The N.F.C.’s road to the Super Bowl has the feel of an old time Battle Royal. Any of the six teams has a legitimate shot to run the table. Last man standing wins a trip to New Jersey to represent the conference in Super Bowl 48.
New Orleans Saints: The Fleur de Lis play much faster on turf. Another Super Bowl ring would elevate Drew Brees to all time great status, but probably not happening this year.
Philadelphia Eagles: MVP candidate Nick Foles leads the uptempo Oregon Ducks East attack. LeSean McCoy may be the best back in the N.F.L and DeSean Jackson gives the Eagles a home run threat on the outside. Team is peaking at the right time and will be a tough out.
Saints vs. Eagles Matchup: Has the potential to be a shootout. On paper, the Saints are as talented as the Eagles. Unfortunately for Sean Payton the game isn’t on paper but in Philly. Eagles will outscore the Saints in a track meet at the Linc.
Green Bay Packers: Aaron Rodgers leads a Green Bay team into the playoffs on the final week, circa 2010. Eddie Lacy gives the Pack a credible running game for the first time in years, sorry John Kuhn. Randall Cobb is healthy just in time to join running mates Jordy Nelson and James Jones for postseason fun. A dangerous team, but a porous defense will be their Achilles heel.
San Francisco 49ers: A comparable defense to the Carolina Panthers and Seattle Seahawks with more firepower. Colin Kaepernick has steadied his play after a shaky start. Michael Crabtree, Anquan Boldin and Vernon Davis give Kaepernick a troika of accomplished receivers. Frank Gore keeps chugging along, it feels like he’s been around since the Jeff Garcia era.
49ers vs. Packers Matchup: A rematch of last years divisional round game, but this time at Lambeau. Kaepernick’s offense should give the Pack’s defense fits again. Rodgers leads a formidable bunch, but the Niners defense will get their share of stops. The Fighting Harbaughs pull away in the second half setting up a heavyweight matchup in the divisional round against the Seattle Seahawks.
Carolina Panthers: The Rodney Dangerfield of the N.F.C., the Panthers defense gets little of the respect that the Niners or the Seattle Seahawks defenses do, but is just as effective. Luke Kuechly and Greg Hardy spearhead the group. Cam Newton is a dynamic dual threat quarterback, but his offense lacks a dynamic playmaker. The defense could carry this team, but a lack of scoring may end up costing them.
Seattle Seahawks: Pete Carroll and company enjoy home field advantage through the playoffs. The bedlam at CenturyLink Field is probably worth three points a game. The swarming, physical defense steps up its already imposing play at home. Russell Wilson and bell cow back Marshawn Lynch lead an otherwise limited offense. If the Hawks can talk Steve Largent out of retirement he might be their number one receiver.
Seattle has been the best team in the N.F.L. all year and the home field advantage is a huge plus. Philadelphia is streaking into the playoffs led by young gun Foles. But the 49ers are the best team on either side of the playoff bracket, they and their quarterback are peaking at the right time. If the Niners stay healthy, look for them to emerge from this group.