The long and arduous NFL regular season has finally come to an end. For some teams, and most likely their fan bases as well, that is a sigh of relief. For others however, it is the culmination of a successful season which sees them reaching the playoffs and continuing their journey for a Super Bowl championship.
In the NFC, the New Orleans Saints and Minnesota Vikings will receive well-deserved bye weeks to rest, while they sit out the Wild-Card match-ups. As luck would have it both NFC Wild-Card match-ups will have a very familiar ring to them, as both match-ups feature teams that played each other in the final game of the regular season.
Let’s take a look at those match-ups now to see what is in store for us during the opening weekend of the NFC playoffs.
Philadelphia Eagles at Dallas Cowboys
Saturday January 9, 2010 @ 8:00pm – NBC
Not only did these two teams meet during the season finale, but the game also decided the division winner in the NFC East, which in the end, also decided that this game would be played in Dallas Stadium rather than the friendly confines of Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia. The Eagles are hoping that Sunday’s 24-0 loss isn’t indicative of what to expect when the two teams meet again on Saturday night.
For the Eagles, they have enjoyed a solid season, ranking fourth in the NFC in points scored, despite not having Brian Westbrook for most of the season. The emergences of Brent Celek and DeSean Jackson have paced the passing game and made the Eagles a formidable offensive ballclub. However, the defensive unit has struggled after the loss of coordinator Jim Johnson prior to the season, and has been inconsistent at best throughout much of the year.
Dallas started out with some major inconsistencies on the offensive side of the ball, as Tony Romo struggled to find a go-to receiver in the early part of the season. However, Miles Austin stepped up and became a big-play receiver and deep threat that the passing game needed to open the field up for Marion Barber and Felix Jones. Defensively, the Cowboys were second only to the Jets in the entire NFL in regards to points allowed, paced by a pass rush that makes life miserable for opposing offenses.
Given what was riding on the line in terms of home-field in the first round, it is tough to imagine that both teams gave any less than full effort in their last meeting. If that’s the case, the Eagles have a lot of adjustments to make if they want to get past Dallas on Saturday. Of course, Dallas has their recent lack of success in the playoffs hanging over their heads as well and Romo’s shown in the past that he doesn’t hold up to pressure very well.
At the end of the day, Dallas is the better overall team in this match-up, and as long as they show up again this week, there is no reason why they can’t get the first round monkey off their back.
Prediction: Dallas 30 – Philadelphia 17
Green Bay Packers at Arizona Cardinals
Sunday January 10, 2010 @ 4:40pm – FOX
Another match-up of two teams repeating their season finales, but one that is a completely different story. While Dallas and Philadelphia went all out, Green Bay used their game to secure their playoff seeding and Arizona, secure in its spot, chose to rest the majority of the Cardinal starters after the opening drive. The results were similar though, with Green Bay coming out on top 33-7. However, don’t expect Sunday’s game to carry the same tune.
Green Bay comes into the game one of the more unheralded teams in the league. Having won seven of their final eight games, the only loss being a shoot-out with Pittsburgh, the Packers are one of the hottest teams in football, as well as one of the most balanced. Behind QB Aaron Rodgers, the Packers ranked third in the NFC in total points scored and sixth in the NFL in total offense. Defensively, the team ranked first in the NFL in rushing defense and fifth in pass defence.
Arizona on the other hand, will bring a completely different look on Sunday than they did this past week. Offensively, this team is not a mystery, as it is built on a high octane pass offense, with the receiving trio of Larry Fitzgerald, Anquan Boldin, and Steve Breaston forming perhaps the most dangerous receiving corps in the playoffs. Defensively, the Cardinals made huge strides, ranking sixth in the NFL in sacks, but still gave up a lot of yards through the air and on the ground.
Looks for this game to be a shoot-out between two quarterbacks who can really sling the ball. The keys for Green Bay will be to establish the rush attack early though, as they will need to help take the pressure off of Rodgers, who was the most sacked QB in the NFL this season. Arizona will need to keep the pressure on if they want to have a chance of beating Green Bay this week, as it’s the only way they can hope to control the Packer offense.
Prediction: Green Bay 38 – Arizona 27