Green Bay Packers (11-5) @
San Francisco 49ers (11-4-1)
The Green Bay Packers have the worst offensive line in the NFL. After matching up with a mediocre Minnesota defense, Aaron Rodgers now has to go up against the No. 1 overall defense in the NFC, the San Francisco 49ers.
Having been sacked 51 times this season (most in the NFL), the Packers’ quarterback will not have an easy night against the likes of Pro Bowler Aldon Smith (19.5 sacks) and Justin Smith, who is returning to the defensive line after being sidelined since partially tearing his left triceps in Week 15 at New England. Though he will be playing injured, Justin Smith’s presence on the line should help Aldon Smith, who was not able break free and record a sack in Justin’s absence.
Then of course, up the middle is the tandem of Pro Bowl linebackers Patrick Willis and Navorro Bowman, who combined for a total of 269 tackles this year. Against them in Week 1, the Packers were only able to rush for a total of 45 yards, meaning this game, as expected, will be in the hands of Rodgers.
On defense, Green Bay has the disadvantage of going up against a quarterback they have not faced before. Colin Kaepernick will bring versatility and strength to the game — factors that the Packers did not face in Week 1 against then-starting quarterback Alex Smith.
Running-wise, Frank Gore will benefit from a bye week, as he brings the fourth-ranked rushing offense up against the 20th-ranked rushing defense.
The outcome of this game will depend upon Rodgers’ passing performance, but despite his elite receiving corps running at full strength, the pair of bull-rushing Smiths will not allow him enough time in the pocket. He still should be able to get off some good passes as usual, but if the 49er offense can keep their turnovers minimal, and keep the ball out of Rodgers’ hands as much as possible, they should come out on top.
San Francisco – 23
Green Bay – 20
Seattle Seahawks (11-5) @
Atlanta Falcons (13-3)
It’s hard not to jump on the Seattle Seahawks’ bandwagon by now, but as long as they’re away from CentralLink Field, I’m still skeptical.
Coming away with a 10-point road win last week in Washington may seem convincing, but they did it against a diminished Robert Griffin III. What concerned me was the way that the Washington Redskins started out against the No. 1 scoring defense in the NFL. They scored 14 points in the first quarter, showing weakness in Seattle’s secondary. Then Griffin’s injuries came into play and the Seahawks took advantage played with an advantage as he continued to play hurt.
Now they have to go up against a completely healthy passing unit that has thrived this year. This season, receivers Roddy White, Julius Jones and tight end Tony Gonzalez combined for 264 receptions, 3,479 yards and 25 touchdowns this season. The duo of Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner will be able to hinder Ryan’s passing game slightly, but White and Jones will get the better of them on more than one occasion.
Perhaps the most concerning fact coming into this game for the Seahawks is that they will not have leading pass-rusher Chris Clemons, after he tore his ACL against the Redskins. This will give Ryan more time in the pocket, thus allowing him more time to find an open option.
Offensively, Seattle should get most of its yards on the ground. Last week, the Seahawks trampled the No. 1 rushing defense in the league, accumulating 224 yards on the ground. This week, they have an easy transition to the 21st-ranked Atlanta rushing defense, so they should be able to pile up the yards on the ground yet again.
It will be no surprise if the Falcons give up a lot of total yards in this game, as they’re ranked 24th in the league in that category, but their defense has the ability to stop opposing teams in their own territory — at home the Falcons have averaged giving up just 17 points per game.
The Seahawks may out-gain Atlanta in total yards on Sunday, but I think Matt Ryan will finally win his first NFL playoff game with the help of some clutch defense from the Dirty Birds.
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Taylor Snow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed on Twitter @taylorcsnow.