NGSC Sports

NFC West Divisional Playoff Preview: How the West will be won

The Divisional round of the playoffs will feature two NFC West teams as the San Francisco 49ers travel to Carolina to play the Panthers and the Seattle Seahawks host the New Orleans Saints. The Wildcard round of the playoffs brought a lot of excitement. Three of the for games where close ones. The 49ers came through at the end ad beat the Green Bay Packers along with the frozen elements.

Here is how the seeding stands now:

 #6 New Orleans Saints @ #1 Seattle Seahawks

#4 San Francisco 49ers @ #2 Carolina Panthers

 

Let’s take a look at the match ups:

 San Francisco 49ers @ Carolina Panthers

The Panthers had the bye week and needed it to rest Steve Smith. Smith injured his knee during a game against the Saints that determined who would win the NFC South division. He was ruled out of the last game of the season against the Atlanta Falcons. Smith is a key player for Cam Newton. Newton will go to Smith in crucial third down situations, which is exactly what he did in the regular season victory over the 49ers in San Francisco. Newton also likes to go to his tight end, Greg Olson. Olson gives Newton a big target in the middle of the field. Deangelo Williams is another factor in this game. He scored the only touchdown in the last meeting between these two teams. It was a 27 yard touchdown run. Cam Newton didn’t have the best rushing game against the 49ers but he remains a legitimate threat to run from the backfield.

Colin Kaepernick was surely back to his dual threat ways against the Packers. He threw a touchdown pass to Vernon Davis and he had 98 yards rushing. The 98 yards rushing was more than any other player last week. Michael Crabtree got off to a hot start (70 yards on the first drive) and ended up with 125 yards receiving on the day. Crabtree was out when the two teams last met. Vernon Davis didn’t play most of the game against the Panthers, but he will be back for this one. Both of these weapons being back will do wonders for Kaepernick. Frank Gore had a rushing touchdown against the Packers also. Gore had 82 yards rushing against the Panthers in their last match up. He only had 16 carries despite averaging 5.1 yards each time he got the ball.

KEY MATCHUP

[airesizeimg src=”http://ngscsports.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/Joe+Staley+New+Orleans+Saints+v+San+Francisco+tFlL6zTGNs4x$-150×150$.jpg” alt=”Joe+Staley+New+Orleans+Saints+v+San+Francisco+tFlL6zTGNs4x” class=”alignleft size-thumbnail wp-image-3023″ ]Greg Hardy vs Joe Staley Hardy had 15 sacks on the year. He is a speed rusher that looks to get the outside rush. The Panthers were able to take away the outside runing lane and force Kaepernick to step up in the pocket which was collapsed by the Panther defensive tackles. Staley is a very athletic left tackle that is a good counter puncher to speed rushers. He gets back into his pass protection drops very quickly. Despite getting some pressure on Kaepernick, Hardy was held without a sack in their first match up.

THE VERDICT

49ers 20 Panthers 14

These two teams both have a very physical defense. The Panthers feature a pair of high impact linebackers in Thomas Davis and Luke Kuechley. Kuechley had 11 tackles earlier in the year against the 49ers. Davis had a forced fumble that changed the momentum of the game. They were able to nuetralize Boldin and take way running lanes for Kaepernick. They held Kaepernick to arguably his worst game of the year. Their pass rush was also very effective as shown by their six sacks.

The 49ers have a very good linebacker duo of their own. In fact, Patrick Willis and Navorro Bowman may be the best duo in the NFL. The 49ers linebacking corps as a unit is arguably the best. Many know about Aldon Smith, Bowan and Willis, but the hidden gem is Ahmad Brooks. He aggressively sets the edge and has become a pretty good pass rusher as well. Another thing to boot, Aldon Smith was just coming back from his five week hiatus the last time these teams played. That is another thing to note.

That is the past. This 49ers team is a different team. Crabtree is back, Vernon Davis is as well and that alone makes Kaepernick a better quarterback. It also eliminates the option to focus solely on Boldin. The Panthers will have to defend the 49ers differently this go round. This team has revenge on their mind and they will look to get the big payback in Carolina.

New Orleans Saints @ Seattle Seahawks

The Saints were able to break out of their inability to win a playoff game on the road. Ironically, one of those road losses came to the Seahawks back in 2010. They were able to resort to their run game. Mark Ingram ran the ball like he was back at the University of Alabama. He averaged 5.4 yards per carry including a short touchdown run. Ingram gained 97 yards against the Eagles. Khiry Robinson added 45 yard rushing also. He averaged 5.6 yards per carry. They needed to have a strong showing from their running game because Drew Brees struggled to take care of the football. He threw two interceptions. Jimmy Graham had a few timely catches and Robert Meachem showed that he can still be a deep threat by catching a 40 yard pass.

The Seahawks are the number one seed and had the first round bye. The bye came in handy for them as they are awaiting the return of K.J. Wright and Percy Harvin. Harvin will reportedly practice this week which is a sign of his possible return for the playoffs. The offense got back on track in the last game of the season which was against the Rams. Russell Wilson will continue to go to Golden Tate as his top play maker at receiver. Marshawn Lynch completed another season in which he was one of the more productive running backs.

KEY MATCHUP

 [airesizeimg src=”http://ngscsports.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/Earl+Thomas+Arizona+Cardinals+v+Seattle+Seahawks+ow0hij2q6fyx$-150×150$.jpg” alt=”Earl+Thomas+Arizona+Cardinals+v+Seattle+Seahawks+ow0hij2q6fyx” class=”alignleft size-thumbnail wp-image-3021″ ]Drew Brees vs Earl Thomas Brees is the quarterback of the Saints offense. The success of the offense will usually live and die with him. Many say that their road playoff struggles have been tied to Brees underperforming. I don’t neccessarily believe that. He passed for 400 yards in a recent playoff loss to the 49ers. Thomas is the quarterback of the defense. His range allows them to utilize a lot of cover three and man defense. Their secondary is the best in the NFL and it has a lot to do with Earl Thomas. Thomas is a centerfielder that will look to jump the passing lanes. Drew Brees will need to know where Thomas is when he makes pre snap reads and when he makes his in play adjustments.

THE VERDICT

 Seahawks 23 Saints 20

The Seahawks defense is just too physical for the Saints. Their pass rush is relentless. Michael Bennett, Cliff Avril and Bruce Irving all get pressure on the quarterback. Their defense tends to set the tone early in games. This gets the crowd behind them and we all know that Centruy Link stadium can get VERY loud. The Saints will need to use their quick passing game to get into a rhythm. That along with running the ball will take the crowd out of the game. Pierre Thomas is questionable for this game. He is the best running back for the Saints when they use the screen passing game, which is a sure way to combat an attacking defense like Seattle’s. Darren Sproles is also an option but the screens are not as effective when Thomas is catching them. Bobby Wagner is a very fast inside linebacker that is capable of disrupting the screen game. Earl Thomas however, is the X factor. He comes up to the line of scrimmage and is very destructive. K.J. Wright was a major factor in limiting the production from Jimmy Graham in the regular season game. He may be back in time to do the same thing once again. I would be remissed if I didn’t mention the other members of the secondary, Richard Sherman, Byron Maxwell and Kam Chancellor. They make up an elite unit that will also be boosted by the return of Walter Thurmond III.

The crowd at Centruy Link is also fueled by Marshwan Lynch. When he gets going, they go crazy. It’s hard not to like his “ball of butcher knives” running style. He rarely goes down from the first hit and often times, he bowls over defenders. He will without a doubt look to improve on his 15 carry for 45 yard performance in their first game. Kenny Vaccaro will not be playing in this game and that takes away a young playmaker. Another injury that will hurt the Saints, especialy their run defense is Paris Haralson who will be out with a torn pectorial muscle. The Saints have improved drastically on the defensive side of the ball. Look for Rex Ryan to continue to throw all kinds of excotic blitzes at the Seahawks. The Keenan Lewis against Golden Tate match up is sure to have it’s share of extracuriclar activity. At the end of the day, the Seahawks will ride Marshawn Lynch to the win and set up an all NFC West match up in the NFC Championship.

Author Profile

Ralph Garcia

CEO NGSC Sports


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