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NFC Wildcard Showdowns 2023

ByTim Lazenby

Jan 10, 2023 #NFC

NFC Wildcard Showdowns 2023

By Tim Lazenby

 

Seattle Seahawks (7) at San Francisco 49ers (2)

Last Game

San Francisco won 21-13 (Dec 15, 2022)

All Time Record

Seattle Leads 39-13, Last met in the playoffs in 2013

 

Seattle Seahawks 9-8-0

The season for Pete Carroll and crew has not gone as expected.  When you hear that term, it’s usually negative but this can’t be further from the truth in this circumstance.  After shipping out the last of their championship team in Bobby Wagner and Russell Wilson, most fans and pundits alike predicted a complete rebuild for this team.  Despite journeyman Geno Smith manning the controls, the Seahawks have not only performed better than predicted, but they’ve landed themselves with a chance to win it all. All that stands in their way is a team that is eager to make up for their SuperBowl defeat that seemingly happened just yesterday.

 

Seattle Offense per game

Passing 231.4 (11th), Rushing 120.1 (18th), Points 23.9 (9th), 3rd down % 37.8 (20th)

Seattle Defense per game

Passing 211.5 (13th), Rushing 150.2 (30th), Points 23.6 (25th), 3rd down % 42.3 (27th)

 

Seattle Top Storyline

I can’t think of a greater storyline than Geno Smith.  Once thought to be a bust, the former first rounder has stepped it up in a way that seems storylike.  The patience, poise and prowess of this veteran have been amazing, especially considering all the doubt and hate along the way.   And I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Pete Carroll.  For years some fans and experts have linked Carroll’s past success to an insane defense and scrappy Russell Wilson, but Carroll is showing that he’s a coach who stands on his own two feet and one not to be trifled with.

San Francisco 13-4-0

The 49ers came insanely close to finishing first in the conference and gaining themselves a bye, but the slow start to the season could not be surmounted and they’ll be battling in Wild Card Week.  After starting 3-4 while losing to the likes of the Bears, Broncos and Falcons, it was a bleak look for the city of San Francisco.  Fast forward to now, the acquisition of Christian McCaffrey, emergence of Brock Purdy and a terrifying defense have allowed the 49ers to be a perfect 9-0 since their bye week.  In this time of perfection, the 49ers have outscored their opponents 274-130.

San Francisco Offense per game

Passing 226.8 (13th), Rushing 138.8 (8th), Points 26.5 (6th), 3rd down % 45.0 (6th)

San Francisco Defense per game

Passing 222.9 (20th), Rushing 77.7 (2nd), Points 16.3 (1st), 3rd down % 39.0 (16th)

 

San Francisco Top Storyline

It’s hard to look anywhere but Brock Purdy in this Wild Card matchup for me.  Featuring one of the most talented and star powered lineups in years, Mr. Irrelevant holds the fate of the organization in the palms of his hands.  You have to question when the Cinderella story ends.  In the history of the league, a rookie quarterback has never won it all, let alone even been to the big game.  But, let’s face it, the unlikely story of the 262nd pick in last year’s draft continues to cause even the most hardened hearts to soften.  Time will tell if the record books will need to be rewritten in February.

 

How Seattle Will Win

Although Kenneth Walker has been a revelation and Pete Carroll traditionally uses a run heavy offense, Geno Smith, Tyler Lockett and D.K. Metcalf will need to expose the one weakness of the 49ers defense.  Lockett and Metcalf may be one of the most underrated receiving tandems in the league, but they’ll need to be on full display.  And although Geno Smith has never started a playoff game in his career, he’ll need to dig deep into all his NFL experience thus far to out-savvy the rookie Brock Purdy.

 

How San Francisco Will Win

It’s quite obvious that the strength of the 49ers is their insanely talented defense.  Despite offensive weapons that many teams are jealous of, the defense is the meat and potatoes of this team’s success.  Limiting this very inexperienced Seattle team will be key to winning this game.  The 49ers will need to step it up with their secondary and they need to be better than their 3rd down defense has been thus far.  And while they are going in with Brock Purdy flying high, he must continue to put all doubts to rest and keep showing all the haters wrong.

Prediction

San Francisco overcomes an early deficit to win by more than a touchdown.

 

 

New York Giants (6) at Minnesota Vikings (3)

 

Last game

Minnesota wins 27-24 (December 24th, 2022)

All Time Record

Minnesota leads 18-12, Last met in the playoffs in 2001

 

New York Giants 9-7-1

Things have been rough for a while when it comes to the Giants, but thanks to a massive improvement under first year coach Brian Dabboll, this will be their first postseason trip since 2016.  After a magical 6-1 start, the wheels really fell off the cart down the stretch for the G-Men.  Fortunately, their early season success did them well enough to overcome their later stumbles.  And while the Giants face a juggernaut in the Vikings, New York certainly looks about as scrappy as they come.  We’ll see how far Dabboll can spread his magic when it really counts.

 

New York Offense per game

Passing 185.7 (26th), Rushing 148.2 (4th), Points 21.5 (15th), 3rd down % 36.8 (22nd)

New York Defense per game

Passing 214.0 (14th), Rushing 144.2 (27th), Points 21.8 (17th), 3rd down % 35.1 (5th)

 

New York Top Storyline

While all eyes lay on Saquon Barkley and his first postseason run in the NFL, I’ll be watching Daniel Jones fervently.  In one of the biggest markets in the league, it certainly hasn’t been easy on Jones.  I know he hasn’t been perfect, but the roller coaster ride in the Big Apple is either going to end terribly this offseason or continue forward in triumph.  Jones is a free agent this offseason and he happens to be one of the bigger names.  If he does well, the Giants are sure to want him back, but if Jones is a klutz in New York’s first chance since 2016, I fear Joe Schoen, who did not draft Jones, will make no qualms about starting fresh with a quarterback he gets to choose.

 

Minnesota Vikings 13-4-0

After failing to accomplish a winning record last year, management handed the keys to Kevin O’Connell in hopes that he’d right the ship.  Not only have the Vikings redeemed themselves, but their 13 win season has only been accomplished twice before in franchise history.  All eyes are on Cousins and his third fully guaranteed contract in a row to see if he can finally bring them all the way to the finish line.  They haven’t been to the Finals since 1976 and fans are getting tired of waiting.  With their best shot in years, will management be looking for a scapegoat if they fail?

 

Minnesota Offense per game

Passing 263.8 (6th), Rushing 97.7 (27th), Points 24.9 (8th), 3rd down % 41.2 (12th)

Minnesota Defense per game

Passing 265.6 (31st), Rushing 123.1 (20th), Points 25.1 (28th), 3rd down % 38.1 (11th)

 

Minnesota Top Storyline

There is no more interesting storyline in Minnesota heading into the postseason than the amount of nail biters they’ve been in.  In fact, not only have they been in a record number, but they are perfect thus far in one score games.  Lady Luck is only so generous and you have to wonder how many times they can wish on her good favour.  If the Vikings are forced into any more extremely close games, I worry they won’t be able to muster the wins much longer.  Half of the wins this year have needed game winning drives and if even four went another way, the Vikings would be playing golf.

 

How New York Will Win

Although the team runs through Saquon, he alone won’t be enough to overcome the offense from the Vikings.  Truth be told, the Vikings have a lot of talent on defense, but they haven’t looked it.  And due to this situation, the Giants will have many ways to make the Vikings pay.  That being said, if the Giants try to overuse their greatest weapon, the predictability will be their undoing.  I know the combination of having one of the best at the position and a lack of other starpower makes it tempting to lean heavily on Saquon, but I hope Dabboll will choose to spread out his offensive attempts.

 

How Minnesota Will Win

Like I mentioned earlier, the achilles heel of this team is their inability to win by large margins.  Winning nearly every game by one score is not the recipe for success.  And depending on game winning drives to get that W will only lead to failure and frustration in the long run.  It’s also important for the Vikings to step it up on defense.  Featuring a very good squad, they haven’t always looked that way.  Carrying the load, Justin Jefferson isn’t superhuman, even though he looks like it, and he needs the other side of the team to step up.  The ineffectiveness of the defense will catch up, despite the powerful offense, when games truly matter.

 

Prediction

Minnesota finally loses a one score game this year by way of a field goal.

 

 

Dallas Cowboys (5) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4)

Last game

Tampa Bay won 19-3 (Sept 11, 2022)

All Time Record

Dallas Leads 15-6-0, Last met in the playoffs in 1983

 

Dallas Cowboys 12-5-0

It’s crazy how good the Cowboys were this season without securing the top spot in the division.  Had it not been for the resurgence of the Eagles, the Cowboys wouldn’t be facing a losing team on the road.  The Cowboys are scary good.  I’ll admit, I thought they’d regress this season due to what I thought was a lack of depth but I was dead wrong.  A team that is good on all three phases, the Cowboys will be a terrifying team to face, no matter the opponent.  Will they make good on it this time around?

 

Dallas Offense per game

Passing 219.8 (14th), Rushing 135.2 (9th), Points 27.5 (4th), 3rd down % 45.5 (5th)

Dallas Defense per game

Passing 200.9 (8th), Rushing 129.3 (22nd), Points 20.1 (5th), 3rd down % 37.7 (9th)

 

Dallas Top Storyline

After winning defensive rookie of the year last season, many wondered how Micah Parsons would regress.  Let’s just say people only got a taste of what was to come.  It’s true that Dallas is full of fantastic options on defense, but it all begins and ends with Micah Parsons.  He’s truly in the upper echelon of the NFL’s most menacing defenders and it will be very interesting to see how the Cowboys’ leader on defense runs things.  He’s sure to make life miserable for any quarterback and I can’t wait to see how he kills opponents’ hopes this postseason.  He isn’t content to lose in the Wild Card again.

 

Tampa Bay Buccaneers 8-9-0

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are miles from the SuperBowl winning team or even that of last season.  And while we can blame many of their woes on some forgivable reasons, their failure to dominate in one of the two worst divisions in football has been unnerving.  The Bucs have managed a feat that has only been done three times in the history of the league in that they have won their division with a losing record.  It seems like they’ll easily be destroyed, but let’s remember this team is full of veterans who’ve tasted glory and one of them is the best to ever play the game. 

 

Tampa Bay Offense per game

Passing 269.8 (2nd), Rushing 76.9 (32nd), Points 18.4 (25th), 3rd down % 37.4 (21st)

Tampa Bay Defense per game

Passing 203.6 (8th), Rushing 120.7 (15th), Points 21.1 (13th), 3rd down % 36.9 (6th)

 

Tampa Bay Top Storyline

How can we mention any other name or situation than Tom Brady?  It seems like he never misses.  In fact, the only season he was forced to watch other teams play in the postseason was in his rookie season of 2002.  He’s doing things that people never thought were possible and you can never count him out.  The team is far more talented than their record indicates and Brady has the ability to take it into a mode that no one else can.  Win or lose, the ride will be thrilling and one to be remembered.

 

How Dallas Will Win

The Cowboys have had tons of success this season.  The offense has scored 40 or more points four times this season and the defense has held the other team to 10 or less points five times.  But the main engine that keeps this team running smoothly is one of the best tandems in the NFL.  When Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard are at their best the Cowboys are nearly unstoppable.  I’m not discounting the things that Dak, CeeDee and the defense do, but the 1-2 punch in the backfield is their bread and butter.  I don’t know many teams that are equipped to handle Zeke and Pollard.  And if forced to focus on them, the rest of the Cowboys will pick you apart.

 

How Tampa Bay Will Win

Tampa Bay has struggled in many ways this year, but the biggest has been with their ground game.  In the opposite of Dallas’ success in the backfield, the Buccaneers have the absolute worst ground game in the entire NFL and I was shocked to see it.  Leonard Fournette just hasn't been the same man from last season and Rachaad White, good as he is, can’t do it on his own.  If Dallas has a weakness on defense, it’s their inability to contain running backs and if Tampa Bay wants to have a chance at this game, they’ll need Leonard Fournette to play like he used to.

Prediction

Dallas wins, taking the lead and never looking back.