As much as NFL football is a team game, individuals routinely make game changing plays that alter the outcome. We saw that in the final week of the regular season. Aaron Rodgers led his team past the Chicago Bears, and officiating mistakes allowed the Chargers to sneak past the Kansas City Chiefs’ backups. Keeping in mind the impact of individuals, here’s three things to watch for heading into wild card weekend.
Is Aaron Rodgers really just Superman in disguise?
With Matt Flynn at quarterback, the Green Bay Packers were a middle-of-the-road squad that had difficulty putting together scoring drives on a consistent basis. When Aaron Rodgers returned to the starting lineup for the final game of the season against the Chicago Bears, that all changed. Although Flynn did an admirable job keeping the Packers in contention, he never gave the team a legitimate opportunity to go the distance.
Aaron Rodgers, however, is talented enough to do for the Packers what Tom Brady does for the New England Patriots. That is, the Packers can make a deep playoff run with Aaron Rodgers leading their offense. Against the 49ers, the Packers will not only have to score early and often, they’ll have to play great defense to limit San Francisco. Most will be picking the 49ers to roll past Green Bay, but if Aaron Rodgers is indeed Superman, the Packers could shock everyone.
Team play trumps individual performances.
As much as we play up individual performances in the playoffs, teams that play together well often prevail over the team that features one or two stars surrounded by supporting cast members. Last year, two teams that represented that notion, the Ravens and 49ers, fought for the title. That reality may come to pass yet again in 2014.
There are a few teams playing through the wild card round of the postseason that are clearly led by a select group of elite players, but the rest of the teams playing this weekend won their way into the tournament through team efforts. The Chiefs, Colts, Eagles, Chargers, Bengals and 49ers are all teams that win through a collective effort. Sure, every now and then one of their players will take control, but that’s the exception not the rule. Look the teams advancing out of the wild card round to come from that list of teams.
Watch the young guns vs. the veterans.
In a quarterback driven league, it’s only natural to keep an eye on the quarterback play, and this weekend gives us quite a treat in that regard. Andrew Luck vs. Alex Smith, Nick Foles vs. Drew Brees, Andy Dalton vs. Philip Rivers and Aaron Rodgers vs. Colin Kaepernick. In each game, we have a younger quarterback facing off against an established veteran passer.
The pressure of the playoffs can get to any player, regardless of age or experience. That being said, those with past playoff experience are far better prepared, and as with anything in life, the more experience a player has, the better prepared they’ll be. Because of that simple truth, look for the established veterans to outplay their younger counterparts, at least early on. That difference in experience could alter the outcome of some of this weekend’s games.