Sizing up 'other' five NFC playoff teams

PackerReport.com's Steve Lawrence explains why the Green Bay Packers have perhaps the best shot of advancing to Super Bowl XLII

So, the NFC playoff field is set, and let's just say whoever emerges will be akin to being the tallest person in a room full of jockeys.

With the exception of the Washington Redskins, who happen to be quarterbacked by a 36-year-old journeyman who hadn't started a game since 1997, the other five NFC combatants are belching out plumes of black smoke at a rate quick enough to turn day into night.

Amazingly, the Green Bay Packers — you remember, that team that lost by 28 against the Chicago Bears a little over a week ago — might have the best shot to emerge as the team that challenges whichever juggernaut gets out of the AFC.

Here's a look at the NFC's other playoff teams — and their warts:

1. Dallas Cowboys (13-3)
The Cowboys haven't played a good game since knocking off the deer-in-the-headlights Packers on Nov. 29. Following that game, they edged woeful Detroit 28-27, lost to Philadelphia 10-6, got past Carolina (and its fourth-string quarterback) 10-6 and got whipped 27-6 at Washington.

Since Terrell Owens sustained a high ankle sprain against Carolina, the Cowboys have scored all of 12 points — and no touchdowns — in six-plus quarters. Certainly, the Cowboys weren't at their mental or physical best against Washington, but Tony Romo (7-for-16, 86 yards, one interception) and the two-headed running back combo of Marion Barber and Julius Jones (combined 14 carries for 1 yard) played into the second half.

Owens should be back for the playoffs, but high ankle sprains are notorious for lingering for weeks. If he's not back at full strength — and Romo doesn't get his act together — there's no guarantee Dallas even wins its divisional playoff game, much less gets past a Packers team that will have Charles Woodson and Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila — two key defenders who were absent in the teams' first matchup.

3. Seattle Seahawks (10-6)
It's never a good sign when your defense gives up 44 points to a team quarterbacked by Chris Redman. Seattle's starting defense played most of Sunday's game against Atlanta, and got torched by one of the league's worst offenses.

"Appalling" is what star defensive end Patrick Kerney said.

Seattle enters the postseason with two losses in its last three games, including a 13-10 loss to quarterback-impaired Carolina. With Shaun Alexander a shell of his MVP self, the Seahawks' hopes rest on quarterback Matt Hasselbeck.

Suspect defense and a suspect running game is not a recipe for playoff success.

4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (9-7)
The Bucs go into the postseason with back-to-back losses to woeful San Francisco and Carolina. Coach Jon Gruden rested his top guns for most of both games, but momentum is important, and Tampa Bay has none.

The key is quarterback Jeff Garcia, who at 37 is the second-oldest quarterback in the playoffs behind Brett Favre. He's been tremendous (63.9 percent, 13 TDs, 4 INTs), but it's rarely good when your starting quarterback enters the postseason after missing three of his last five games and has thrown just two touchdown passes in the last six weeks.

The Bucs are scoring 20.9 points per game, worst among the playoff teams.

5. New York Giants (9-7)
Yes, the Giants put up a heck of a fight against New England on Saturday.

"I don't know that you can move toward the playoffs in a better way than to play against the No. 1 team in the league, a team that is 16-0, and hold your own, at least for the majority of the evening," coach Tom Coughlin said Sunday. "Those are all positives."

But, teams that play the Patriots one week are 4-11 the next week.

Then there's the jittery play of quarterback Eli Manning, who played well against New England before making some typical bad mistakes in the fourth quarter that helped the Patriots rally. Finally, there's that not-so-small matter of a minus-9 turnover margin, worst among the playoff teams and 26th in the NFL.

6. Washington Redskins (9-7)
No team is playing better in the NFC than the Redskins, who have been inspired by the death of star safety Sean Taylor.

But playoff games more often than not are won by quarterbacks, and the Redskins are lacking with Collins, even though he boasts a 106.4 passer rating and hasn't been picked off since taking over for the injured Jason Campbell.

Their minus-5 turnover ratio isn't good, either, and their 20.9 points per game is tied with Tampa Bay for worst among the playoff teams.

Steve Lawrence is a regular contributor to PackerReport.com. E-mail him at steve_lawrence_packers@yahoo.com.


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