January 21, 2006

Frinklin Playoff Preview: NFC Championship

Carolina Panthers at Seattle Seahawks

Holy Molley, this one is hard.

This might be the first time in my lifetime that Seattle fans really think a Seattle team has a chance to win the big one. The Sonics won the NBA title in 1979, but that’s a long time ago, and existed in the netherworld of pre-Magic and Larry basketball. The Seahawks were walloped in the AFC championship game of 1983. The Mariners made it to the ALCS in 1995, 2000 and 2001, but I don’t think any of those times the M’s were considered a favorite. The Sonics took on MJ’s best Bull team in 1996, and lost in six. Beyond that…. Nothing.

This year is different. The Seahawks are at home, possessing of the second-best record in the NFL, and a 3.5 point favorite over the Carolina. This is a game they should win. The question is: Will they?

Yeah, I think they will. Now, I’m not as confident as I want to be. I still would have preferred to see Chicago, but since the Bears imploded last week, it’s pretty obvious why. The Seahawks have to do two things. They have to slow down Steve Smith -they won’t stop him-, and they need to get Shaun Alexander going early in the game. There are three match-ups that I think decide this game.

1. Steve Smith against Marcus Trufant
Trufant is the best cover man the Seahawks possess, and after seeing Smith destroy Chicago’s Cover 2 scheme, it’s likely he’ll see a lot man coverage. Look for Trufant on Smith, plus safety help from either Michael Boulware or Marquand Manuel. The problem here is neither Boulware of Manuel are great cover safeties. Both are fine against the run, but the injured Ken Hamlin is the ‘Hawks’ best cover safety. You might also see a nickleback, either Jordan Babineaux or Kelly Herndon on Smith. It also wouldn’t be out of the question to see both Trufant and the other starting corner, Andre Dyson, covering Smith while leaving Keary Colbert and Drew Carter against safeties or nicklebacks.

2. Chris Gamble, Ken Lucas and Ricky Manning against Darrell Jackson, Bobby Engram and Joe Jurevicius.
Carolina’s corners matchup well against Seattle’s receivers, especially on the outside with Jackson and Engram. The opportunity for Seattle may well with Jurevicius in the slot, where he has 7 inches and 50 pounds on Manning. Expect the Panthers to move around Gamble and Lucas. Also, as a Seahawk Lucas had a reputation of being soft. The Seahawks will test him with Jurevicius and Jackson, both physical receivers.

3. Mike Rucker and Julius Peppers against Walter Jones and Sean Locklear
The Panthers would really prefer to get pressure on Matt Hasselbeck without blitzing much. Hasselbeck is the best quarterback in the NFC against the blitz, and Washington did better against him dropping 6 men into coverage. The Panthers will attempt to do the same. Jones has been dominant after a bad game against New York Giant Osi Umenyiora. Locklear must prove his head is in the game after a scandal-plagued week. Peppers will play despite an injured shoulder.

Beyond those three are the obvious. Can Alexander run hard and dispel the doubts about his toughness. Can Seattle’s special teams have at least an adequate performance? Can Nick Goings take pressure off Jake Delhomme and the passing game? Can a defense that gave up 21 to the offensively inept Bears stop the best offense in the NFC? Will the conventional wisdom (media types are overwhelmingly going for the Panthers) be wrong yet again?


The Pick: Seattle 31, Carolina 28

Posted by Frinklin at January 21, 2006 04:58 PM | TrackBack
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