2011 NFL Week 2 Remix by Lloyd Vance

After their comeback 38-35 win over the Oakland Raiders, everyone is talking about the hard-charging undefeated Buffalo Bills (2-0)  and their heady former Harvard quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick

Now that the glitz and glamour of the opening week of the 2011 NFL Season is over, Week 2 brought the league’s standard weekly journey.   And to be honest with you, everyone seemed to be glad that this week’s schedule only had two game-days with 15 games on Sunday and the usual one game match-up on Monday Night Football.

After a Week 1 that had some great performances, including Carolina Panthers rookie Cam Newton demolishing the league’s Rookie Record Book, NFL Universe wasn’t sure if Week 2 could live-up to the hype of opening week.  But to no one’s surprise, Week 2 was even better, in my opinion.  I think not having the “Butterflies” of opening games helped players concentrate on their tasks and it helped in having crisper and closer games. 

There were 9 games where the final score had a margin of 10 points or less, including a thrilling overtime win by the Dallas Cowboys 27-24 over the San Francisco49ers.  Unfortunately there were also four serious blowouts, where the final score margin was greater than 14 points, including a shutout by the Steelers 24-0 over the hapless Seahawks.  The worst of the bunch had be the Detroit Lions’ coming-of-age franchise record 48-3 thrashing of the battered Kansas City Chiefs. Continue reading

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2011 Top 10 Receiving Units in the NFL by Lloyd Vance

Receiver James Jones and the rest of the Packers’ multitude of talented pass catchers lead Taking It to the House’s list of the 2011 NFL Top 10 Receiving Units

While watching some of Week 1’s games with my colleague, Matt Lombardo, we got into a debate over which receiving corps should be the most feared by NFL defenses.  To that end, I have put together my Top 10 Receiving Units for the 2011 season. 

I know that I have listed running backs along with team’s receivers and tight ends.  But in today’s West Coast offense happy NFL — filled with screens – most backs have the chance to easily catch 50+ passes a season. 

As always, please bring-on your feedback in the Comments Section and via my Twitter, @lloydvance_nfl

1. Green Bay Packers – [Gregg Jennings, Jordy Nelson, James Jones, Donald Driver, TE Jermichael Finley, RB James Starks, RB Ryan Grant and rookie Randall Cobb].  The 2010 NFL Champs have an over abundance of weapons for Super Bowl MVP quarterback Aaron Rodgers (threw 31 TDs in 2010 which ranked 4th in NFL).  As crazy as it sounds, there really may not be enough balls for this unit, especially with explosive rookie Randall Cobb coming along.  THis unit is so extensive, that deep-threat James Jones only had one catch in the Packers’ pinball machine  Week 1 win over the Saints. Continue reading

2011 NFL Season Week 1 Preview: Saints-Packers by Lloyd Vance

The Green Bay Packers will be looking for a big game from DB Charles Woodson when they host the New Orleans Saints at Lambeau Field  in the 2011 NFL Regular Season Opener

The road to Super Bowl XLVI (February 5 in Indianapolis, IN) will begin tonight as the 92nd Season of the National Football League will officially kickoff at historic Lambeau Field.   For the eighth consecutive season, the Super Bowl champion will open the slate as the Green Bay Packers will host the 2009 NFL Champion New Orleans Saints (Sept. 8 at 8:30 p.m. ET on NBC).  The regular season start of America’s favorite sport will also include a concert by Grammy Winners and fireworks.  

All the hoopla will signal a new beginning for the sport that everyone is watching — according to Nielsen Media Research, the NFL reached 207.7 million unique viewers in 2010, the most in history.  Week 1 in the NFL season is almost at the holiday level as football fans everywhere finally quench their thirst for “real” NFL game action. Especially after the 136-Day NFL Lockout dominated league news rather than mini-camps, OTA’s, and the many other events on the NFL Calendar.  

I am not sure if it is the quick five-month schedule where the games come and go before we know it, the long arduous 7-month wait for real games after the Super Bowl, the once-a-week high, the “every game counts” subplots, the talented players that always amaze you with their toughness and ability to perform under mental and physical stress, the autumn weather, team allegiance, trash-talking, the dreaded g-word (gambling), fantasy football, or any other thing.  But we all know that the NFL is everyone’s sports obsession like none other. 

Football brings people together from all walks of life and gives commonality where almost everyone has a team and a rooting interest from the guy working at the local convenience store to President Barack Obama — supporter of the Pittsburgh Steelers.  The NFL has even infiltrated sometimes stuffy Corporate America as Fridays are now, “Wear your NFL team’s colors to work day”.  Co-workers during lunch or coffee breaks will be talking fantasy football line-ups, poking fun at each other’s team, and comparing the best venues to watch the game each weekend until February brings the curtain down on the season.

Football fans everywhere can now shout “Hallelujah” as their lengthy wait for “real” NFL game action since the Super Bowl in February is finally over. Continue reading

Green Bay Packers Win Super Bowl XLV

The 2010 NFL Season culminated with the Green Bay Packers returning the Lombardi Trophy back to Title Town after winning Super Bowl XLV

The 2010-11 NFL season was completed with a thrilling game in Super Bowl XLV as the Green Bay Packers (14-6) defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers (14-5) by a score of 31-25 in Arlington, Texas. The Packers win brought an NFL-record 13tth Championship to “Title Town”.  As the league’s smallest market team won their first championship in 14 years.  The Packers joined the 2005 Steelers as the only No. 6 seeds to win a Super Bowl and Mike McCarthy’s team also became the sixth Wild Card team to win a Super Bowl.  Plus the third team to do so after winning three road playoff games.

“The Dynasty Bowl”, as some had themed this game, started out looking like a “stinker” as the Packers built an early 21-3 halftime lead but the Steelers fought back to make it a game in a match-up two of the NFL’s most-storied franchises.  The whole thing was not over until Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger’s fourth-down throw over the middle to Mike Wallace fell incomplete with just under a minute to play.  After two victory-formation kneel-downs, the Packers, the NFL’s second oldest franchise, improved their league-best postseason record of 29-16 in 45 games.  As new legends Aaron Rodgers, Charles Woodson, and Clay Matthews will now walk with past Hall of Famers Vince Lombardi, Bart Starr, Paul Hornung, Reggie White and Willie Davis in brought another title to the “Frozen Tundra” playing surface at historic Lambeau Field.

With the threat of potential CBA-Armadegon and “No Football” after March 4th looming, you could sense that the NFL Universe wanted to see a great game and a high-level quarterback performance.  And Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers didn’t disappoint.  The game’s MVP brought the Lombardi Trophy back to it’s original stomping grounds as he completed 24 of 39 passes for 304 yards and three touchdowns with most importantly no interceptions for first NFL title since some guy named, Brett Favre, led the Packers to a championship in Super Bowl XXXI (January 26, 1997).

Conversely, Roethlisberger never really got it going as he lost his first Super Bowl in three tries.  Like any playoff game, the Super Bowl was won by Green Bay due to are usual keys — Strong Quarterback Play (i.e. Taking Care of the Football), Good Attacking Defense, a Balanced Offensive Attack based first in the Run, Sound Special Teams Play, and Limiting Penalties.  Of that list “turnovers” loomed most large in Super Bowl XLV.  Roethlisberger threw two costly interceptions that the Packers turned into 14 points and Pittsburgh continued their turnover misery with running back Rashard Mendenhall’s very costly fumble that led to 7 more points off turnovers for Green Bay.

Definitely congratulations are in order to the entire Packers’ organization including their players, coaches, front office, and staff.  Special kudos must also go to the architects of this team, head coach Mike McCarthy, GM Ted Thompson, and Personnel Head Mark Murphy.  Your team did the NFL proud by winning with persistence, grit, determination and a little magic.

Rodgers said after the game, “This a great group of men we’ve put together here.  Lot of character, been through a lot together. It’s just great to be able to share it with them.

Lloyd’s Leftovers

  • I thought the pre-game performance by Christina Aguilera was terrible as the former Pittsburgh home-girl set a bad tone for the Steelers by singing a choppy national anthem, including forgetting a lyric or two.
  • Everyone always wants to know the commercials that I liked and didn’t like. I just found it amazing that in our tough economy, about 28 advertisers paid over $3 million per 30-second spot. My number one has to be the “Budweiser: Singing Cowboys” ad (I like the tough guy cowboys singing an out-of-character Elton John’s Tiny Dancer) followed closely by the GM “Emimem” spot and the lovely Kim Kardashian’s ad where she breaks up with her trainer for Sketchers. A stinker was the Motorola Mobility ad taking a shot at Apple and the Ozzy Osbourne ad. You can watch all of the Super Bowl ads at YouTube.com/adblitz
  • The 14 minutes of the Black Eyed Peas’ halftime performance really lived up to the hype.  I really like the re-emergence of former Guns and Roses guitarist Slash as Fergie sang “Sweet Child of Mine”

Now that Super Bowl XLV is over, I can take a quick break.  Like most people, my NFL season is “suspsoed” to end with the Super Bowl.  But constant CBA talk, the NFL Combine (later in February into March), and the NFL Draft (in April, with the Carolina Panthers currently on the clock) are already here.

 

Lloyd Vance is a Sr. NFL Writer for Taking It to the House and Sports Journey Network , who is also an award-winning member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA)

Taking It to the House NFL Podcast – WCHE Interview 020211

In his weekly interview on the “Matt Lombardo Show” (1520 WCHE – West Chester, PA), NFL Insider Lloyd Vance breaks-down the news surrounding Super Bowl XLV, including the Philadelphia Eagles surprise choice for Defensive Coordinator, former O-line Coach Juan Castille

After some great action in the 2010 NFL Playoffs first three rounds, Super Bowl XLV in Arlington Texas will take center stage with the Pittsburgh Steelers facing the Green Bay Packers. NFL Insider Lloyd Vance makes his weekly appearance on the “Matt Lombardo Show” on 1520 WCHE – West Chester, PA including breaking down this year’s Super Bowl Match-up featuring two of the league’s brightest quarterbacks (Ben Roethlisberger and Aaron Rodgers)

2010 NFL Playoffs: Conference Championships Round Preview

Everything will be on the line “Championship Sunday” as the Chicago Bears (WR/KR Devin Hester pictured) take on the Green Bay Packers in the NFC Championship and the Pittsburgh Steelers square off with the New York Jets in the AFC Championship

(Philadelphia, Pa) — The Conference Championships of the 91st NFL Season, are upon us and for the final four teams (Pittsburgh Steelers, New York Jets, Green Bay Packers and Chicago Bears) it is now or never in order to achieve their ultimate goal of winning Super Bowl XLV in Arlington, Texas.  The match-ups  interestingly enough will be  “Back to the Future” moments for NFL Universe as for only the 17th time since 1970 both championship games are rematches from the regular season. 

The AFC Championship Game (NY Jets vs. Steelers ) is a rematch from Week 15 (NY Jets won 22-17 at Heinz Field) and the NFC Championship Game (Bears vs. Packers ) renews the oldest rivalry  — 182nd meeting but only the 2nd time in postseason — in NFL history.  And will serve as a “rubber match” with both the hated NFC North rivals having won during their regular season series (Chicago won 20-17 in Week 3 and Green Bay won 10-3 in Week 17). 

The 2010 NFL Season has truly been a wild rollercoaster type affair, where not even the best prognosticators could have seen the many ups, downs, and strange twists that have flipped the script on NFL history.  Former NFL Commissioners Bert Bell and Pete Rozelle’s favorite word, “Parity”, has ruled the day once again in the National Football League.  For the second time in the past three postseasons (last time in 2008), the Championship Games will not feature a No. 1 seed. 

Prior to 2008, there was at least one top-seeded team in the Championship Games in 28 consecutive seasons, dating back to 1980.  After a “wacky” divisional round where both #1 Seeds (Patriots and Falcons) were vanquished, the Conference Championships have been left with two #2 Seeds (Pittsburgh and Chicago) and two #6 Seeds (NY Jets and Packers) to fight it out for a ticket to the Super Bowl in two weeks at Dallas Cowboys Stadium. 

I have heard arguments on both sides regarding whether “parity” is helping or hurting the NFL.  Of course I grew-up on perennial Super Bowl contenders like the Steelers, Dolphins, Niners, Cowboys, and Raiders bullying the rest of the teams with road to the Super Bowl running through these prestigious franchises.  However I have to admit I am a fan of the kinder “Anything Can Happen” version of the NFL rather than the ’70s and ’80s Super Team model.  So hold-up,  Wait a minute…as  you have to admit that these improbable match-ups are pretty cool.  It will be league royalty (Steelers – 6 Lombardi Trophies and their 15th Championship Game appearance, the most since 1970) versus Ryan’s Running-at-the-Mouth Rebel J-E-T-S in the AFC Championship and the NFL’s most heated rivalry, the Bears and Packers, playing for the coveted NFC crown. 

Speaking of the NFC match-up, these  two teams locked horns in a Week 17  match-up where Chicago tried to leave their hated Black-and-Blue Division rival dead for the playoffs by not “resting” and playing everyone for a full 60 minutes.  But the red-hot Packers did get in the playoffs and now led by quarterback Aaron Rodgers, they are a road favorite.  Chicago Bears head coach Lovie Smith, who is shooting for his 2nd Super Bowl appearance, said of the upcoming game “It doesn’t get any better than the NFC Championship coming down to the Packers on our turf.  It’s the Packers and Bears to finish it up.”

Make no bones about it… people love gathering around to watch the NFL.  You know, CBS and FOX cannot wait for Sunday’s action as all four Divisional Playoff games averaged more than 30 million viewers for the first time ever and accounted for the four most-watched shows on television last week.  In fact, according to the latest Nielsen ratings, after a record-setting regular season and Wild Card Weekend, an average of 35.1 million viewers watched NFL games last weekend — the most ever for an NFL Divisional Weekend and a six percent increase from the 2009 round (33 million viewers).  The 35.1 million average surpasses the previous Divisional record of 34.2 million in 1993.  And the granddaddy of them all was last Sunday’s New York Jets-New England Patriots game on CBS which drew 43.5 million viewers ranking as the most-watched Divisional Playoff game ever and is the most-watched show since the record-setting Super Bowl XLIV last February. 

Hopefully the four remaining teams will focus on their precious opportunity to move-on to the Super Bowl and everything else that has transpired in the past 18 weeks doesn’t matter anymore.  As brash NY Jets head coach Rex Ryan recently said about his team trying to achieve their goal of making the Super Bowl, “If you can’t get motivated to win an AFC Championship, then you shouldn’t be in the building.”  The NFL is by far the best game going and that is why this time of the year on the league’s calendar is one to savor.  Sadly we all know the season will be over soon, but the next two weeks filled with the Conference Championships and then the hype of the leading to Super Bowl are over the top phenomenal to me – of course ommitting next week’s glorified vacation called the Pro Bowl in Hawaii.  The “big stage” is now alive for the Bears, Packers, Steelers, and NY Jets so now is the time for two teams to “Seize the Moment”.

Whatever happens in this Sunday’s games, this round of the playoffs is truly special as the NFL’s junior prizes — conference championship trophies (George Halas Trophy for the NFC and Lamar Hunt Trophy for the AFC) — and a trip to the Super Bowl are all on the line.  However players on all four teams better focus on first winning this Sunday before looking ahead to confetti laced on-field celebrations and planning trips to Super Bowl XLV in Dallas.  All the prepartion that the players and coaches have been through from OTA’s to training camp to the long grueling 17-week regular season, and two playoff rounds all hangs in the balance.  As Pittsburgh Steelers DE Brett Keisel said about his team trying to achieve their goal of making the Super Bowl, “We’re very excited to be going back to the AFC Championship Game, but it’s all for naught if we can’t take care of it.”

Trust me, as someone that has experienced the ultimate high and low from Championship Sunday while following the fortunes of the Philadelphia Eagles franchise from a very early age, I can attest to both potential drastic endings.  In terms of winning I can still feel the goose bumps from 1980 when the Eagles exorcised their demons against the hated Dallas Cowboys as running back Wilbert Montgomery, quarterback Ron Jaworski (Jaws), coach Dick Vermeil and the rest of the Birds finally could call themselves a “winner” and were making the ultimate trip to Super Bowl XXIV in New Orleans.  And the gut-wrenching pain from 2002 when Philly’s beloved Veterans Stadium’s last football game was a Championship Sunday loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers known as “The Day Gruden, Barber, Sapp, Keyshawn, and the Bucs Drove the Bulldozer Over the Vet”.

Alright that is enough remembrance of the good and bad times of the already on the sidelines Eagles as now is the time for the Packers, Steelers, Bears, and NY Jets to show their mettle. Surprisingly only the Steelers are a home favorite (-3.5) this week by Vegas while the surging Packers (-3.5) are a road favorite over the host underdog Bears. Everyone including yours truly will be pontificating on what will happen, but luckily the games will be played on the field and anything can happen — Any Given Sunday…right?? 

My predictions are soon two follow, but there is no doubting that both games are “Coin Flip” matchups in my opinion.  Plus you can never forget our always talked about playoff tenants of Strong Quarterback Play (i.e. Taking Care of the Football), Good Attacking Defense, a Balanced Offensive Attack based first in the Run, Sound Special Teams Play (Bears have edge here w/ Hester), Limiting Penalties/Turnovers, and just plain “Want-to” still being the key factors as to which teams will move on to Super Bowl XLV.

Some Lloyd’s Leftovers from Championship Sunday include:

Several Hot Teams are left – Over and over we say that it does matter how you start in the NFL, but how you finish.  This has never been more prevalent than this season as since the midseason (5-3 at the time), Green Bay have won seven of their last 10 games; Pittsburgh has won 7 of 10 and and so have the New York Jets; Chicago has won 6 of their last 10. 

Rodgers is ridiculous — Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers completed 31 of 36 passes (86.1 percent) for 366 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions for a 136.8 passer rating in Green Bay’s 48-21 victory over the Falcons last week.  Rodgers is the 1st player in NFL history to pass for at least 3 TDs in each of his first three postseason starts and his 129.4 career playoff passer rating is the best mark all-time (minimum 100 attempts).  Speaking of Rodgers, receiver Greg Jennings said, “Aaron played absolutely phenomenal.  It was a treat to play with him during that performance.”

Good Quarterback Play is the key this time of the year – We know that quarterbacks get too much praise for wins and too much blame for losses.  But this time of the year, the quarterbacks have to protect the football and be efficient. I hate to pile on Baltimore QB Joe Flacco, but his 16 of 30 for only 125 yards, 1 TD, and 1 huge INT effort last week was probably the major reason the Ravens had significant trouble in the divisional round.  This year’s final four QB’s includes one former Super Bowl participant (Ben Roethlisberger) and three young guns (Rodgers, Cutler, and Sanchez) looking for respect.  The four quarterbacks remaining have been very good at not turning the ball over (No INTs by the group last week) and they will need to continue that trend against a several tough defenses.

Road Warrior Teams in the playoffs – For years, teams fought to get home-field advantage in hopes that they would have an easier road to the Super Bowl.  However the 2005 Steelers and 2007 Giants showed that teams can get it done in hostile environments on the road to Super Bowl titles.  This year is following the aforementioned model as through the first two rounds, road teams have won 5 of 8 games tying 2005 for most road wins since the NFL went to 12 playoff teams in 1990.

Defenses coming to play – It has been said through out NFL history that defense wins championships and this year is no different.  The conference championship round will feature some good defenses from the regular season– 2nd ranked Steelers (276.8 yards per game), NY Jets (261.1), Packers (309.1).  The Bears, who were 9th in total defense during the regular season (314.3), have picked it up in the playoffs limiting their opponents to an average of 276 yards

Former Champs Abound — All of the teams participating in the Conference Championship round have won at least one Super Bowl title.  Those teams are Pittsburgh (1974, 1975, 1978, 1979, 2005, and 2008); Green Bay Packers (1966, 1967, and 1996); Bears (1985) and NY Jets (1968);

One last leftover: On a personal note, I am dedicating this piece to my Mother, Lloyia, who is currently fighting her way through some health issues.

2010 NFL Playoffs Championship Round Games

GREEN BAY PACKERS (12-6) at CHICAGO BEARS (12-5) (Sunday, FOX, 3:00 PM ET)

 

NEW YORK JETS (13-5) at PITTSBURGH STEELERS (13-4) (Sunday, CBS, 6:30 PM ET)      

 

 

Lloyd Vance is a Sr. NFL Writer for Taking It to the House and Sports Journey Network , who is also an award-winning member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA)

2010 NFL Wildcard Round: Eagles-Packers

The Packers will be looking for a big game from DB Charles Woodson when they take on the host Philadelphia Eagles at the Linc in the 2010 NFL Wildcard Round

Green Bay Packers (10-6) at Philadelphia Eagles (10-6), Sunday Jan. 9th, 4:30 p.m. ET on FOX

Broadcast Team: Joe Buck, Troy Aikman, and field reporters Pam Oliver and Chris Meyers

This Sunday afternoon’s Wildcard game will be a “Let’s Do It Again” moment, as the Green Bay Packers (NFC No. 6 seed) and Philadelphia Eagles (NFC No. 3 seed) will return right back where they started the 2010 NFL Season, facing each other at Lincoln Financial Field.  Their Week 1 game, which ended with Green Bay winning over the Eagles by a score of 27-20, set the tone for both teams in an improbable NFL Season that no one could have predicted. 

Green Packers head coach Mike McCarthy (2-1 for his career against the Eagles) said of making the playoffs, “I’m just proud of this team. We’ve had a difficult road we traveled this year and we’ve met every challenge.  We’re at 10 wins and one of the six teams in the NFC playoffs.  We’re excited as a football team.  We’re really looking forward to preparing this week and competing against Philadelphia in this tournament.” 

In that early September battle, no play was bigger than when Green Bay linebacker Clay Matthews (2nd in NFC w/ 13.5 sacks) ran down then-Eagles starting quarterback Kevin Kolb, knocking him out of the game with a concussion.  That play and then set the wheels in motion for the headlining redemption return of the Michael Vick Experience to the NFL.  In the Week 1 loss, backup QB Vick rallied the Eagles from a 17-point hole only to have everything come down to a Birds’ potential fourth-and-1 conversion on the Green Bay 42-yard line with two minutes left and a chance to tie the game at 27 points. However on that crucial 4th down play, Eagles head coach Andy Reid decided that Vick – who lined up in the shotgun formation —  should run a quarterback draw up the middle instead passing or getting the speedster to the edge. 

The Packers easily diagnosed the play and stuffed Vick for no gain to the ire of the Philadelphia Faithful.  The 4th down non-conversion was the cherry on top of game that saw the Eagles have injuries, poor offensive execution in first half, poor offensive line play, and penalties…I bet the Eagles will not wear the 1960 throwback jerseys that they wore in the loss.  But a lot has changed from both teams since their September match-up.  Vick said of the ‘new” Packers, “This is a totally different football team we’re talking about right now. They’re playing with a lot of confidence. (They’ve) definitely stepped it up when they needed to so. This is not the same football team we played earlier in the year, I can tell you that now.”

Surprisingly these two teams are only meeting for the 3rd time in the postseason with Philadelphia winning both prior postseason meetings.  The Birds defeated the Packers 17-13 in the 1960 NFL Championship Game – the Eagles last championships, which came 50 years ago — and no one can forget their 2003 NFC Divisional Playoff Game.  That game won by the Eagles by of score of 20-17 in overtime, will forever be known as the 4th and 26 Game, where QB Donovan McNabb found WR Freddie “FredEx” Mitchell to convert an almost improbable conversion on their way to a dramatic overtime win.  For those interested, Green Bay leads the all-time series 24-15, including the playoffs. Alright that is enough strolling down memory lane as fans are more interested in the game that will be played on Sunday between two teams that sport two top-rated passers that love to “Air it out”. 

Reid (10-8 for his career in the playoffs) said of the challenge of facing the Packers, “Both teams are better than they were at the time.  We look forward to the challenge.  They have a good football team and we have a good football team.  It should be a heck of a game.”  The interesting thing with Green Bay is that they are red-hot have won 3 of their last 5 games including two consecutive wins to make the playoffs.  But don’t forget, that Green Bay despite all their big offensive stats are still searching for their first postseason win of the Aaron Rodgers’ era.

Rodgers, a surprising Pro Bowl snub, led the NFC conference with a 101.2 passer rating.  While his counterpart, Vick (bruised quad), has been the greatest story of the 2010 NFL Season.  The once vilified convicted dogfighter became the NFC’s starting quarterback in the Pro Bowl by doing the right things off the field and becoming the league’s most surprising pocket passer at age 30.  And this game is another opportunity for Vick and Reid to show that their young Birds (average age 26) are ready for playoff glory.  Vick (2010 passing numbers of 233-372, 3018 yards, 21 TDs and 6 INTs plus 678 rushing yards and 9 TDs) was second to Rodgers in quarterback rating (100.2),  but it was his explosiveness and symbiotic relationship with big play receiver DeSean Jackson that has everyone in the NFL buzzing.  Vick, who had a career-defining win over the Packers way back in a 2002 postseason as a Falcon,  became the NFL’s first player with at least 3,000 passing yards (3,018), 20 touchdowns passes (21), 500 rushing yards (678) and seven rushing touchdowns (nine) in the same season.

Offensively, the Packers  love leaning on Rodgers throwing the football to his bevy of receivers including James Jones, Jordy Nelson, Donald Driver, and Greg Jennings (76 receptions for 1,265 yards, 16.6 ypc, and 12 TDs – 1st in NFC).  But I think one of the biggest keys on Sunday will be Green Bay’s ability to establish the run with unknown rushers Brandon Jackson (18 carries for 63 yards in Week 1 win over Philadelphia), John Kuhn (6 TDs) and rookie James Starks .  Getting a running game against the Eagles — allowed an average of over 100 rushing yards per game — should tire-out Philadelphia’s smallish defense while keeping Vick, Jackson, and the rest of the Birds fastbreak offense on the sidelines. 

Conversely the Eagles sometimes maligned defense – allowed opponents to score 77% in the redzone, which was the worst in the NFL in 25 years — will need to get a solid effort from rookie MLB Jamar Chaney and the rest of their defense to move on to the divisional round.  All season, the Eagles have allowed a ton of offensive yards ( average of 327.2 yards per game) but have routinely come-up with timely turnovers when it has mattered most (+9 in turnover ratio for 3rd in NFC and produced 22 INTs).  But these are the playoffs and turnovers cannot be counted on, so my key for the Eagles’ defense is not allowing Rodgers to stay clean in the pocket.  Look for Eagles defensive coordinator Sean McDermott to dial-up “pressure” against the Rodgers (312-475, 3922 yards, 28 TDs and 11 INTs), as he still maybe feeling the effects of a concussion that forced him to miss a game late in the regular season.  It is now or never for McDermott and his defensive unit — allowed 377 points for an average of almost 23.5 points per game -– as the white-hot glare of the playoffs is upon them.  The most pressure has to be on the Eagles young secondary, which is starting a rookie free safety (Kurt Coleman) and an undrafted free agent journeyman type corner (Dimitri Patterson).  The Packers put up an average of 358.1 offensive yards a game and scored 388 points in 2010.  So the challenge will be for the Eagles’ Defense finding help from players, like DE Darryl Tapp, as injuries have been hard on this unit in 2010 — players like DT Jeff Owens (knee) FS Nate Allen (knee), DE Brandon Graham (knee) and starting MLB Stewart Bradley (elbow).  Definitely expect McDermott, as is the case almost every week, to lean on his two defensive star players, Pro Bowl CB Asante Samuel (First in NFC w/ 7 INTs) and DE Trent Cole (10 sacks).

When the 2010 NFC East Champion Eagles have the ball offensively, they will need to get more out of their running game (called 55 passes and only ran it 16 times in their crucial Week 16 loss to the Minnesota Vikings) and establish emerging RB LeSean McCoy(207 rushes for 1080 yards, 5.2 ypr, and 7 TDs plus 78 receptions for 592 yards and 2 TDs) on  draws and screens.  Of course any mention of running the ball on the Packers starts with blocking huge NT BJ Raji and I am not sure the Eagles underachieving O-line (Vick sacked over 50 times) is ready for the challenge.  The Eagles lack of a running game and their recent offensive line woes must be corrected for them to have any chance to win.  Late season match-ups with the NY Giants (first half) and Vikings showed that Vick can be affected by blitzing (completing around 55% when blitzed). 

The Vikings, in particular, may have written the anti-Vick handbook as they harassed the Pro Bowl player all-day – finished with 6 sacks and hit him double-digit times.  In the Vikings game, the constant pressure on Vick also caused his timing with explosive Pro Bowl WR Jackson (only 3 catches) to be thrown off as well .   To combat the Packers anticipated attacking scheme — ranked among the top five in the NFL in nearly every pass defense category plus had 24 INTs — the Eagles will need for McCoy, Jackson, his receiving partner Jeremy Maclin, and TE Brent Celek  to get their touches early.  All season, Philadelphia has been a different team when playing with an early lead.  However you can count on Matthews and his fellow linebackers that play in Dom Capers 3-4 scheme plus former 2009 Defensive MVP DB Charles Woodson (make Vick nemesis Antoine Winfield look like a baby) to bring their A-game against the Eagles. Vick said of the challenge of facing the Packers’ tough defense, “I’m gonna be me.  Still play my game, still play with confidence, still rally the guys around me, make sure they’re focused in tune with what we’re trying to do, what we’re trying to accomplish. That’s what’s important. You can’t change your game at this point of the season. You can’t point fingers and say, ‘If this would have happened, if that would have happened.'”

If the Eagles are to have any success against Matthews and his mates, Vick will need to make plays in and out of the pocket plus spread the ball around to everyone especially, the recently-hot Celek. McCarthy said of the challenge of facing Vick, “Having a week to prepare for him, having a full season to study him will definitely be a benefit going into this game, as opposed to playing in the opener preparing for a quarterback with his first big-time start and Vick came in as the backup. I think it gives us a better chance to be a little more rehearsed in some of the things in exactly how they’re going to come at us.”  Vick summed up the playoffs succinctly by recently saying, “It’s the postseason. Win or go home. That should motivate everybody. Do your job or you won’t be playing next week.” 

LV’s Pick: I have been wrestling with this one all week as the Packers have an offense that strikes fear around the entire NFL and the Eagles have struggled recently both offensively and defensively.  However the Packers have only won three out of eight road victories this season. Plus also in play is the fact that the Eagles have lost their final two home games of the 2010 regular season and  have the worst home record (4-4) of any playoff team.  But I believe a phase no one is talking about, special teams, will be a huge factor in this game.  And you have to give the edge to the Eagles here as they have Pro Bowl kicker David Akers (led NFL with 143 points) and Jackson will be back returning punts in this important battle. Another deciding factor for me, is that Reid is 3-0 at home in the Wildcard Round and Big Red also knows how to get his team ready for their first playoffs game (7-1 in openers). So all that said, I am going with the Eagles in a nail-biter — Eagles win 23-20

 

 

Lloyd Vance is a Sr. NFL Writer for Taking It to the House and an award-winning member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA)