In the last edition we focused on the AFC, but now it’s the NFC’s turn. The Green Bay Packers secured the number one seed and thus won’t be playing a part this week. However, we’re still treated to three tasty matchups for the weekend. Of the two conferences, the NFC seems to be the one that is more up for grabs. Just about everyone except for Philadelphia (sorry Eagles fans) has a legitimate reason for why they believe they will be in the Super Bowl. But before we get too ahead of ourselves let’s look at this weekend’s matchups.
#7 Philadelphia Eagles @ #2 Tampa Bay Buccaneers
This is a matchup of the last two teams from the NFC to win the Super Bowl. It’s also a rematch of a week six affair that saw the Buccaneers win 28-22. But much has changed from that previous meeting. For one, Antonio Brown is no longer with the Buccaneers. The same goes for Zach Ertz, who caught a touchdown in that game with the Eagles. Despite these absences both teams come into this matchup full of momentum and belief. So, let’s see what the difference between the two teams will be.
The most glaring mismatch between the two teams would be at the QB position. That isn’t to say that Jalen Hurts is a terrible QB. Far from it, but Tom Brady so happens to be on the other side and few QBs compare favorably to him. That being said, Jalen doesn’t have to out-throw Brady to win this game. His dual threat abilities will cause the Buccaneers defense headaches if he’s allowed to run free. Rookie WR Devonta Smith is Hurts’ favorite and most dangerous weapon. Those two need to link up early and often in this game. The longer the offense can keep Brady off the field the better.
The Eagles defense will also be tasked with getting Brady off the field. In their last meeting Brady did his damage early in the game, and that was enough to get the win. This time around the defense will be hoping for a better start to the game. The Eagle’s defense has held opponents to less than 20 points in four of their last five games. The one game that their opponent scored over 20 was last week, when Philadelphia benched most of their starters. Keeping the Buccaneers out of the end zone will be the main goal for this unit. A low scoring game benefits the Eagles much more than Tampa.
Tampa comes into this game looking to successfully defend their title. Of course, they are led by Tom Brady, who’s surrounded by a host of weapons. Leonard Fournette is the chief running back and has a knack for getting the tough yards. Chris Godwin and Mike Evans form a deadly duo that Brady loves to use. Of course, there’s no one that Brady loves to throw to more than Gronk. The duo connected many times in New England and have brought that spark down to Tampa. Offensively this team looks ready to put up a bunch of points.
Defensively this Tampa unit has had their ups and downs. Lately they have been playing much better, but questions will still linger. The defense tends to let lesser offenses score on them in a hurry, like against the Jets two weeks ago. Even against the Bills when they completely shut that offense down in the first half, they regressed and let the Bills offense roll all over them in the second half. Maybe that’s just the lull of the regular season, but it should still be a cause for concern. It might not make a difference this week, but the inconsistent play could be costly.
Verdict: Buccaneers 27 Eagles 17
#6 San Francisco 49ers @ #3 Dallas Cowboys
Of the six matchups this weekend this is the only one that features two teams that didn’t play each other in the regular season. That, however, doesn’t mean there isn’t a spark to this matchup. The Cowboys and the Niners have battled many times in the playoffs. Now a newer generation gets to renew the rivalry once again. The stage is set as these two old rivals will try to get one over each other yet again.
The Niners bullied their way into the playoffs by once again defeating the Rams. Had they failed to win that game their season would’ve been over. The heroic efforts of Jimmy Garoppolo saved their season and has led them to this moment. Even though he came up huge in the last game, the offense lives and dies on the shoulders of two other players. Deebo Samuel and Elijah Mitchell are the lifeblood to this offense. Without these two gentlemen the Niners season would’ve been over months ago. Getting these two players involved as well as their tight end George Kittle is key for a Niner victory.
The Niners defense has really stepped in up the last month or two with smothering performances. After giving up 17 points in the first half last week, the unit buckled down and only allowed seven the rest of the game. A continuation of that level of performance is one of the key reasons the Niners might be a dark horse. The Dallas offense boasts quite a few threats and the Niners defense will need to be at their best. The Cowboys will get their passing yards, but the real key will be whether the running game will be allowed to thrive.
The Cowboys come into this game as champions of the NFC East and feeling good after getting their mojo back last week. Even though Philadelphia elected to rest their starters, the Cowboys refused to do so. The reason was to get the offense back into rhythm, and it’s safe to say it was successful. With Dak Prescott at the helm, this Dallas offense looks poised to finally make some noise in the playoffs. He’s surrounded by weapons such as Zeke Elliott, CeeDee Lamb, and Amari Cooper. Those three make life easier for Dak and, in turn, help the team win. The question will be can they use this momentum to their advantage in the playoffs.
The Cowboys defense is led by their two young stars Micah Parsons and Trevon Diggs. Parsons is a legitimate defensive player of the year candidate. He has shown this season to be a real nightmare for opposing QBs. He will need to continue having an impact if the Cowboys want to continue playing. Diggs on the other hand is a boom or bust type of player. When he’s on he’s really good and will create turnovers at a high clip. When he’s off that usually spells trouble as he tends to give up big plays. Dallas will need the boom version of Diggs this week.
Verdict: 49ers 27 Cowboys 24
#5 Arizona Cardinals @ #4 Los Angeles Rams
This will be the third and final time that these two teams meet with bragging rights on the line. In recent history the Rams have dominated this matchup, but Arizona thrashed them in their first matchup. The Rams responded by getting revenge later on in the season. Neither team covered themselves in glory to end the regular season. Both teams suffered disappointing defeats that could prove damaging to their Super Bowl aspirations. With that said, this is a grudge match and form goes out the window for these types of games.
At the beginning of the season Cardinals QB Kyler Murray was playing at an MVP level. Unfortunately for Arizona fans he’s faded down the stretch. It doesn’t make him any less of a threat, as he can easily have a monster game. He will have to do so without his top weapon, Deandre Hopkins, who is out for this game. RB James Conner should help with the offensive load as he grinds out those tough yards. The key for this offense will be to take advantage of any turnovers their defense produces.
Speaking of the Cardinal’s defense, this unit has a big job on their hands. The Rams offense can at times be dangerous, but at the same time make plenty of mistakes. Recently the Rams have turned the ball over at a high clip. It will be up to Chandler Jones and his defense to keep that trend going. They may not be able to fully stop the Rams offense but forcing several turnovers will surely lead to victory.
The Rams offense is manned by QB Matthew Stafford. After spending his entire career in Detroit, he was traded to the Rams in hopes of a championship. Like Arizona, the season started off really well as he was in the MVP discussion. He too faded as the season progressed and now there are some questions over his recent play. Stafford has reverted to his high turnover rate that plagued him in Detroit. He will need to avoid turning the ball over in this game. One way to do that would be to run the ball, as Arizona’s run defense proved vulnerable last week. Whether or not the Rams remain disciplined enough to run the ball could be the difference.
To say that there is star power on this Rams defense would be an understatement. They are led by Aaron Donald, who is arguably the best defender in the league. He’s helped by stars Von Miller and Jalen Ramsey as they looked to shut down Arizona’s offense. With no DeAndre Hopkins to cover, it will be interesting to see how the Rams deploy Ramsey. Meanwhile Miller will have his hands full trying to contain Murray. The offense will likely make mistakes, and when they do it will be up to this unit to minimize the damage. If they can succeed at that then they boost their chances at winning.
Verdict: Rams 27 Cardinals 20