Earlier in the season, the NFC was very much up for grabs, and thought by many to be easily the weaker of the two NFL conferences.  But by season’s end, two NFC teams – the Giants and Bucs – missed the playoffs with a 10-6 record.

Now, the NFC – featuring one of the most dangerous 6 seeds ever (Green Bay), plus one of the most explosive QB’s ever (Michael Vick) – is easily as deep as its AFC counterpart.

But when the dust is all settled, which team will emerge from the NFC and represent the conference in Super Bowl XLV?pick-your-knows

It’s once again time to “Pick Your Knows” – the only time it’s not a disgusting habit – and here are KP’s BOLD predictions for the NFC playoff picture.

NFC Wild-Card Round

#6 Green Bay Packers (10-6) at #3 Philadelphia Eagles (10-6)

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Clay Matthews and the Green Bay defense will wreak havoc on Michael Vick and the Philadelphia Eagles

Many had the Packers in the Super Bowl when the season began, but a number of injuries to key players set them back.  But this Green Bay team appears to be hitting its stride, earning a wild card spot after a number of key victories to finish the season.

The Packers have zero running game, but counter that with arguably the best passing offense in the NFL.  Combine that with a tenacious defense that is 2nd in the NFL in sacks, and also has managed 24 interceptions on the year (also 2nd in the NFL).

The Eagles are healing up, resting Michael Vick and DeSean Jackson in the regular season finale.  Andy Reid teams perform well in the playoffs, and will get a boost with homefield advantage.  But Vick has been slowing down, and his numbers have been declining.

The Eagles’ secondary has been a question mark, and Green Bay will take advantage of that, while also getting significant pressure on Vick.  Packers pull off the road win, and move on.

KP’s Pick: Green Bay Packers

#5 New Orleans Saints (11-5) at #4 Seattle Seahawks (7-9)

The Seahawks are the first ever division winner to make the playoffs with a losing record – and certainly that’s the story as Seattle gets a home game against the defending champs.  While many will immediately mark this one as a blowout, it has to be noted just how tough it is to play in Seattle (crowd noise, etc.).

Matt Hasselbeck will start for the Seahawks, but he’ll have all kinds of problems against the Saints’ 4th-ranked pass defense.  Gregg Williams also will be sure to apply lots of pressure, likely forcing numerous Seattle mistakes.

New Orleans has lost both Chris Ivory and Pierre Thomas for the year, and likely will have little to no running game during the playoffs.  In this case, it won’t matter, what with Seattle’s 27th ranked pass defense.  Drew Brees should have little problem moving the ball down the field.

The 12th man in Seattle should help keep this game close for a while, but in the end, New Orleans pulls away in the fourth quarter, and moves on to the next round.

KP’s Pick: New Orleans Saints

NFC Divisional Round

#6 Green Bay Packers at #1 Atlanta Falcons

Dating back to the opening weeks, I listed the Falcons as a darkhorse to get to the Super Bowl – and here Atlanta is, with homefield advantage throughout.  Matt Ryan has only lost twice at the Georgia Dome, and one of those losses came a few weeks ago against the Saints.

But in daring fashion, I’m picking the Packers to upset Atlanta and head to the NFC Championship.  First, Ryan is a cool customer – and that’s why he’s called “Matty Ice” – but this is a fairly young team that has not been in this position before.  This would be a rematch of the Week 12 game, where Atlanta won 20-17.

Many will argue that the Packers were 3-5 on the road, and therefore will struggle at Atlanta.  Keep in mind two of those road losses were without Aaron Rodgers, one at Detroit, then the next week against the Patriots – a game Green Bay nearly won.

Green Bay has the defense to get pressure on Ryan, force interceptions, while also pushing Atlanta to try and get into a shootout.  The biggest key of the game will be Atlanta being able to establish a run game with Michael Turner.  If that happens, the Falcons win, but if not, the Packers move on to the NFC title game.  I’ll take the latter.

KP’s Pick: Green Bay Packers

#5 New Orleans Saints at #2 Chicago Bears

The Bears surprised many by winning the division and earning a bye.  But while Chicago has a lot of talent on both the offense and defense, the Bears have a number of key flaws that will be exposed in the playoffs.

For one, the Bears have allowed the most sacks in the NFL (56), and expect a very aggressive Saints defense (led by Gregg Williams) to take advantage of that stat.  Also, the Bears have the 28th ranked pass offense, and have thrown almost as many picks as TD’s.  Jay Cutler will get forced into mistakes, especially against the league’s 4th ranked pass D.

Chicago’s pass defense is solid, even though it’s fallen to 20th in the NFL (yards per game).  The Bears have only allowed 14 TD’s, while getting 21 INT’s.  Expect the Bears to put everything they have against the pass, considering New Orleans will likely have zero run game without Ivory or Thomas.

Still, this is Drew Brees and the 3rd best pass offense, and the Saints have enough to get it done on the road.  But expect a sloppy and low scoring affair.  Take the Saints and the under.

KP’s Pick: New Orleans Saints

AFC Championship Game

#6 Green Bay Packers at #5 New Orleans Saints

If this game happens, it would likely be the best game of the playoffs – that is, if you like explosive offense, piles of yards and a whole lot of points.

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Will Drew Brees and the Saints hoist the Lombardi Trophy again? Not this year, according to KP.

Each team has an aggressive and talented defense, that will likely attempt to put a lot of pressure on Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees.  But with these kinds of weapons on offense, the more you blitz, the more a defense will also get burned, leading to big plays.  Expect a lot of that, possibly similar to last year’s title game between the Vikings and Saints.

Neither team has a running game.  Therefore, the defensive focus would be on the pass game, where each team has a number of weapons, such as Marques Colston and Greg Jennings.

Call it a very bold pick – and one that’s quite the opposite from my AFC picks – but the Green Bay Packers will advance to the Super Bowl, and do so by winning at Philadelphia, at Atlanta and at New Orleans.  It’s a far cry from my preseason Super Bowl picks (Atlanta vs. Baltimore), but my gut tells me that the Packers and Patriots will be the last two teams standing.

Only time will tell if it truly was my gut talking, or just some bad Mexican food.

KP’s Pick for Super Bowl XLV: Green Bay Packers

KP’s Pre-Playoffs Super Bowl XLV Prediction: PATRIOTS over PACKERS

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