This week will feature two matchups from each wild-card game.
Ryan is 0-2 vs. Manning in the playoffs (one as a head coach with the Jets and one as the defensive coordinator with the Ravens in 2006). Ryan loves to blitz and force teams into turnovers against his unorthodox defense. Manning, however, has an amazing ability to recognize different blitzes and coverages, and to audible out of bad plays. Ryan loves to stir the pot leading up to a game in hopes of causing the opponent a distraction. He already got started by boasting earlier in the week that he had the best team. Manning took the high road when asked about the comments and is unlikely to allow his teammates to fall into Ryan's trap. Manning is not affected by edge pressure, so expect the Jets to blitz up the middle. Manning needs to play very well, or the Jets could escape with a victory.
D'Brickashaw Ferguson vs. Dwight Freeney
To move the ball on the Colts, you need to block Freeney, who is an excellent pass rusher and is also very good against the run. Ferguson has the talent to do so, but it won't be easy, especially at Lucas Oil Stadium, where Freeney feeds off the crowd noise. Ferguson is smart and athletic, with long arms and great body control. He has been coached very well by Bill Callahan and has improved greatly as a run blocker. Freeney stays remarkably low to the ground when coming off the corner, and also has a sensational spin move. He is always moving. This is a great matchup between two Pro Bowl players who are at the top or near the top of their position, and the winner of this individual battle could decide the winner of the game.
This could be the week's closest game. On paper they are very equal, and it might come down to a field goal. The Chiefs are the biggest surprise in the playoffs. Their lack of postseason experience could hurt them, however.
When you talk about playoffs, you have to start with Lewis and his ability to motivate players. I think at 35, he is nearing his last rodeo. This is his 15th season, and he still shows a great passion for the game. He plays all out on every play and will need to do so every run or pass against the speedy Charles. The Chiefs want to run and rank first in the league. Charles is their leading rusher and is a threat to take it the distance on every play. Charles is a very good cut-back runner and has good skills as a receiver. Lewis has most likely lost a step in space, but still makes plays all over the field. He is the key to the Ravens' success in the game.
Ray Rice vs. Derrick Johnson
Rice ran for 322 yards over the past three games. He is short, but compact. He runs low and shakes off many tackles. Johnson, however, is a good tackler, and excels at stripping the ball, so Rice must exercise good ball security. Rice is very tough and athletic, and has great vision. He will also block in pass protection. He is a good receiver and will make people miss in space. For his part, Johnson is at his best when he can flow to the ball freely and make plays in space. It is a matchup of strength vs. strength. For the Chiefs to have a chance, Johnson must neutralize Rice.
Matthews had three sacks against the Eagles in the first game this season. He lines up all over the place in the Packers' 3-4 defense. In one of their sub-packages they play only one lineman and five linebackers, and there is no telling where he will line up in that defense. He has outstanding ability to get off at the snap and close on the quarterback. He is physical and plays with great intensity. He needs to control Vick and prevent big plays.
Vick will have a chance to make good on his statement he had after the Week 1 meeting, that if he would have played the whole game, the Eagles would have won. He is playing under control most of the time. He likes to throw downfield to his speed receivers, but has also completed a great deal of passes to RB LeSean McCoy. Vick holds the ball longer in the pocket and does not scramble quite as much as he used to. He needs a good game vs. the Packers' underrated defense and should be aware of Matthews and Charles Woodson at all times.
Chad Clifton vs. Trent Cole
The Packers have had a hard time running the ball and rely heavily on the passing attack. Clifton has been healthy all year and is having a Pro Bowl season. He is very athletic with long arms and has good ability to get his hands on the pass rusher and redirect him. Cole is very elusive, though, and has outstanding first-step quickness and speed to go along with his overall strength. Both players play the game with a passion and are relentless performers. Watch for Cole to loop inside on his first move. The Eagles need a big game from Cole and can't give Rodgers a lot of time to throw the ball.
In the first meeting between these teams, Seattle passed for 366 yards with Williams leading the way with six catches for 109 yards. Porter is a very good athlete, with very quick feet. He has good enough hands to make interceptions, and has a history of coming up with huge plays in the postseason (he picked off Brett Favre to set up OT in the NFC Championship Game last year and returned a pick for a TD against Peyton Manning in the Super Bowl). He has good man-to-man cover skills, but they will be put to the test against the physical Williams. His lack of heigh hurts him in a matchup with tall players like Williams.
Williams missed 2008-09 while dealing with weight problems, but has returned to the NFL with the Seahawks in shape this season. He is very gifted and excels at getting off coverage. He is outstanding on slant routes and uses his frame well to make catches. He likely has to have a huge game for the Seahawks to upset the Saints.
Drew Brees vs. Marcus Trufant
Brees has to cut down on his interceptions (he is second in the NFL with 22). A poor decision by him against Tampa Bay stopped a drive in last week's loss, and Trufant possesses the savvy and experience to capitalize if Brees makes a similar mistake this week. Brees is a very accurate passer, who has a great understanding of the game. He has great touch and a quick release, but Trufant likes to play press coverage and will get physical with Saints receivers on the line of scrimmage in an effort disrupt Brees' timing. This will be a tough game for Brees, due to the crowd noise in Seattle, and Pete Carroll's ability to motivate his team and get them to play with an us-against-the-world-type mentality.