Bears, Cowboys will disappoint
What will be the biggest playoff surprise? What rookie will come up big? Our experts know all.
The playoffs are looming, so it's time to go to our experts to get answers to our Burning Questions.
1. What will be the biggest surprise?
Mark Schlereth: New Orleans' defense will rise to the occasion and help lead the Saints to the Super Bowl. The Saints' D has given up big plays, but it's underrated. New Orleans executes well and will elevate its game. They will come together, especially with a week off to rest and get ready.
Eric Allen: The Saints' going into Chicago and handily beating the Bears will be the surprise of the playoffs. The Saints will control the game from beginning to end. Saints coach Sean Payton does a great job getting his guys ready to win, and they do a great job executing his game plan.
2. What will be the biggest disappointment?
Mark Schlereth: The Chicago Bears. It's ridiculous that a team that finished three games ahead of the No. 2 seed in the conference won't represent that conference, but the Bears have too many flaws to make the Super Bowl.
Eric Allen: The Cowboys. This is a team that might be as bad as it has played despite the enormous amount of talent on the field. They are still very capable, but the expectations are way too high. They aren't jelling well, and everything in the locker room is spewing out into the open. Winning playoff teams have a cohesiveness. This team doesn't have that, and it's going to cost them.
3. What will people say about Peyton Manning after the playoffs?
Eric Allen: The comparisons to great quarterbacks who never won a Super Bowl will continue to surface, but for the first time people will start to talk about the age factor. (Manning will turn 31 in March.) Last year may have been the Colts' best chance to win the big game. Now he's going to start having to hear about how he doesn't have many years left.
4. What will people say about Rex Grossman after the playoffs?
Mark Schlereth: That he's wildly inconsistent and until he learns to manage a game, he's going to cost them football games. The Bears are 13-3 and the No. 1 seed in the NFC despite Grossman and because of the defense and special teams. He needs to continue to mature as a player.
Eric Allen: They'll say he's still a work in progress. He's a strong-armed kid who needs to do a better job taking what the defense gives him. He also needs a better running game if the Bears are going to go farther.
New Orleans Saints
5. What rookie will come up big?
Mark Schlereth: Saints receiver Marques Colston will be the rookie who steps up big on this stage. He's an incredibly difficult matchup for teams to deal with. What helps make him so special is that he's a big guy (6-4, 231) playing in the slot. Most slot receivers are little, fast guys, but instead the secondary ends up having to cover this behemoth who plays more physically than a cornerback and faster than a safety. He uses his body and strength very well. If he hadn't essentially missed three games and hadn't had to fight his way through injury, he would have been the offensive rookie of the year.
Eric Allen: I think Laurence Maroney will play big for the Patriots. You need a running game in the playoffs, especially a guy who can dazzle the crowd with a big run and also take the ball 25 carries. My second pick is Reggie Bush if the Saints make it to the Super Bowl. He will electrify the crowd if he makes it to that stage. Throughout the playoffs, he's not going to be as brilliant because of the type of football that has to be played. But the Super Bowl is a different animal, and he's going to explode because he always plays well on big stages. No stage is bigger than the Super Bowl.
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