The Achilles heel of every NFC playoff team
Parity has been the name of the game in the NFL for many years, and 2021 was no exception. Even with an extra week in the regular season schedule, the most wins any team could manage was 13, a feat accomplished by both the Green Bay Packers and the defending Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Every team that made the playoffs in the NFC (as well as the AFC) has some sort of Achilles heel – join us as we shed light on those weaknesses.
NFC Championship 2021/2022
Sun, January 30 2022, 5:00 PM
Green Bay Packers
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Los Angeles Rams
San Francisco 49ers
Arizona Cardinals: A bad stretch run
It’s hard to explain how the Cardinals lost four of their last five games – with three of those losses coming to non-playoff teams – and ceded the NFC West crown.
Perhaps it’s quarterback Kyler Murray’s inability to stretch the field, as his average yards per attempt over his last four games were his four lowest numbers of the season. That could be explained by the absence of wide-out DeAndre Hopkins.
Another Kliff Kingsbury regular season in the books!— Matt Mitchell (@olboyunclemitch) January 10, 2022
Let’s update how he’s ended every season as head coach
'14: lost 4 of 5
'15: lost 4 of 6
'16: lost 6 of 8
'17: lost 6 of 8
'18: lost 5 of 5
'19: lost 7 of 9
'20: lost 6 of 9 (1 win by Hail Mary)
‘21: lost 4 of 5
Or maybe it comes down to head coach Kliff Kingsbury, whose end-of-season records speak for themselves.
Regardless of how the blame is allocated, limping into the playoffs is never a confidence-booster.
Dallas Cowboys: Can’t beat the best teams
In the immortal words of Ric Flair, “to be the man, you got to beat the man,” and the Cowboys haven’t been able to do that this year.
Dallas faced four playoff teams this year, beating the Eagles (arguably the weakest team in the field) twice but losing to the Bucs, Raiders, and Chiefs. They weren’t blown out in any of those games, but keeping it close doesn’t cut the mustard in the playoffs (unless you’re getting points).
Green Bay Packers: Red zone defense
It’s hard to punch holes in the Packers’ offense this year. Aaron Rodgers is a threat to take his second straight MVP Award, and can throw to one of the NFL’s best receivers in Davante Adams. Green Bay also boasts a dynamic one-two punch in the backfield in Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon. But the Packers’ defense is not an impervious group.
Though Green Bay’s stoppers rank in the Top 10 by yards allowed per game, they’re a poor 28th in red zone defense, allowing the opposition to convert 66% of their red zone drives into touchdowns. This is an area that will have to be shored up quickly if the Packers want to bring home another Lombardi Trophy.
Los Angeles Rams: Streakiness
Perhaps it’s better to be streaky team than an up-and-down team come playoff time, but the Rams need to hope that they’re not entering another dry spell, because their Super Bowl hopes could soon be dashed.
L.A. sandwiched a three-game losing streak from Weeks 9 through 12 (Week 11 was their bye) with a four-game winning streak and a five-game winning streak before dropping their Week 18 showdown with the 49ers.
Rams fans will likely be hoping to avoid a third matchup with San Fran after getting swept in the season series. They’ll also be hoping that Matt Stafford can get it together after tossing eight interceptions in his last four games.
Philadelphia Eagles: Pass rush
It’s often said that teams that face Tom Brady in the playoffs need a good pass rush in order to win. Based on the Eagles’ regular season performance, it’s likely to be a quick exit for them on Wild Card weekend.
Philly had the NFL’s second-worst pass rush this year, registering only 29 sacks. They’re the only team in the bottom 10 in sacks that made it to the postseason. Throw in the fact that the Eagles are sixth-worst in stopping tight ends and eighth-worst in passing offense, and it’s easy to see why they’re a big underdog on Sunday.
San Francisco 49ers: Turnovers
Only the Las Vegas Raiders (minus-9) have a worse turnover ratio among playoff teams than the 49ers at minus-4. San Fran gave the ball away 24 times during the campaign, six of which occurred over the final four weeks.
Jimmy Garoppolo has to be saddled with some of the blame, tossing four interceptions in his final two games, but even the sensational Deebo Samuel put the ball on the ground twice in his team’s 20-17 loss to the Tennessee Titans on Dec. 23.
Ball security is paramount in the NFL, especially in the postseason.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Rushing offense
The Bucs make up for it by having the best passing offense in football by yards per game, but Tampa’s ground game has been poor all year.
Leonard Fournette and company have mustered just 98.4 rushing yards per game this season, 26th in the league. Having a varied attack is crucial to success in the NFL, especially considering four of the top seven passing defenses (Bills, Patriots, 49ers, and Cardinals) are represented in the playoffs. If Brady gets flustered through the air, it could be curtains for the reigning champs.