Breaking down the playoffs

December 31, 2013 

NFC SEED

STRENGTHS

Weaknesses

X-FACTOR

No. 1 Seattle (13-3)

Defense ranks 1st in NFL in yards allowed per game (273.6) and points allowed (14.4). Offense doesn’t make mistakes, with a league-best +20 turnover margin, and their 26.1 points per game is fourth-best in the NFC. Special teams are air-tight.

Suffered most penalties in the NFL (73.9 penalty yards per game). Offense is streaky and prone to some funks (11th in NFC in total yards at 339.0 per game).

Home-field advantage is huge; team is 5-1 in the playoffs all-time at CenturyLink Field since it opened in 2002.

No. 2 Carolina (12-4)

Led NFL in sacks with 60 and has second-ranked defense in the league (301.2 yards allowed per game, 15.1 points allowed). QB Cam Newton is a true dual threat (585 yards rushing, 3,379 yards passing).

Offense lacks dynamic playmakers outside of Newton, and finished 11th in NFC in scoring (22.9 ppg) and 13th in total yards (316.8 yards per game).

Team lacks playoff pedigree, making postseason for first time since 2008. Are they just glad to be here?

No. 3 Philadelphia (10-6)

Coach Chip Kelly’s offense was one of the NFC’s best, ranking first in yards per game (417.2) and second in points per game (27.6). RB LeSean McCoy (NFL-best 1,607 yards) and WR DeSean Jackson (1,332 yards) are special.

Defense is just so-so, ranking 13th in NFC in yards allowed (394.2), tied for eighth in points allowed (23.9) and ninth in sacks (37). QB Nick Foles makes his playoff debut.

How good are they? Six wins were against sub-.500 teams, and two more were against 8-8 teams. NFC East was a weak division, so winning it is no great accomplishment.

No. 4 Green Bay (8-7-1)

With QB Aaron Rodgers and WR Randall Cobb back from injuries, the Packers’ offense might be NFC’s best. They can run it, too, with Eddie Lacy (1,178 yards) and James Starks (493).

Weakest defense of the playoff teams, giving up 372.3 yards (11th in NFC) and 26.8 points per game (11th in NFC). Their best defender, Clay Matthews (thumb), is questionable for the playoffs.

Rodgers provided a huge lift in the season finale, delivering the game-winning TD on fourth down. If he gets hot, it might be enough to overcome the leaky defense.

No. 5 San Francisco (12-4)

The 49ers are balanced, ranking seventh in NFC in scoring (25.4) and third in points allowed (17.0). They are also the defending NFC champs, so they’ve been-there-done-that.

This is an older team that will have to win twice on the road just to get to the NFC championship game.

As QB Colin Kaepernick goes, so go the 49ers. In wins, he completed 61.4 percent of passes with 19 touchdowns and 2 interceptions. In losses, he was 50.0, 2 TDs and 6 INTs.

No. 6 New Orleans (11-5)

Coach Sean Payton leads an explosive offense after a yearlong suspension. The defense is much improved, ranking third in total yards (305.7), fourth in points allowed (19.0) and third in sacks (49) for the NFC.

Saints have no running game and must rely on QB Drew Brees to move the ball. They struggled on the road this season, too (3-5).

Like the 49ers, they’re an experienced crew but will have to get it done away from home. Already this season, they’ve lost at Carolina and at Seattle.

Darrin Beene, staff writer

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