2015 NFC Championship Preview: Larry Fitzgerald

When Larry Fitzgerald took off on his 75 yard reception in last week’s overtime win over Green Bay, how much did that play have to do with his legacy?? In The Chancellor’s view he may have played his way into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

fitzWith the score tied at 20 in overtime, and league mvp candidate Carson Palmer at the end of a skittish performance, it was Fitz who made the decision to go win the game. Once he caught the pass you saw where he turned up-field and it looked as though he would head out of bounds at the 50. At that moment he turned back to the middle of the field, went by Clay Matthews and intended to win the game.

The flash popped in my mind immediately of his 64 yard touchdown in Super Bowl XLIII to take the lead with 2 minutes to go.  As though he was running for destiny. Who else to make that play?

Earlier this year, Fitzgerald was being interviewed on the radio when asked if he could put up the old numbers he once did now that he is playing in the slot. His answer was no and he was being honest. So now after a bounce back season in which he put up a career best 109 catches for 1,215 yards and 9 TDs… who else to make that play?

Today’s NFC Championship he will have to outfox Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis. These ‘backers don’t come off the field and will clog Fitzgerald’s intermediate routes. If the Cardinals can isolate him on #20 Coleman, Arizona would have a match-up. With Pro Bowl corner Josh Norman out on Michael Floyd, Fitz has to come up big today to get his team to Super Bowl L.

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2015 Divisional Playoff: Panthers v, Seahawks

Now we get the big boy pads on as the 15-1 Carolina Panthers host the 10-6 Seattle Seahawks. Over the last few years these have been the most physical teams and defenses in the NFC. Seattle finished #2 in defense to the Panthers finished just outside the top five ranked 6th. Against the run Seattle finished #1 and Luke Kuechely’s unit is right behind at #4.

Can the Seahawks repeat?? Absolutely

Can the Seahawks repeat?? Absolutely

 

This game will be won on the line of scrimmage in an old fashioned, slobber-knocking physical way. No easing into a street fight as Marshawn Lynch and Jonathan Stewart are powerful backs. We won’t know if Lynch can carry the load coming back for the first time since mid November. Both backs were kept from the average of 4 yards per carry in the October meeting won by Carolina.

This is Newton's chance to shine in the playoffs.

This is Newton’s chance to shine in the playoffs.

However we don’t want to overlook two of the great young quarterbacks in the game. Taylor Blitz Time’s MVP Cam Newton has had a great season passing for 3,837 yards 35tds with just 10 ints. He won it on the basis of his leadership, those passing numbers and adding 636 yards and 10 more touchdowns.

In his last two games against the Seahawks he ran for 30 and 37 yards respectively. The Seahawks are athletic enough to keep him contained and get to him whether in pass rush mode or when Newton takes off. He needs the running game to be more productive then it’s been. They get back Jonathon Stewart but he’s been out the last 3 games.

Russell-Wilson-Seattle-SeahawksNow we get to one of the TBT MVP runner-ups in Russell Wilson. He has had a tremendous season with 4,024 yards 34 touchdowns with only 8 interceptions. This season has seen further maturation as he developed his downfield touch with WR Doug Baldwin and his receiving corps. He has run efficiently this year with 553 yards and his penchant for not turning the ball over is why this team has been in the last two Super Bowls.

Baldwin (78 rec. 1,069 yds 14 tds) lines up everywhere and we have to see if Panther CB Josh Norman is going to shadow him.

Where this game changes is the fact the Panthers are missing CB Charles Tillman (IR) from the beginning of the season and they have plugged in Cortland Finnegan and retreads in the secondary. With Wilson playing lights out from week 9 on…this will be where the difference will be.

The winner of this game will also go on to win the Super Bowl. Seattle will win this game today by the way they have been playing lately and their experience… 29-24.

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2015 NFC Divisional Round Predictions

Green Bay Packers @ Arizona Cardinals

cardinals_vs_packersIts time for the rubber to meet the road here in Glendale Arizona. The Packers just lost 3 weeks ago 38-8 to the Cardinals in this building so what has changed? They went on to lose to the Vikings who took the NFC North from them 20-13 in Lambeau. The saving grace is last week’s wildcard win over Washington.

Last week saw a rebirth of the running game as Eddie Lacy and James Starks combined for 100 yards and 2 touchdowns. This helped settle a schizophrenic Rodgers down who started the game being sacked for a safety and throwing off his back foot. He found his rhythm in the 2nd half. Can he repeat that against Arizona?

Carson-PalmerThe Packers come into this game with the NFL’s #6 passing defense. If you look at the stats, Palmer only threw for 265 yards 2 TDs and 1 interception. Pedestrian numbers until you remember Aaron Rodgers was bludgeoned for 8 sacks and 4 turnovers. Palmer, an MVP candidate, can do this without a short field. He threw for 4,671 yards and 35 touchdowns comes in this game hot. With Larry Fitzgerald (109 rec/ 1215 yds /9 Tds) John Brown ( 65 rec / 1003 yds /7 Tds) and Michael Floyd (52 rec / 849 yds / 6 Tds) they are averaging 28 points per game at home.

If the Cardinals rushing attack stays productive, the Cardinals should repeat their week 16 performance and wins today 40-17.

AFC Wildcard: Cincinnati Bengals v Pittsburgh Steelers

When you talk about the Bengals when the season began, everyone would scoff “wait til’ the playoffs.” That held true for the team and certainly Andy Dalton. Now here we are again and Dalton has his thumb in a cast. The Bengals have to place their hope on back-up AJ McCarron.

giovanniAlmost 10 years to the day that Kimo Von Oelhoffen knocked Carson Palmer out of the 2006 wildcard, again they get to face a back-up in the playoffs.  Ironically Pittsburgh knocked out Dalton late in the regular season.  Now they are missing DeAngelo Williams who injured his ankle in the season finale.

Can AJ McCarron throw caution to the wind and look long for AJ Green (86 rec. 1,297 yds 10 TDs). Pittsburgh’s defense is 21st overall and 30th against the pass. In previous playoff games Dalton played way too cautious. They need to run solid between the 20s with Giovani Bernard and Jeremy Hill and take their shots for touchdowns when they get in close. No Dalton playoff checkdowns. McCarron needs to be daring.

One of the NFL's most electrifying players.

One of the NFL’s most electrifying players.

The shifting point is the loss of DeAngelo Williams. He had more than adequately replaced LeVeon Bell with 997 yards rushing and 11 touchdowns. The full dimension Steeler offense that streaked down the stretch now has questions. Can RB Fitzgerald Toussaint (who?) keep the Bengal defense honest? Cincinnati’s defense is 7th against the run and 20th against the pass.

In this game Ben Roethlisberger is going to be the difference. He challenged Martavis Bryant (50 rec. 765 yds and 6 TDs) and we’ll see how he responds. With 2 Super Bowl rings and a 3rd appearance, Roethlisberger’s mettle is what you can hang your hat on. Bryant needs to come up big because the Bengals will be paying most of their attention on MVP candidate Antonio Brown. With 136 rec. 1,834 yards and 10 touchdowns, he has to be the focal point of the Bengals coverage schemes.

In the end… you have to go with Big Ben and that passing game in a 27-24 game. It will be close but the Steelers will win.

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