Commentary

First look at the NFC divisional round

Here's Jeffri Chadiha's early look at the two NFC divisional round games, Seattle at Green Bay and the Giants at Dallas.

Originally Published: January 6, 2008
By Jeffri Chadiha | ESPN.com

Terrell OwensRich Kane/US PresswireIn two games against the Giants this season, Cowboys wide receiver Terrell Owens had nine catches for 212 yards and four TDs. But an ankle injury threatens to keep him out of Sunday's game.
On Wild Card Weekend, the Seahawks won at home and the Giants continued their road success, as both teams advanced to the NFC divisional round. Here are three big questions going into each game next weekend. (For an early look at the AFC divisional games, click here.)

Seahawks at Packers, Saturday, 4:30 p.m. ET

1. How big a factor is Green Bay's lack of playoff experience?


It's huge. Green Bay has just 17 players on its 53-man roster who have played in a postseason game (including quarterback Brett Favre, wide receiver Donald Driver and cornerbacks Charles Woodson and Al Harris). Seattle, on the other hand, has 39 players with such experience, including many who were around for the Seahawks' Super Bowl loss to Pittsburgh during the 2005 season. That much exposure to high-pressure situations served Seattle well in Saturday's wild-card win over Washington and it certainly will benefit the Seahawks in this round.

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Sea. at GB

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The key issue for the Packers is making sure their less-experienced players understand the magnitude of this moment. Green Bay fielded the youngest team in the NFL this season and it could be easy for those players to think they'll have many more opportunities to pursue a championship. If they are thinking that way, they need only talk to Favre about how quickly prosperity can vanish in this league. After all, since reaching consecutive Super Bowls in 1996-97, the Packers are just 2-5 in postseason play and are making their first playoff appearance in three years.

2. Can Seattle prosper without much production from its running game?


No. It's true that Seahawks quarterback Matt Hasselbeck has enjoyed a terrific season, but Seattle will need more balance in its pass-happy offense against the Packers.

Green Bay has one cornerback who is going to the Pro Bowl (Harris) and another who played well enough to join him (Woodson). Those two are good enough to cover two of the options in Seattle's four-receiver sets. Meanwhile, the Packers' front seven should be able to create plenty of problems for Hasselbeck.

The real downer for Seattle is that running back Shaun Alexander has given no indication that he'll elevate his game. He led the Seahawks with just 46 yards in the win over Washington and injuries limited him to a mere 716 yards this season. If that's not bad enough, the Seahawks' offensive line also has struggled with its run blocking all year. That's not likely to change this week.

3. How much does Seattle's playoff record on the road matter?


Plenty. The Seahawks have just one postseason win outside of Seattle -- against Miami in 1983 when the Seahawks were a member of the AFC.

To make things even more difficult, consider that Green Bay has suffered just two playoff defeats in the history of Lambeau Field. Plus, Seattle coach Mike Holmgren, who coached in Green Bay from 1992-98, is 1-2 versus his old team at Lambeau.

The reality here is that Seattle is far more comfortable inside the noisy confines of Qwest Field. Once the Seahawks hit the road -- and they're 3-5 this season away from home -- they become far more vulnerable.

1. How much will the Cowboys miss Terrell Owens if he can't play?


It will be huge. As explosive as Dallas has been all season, the Cowboys owe a great deal of their success to the fact that Owens remains one of the elite receivers in the NFL. The bottom line is that when he's on the field, he makes life easier for everybody else on offense. Without him, quarterback Tony Romo isn't likely to play with the same swagger and the Cowboys' offense isn't going to be chewing up yardage by the chunks.

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NYG at Dal.

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Cowboys coach Wade Phillips said Monday that T.O. is a "game-time decision." He apparently has been rehabilitating his high ankle sprain so relentlessly that he was meeting with trainers on Christmas Day and New Year's. If we had to wager, we'd assume Owens will be dressed Sunday. His ankle probably won't be 100 percent -- such injuries tend to linger -- but his presence alone makes all the difference for the Cowboys' offense.

2. Has Eli Manning really turned a corner with his play?


There's still good reason to be skeptical of Manning -- mainly because he was playing lousy during the final month of the regular season -- but the Giants have to love what they've seen from him lately.

Aside from one critical interception, Manning played brilliantly in a season-ending loss to New England and he was equally impressive in Sunday's wild-card win over Tampa Bay (20-for-27 for 185 yards and two touchdowns). If he can perform that well against Dallas, the Giants could very well pull the upset.

Remember, Manning enjoyed a huge day against Dallas in a season-opening loss (312 yards, four touchdowns, one interception). He was mediocre in the rematch, but the Dallas defense can give up big plays.

The key here is how well the Giants protect Manning and how well he makes decisions. One thing that is definitely certain is that he won't lack for confidence heading into this contest.

3. Why will the Giants beat Dallas now after losing both games during the regular season?


For one thing, the Giants finally have regained the form they displayed during a six-game winning streak earlier this season. They're flying around on defense and harassing quarterbacks with a pass rush that produced a league-leading 53 sacks.

On offense, they're running the ball with Brandon Jacobs and benefiting from the improved health of wide receiver Plaxico Burress, who has been nagged all season with an ankle injury. By the way, they're also 8-1 on the road this season, so hostile environments don't bother them.

That being said, the Cowboys are a safe bet to win this contest. They've outplayed the Giants in both previous meetings and it's hard to overcome the confidence that comes with such results.

Jeffri Chadiha is a senior writer for ESPN.com.