Finley. It’s the running game that should worry Packers fans.

There are several candidates at running back with veterans James Starks and Alex Green likely to compete with rookies Eddie Lacy and Jonathan Franklin for carries this season. Running the football has been a struggle in recent years at Lambeau Field and that looks likely to be the case again this season.

Aaron Rodgers may be an elite quarterback but the Packers running game needs to start offering some assistance on offense.

Minnesota Vikings

Why can’t the Vikings ever be consistent?

It’s usually very tough to predict what’s going to happen in Minnesota. The Vikings typically tend to finish either in last place in the division or else in the playoffs.

After winning just three games in his first full season in charge of the team in 2011, Leslie Frazier led them to the playoffs last year where they were defeated in the wildcard round by the Green Bay Packers. Now entering his third season as head coach and with a new stadium on the way, making the postseason will be the aim again for Frazier and the Vikings.

With the league’s best running back in the backfield and one of the league’s worst starting quarterbacks passing the ball, anything can happen.

Minnesota fans won’t like this, but the Vikings are looking like hot favorites to finish in last place in the division once again.

Aaron Rodgers

Aaron Rodgers

South

Atlanta Falcons

How competitive will the NFC South be for the Falcons this year?

Matt Ryan won his first playoff game last season and the Falcons are willing to bet $100 million he will do so again this year. After signing that huge contract extension last week,  the expectations are high in Atlanta for Ryan and the Falcons.

With Sean Payton back coaching in New Orleans, the NFC South should be a much tougher division this season and the Falcons will need to be at their best to defend their title. With Matt Ryan at quarterback, another playoff berth will the very least they will expect.

Much like Andy Dalton with the Bengals, Matt Ryan seems to struggle when it comes to postseason play and the Falcons will be hoping that doesn’t continue in 2013. 

Carolina Panthers

Can Cam Newton and the Panthers make the playoffs?

It’s a been a slow transition in Carolina with Cam Newton and head coach Ron Rivera. Now entering year three and still without a winning season to show for their progress, it would be difficult to blame Panthers fans for getting impatient.

The Panthers had the tenth best defense last year in the NFL and with the addition of rookie defensive tackle Star Lotulelei, that defense will be even better this year. On offense, they have one of the best rushing attacks in the league with the likes of Cam Newton, DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart all capable of carrying the football.

The Panthers are on the right path to becoming a successful team and after winning five of their final six games in 2012, they will be looking to carry that form into 2013.

Cam Newton is still developing and although he is showing signs of improvement, the Panthers may have to settle for one final season of progress before they can call themselves a playoff team.

New Orleans Saints

Is the magic going to return to New Orleans now that Sean Payton is back?

Now that the bounty scandal is behind them, the Saints are back to business with head coach Sean Payton. Without question one of the best coaches in the league, Payton returns after missing the entire 2012 season due to suspension.

There aren’t many quarterbacks out there who have been as productive as Drew Brees has been in the last few seasons. The record-setting Brees has thrown for over 10,000 yards in his last 32 regular season games along with 89 touchdowns.

With Brees and Payton back together, the Saints will be back to normal in 2013.

Sean Payton didn’t forget how to coach during his year off and the Saints offense looks set to benefit from a re-energized and fully motivated head coach.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

What kind of season will the Bucs have with Josh Freeman at quarterback?

With 88 total turnovers in 57 career games, Buccaneers quarterback Josh Freeman is a turnover machine. He is coming off career-highs in passing yards and touchdowns but that didn’t stop the Bucs bringing in quarterback NC State quarterback Mike Glennon in the third round of this year’s draft.

Freeman is a former first-round pick but just like his fellow 2009 draftee Mark Sanchez, he is facing a make or break season this year. With back-to-back last place finishes in the NFC South, the Bucs may not be willing to wait much longer for the 25-year-old to produce.

Unless the Bucs want to finish in last place again, they need to seriously reconsider their quarterback situation.

If Josh Freeman lasts the entire year as the starter, it will be a football miracle in Tampa Bay.

Sean Payton

Sean Payton

West

Arizona Cardinals

Can a new head coach and a new quarterback work in Arizona?

With Ken Whisenhunt now gone, there’s a new era in Arizona with Bruce Arians taking over as head coach. Arians spend most of last season as the Indianapolis Colts interim head coach in the absence of Chuck Pagano due to his cancer treatment. The Colts had an impressive 9-3 record under Arians and he was even named Coach of the Year by the Associated Press.

Now starting his new job with the Cardinals, Arians takes over a team who have failed to make the playoffs in each of the last three seasons. His first major move came when he decided to release quarterback Kevin Kolb and bring in veteran Carson Palmer to replace him.

Palmer arrived in a trade with the Oakland Raiders for a sixth round draft pick this year and a conditional pick in the 2014 draft. It will be Arian’s job to help Palmer improve his consistency and become a leader for the Cardinals.

Palmer threw for over 4,000 yards last season but he is still a question mark moving forward for the franchise.

St. Louis Rams

Are the Rams about to be this year’s surprise team?

It seems to occur almost every year in the NFL with one team coming from nowhere to make the playoffs. The 2008 Arizona Cardinals even made it all the way to the super bowl despite having a 9-7 regular season record. Now if there is one team who can be a surprise in the league this year, it’s the St. Louis Rams.

The Rams have a healthy balance of youth and experience with veteran head coach Jeff Fisher and one of the youngest rosters football. With an impressive draft class this year including Tavon Austin and T.J. McDonald along with key free agent signings like Jake Long and Jared Cook, they are starting to look more and more like a potential playoff team.

If Sam Bradford can stay healthy and get some help from his teammates, the sky is the limit for this team.

You heard it here first, the Rams will make the playoffs this season.

San Francisco 49ers

Is wide receiver the only weakness in San Francisco?

The 49ers are the most talented team in football. Everywhere you look on this roster there are stars and with nine of their players voted to the All-Pro team last season, seven of those to the 1st team, another trip to the super bowl is what’s expected in San Francisco.

The standout question mark for this team is at the wide receiver position. With last year’s leading receiver Michael Crabtree expected to be on the sidelines for most of the season through injury, head coach Jim Harbaugh will be looking elsewhere for others to step up in Crabtree’s absence.

Looking at the current depth chart and with both Crabtree and Mario Manningham sidelined with injuries, the starting duo appears to be veteran Anquan Boldin and second-year player A.J. Jenkins. If former first-round pick Jenkins fails deliver or if free agent Boldin cannot adjust to a new system, quarterback Colin Kaepernick and the rest of the offense could be in trouble.

There are plenty of options for the 49ers already but it couldn’t hurt them to add another piece to the puzzle with a free agent signing such as Brandon Llyod or Steve Breaston.

Seattle Seahawks

Will the Seahawks continue to dominate with their rushing attack?

The Seahawks rushing attack can take a lot of the credit for the team’s recent success. They were the 3rd best team in the NFL running the football last season and they have added some pieces this offseason to improve on that this year.

Despite already having an All-Pro running back in Marshawn Lynch along with a reliable backup with Robert Turbin, the Seahawks used their first pick in this year’s draft to select Texas A&M’s Christian Michael. With Lynch as the starter and Turbin filling in on 3rd downs and short yardage situations, Michael will serve as a change of pace back with his mix of speed and power.

With all these running backs plus a quarterback who isn’t afraid to run the football, the Seahawks rushing attack could rank even higher in 2013.

Quarterback Russell Wilson is certain to face the sophomore slump this season and so it’s a good thing he has a rushing attack like this one to help him out when it does.

Sam Bradford

Sam Bradford

So that was my breakdown of the NFC.

My AFC breakdown is available here https://mrnfl.wordpress.com/2013/07/26/each-teams-biggest-question-mark-heading-into-the-2013-season-afc-edition/

For more NFL updates, follow me on twitter.

Follow @PodgeOH

Playoffs Preview- AFC Championship Game

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Bill Belichick

After one of the most exciting divisional round weekends in NFL history, the Playoffs continue this week with the conference Championship games.

The AFC Championship Game is a repeat of last year’s matchup as Ray Lewis the Baltimore Ravens travel to New England to tackle Tom Brady and the Patriots.

Now without further ado, here is my breakdown of the game with profiles of the key players for both teams.

Baltimore Ravens at New England Patriots

Key Players

Ravens

Joe Flacco

  • As the old cliché goes, the NFL is a quarterback-driven league and quarterback Joe Flacco is the first key player to watch for the Ravens. After claiming to be an ‘Elite quarterback’ for many seasons now, he is finally turning his off-field confidence into success on the field.
  • With five touchdown passes and zero interceptions in the Ravens last two games, Flacco is playing arguably the best football of his career as he goes in search of his first AFC Championship victory at the third attempt.
  • Key Question: Can Flacco take advantage of the weapons at his disposal and continue his impressive play against a less than perfect Patriots secondary?

Ray Rice

  • When the Ravens beat the Patriots back in the Divisional Round of the 2010 Playoffs, running back Ray Rice had over 150 rushing yards and two rushing touchdowns. In fact, he has rushed for 292 yards in three meetings against the Patriots and has been a constant threat to Bill Belichick and the Pats defense.
  • Despite a down year statistically compared to his 2011 campaign, Rice has seen his production increase in the Playoffs and is coming off an impressive performance in the Ravens win vs the the Denver Broncos last week. He ran the ball 30 times in that game and will likely see another large number of carries again this week.
  • Key Question: Can the Ravens running back carry the load again and have success vs a Patriots run defense that ranked ninth in the NFL in the regular season?

Ray Lewis

  • On NFL Total Access after the Ravens wildcard win over Andrew Luck and the Indianapolis Colts, former General Manager and NFL Network anaylst Charlie Casserley claimed Ray Lewis was too old and looked too slow on the field. There’s no denying his age, but his performance on the field has been spectacular for the Ravens defense if you ask me.
  • Leading your team in tackles two weeks in a row and providing the type of leadership that only he can bring is exactly why sugar Ray will be a first-ballot Hall of Famer after he retires this season. After defeating a legendary qiuarterback last week, Lewis goes up against another one of the game’s best this week vs Tom Brady.
  • Key Question: Will the greatest middle linebacker of all-time add to his legacy by reaching another Super Bowl or is this the last stand for #52?

Patriots

Tom Brady

  • As long as Tom Brady is in New England, he will always be the first key player to bring up for the Patriots. The three-time Super Bowl champion is looking to bounce back from last year’s defeat at the hands of the New York Giants and return to the Super Bowl for the second consecutive season.
  • Last week’s victory vs the Houston Texans now means that Brady has the most Playoff wins for a quarterback in NFL history with 17. He will be out to prove that he is still the best quarterback in the business despite missing one of his favorite targets in tight end Rob Gronkowksi.
  • Key Question: Can Brady turn around his recent struggles vs the Ravens defense and lead his team to yet another Super Bowl?

Wes Welker

  • Wes Welker is perhaps the most underrated player in the NFL and he has been for quite some time. Standing  just 5 foot 9 inches and weighing in at just over 185 pounds, the 31-year-old veteran is after completing yet another season of over 1,000 yards and 100 catches.
  • He now holds the Patriots franchise record for receptions and also holds the NFL record for most seasons with over 100 catches after a 118 catch performance this campaign. With tighe end Rob Gronkowski now out indefinitely with a broken forearm, Welker will continue to be Tom Brady’s go to target in this game.
  • Key Question: How much of an impact will Welker have in the Patriots passing game with the Ravens pass defense fixed on stopping him?

Vince Wilfork

  • The veteran leader of the defense, defensive tackle Vince Wilfork has been spectacular for the Patriots again this season and was named to his fourth consecutive Pro Bowl. Wilfork is a standout star on the Pats defensive line with his 325 pound frame providing for a consistent road block for opposing running backs.
  • He will provide a big test for the Ravens offensive line protecting quarterback Joe Flacco from pressure in the pocket. Luckily for the Ravens, Wilfork will face much of the game going up against two of the very best interior linemen in the league in Matt Birk and Marshal Yanda.
  • Key Question: Will Wilfork be a disruptive pass rushing force for the Pats defense and also stop Ray Rice in the run game?

Prediction

John Harbaugh

So just as I had predicted before the season started back in August, it’s the Baltimore Ravens and the New England Patriots who meet in the AFC Championship Game.

This is a rematch of last season’s AFC Championship Game which finished with a Patriots 23-20 victory after Ravens kicker Billy Cundiff missed a crucial field goal that would have sent the game into overtime.
With rookie Justin Tucker as their kicker this time around and with veteran Ray Lewis sure to put on another inspired performance on defense, I think the Ravens will find a way to win in Foxborough.
Patriots 20 Ravens 23

So that’s my breakdown of the game. Feel free to have your say in the comment section below and for more Playoff updates, follow me on Twitter.

Follow @PodgeOH

Written by podgeoh92

January 19, 2013 at 10:00 am

Playoffs Preview- NFC Championship Game

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Mike Smith

After one of the most exciting divisional round weekends NFL history, the Playoffs continue this week with the conference Championship games.

The NFC Championship Game sees the top two seeds go head-to-head in Atlanta as the number 2 seed San Francisco 49ers take on the number 1 seed Falcons.

So without further ado, here are is my preview and prediction for the big game.

San Francisco 49ers at Atlanta Falcons

Keys to the Game

Offense

49ers Passing Game

Colin Kapernick

  • The 49ers running game is a constant threat for their opponents with a rushing attack that was the fifth best in the league this season. Led by veteran running back Frank Gore and behind a solid offensive line, the 49ers can depend on Gore and co. in the run game to be successful but it’s their passing game which is the key issue tomorrow night.
  • 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick was fantastic last week in their win over the Green Bay Packers with four total touchdowns and over 400 total yards. Now the pressure is on Kapernick to reproduce this week against a struggling Falcons pass defense who will certainly provide plenty of opportunities for targets like Michael Crabtree and Vernon Davis.

Falcons Running Game

Michael Turner

  • Looking at the Falcons offense now and its the running game that needs to step up and produce. The Falcons were the fourth worst team running the football this year after veteran starter Michael Turner failed to pass the 1,000 barrier for the first time since the 2009 season.
  • The Falcons face another difficult rush defense this week against a 49ers defense led by by their Pro Bowl pair of Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman at middle linebacker. If the rushing attack fails to get going for Atlanta, this piles the pressure on quarterback Matt Ryan in the passing game and Ryan is coming off his first ever 200 yard passing performance in the Playoffs.

Defense

49ers Pass Rush

Aldon Smith

  • With Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan putting on poor performances in Playoff football throughout his career (six interceptions in four fames) the last thing he needs is to be facing this ferocious 49ers pass rush. Led by All-Pro outside linebacker Aldon Smith, the Niners pass rush will look to put pressure on Ryan early and often in this one.

Falcons Linebackers

Sean Weatherspoon

  • If the Falcons are going to have any chance of stopping the 49ers running game, they will need the help of their linebackers to combat the Niners running duo of Colin Kaepernick and Frank Gore. Look for linebacker Sean Waetherspoon to be given the role of playing quarterback spy on obvious passing downs to prevent Kaepernick from taking off and running.

Prediction

Jim Harbaugh

It all comes down to the number 1 and number 2 seeds for the NFC Championship Game tomorrow night.
After knocking off my preseason pick for the Super Bowl title last week, I think the 49ers will win this one and advance to a Super Bowl of their own.
49ers 26 Falcons 17

So that’s my breakdown of the game.

Feel free to have your say in the comment section below and for more Playoff updates, follow me on Twitter.

Follow @PodgeOH

Playoffs Preview- NFC Divisional Round

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Aaron Rodgers

After a typically dramatic wildcard weekend, the Playoffs continue this week with the divisional games just around the corner.

The first of two NFC divisional games takes place on Saturday night as the Green Bay Packers travel to San Francisco to take on the 49ers.

The second game is on Sunday in Atlanta as Russell Wilson and the Seattle Seahawks tackle Matt Ryan and the Falcons at the Georgia Dome.

Now without further ado, here are my previews and predictions for the games.

Green Bay Packers at San Francisco 49ers

Mike McCarthy

Keys to the Game

When the Packers have the ball…

Aldon Smith

Aaron Rodgers vs 49ers Pass Rush

  • The 49ers boast one of the toughest defenses in the NFL led by star linebackers Patrick Willis and NaVarro Bowman. However, it’s one of the Niners other starting linebackers that will provide the biggest test for Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers and that is pass rusher Aldon Smith.
  • Smith had an outstanding 19.5 sacks in the regular season and is one of the most feared pass rushers in the league coming off the edge. Rodgers will be under pressure from Smith and the rest of the 49ers pass rush throughout the game and faces his biggest test of the year on the road in San Francisco.

When the 49ers have the ball…

Frank Gore

Frank Gore and 49ers Running Game vs Packers Run Defense

  • Whilst the 49ers passing attack has been inconsistent this season, their running game has remained one of the best units in the league led by starting running back Frank Gore. Gore rushed for over 1,000 yards again this campaign and he is also helped out by backups Kendall Hunter and LaMichael James along with quarterback Colin Kaepernick.
  • The Packers defense is still a work-in-progress vs the run and rank as the 17th best team in the league. How Clay matthews and co. handle Frank Gore and the 49ers running game will be key to the outcome of this one.

Prediction

Clay Matthews

The Packers are coming off an impressive wildcard victory against their division rivals Minnesota Vikings and this will be a huge game in particular for their quarterback Aaron Rodgers against the team that passed on him in the 2005 Draft.

The 49ers are coming off a first-round bye and have the added pressure of having Colin Kaepernick as their starting quarterback with Kaepernick starting his first ever Playoff game.

In this contrast of quarterbacks between Packers starter Aaron Rodgers and 49ers backup Alex Smith, I think Rodgers proves yet again that the 49ers made the wrong decision.

Packers 28 49ers 19

Seattle Seahawks at Atlanta Falcons

Russell Wilson

Keys to the Game

When the Seahawks have the ball…

Marshawn Lynch

Marshawn Lynch and Seahawks Running Game vs Falcons Run Defense

  • Just like the 49ers in their game, the Seahawks offense will likely lean on their rushing attack led by their Pro Bowler Marshawn Lynch. Lynch rushed for a career-high 1,590 yards this season en route to helping the Seahawks to the league’s third best ground game averaging over 160 yards per game.
  • The Falcons defense ranks in the mid-twenties in terms of NFL rankings for both passing and rushing yards allowed per game but surprisingly, they only allow 18 points per game which is the fifth best in the league. Their run defense will set out to put the pressure on Seahawks rookie quarterback Russell Wilson in this one by shutting down Marshan Lynch and their running game.  

When the Falcons have the ball…

Julio Jones

Falcons Wide Receivers vs Seahawks Secondary

  • This is a key matchup in this game with two of the league’s best units going head-to-head with the Falcons wide receivers vs the Seahawks secondary. Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez will also be a target for quarterback Matt Ryan in the passing game.
  • Falcons wide receivers Roddy White and Julio Jones both had over 1,000 receiving yards this season with Jones in particluar emerging as a reliable weapon for the Falcons offense. The Pro Bowler will likely be covered by Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman with Pro Bowl safety Earl Thomas also being a key player for the Seahawks secondary.

Prediction

Matt Ryan

The Seahawks pulled off an upset last week in a win over RG3 and the Redskins on the road in Washington and they face another tough test this week on the road in Atlanta.

Matt Ryan and the Falcons may have lost their last regular season game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but the number one seed appear to be favorites at home in this one.

I picked the Seahawks to lose last week and I’m doing the same again this time around.

Seahawks 17 Falcons 20

Mike Smith

So those are your previews and predictions.

For more Playoff updates, follow me on Twitter.

Follow @PodgeOH

Playoffs Preview- AFC Divisional Round

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Ray Lewis

After a typically dramatic wildcard weekend, the Playoffs continue this week with the divisional games just around the corner.

The first of two AFC divisional games takes place on Saturday night as the Baltimore Ravens travel to Denver to tackle the Broncos.

The second game is on Sunday with an intriguing matchup in store as the Houston Texans go on the road to New England to take on Tom Brady and the Patriots.

Now without further ado, here are my previews and predictions for the games.

Baltimore Ravens at Denver Broncos

Peyton Manning

Keys to the Game

When the Ravens have the ball…

Ray Rice

Ray Rice and the Ravens Run Game

  • Running back Ray Rice has seen his role in the Ravens offense reduced this season after he had only 257 carries which was his lowest total since the 2009 season. He wasn’t much of a factor in their wildcard win last week against the Colts either and he rushed for just 68 yards.
  • The Ravens will be looking for Rice to step up in this game against a solid Broncos defense. Joe Flacco can’t do it all by himself and so he needs help from Rice and rookie Bernard Pierce to provided solid support on the ground.

When the Broncos have the ball…

Demaryius Thomas

Peyton Manning vs Ravens Veterans

  • Peyton Manning may be the league’s best veteran offensive player but the NFL’s probable MVP is going up against two of the best veteran defensive players in this one. Two names immediately jump out from the Ravens and those are star linebacker Ray Lewis and playmaking safety Ed Reed.
  • Both players are Future Hall of Famers and Lewis is coming off an emotional game last week when he led the team with 13 total tackles in his final home game. Manning will have to be at his best going up aganist these two leaders in what will be a football version of a chess game featuring some of the smartest players in the game.

Prediction

Ed Reed

The Colts beat the Ravens 34-17 back in week 15 on the road in Baltimore and as the number one seed, they will be the favorites in this game at home in Denver.

However, I see the Ravens pulling off an upset led by star linebacker Ray Lewis on defense along with help from Joe Flacco and the offense.

Ravens 20 Broncos 17

Houston Texans at New England Patriots

J.J. Watt

Keys to the Game

When the Texans have the ball…

Arian Foster

Matt Schaub and the Texans Passing Game vs Patriots Pass Defense

  • It’s no secret that the Patriots pass defense is the team’s biggest weakness and it has been for a number of seasons now. They ranked as the 4th worst team vs the pass this year after giving up over 270 yards to opponents per game.
  • The Texans offense is led by star running back Arian Foster and so they can beat opponents both on the ground and through the air. However, if Foster and the rest of the Texans running game struggles, the pressure will be on Matt Schaub, Andre Johnson and co. in the passing game to step up against a poor Pats pass defense.

When the Patriots have the ball…

Tom Brady

Tom Brady vs Texans Pass Rush

  • When the Patriots have the ball we will see two of the best players at their respective positions going up against each other. The headline may say Tom Brady vs the Texans pass rush but it will most likely be a battle of Tom Brady vs J.J. Watt as the Pats quarterback and the league leader in sacks go head-to-head.
  • Watt had 5 tackles and 1 sack last week in the Texans win last against the Bengals and the second year player is coming off a season in which he had an incredible 20.5 sacks. Tom Brady will need to keep a close eye on pressure coming from Watt off the edge every time he drops back to pass.

Prediction

Vince Wilfork

The Texans are back in the Playoff divisional round for the second year in a row but question marks still remain about their ability to take the next step into the Playoffs.

As for the Patriots, playing at home after a first-round bye and Tom Brady and co. will certainly be well prepared for this one by head coach Bill Belichick.

In a high-scoring game, I’m picking Tom Brady and the Pats to come out on top and advance to the AFC Championship Game.

Texans 21 Patriots 31

Bill Belichick

Bill Belichick

So those are your previews and predictions.

For more Playoff updates, follow me on Twitter.

Follow @PodgeOH

NFC Playoff Picture- Final Standings

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Matt Ryan

The Regular Season finished last night and the Playoff picture is now complete.

Some of the standout teams missing out on the Postseason from the NFC this year are the defending Super Bowl champions New York Giants who finished with a disappointing 9-7 record 8-8 and their division rivals the Philadelphia Eagles who underachieved yet again this season.

Looking on the other side at some of the top teams now and the Atlanta Falcons secured the top seed with the San Francisco 49ers getting the number 2 seed.

The Playoffs kick off on Saturday night with the first of the two wildcard games.

So here are the final standings from the NFC.

East

1. Redskins 10-6

2. Giants 9-7

3. Cowboys 8-8

4. Eagles 4-12

North

1. Packers 11-5

2. Vikings 10-6

3. Bears 10-6

4. Lions 4-12

South

1. Falcons 13-3

2. Panthers 7-9

3. Saints 7-9

4. Bucs 7-9

West

1. 49ers 11-4-1

2. Seahawks 11-5

3. Rams 7-8-1

4. Cardinals 5-11

Playoff Seeds

1. Atlanta Falcons First-Round Bye

2. San Francisco 49ers First-Round Bye

3. Green Bay Packers Division Winner

4. Washington Redskins Division Winner

5. Seattle Seahawks Wildcard

6. Minnesota Vikings Wildcard

The first two seeds get a first-round bye, and the wildcard games see the number 3 seed vs  the number 6 seed and the number 4 vs the number 5 seed.

Minnesotta Vikings at Green Bay Packers

Aaron Rodgers

Seattle Seahawks at Washington Redskins

Robert Griffin III

A full preview of both these games will be posted later this week.

For all your playoff updates, follow me on twitter.

Follow @PodgeOH

Written by podgeoh92

December 31, 2012 at 11:04 am

AFC Playoff Picture- Final Standings

with 2 comments

Peyton Manning

The Regular Season finished last night and the Playoff picture is now complete.

Some of the standout teams missing out on the Postseason from the AFC this year are the 8-8 Pittsburgh Steelers and the perennial underachieving San Diego Chargers.

Looking on the other side at some of the top teams now and Peyton Manning led his Denver Broncos to the top seed with Tom Brady the New England Patriots getting the number 2 seed.

The Playoffs kick off on Saturday night with the first of the two wildcard games.

So here are the final standings from the AFC.

East

1. Patriots 12-4

2. Dolphins 7-9

3. Jets 6-10

4. Bills 6-10

North

1. Ravens 10-6

2. Bengals 10-6

3. Steelers 8-8

4. Browns 5-11

South

1. Texans 12-4

2. Colts 11-5

3. Titans 6-10

4. Jaguars 2-14

West

1. Broncos 13-3

2. Chargers 7-9

3. Raiders 4-12

4. Chiefs 2-14

Playoff Seeds

1. Denver Broncos First-Round Bye

2. New England Patriots First-Round Bye

3. Houston Texans Division Winner

4. Baltimore Ravens Division Winner

5. Indianapolis Colts Wildcard

6. Cincinnati Bengals Wildcard

The first two seeds get a first-round bye, and the wildcard games see the number 3 seed vs  the number 6 seed and the number 4 vs the number 5 seed.

Cincinnati Bengals at Houston Texans

Andre Johnson

Indianapolis Colts at Baltimore Ravens

Ray Lewis and Ed Reed

A full preview of both these games will be posted later this week.

For all your playoff updates, follow me on twitter.

Follow @PodgeOH

Written by podgeoh92

December 31, 2012 at 10:49 am