The Green Bay Packers were preseason favorites to get to the Super Bowl for many analysts, myself included, but we didn't figure the emergence of the Chicago Bears would put the Packers on the road for the playoffs as a No. 6-seeded wild-card team.
And nobody saw the Michael Vick express coming down the pike, which now puts Green Bay front and center in Philadelphia with all its playoff dreams pinned on stopping No. 7. For the Eagles, I'm sure they would rather have drawn a different team than one that beat them earlier in the year and that is built to give them problems.
This game will feature the top two quarterbacks in Vick and Aaron Rodgers, by QB rating in the NFC, with 49 touchdown passes to just 17 interceptions between the two men. In the past four games, Rodgers has been red hot, completing 68 percent of his passes with eight touchdowns and two interceptions. Vick took last week off with a thigh bruise, but in the previous four games he was lighting it up. He, too, threw eight touchdown passes and actually threw 21 more passes than Rodgers.
The scary part about Vick in that stretch was that he also rushed 36 times for 257 yards and four touchdowns.
This game should be a high-scoring affair with some explosive plays down the field for both teams, which will make this a challenge for both defensive coordinators.
Here are four pressing questions surrounding this game:
1. Can Vick handle Capers' pressure package?
Vick might be the greatest athlete in the game today, but he also gets sacked more than most people would ever believe possible. In 2010, he was sacked once in every 12 pass attempts, so conventional wisdom would conclude he's trying to stay in the pocket. Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers is a natural attack coach, and his defense got to Vick three times in just 19 pass plays in Week 1. He also got to Kevin Kolb three times before Vick entered the game.
The Packers really like a defensive package with just two defensive linemen, four linebackers and five defensive backs, which sets up perfectly against Vick and all the speed on the Eagles offense. Capers will look very closely at the six sacks the Vikings compiled against Vick and all the success CB Antoine Winfield had. I've watched a lot of Capers' defense this year, and Charles Woodson will be a "keep blitzer" in this game, as well as Clay Matthews, who had three sacks in the first game. The Eagles offensive line is going to be challenged to say the least.
2. How do the Packers stop Vick without losing track of McCoy?
The thing Capers can't lose sight of is Eagles running back LeSean McCoy. McCoy is explosive and has a 5.2 yards per carry average. He also has 13 runs of more than 10 yards in his last four games, and while the scheme calls for pressure and containing Vick, players like A.J. Hawk have to take care of McCoy.
Early in games, the Eagles love to throw deep bomb, run a reverse or bootleg, or any play to get defenses off the trail of McCoy. Besides Hawk, DT B.J. Raji has to be aware of McCoy on the quick inside dive play. McCoy averages 14 carries a game, but this weekend I could see him closing in on 20 carries.
3. Which team cracks under the pressure?
It's hard to believe that the Packers are 3-5 on the road, and usually I wouldn't give them a chance, except they're playing the Eagles who are 4-4 at home. So, whatever caused the problems for both teams all season long, this is a clean slate. The Packers did the Eagles in Philadelphia already for one of their three road wins, which does help mentally, I suppose. But underlying issues include a limited run game by the Packers and only nine of Rodgers' 28 touchdown passes came on the road. The Eagles' defense gave up 31 touchdown passes this season, but only 11 at home and another seven on the ground.
4. Can Eagles slow down Packers' passing attack?
Rodgers doesn't have a great running attack to compliment his passing attack, and consequently the Eagles' defense will play the pass all game long. Still, the vertical attack of the Packers will cause big problems. For the record, the Eagles' defense at home in eight games has 10 interceptions and six recovered fumbles, which equates to two turnovers per home game. Philly's defense will need at least that production to win this game.
I've gone back and forth on deciding who will win this game, and it's the shaky road record of the Packers, the mobility of Vick, and the speed of the offensive players that has me leaning Philly's way, even though Green Bay was my Super Bowl pick.