Pickwatch 2021 NFC Playoff Preview, Odds Predictions, Strengths and Weaknesses
A guide to the odds, strengths and weaknesses of every 2021 NFC playoff contender
7 Jan, 2021
|Passing Yards||9||6||Passing Yards Allowed|
|Rushing Yards||8||14||Rushing Yards Allowed|
You could argue that the Packers are the best offense in the NFL. There certainly aren't any weaknesses, QB Aaron Rodgers is the clear MVP while throwing the most passing TD's in the league and the fewest interceptions, but honorable mentions to the likes of RB Aaron Jones are warranted, as is the O-line that has allowed the second-fewest sacks in the NFL.
Inconsistency. Their 13-3 record is tarnished by three odd losses, two of which, as we will see below, came against playoff teams. Apart from that, there is a concern that the offensive line may suffer in the absence of star Left Tackle David Bakhtiari.
A 4-2 record is good, but it's also difficult to read too much into because the Packers played the Bears twice. They handily beat the Titans, but they lost to both Indy and Tampa Bay, both of whom ran hard on them. In fact, in all three games the Packers lost this season, their opponents had over 140 rushing yards, only beating one team (Tennessee) who matched that number.
New Orleans. It may sound obvious, but their biggest rivals are also the best set up to beat them. The week 3 shootout between these two was a classic, but since then the Saints have worked out a lot of issues and look much stronger in their gameplan. Of note, their running game has improved to 6th in the league since that point, a crucial indicator that a team is a threat to the Packers.
Great. The Packers can do it all and they have no objective weakness. Perhaps working most in their favor is the desire of Aaron Rodgers and his supporting cast to prove he should remain at the very top of the list of players in the NFL, despite the young pretenders who are getting more recognition than him at times. The Packers will like their chances if the Bears, Washington and the Rams can cause a big upset along the way and take out one of their more serious rivals...
|Passing Yards||19||5||Passing Yards Allowed|
|Rushing Yards||6||4||Rushing Yards Allowed|
Lots of them. For a team that has been associated with offense from the moment they hired Sean Payton in 2006, the Saints have pivoted smoothly to being a defensive powerhouse in the last few years. Their defense is good everywhere it matters, and excels on the line. Their turnover differential is +9, and that includes a league-leading 18 interceptions. On Offense, the Saints have shifted gradually away from Drew Brees as a focal point as he gets older, with Alvin Kamara now the star of the show.
Their greatest ever player is now their main weakness. Brees makes few mistakes, but he is not the player he once was and his average depth of target is now just 6.4 yards. For reference, Patrick Mahomes and Aaron Rodgers are 8.9 and 8.4 yards, respectively. His slants and dump offs boost his completion percentage, but there is next to no deep threat. The Saints lost 4 games this year, and 3 of them (LV. GB, KC) were to QB's who can throw it deep and keep the Saints in catchup mode.
The Saints have faced only 5 playoff teams all season. They went 3-2 in those games, the most jarring losses being against their biggest rivals, the Chiefs and Packers. The Saints have put up points, but interestingly, they've also given up a lot more points to playoff rivals than their average, with the notable exception of the Bucs, who didn't turn up in week 9.
Green Bay. The Packers have beaten the Saints and scored enough points against them to make the prospect of a rematch as early as the divisional round an intimidating prospect. The Packers' ability to score points puts the ultimate pressure on Brees to play perfectly.
Still good. The Saints are at worst one of the top 4 teams in the league, and at times have looked closer to the best. They are, however, the only major contender without a truly top tier QB, and there is a sense that at some point, a game will require them to go toe-to-toe and win a high scoring shootout against a team that can move the ball consistently.
|Passing Yards||16||31||Passing Yards Allowed|
|Rushing Yards||12||5||Rushing Yards Allowed|
The Seahawks are the biggest enigma in the playoffs, and it's virtually impossible to categorize anything as a consistent strength when the season has been so lopsided. The only factor that has remained a constant in both halves of the season has been their run defense, and if we're talking about momentum headed into the playoffs, then the rapid improvement of their pass defense is a big positive.
This is where it gets interesting. In the first half of the season, the Seahawks were the top ranked offense in the league, with the most passing yards and most points per game (34.3!) They had 28 passing TD's and a healthy 14th ranked run attack to compliment it. Russell Wilson was an MVP candidate and was on course to break all kinds of records. Simultaneously, Seattle had somehow managed to accrue the 30th ranked defense and worst pass defense in the league.
And then... a complete 180. The Seahawks rank 27th in passing offense between weeks 10-17. If you discount the Jets game (a 40-3 win) they averaged just 20.7 points per game, and scored less than that 4 times. It really is a staggering change. It was mitigated by a change in their defense, which ranked 5th in overall yards allowed in the back end of the season, but the worry is that the offense is now the liability.
The Seahawks' season was as imbalanced as their team. In that initial run of games where they were the league's top passing unit, they didn't play a single playoff team. They finished 2-2 in their remaining playoff matchups, but they were far from convincing, scoring more than 20 points just once (in week 9). Since then, as detailed, the Seahawks have been a different team.
Any team that can score more than 25 points in a game. Even the Bears have averaged almost 28 points per game since midseason, and of the NFC playoff teams, only the Rams and Washington have a worse points per game average.
The hardest to call. They have a freebie by playing the Rams at a point where their starting QB is injured. They're on what we might call the 'nice' side of the NFC bracket and will likely not have to face the Packers until the NFC title game, assuming both teams get that far, but even the Bucs may be a bridge too far. A lot will depend on how much offensive momentum they build against the Rams.
|Passing Yards||2||21||Passing Yards Allowed|
|Rushing Yards||28||1||Rushing Yards Allowed|
The Bucs have a serious defense, with not only the top ranked run defense (1st in yards and TD's allowed), but also top 5 in sacks and top 10 in interceptions and fumble recoveries. Their +8 turnover differential is good for 6th in the league. On offense, the passing game has been huge at times, with 7 300+ yard games and 5 over 340 yards. Their 42 passing TD's are in no small part down to the consistency of an offensive line that has allowed just 22 sacks of a 43yr old QB.
The run game. The 28th ranked run offense has been a significant miss for the Bucs all season and been a big reason for the reliance on the passing game. There is always a possibility of a 200+ yard breakout game like the one in Carolina in week 10, where the Bucs hit 210 yards, but those are based on a couple of big plays rather than a consistently good attack.
1-6, a disaster. The Bucs have roundly failed in their playoff games and while they've only lost one by more than a score, they have never looked like they were comfortable against any teams of a reasonable caliber. The Packers were the lone exception, but given that this was the worst game of Aaron Rodgers's career (107 yards passing) it is very much an anomaly.
The Saints. New Orleans has the number of the Bucs, scoring 72 points in their two matchups and conceding just 26. The second game, a 38-3 demolition, was the only game all season where Brady did not throw a TD pass. Luckily for the Bucs, they will likely not face the Saints until the NFC title game if they get there.
Not good. Brady is an x-factor, of course, and with a stellar passing attack, they can run a lot of teams close, but the Bucs have been ultra flaky against good opposition. If Mike Evans is out for an extended period of time - as looks likely - the chances reduce even further.
|Passing Yards||14||1||Passing Yards Allowed|
|Rushing Yards||10||3||Rushing Yards Allowed|
The defense. The Rams are up with the Ravens as the top defense in the league. In fact, they also rank 1st in passing TD's allowed (17) and 2nd in sacks (an astonishing 53). Put simply, the defense is far and away the strength of this team, and not one that any opponent will underestimate.
Turnovers. The Rams are in the bottom third of the league in both interceptions and fumbles. Jared Goff was 5th worst with 13 INT's this season, and that undercuts the strong defense considerably, as the Rams still managed to finish the season with a -3 turnover differential.
4-2, but the Rams rarely looked good, except perhaps against Chicago. They were offensively slower as the season went on - a hallmark of Sean McVay's tenure - and while the defense performed to it's usual standards, it was notable that the offense was often a bit-part in their success.
All of them. There isn't a team left who the Rams will relish the prospect of facing, particularly after failing to score a TD in week 17 against Seattle.
Zip, particularly without Jared Goff. Goff is a limited QB with a low ceiling, who is prone to turnovers. Conversely, his injury has meant that the Rams will likely now play at least1, if not more of their playoff games with John Wolford at QB. Perhaps there's a fairytale left in the NFL, but the Rams defense will need to play at it's peak to beat any of the serious NFC contenders.
|Passing Yards||22||12||Passing Yards Allowed|
|Rushing Yards||25||15||Rushing Yards Allowed|
The Bears have been a defensively strong team all season. Until week 12, the Bears hadn't given up more than 25 points in a game. They would do so another 3 times in the final weeks of the season, but the defense is clearly the strength of the team. It's also worth noting that the Bears improved significantly towards the end of the season on offense, ranking top 10 in rushing and passing yards per game.
Trubisky. He threw pretty well all season, he hit deep shots, completed 67% of his passes, and sparked an offense that was dead in the water. He also made catastrophic mistakes. His sack/fumble at the end of the game against Detroit cost the Bears what should have been an easy win. His 2 interceptions against the Giants almost did the same in week 2. There is always a sense that however much he tries, cannot avoid the simple mistakes and keep a clear head towards the end of games.
1-6, which is very much an accurate representation of this team. The narrow victory over the Bucs also had a lot to do with Tampa Bay fluffing their lines. The Bears are going to be underdogs in every game they play.
Green Bay in particular, hold a special hoodoo over the Bears, Chicago winning just once against the Packers in the last 5 seasons.
Low, but the Bears are an interesting case. In theory the pieces are all there, and like the Seahawks, they addressed a key area of weakness and gained some momentum towards the end of the season. If the Bears who finished the season remain the Bears who enter the playoffs, it's far from inconceivable that they will keep games closer than they look on paper.
|Passing Yards||25||2||Passing Yards Allowed|
|Rushing Yards||26||12||Rushing Yards Allowed|
Clearly, the defense. Even when Washington were losing games early in the season, the defense was outperforming the offense by a considerable margin. They end the season on a streak of not giving up more than 20 points in a game for 7 consecutive weeks.
Offense. The WFT has failed to get anything going all season, with only a couple of slightly bizarre games where Alex Smith threw for over 300 yards in weeks 9 and 10. They have scored more than 2 offensive touchdowns just once since that point, and Smith's injury and the subsequent idiocy of Dwayne Haskins looms large over the team. There really is no more ridiculous team in the playoffs than Washington.
Once Washington stopped giving up 30+ points per game, they started winning and keeping these games competitive. Go figure. There is a sense that some of those early season matchups would be a lot closer if played today, than they were at the time.
Not that the Washington team is just happy to be in the playoffs, but when you finish a season 7-9 and make the playoffs, every team will of course worry you, but Washington particularly struggled against more mobile QB's. They lost to Kyler Murray, Lamar Jackson, Daniel Jones, Teddy Bridgewater, Russell Wilson and were on the ropes against Jalen Hurts in the final game of the season.
Washington are in the playoffs because they're the best of a bad bunch. They have a chance to upset the Bucs, but I think given that it earns them a trip to Green Bay, it's a tough road ahead. Let's just say their odds are +10,000 for a reason.