Five questions heading into NFC playoffs

For those worried about the New Orleans Saints and their ability to defend the Super Bowl title, put the concern on hold for a week.

The Saints showed what kind of team they can be with their victory over Atlanta last Monday night, then packed it in for the final game of the season against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. No surprise there.

The Saints know how to turn it on and off, not that they’ll have to do much to beat the Seattle Seahawks on wild-card Saturday.

Matt Ryan's Falcons are the No. 1 seed in the playoffs for the first time in 30 years.
(Dale Zanine/US Presswire)

Thus, if you’re looking for issues with some element of tension, you better look elsewhere in the NFC. It won’t be difficult.

The Philadelphia Eagles vs. the Green Bay Packers is a dream matchup of teams that love to throw and occasionally think about running (and usually with the quarterback). Beyond that, the top-seeded Atlanta Falcons and Chicago Bears are hardly locks to hold serve in the second round as the NFC playoffs look incredibly interesting.

1. Between Green Bay coach Mike McCarthy and Philadelphia coach Andy Reid, is either coach willing to run in a pressure situation?

Well, not this season.

If the Packers still had Ryan Grant(notes) (or had pushed a little harder to make a deal for Marshawn Lynch(notes)), they might be willing to grind out some clock with a few handoffs. Without a decent runner, the Packers have thrown caution to the wind this season and throw with abandon. Likewise, despite the impressive 5.2 yards per carry that LeSean McCoy(notes) has averaged this season, the Eagles still play with a throw-first mentality. Then again, when you have Aaron Rodgers(notes) going against Michael Vick(notes) – assuming Kevin Kolb(notes) doesn’t find his way into the huddle – that approach is hard to resist.

2. What is the biggest obstacle the Eagles face in getting to the Super Bowl?

Philadelphia’s defense isn’t very good. Throwing out the meaningless season finale against Dallas, the Eagles’ D has allowed at least 17 points in 12 consecutive games, and have allowed at least 20 points in nine of those games. In fact, the Eagles had only one game (again, the Dallas loss aside) where they allowed fewer than 17 points. If the Eagles don’t get early leads, they are going to have serious problems.

3. Is there any chance that the Saints could lose in the first round?

There’s always a chance because anything can happen in any game – especially in an environment like Qwest Field (ask Tony Romo(notes)). That said, the Saints played Seattle earlier this season, easily beating the Seahawks 34-19.

The Saints have too many weapons. While they didn’t play very well against Tampa Bay on Sunday, New Orleans wasn’t terribly focused on this game after beating Atlanta in the previous game.

4. Should the NFL do something about the fact that the NFC West-qualifying Seahawks didn’t have a winning record?

There are two solutions: The first, which is best, is to reduce the number of divisions from eight to four, making it nearly impossible for this to happen again. The second idea, which is the simplest, is that any division winner must have a winning record in order to host a playoff game. That means that a 7-9 or 8-8 team could still make the playoffs, but wouldn’t be additionally rewarded with a home game, thus maintaining the integrity of the regular season.

5. Of the top two seeds (Atlanta and Chicago), which one is more vulnerable?

This is complicated because the Falcons play a lot of close games. They were 6-2 this season in games decided by less than a touchdown, meaning that a lot of games that could easily have switched on a play or two went their way. As for the Bears, they have a better defense than the Falcons, but they have a quarterback in Jay Cutler(notes) who has a strong tendency to throw ill-advised interception.

Put the doubt on Chicago.

Jason Cole is a national NFL writer for Yahoo! Sports. Follow him on Twitter. Send Jason a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.
Updated Monday, Jan 3, 2011