NFC playoff Q&A: Saints won't repeat
While champs falter, a healthy Michael Vick can lead Eagles over formidable field
OK, fine. The AFC was the stronger conference during the regular season. I'll concede that much.Just don't underestimate what the NFC has going for it as the playoffs begin. For one, the defending Super Bowl champions (the New Orleans Saints) didn't suffer the same hangover that has crippled the repeat hopes of past winners. The NFL's most exciting offense (the Philadelphia Eagles) is primed to take a shot at making it to Dallas in February. Throw in another team that has regained its bite (the Chicago Bears) and another that has ranked among the league's elite all season (the Atlanta Falcons), and you've got what should be some compelling matchups. So while the NFC playoff picture wasn't decided until Sunday night -- when the Green Bay Packers and Seattle Seahawks became the final two entries -- it will be just as exciting as whatever happens in the other conference this month. Here are 10 questions on the NFC playoffs: 1. Will the Saints repeat? No. The Saints proved they had staying power by winning 11 games this season, but they won't have the luxury of home-field advantage this year. Their offense isn't nearly as dominant without a strong running game to complement Drew Brees' passing, and leading rusher Chris Ivory recently became the latest back to go down with an injury. That doesn't mean New Orleans will wither away in the first round. The Saints are definitely good enough to beat the NFC West champion Seahawks on the road. But they're going into the playoffs with too many dinged-up players to win again at Atlanta, and any games played in chilly inclement weather (see Chicago or Philadelphia) won't bode well for them, either.
2.Will Michael Vick be contained during the playoffs?
8. Which defensive player has the best chance of being this year's X factor in the postseason?
9. Which player needs to improve his production to help his team thrive this postseason?Greg Olsen. The Bears tight end has had far too little impact for a player who's one of the best weapons on the Bears' offense. After catching 114 passes over the previous two seasons, Olsen has grabbed 41 this season. Just as troubling is that he's had seven games this season in which he's caught only one pass or none. Some of this has to be attributed to: (1) the Bears' offensive line problems earlier this season and (2) Martz's inability to ever maximize the talents of any tight end, gifted or otherwise. (He had the same problem with Vernon Davis in San Francisco.) Regardless, the Bears can make life easier on Cutler if Olsen becomes a prominent player again. 10. Who is going to win the NFC? Philadelphia. The Eagles have been scary since Vick became their starter, and they could be even better once the postseason begins (as long as he stays healthy). Head coach Andy Reid -- who knows a thing or two about coaching at this time of year -- has done his finest job with a squad that nobody saw reaching these heights so quickly. At this point, we'll say Vick leads the Eagles into Atlanta for the NFC Championship Game. When he leaves that town again, he'll have added one more chapter to what already has been a storybook season. Senior writer Jeffri Chadiha covers the NFL for ESPN.com.
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