NEW YORK (AP) — With his arm, his feet or his creativity, Michael Vick has embarrassed defenders all season. Unless they can limit Vick and his big-play teammates, Sunday could be a long day for Charles Woodson, Clay Matthews and the Green Bay Packers.
Vick wasn’t the starter in the Eagles’ season-opening 27-20 loss to Green Bay. But the Packers knocked out Kevin Kolb with a concussion, Vick came on and played well in the second half. Except for his own injuries, Vick has been the starter ever since — and more spectacular than ever.
So Woodson, last season’s AP Defensive Player of the Year, and Matthews, one of the favorites for this season’s award, are squarely in the spotlight for the game that caps the wild-card weekend.
“We know what we’re up against,” Woodson said. “We know the dynamic that Vick is, so he’s a very big part of what they’re doing right now, and he makes a lot of big plays with his feet. We’ve got to make sure we stay aggressive and make sure we do our job on the back end. Aggressiveness, that’s the way we like to play.”
It’s the way Eagles coach Andy Reid expects the Packers to play, particularly cornerback Woodson and linebacker Matthews, who Philadelphia’s blockers must locate on every play — not an easy chore.
“I’ll tell you what, he’s a great player and he has a great motor, loves to play the game,” Reid said of Matthews. “So it’s a great challenge for our offensive line, the guys blocking him, and we’ll come up with a couple things for him.
“Now, they move him around, but they’re not going to put him through the same gap as another guy because there has to be a rhyme or reason to where he goes, and there is.”
Many times, Matthews has gone wherever he chooses, helping the Packers rank fifth in overall defense and allow just 240 points; only the Steelers at 232 yielded fewer.
Elsewhere on wild-card weekend, defending Super Bowl champion New Orleans is at Seattle in the opener Saturday, followed by an AFC title game rematch of the New York Jets at Indianapolis. The other Sunday game is Baltimore at Kansas City.
Off this week are AFC top seeds New England and Pittsburgh, NFC top seeds Atlanta and Chicago.
Green Bay (10-6) at Philadelphia (10-6)
While this is not exactly a matchup of the premier unstoppable offense against impenetrable defense, it’s close enough. The Packers also can score, particularly when quarterback Aaron Rodgers is healthy, as he currently is. Their receiving corps, led by Greg Jennings and Donald Driver, can be as dangerous as the Eagles’ outstanding corps of DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin, Jason Avant and Brent Celek.
Still, it’s expected to come down to controlling Vick, who threw for 175 yards and a touchdown and ran for 103 yards in the second half against the Packers.
“It’s a test,” Woodson said. “They’ve got weapons all over the place. They’ve put up a lot of points this year, so we’ve just got to do a good job of not letting Vick get some big gains and hitting his guys down the field, which they like to do, hit those big plays up the field. So we have to put a stop to that, and if we do those couple of things, we’ll fare pretty well.”
New York Jets (11-5) at Indianapolis (10-6)
Two different clubs from the ones that met for the AFC title last January.
The Jets haven’t lost any of their bravado, but they have misplaced their pass rush. That could be decisive against that guy who throws the ball for Indy.
“What separates Peyton (Manning) is his smartness, his accuracy, and he can throw any ball,” Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis said. “He puts the ball where defensive backs can’t get them. Some low, some off the back shoulder on the fade. He’s spent years doing that.”
Manning has spent nine straight years leading the Colts into the playoffs, tying an NFL record. He’s won four MVP awards in that span.
Still, this is one of the most inconsistent teams Manning has led, although Indy won four straight to capture the AFC South, doing so with several key players sidelined.
New Orleans (11-5) at Seattle (7-9)
Sure looks like a mismatch, doesn’t it? Don’t let anyone around the Saints hear you talking like that.
“It starts with the guys in the locker room and the understanding of our league,” coach Sean Payton said. “This subject came up earlier in the year. I don’t know that any of us pay much attention to the point spreads as much anymore. They (players) understand that we’ve got to play our best football, especially when you get into the postseason, and certainly we appreciate and respect any team we’re playing. So going on the road into a very tough environment in the postseason I think is clearly something that has their attention and their focus.”
Seattle might focus more than ever on shutting down the passing game because the Saints, who beat them 34-19 in November, lost top running backs Pierre Thomas and rookie Chris Ivory to injury. That leaves Reggie Bush as the main back.
Last week, the Seahawks shut down the Rams’ 1,000-yard back, Steven Jackson, to become the first division winner with a losing record. New Orleans, whose 384 points are 95 more than the Rams managed, is a different kind of foe.
“You’ve got to be up for the challenge,” Seattle safety Lawyer Milloy said. “They set the standard for offense.”
Baltimore (12-4) at Kansas City (10-6)
It’s not often that 12 wins isn’t enough for a division title. That’s what happens in the AFC North, where the Steelers also reside.
The Ravens, who have won three road playoff games in the last two years, aren’t fretting.
“We’re back in the dance a third (consecutive) year. I say finish. Finish now,” star linebacker Ray Lewis said. “Because we’ve done everything else. We’ve been to the AFC championship, we’ve been to the divisional round, we’ve done everything we’re supposed to do. What’s next for us? What’s next is finish.”
To do that, they first must handle the Chiefs, who are inexperienced in such situations, but have a strong running game, an improving passing attack, and some playmakers on defense.
But KC comes off a weak finale against Oakland.
“We’ve been able to bounce back all year,” QB Matt Cassel said. “That helps give us confidence.”
Copyright 2011 The Associated Press.