8

January

NFL Wild Card Weekend: Packers-Eagles Preview: Deja Vu in Philly

The Green Bay Packers defeated the Chicago Bears 10-3 last Sunday at Lambeau Field to lock down a wild card berth for the second consecutive season.

The Packers enter the playoffs as the number six seed, but in a conference that features a 7-9 division champion, any team could come out of the NFC and head to Super Bowl XLV.

The first stop for the Packers on the road to Dallas is in Philadelphia for an encore match against the Eagles. In the first game of the regular season, the Packers beat the Eagles 27-20 after knocking then-starting quarterback for the Eagles Kevin Kolb out of the game and giving Michael Vick the opportunity to write one of the great comeback stories in NFL history.

Looking back at that game, the Packers had the Eagles well under control until Vick came into the game. He nearly led the Eagles back, but a couple well-timed sacks stopped the comeback just short and the Packers held on the victory.

With an entire week to game plan for Vick, will the Packers fare better against the elusive Eagles quarterback?

Breaking down the Eagles

Vick carried the Eagles this season. You can’t argue any other way.
In a season where coach Andy Reid was under the microscope after dealing Donovan McNabb away within the division, Vick played brilliantly and leads an incredibly explosive offense. With Vick’s dual running and passing threat, the Packers will have their hands full with No. 7.

Now, Vick is reported to be a little less than fully healthy for this game with him as of early this week saying he was only at 75% but will be ready to go Sunday.

Should the Packers be able to somehow contain Vick to the pocket, they will have to take in account speedy receivers DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin. Vick also can use tight end Brent Celek as a medium distance threat. Running back LeSean McCoy also is very underrated and will provide another option for Vick in the screen game. Of course, this all depends on if the iffy Eagles offensive line can hold up.

Bottom line: Do not underestimate the Eagles offense. They are one of the few units in the NFL than can keep up on the scoreboard against the Packers’ offense.

9

December

NFC Playoffs Power Rankings: Green Bay Packers at No. 3

There are still 10 teams mathematically alive in the NFC playoff race. If the season ended today, the Green Bay Packers would not make the playoffs. But that does not stop me from putting them No. 3 in my latest NFC power rankings.

Here’s how the playoff picture looks at the moment:

1. Atlanta Falcons (10-2)
2. Chicago Bears (9-3)
3. Philadelphia Eagles (8-4)
4. St. Louis Rams (6-6)
5. New Orleans Saints (9-3)
6. New York Giants (8-4)
7. Green Bay Packers (8-4)
8. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (7-5)
9. Seattle Seahawks (6-6)
10. Minnesota Vikings (5-7)

Here’s how I would rank the remaining playoff eligible teams in the NFC.

1. Atlanta Falcons
The Falcons are kind of the anti-Packers. They’ve trailed or have been tied in the fourth quarter six times this season, and they’ve won every game. The Falcons are good because they win those close games.

However, I had to force myself to put the Falcons in the top spot. The Falcons deserve to be No. 1, but if you gave me a choice of playing the Eagles or the Falcons right now, I’m not sure who I would choose.

2. Philadelphia Eagles
LeSean McCoy is turning into the second coming of Brian Westbrook. McCoy has 1,357 yards from scrimmage, including over 120 in each of the last two games. You would think McCoy will see his role expand in the final month as Michael Vick continues to take hits and battle nagging injuries.

The Eagles are never out of a game. They are capable of exploding for three touchdowns in 10 minutes at any given time. That’s why they scare me and that’s why I considered putting them over the Falcons.

3. Green Bay Packers

Ask yourself: If Aaron Rodgers continues playing like he is (11 touchdowns, no interceptions in his last five games) is there a team in the NFL that is clearly better than the Packers? I don’t think so.

4. New Orleans Saints
The Saints are 9-3 and have won five straight, but I get the sense they haven’t played their best football yet. Running back Pierre Thomas should return soon to bolster a running game that has held up surprisingly well despite injuries. And Drew Brees is quietly having another great season.