2014 NFC Wildcard Preview: Arizona Cardinals @ Carolina Panthers

After a rousing start to the 1st collegiate playoff it’s time to take a look at the NFL playoffs. First game on the docket pits the 7-8-1 Carolina Panthers and the 11-5 Arizona Cardinals.

Panther_logoLet’s face it. No one thinks the Cardinals on a 3rd string quarterback can win this football game. Isn’t that what the experts thought a few nights ago with Ohio St v. Alabama?? Ryan Lindley will be starting his 3rd game where we should see improvement. As a matter of fact this is a 3rd playoff level game in a row he’s played in. He had his issues with the NFL’s #1 defense in a loss to Seattle, but he outplayed Colin Kaepernick in the 20-17 finale against San Fran’s 5th ranked defense.

Carolina has become the hot team as the playoffs near. On a 4 game winning streak, the Panthers are the 2nd team in history to enter the playoffs with a losing record. The NFC South has been so bad this year, no one has even talked about their terrible record. To punctuate the mediocrity of these 4 wins are that 3 of them came against their division rivals and another with the sliding Cleveland Browns.

Cam Newton and the Panther running game is where their bread is buttered. However Arizona is decent against the run (ranked 13th) but struggle with mobile quarterbacks. Cardinal Defensive Coordinator Todd Bowles has been dialing up blitzes all year and may have a few delayed blitzes ready for this one. Where Arizona struggles against Tight Ends, look for Tyrann Mathieu to be the wildcard matching up one on one against Greg Olsen.

cardinallogoMarieu along with Patrick Peterson and Antonio Cromartie locking down on the other Panther receivers.

The Cardinals have won all season without a lot of offense and last week Lindley was 23 of 39 for 316 yards 2 TDs. However he did throw 3 interceptions. To win this game they have to play it loose like they have. Look for several deep balls to John Brown as the Cardinals win 26-14.

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NFC Divisional Playoff: San Francisco 49ers @ Carolina Panthers

This is the one playoff game this weekend that could have been interesting. With Carolina wideout Steve Smith at 60% by his own admission, or at least doubtful, it takes steam out of this match-up. Smith is the conscious and fighting spirit of that football team. Although the league’s #2 defense is intact, this team peaked a few weeks ago.

Cam Newton is going into his first NFL playoff game.

Cam Newton is going into his first NFL playoff game.

Cam Newton can’t play sporadic and expect the defense to keep him in a playoff game until he finds his accuracy. Sure they won 10-9 in Candlestick but that really woke the Niners up for this one. In that previous game Vernon Davis left injured, Michael Crabtree didn’t play, and Aldon Smith was just coming back and rounding into shape. Colin Kaepernick is coming off of a third career playoff win and they haven’t lost since Crabtree has come back.

The best all around linebacker in the NFL. Last year's Taylor Blitz Defensive Player of the Year: Navorro Bowman

The best all around linebacker in the NFL. Last year’s Taylor Blitz Defensive Player of the Year: Navorro Bowman

One element of this game is the threat of the pass from the Tight End position. Vernon Davis has the speed to pull Luke Kuechely deep where he has to play the run honestly. Consequently Greg Olsen doesn’t do the same and Patrick Willis and Navorro Bowman will creep up and shut down the run.

So watch for Frank Gore to have a good day and San Francisco to dominate the time of possession. The Niners win 26-13 today.

Even when I think back to Cam Newton’s National Championship performance against Oregon. His play that day wasn’t transcendent. Stars have to come out when the games get big like this. Weaknesses are magnified and without Smith 100%, he has to play above a pedestrian performance. He has to be a star for them to win. Just can’t see that in his first playoff game.

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AFC Divisional Playoff: Indianapolis Colts @ New England Patriots

After one of the greatest come from behind victories in NFL history, the Colts have earned a first class trip to New England. Their mission, should they choose to accept it, is to stop the Patriots from making a 3rd straight trip to the AFC Championship Game. The Colts are riding an emotional high but do they have the horses to win a high stakes playoff game against Bill Belichick and Tom Brady??

Andrew Luck came of age in last week's comeback. The Colts will always believe they can win from this point forward, no matter the deficit.

Andrew Luck came of age in last week’s comeback. The Colts will always believe they can win from this point forward, no matter the deficit.

One of the items that gets lost in the aftermath of last week is Indy gave up a near playoff record 513 yards and 44 points. They gave up 378 yards passing and 4 touchdowns to Alex Smith at home, and now they plan to improve on that against Brady on the road?? Never forget weaknesses are magnified in the playoffs. Hard to improve on the 20th ranked defense when they’re not playing well.

Don’t forget the last time Tom Brady saw the Indianapolis Colts, he draped 59 points on them. Of course fans will say Luck is playing better now. However he doesn’t play linebacker or cover receivers. Last week, Pro Bowl DE Robert Mathis had a timely sack and forced fumble, but that was it.

Legarrette Blount has played like Dorsey Levens  of late.

Legarrette Blount has played like Dorsey Levens of late.

Now some may point out the Patriots aren’t the same team they were a year ago and they’re right. Brady has had a modest season by his standards. Yet the Pats have shifted strategies. In their last two games against the Ravens and Buffalo Bills, they rushed for 142 and 267 yards respectively. Those were the 10th and 12th best defenses also, Indy’s is 20th. One was getting revenge on the defending champions that ended their season last year, and the other was against a division rival playing in the equivalent of their Super Bowl.

Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich will pressure Andrew Luck today.

Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich will pressure Andrew Luck today.

The Colts will need to run the football and control the tempo of the game. If not Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich will come after Luck. Their not as flashy as a Robert Mathis but they did combine for 19.5 sacks 3 forced fumbles and 4 fumble recoveries. Add to that the genius of Belichick when it comes to taking away an opponents best receiver. He will keep TY Hilton from getting open which will make Luck hold the football even longer which will allow the rush more time to get there.

Everyone has their eye on Andrew Luck but The Chancellor of Football’s is on the defensive alignment and assignments that Belichick will throw at him. I have gone on record calling him the greatest coach of the last 50 years in the NFL. He configured a 2 man line defense that slowed the 90 Bills in Super Bowl XXV. The week before he stopped Joe Montana and the Niners from 3-peating with normal 3-4 and safeties over the top. He stopped The Greatest Show on Turf when he repeated his Super Bowl XXV performance upsetting the Rams in XXXVI. He spent the last decade keeping Peyton, Edgerrin James, and Marvin Harrison from reaching the Super Bowl while he won 3. Each of those teams had 3 Pro Football Hall of Fame talents on those rosters.. Do you really think he can’t stop a second year quarterback and a modest talent in Hilton??

Look for LaGarrette Blount to get the football on a rainy day. The Colts weren’t tackling well last week and will struggle stopping the run. In a physical game the Patriots will win 31-13. What happened to this team when they played earlier against the Seahawks and 49ers?? They rose to the occassion then and Head Coach Chuck Pagano needs them to wake up and get back to that tonight.

Who do you have in this game??

 

 

 

 

NFC Divisional Playoff: New Orleans Saints @ Seattle Seahawks

As we make our way into the second week of the NFL playoffs, its time to put on the big boy pads as the heavyweights join the fray. First giant to be awakened are the Seattle Seahawks. Not only have they gone 15-1 at home over the last two regular seasons, but Coach Pete Carroll excels at getting his teams up for big games. This dates back to his days when he led the Men of Troy to 2 straight collegiate national championships.

Kam Chancellor's thunderous hit on Vernon Davis a year ago is still the defense's seminal moment in becoming the NFl's most feared defense.

Kam Chancellor’s thunderous hit on Vernon Davis a year ago is still the defense’s seminal moment in becoming the NFL’s most feared defense.

Don’t forget the New Orleans Saints were dethroned as defending Super Bowl champion in Seattle to a team less talented than this one 41-36. Remember the 2010 Seahawks were the first team to enter the playoffs with a losing record. Now fast forward to this year’s 34-7 Monday night massacre in week 13 and keep a few things in mind.

The first is Pete Carroll’s expertise is teaching in the secondary. And let’s face it, The Legion of Boom is led by the league’s best secondary and there isn’t a group close to this one. Not in physicality or cover skills. Richard Sherman has talked the talk while leading the league in interceptions with 8. The safety tandem of Kam Chancellor and Earl Thomas is easily the best and most physical. Carroll’s defense and bad weather is the kryptonite to Sean Payton’s offense.

Seattle Seahawks alternate logo.

Seattle Seahawks alternate logo.

The second is the road record from the boys on the bayou. Do you realize they were 1-4 in their last five road games to end the season?? The lone win?? A 17-13 win over the Falcons who were in the midst of a tailspin of a season in week 12. Sure they made team history with a win in Philadelphia but that was against a first time playoff coach in Chip Kelly. A first time playoff starter in Nick Foles and a playoff inexperienced team in the Eagles. Those jitters kept the game close and a more experienced Saints team took advantage.

Yet are the psychological scars from the primetime beat down in Seattle healed?? The Chancellor of Football says no. You can be more ready to play a team but when one physically beats you down, that lives with you in high stakes collision sports and boxing. Have you ever listened to a boxer discuss in an interview how haunted they were when they were physically manhandled by an opponent. If it’s psychological than it’s sociological and a team has to re-live that nightmare.

The Saints bring a defense to Seattle this weekend and is the real wild card in this rematch.

The Saints bring a defense to Seattle this weekend and is the real wild card in this rematch.

However there is a silver lining in Rob Ryan and the Saints defense. You remember him right?? Jerry Jones fired him last year and brought in Lane Kiffin and had the worst ….alright I digress. They come in with the 4th best defense in football and have forced 13 fumbles this year. On a rainy day, this could be where this defense could turn this playoff game.

After reviewing the regular season match-up again, the Saints offense was completely manhandled by the NFL’s #1 defense. One theme that has held is how badly the Saints fare against top defenses on the road. With NFC supremacy on the line, they only scored 7 and had 188 total yards in the Monday night massacre in Seattle. Then with NFC South supremacy on the line two weeks later in Carolina, they score 13 in another loss that relegated them to a wild card.

Russell Wilson is used to playing in the elements. Thanks to his college days in Wisconsin and Seattle as a pro.

Russell Wilson is used to playing in the elements. Thanks to his college days in Wisconsin and Seattle as a pro.

Sandwiched between these was a 27-16 loss to St Louis where they were outhit again. Do you realize these 3 losses were all on the road in weeks 13-16?? Now they are going out on the road again to the rainy Pacific Northwest with that passing game?? It doesn’t look good.

Now this is the playoffs where you elevate your game and this Seahawks defense is the best The Chancellor of Football has seen since the 2000 Ravens. http://taylorblitztimes.com/2013/03/08/2013-seattle-seahawks-preview-ready-to-make-a-move/ This is the team we picked to win the Super Bowl and Percy Harvin is back to add a missing element. The Saints hope to get to him and force a turnover when he gets it. Russell Wilson will play his usual heady game and run when he has to. The coverage of Richard Sherman and Byron Maxwell is necessary to keep it going. Yet look for a thunderous shot by Kam Chancellor on Jimmy Graham early in the game to send a message.  The Seahawks are too good and too fast for New Orleans and should win 38-3. The only way the Saints stay in this game is to force some turnovers.

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