The Panther Whisperer

Greg A. Bedard
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Divisional Purple-Chip Report

Saints at Seahawks

New Orleans (7): QB Drew Brees, TE Jimmy Graham, DE Cameron Jordan, OT Zach Strief, third-down back Darren Sproles, RG Jahri Evans, CB Keenan Lewis.

Seattle (7): QB Russell Wilson, RB Marshawn Lynch, DT Brandon Mebane, DE Michael Bennett, CB Richard Sherman, S Earl Thomas, DL Clinton McDonald.

How it’s trending: At a neutral site, this game would figure to be very close. The teams are that even. The Saints can’t get away with another performance like Brees had against the Eagles and expect to win this game. Brees has to feed Graham and Sproles much more, and the defense has to play at the same level in a hostile environment. If that happens, New Orleans can pull off the upset. For the Seahawks, Wilson hasn’t played like a purple-chip player for sometime. If he doesn’t play to that level, Seattle could struggle unless Lynch goes off.

Colts at Patriots

Indianapolis (5): QB Andrew Luck, OLB Robert Mathis, CB Vontae Davis, DT Cory Redding, WR T.Y. Hilton.

New England (7): QB Tom Brady, LT Nate Solder, RB combo LeGarrette Blount/Shane Vereen, LG Logan Mankins, DE Rob Ninkovich, S Devon McCourty, CB Aqib Talib.

How it’s trending: Simply put, the Colts have to play their best game of the season to knock off the Patriots, who are more talented (even with the injuries), rested and comfortable playing in the expected elements (rain). Really debated about whether WR Julian Edelman and LG Logan Mankins qualify, deciding Mankins gets the spot and Edelman needs to prove it a little bit more. Mankins, who was a bit overrated this season, has been known to come up short in the postseason. Candidates most likely to underperform in a Colts upset: Brady, Mankins and Talib.

49ers at Panthers

San Francisco (10): LT Joe Staley, OLB Aldon Smith, ILB NaVorro Bowman, ILB Patrick Willis, DE Justin Smith, RB Frank Gore, WR Michael Crabtree, WR Anquan Boldin, S Eric Reid, TE Vernon Davis.

Carolina (8): DE Greg Hardy, LB Luke Kuechly, LT Jordan Gross, LG Travelle Wharton, WR Steve Smith, QB Cam Newton, DE Charles Johnson, LB Thomas Davis.

How it’s trending: With the re-emergence of Crabtree and the ability of Boldin to flourish in the postseason as defenses are allowed to play more physically, the 49ers are the most talented team left. That doesn’t mean they’ll win. They have players—both Smiths, Willis and Davis—who can disappear in a game depending on how the opponent handles them. If the Panthers can neutralize those players (in their 10-9 victory, both Crabtree and Davis weren’t available), the home underdog can definitely emerge victorious.

Chargers at Broncos

Chargers (5): QB Philip Rivers, TE Antonio Gates, S Eric Weddle, OT King Dunlap, third-down RB Danny Woodhead.

Broncos (9): QB Peyton Manning, RG Louis Vazquez, WR Demaryius Thomas, WR Eric Decker, WR Wes Welker, TE Julius Thomas, DT Terrance Knighton, DT Malik Jackson, CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie.

How it’s trending: There’s little doubt the Broncos are the more talented team, but almost all of the talent is on offense (OLB Shaun Phillips was close to being on the list). That means if the Chargers can pull off what they did in Week 15 at Denver—hold Manning to a pedestrian 7.0 yards per attempt by making him dump off to the likes of Andre Caldwell, Montee Ball and Knowshon Moreno (Denver’s top three pass catchers in that game) while Welker was injured—it’ll give Rivers a chance to exploit the Broncos’ defense. An upset is certainly not out of the question if the Broncos’ top players underperform.

Wild Card Purple-Chip Report

Last week we detailed how, in my opinion, postseason games come down to how many top players each team has and whether or not they perform to that level (as opposed to the regular season, which is more about offense and depth). As we saw last weekend, performance can be affected by injury, the opponent taking a player out of the game, or just poor performance by the player. Let’s see how each team’s purple chips, a combination of players that are blue (elite), and red (very good), fared last week.

Colts 45, Chiefs 44

Chiefs that met expectations (3): NT Dontari Poe, OLB Justin Houston, OLB Tamba Hali.
Chiefs that didn’t (3): RB Jamaal Charles, ILB Derrick Johnson, S Eric Berry.

Colts that met expectations (4): QB Andrew Luck, WR T.Y. Hilton, OLB Robert Mathis, DT Cory Redding.
Colts that didn’t (1): CB Vontae Davis.

With three interceptions and being outplayed by Alex Smith through three quarters, Luck was on his way to tipping this matchup in Kansas City’s favor. But then he caught fire down the stretch and played up to his usual level. That, combined with Charles’ injury—which was crucial, especially when the Chiefs played with the lead and needed a chain mover—gave the Colts the edge.

Saints 26, Eagles 10

Saints that met expectations (4): TE Jimmy Graham, DE Cameron Jordan, OT Zach Strief, third-down back Darren Sproles.
Saints that should have been on the list (2): CB Keenan Lewis and G Jahri Evans. Thought both were a little overrated and didn’t make the initial cut. I was wrong on both, and they were terrific in this game (Lewis until his concussion).
Saints that didn’t (1): QB Drew Brees.

Eagles that met expectations (3): LG Evan Mathis, WR DeSean Jackson, OLB Trent Cole.
Eagles that didn’t (3): RB LeSean McCoy, LT Jason Peters, C Jason Kelce.

The Saints won this game because they dominated both sides of the line of scrimmage. They did a terrific job taking McCoy out of the game, which makes it really tough for the Eagles to move the ball. Offensively, Brees had an off game but his offensive line had its way with a young Eagles defensive line that will see better days ahead.

Chargers 27, Bengals 10

Chargers that met expectations (4): QB Philip Rivers, S Eric Weddle, OT King Dunlap, third-down RB Danny Woodhead.
Chargers that didn’t (1): TE Antonio Gates. 

Bengals that met expectations (2): OT Andrew Whitworth, LB Vontaze Burfict
Bengals that didn’t (4): WR A.J. Green, DE Michael Johnson, OT Andre Smith, third-down back Giovanni Bernard.

Say what you want about Andy Dalton’s subpar performance, but the Bengals are used to it and have overcome them in the past (beating the Patriots, for example) with a great team effort thanks to their talented roster. They just didn’t get it this time. Green and Johnson, their two best athletes on either side of the ball, were completely taken out the game. Bernard was headed for his usual good game—and this matchup looked headed toward the wire at least—if he didn’t fumble at the 4-yard line after the two-minute warning.

49ers 23, Packers 20

49ers that met expectations (4): LT Joe Staley, OLB Aldon Smith, RB Frank Gore, S Eric Reid.
49ers that should have been on the list (2): WR Michael Crabtree, TE Vernon Davis. While he certainly helped the offense upon his return (just about any viable WR would have), Crabtree hadn’t shown he was a difference maker. That’s over. He is now. As for Davis, I overrated that he tends to disappear.
49ers that didn’t meet expectations (4): WR Anquan Boldin, ILB NaVorro Bowman, DE Justin Smith, ILB Patrick Willis.

Packers that met expectations (4): LG Josh Sitton, WR Jordy Nelson, RB Eddie Lacy, DE Mike Daniels.
Packers that didn’t (2): QB Aaron Rodgers, WR Randall Cobb.

As the score indicated, this game could have gone the other way if the Packers found a way to make one more play on either side of the ball. Rodgers was far from poor in this game, he just admittedly didn’t perform up to his “great” expectations. That was probably equal parts 49ers defense, and the elements. Cobb was fine, but the Packers need him to be more explosive in these types of games. The Packers’ defense simply lacks enough playmakers at this point, especially without OLB Clay Matthews.





Oye, Bedard.  You need SOME sort of objective way to pick blue chips (all pro nods, pro bowl nods, or better yet PFF or FO grades).  Otherwise your purple chip players look completely arbitrary.  For instance, why leave off Moreno but include Woodhead?  What at this point makes Gates better than the other SD tight end, Green?  If you look at pro-football-reference's AV statistic (a little opaque, but at least allows comparisons across positions) both Edlelman and Jones ranked as high or higher than 4 of the Pat you included, while for the Broncos Moreno, Clark, Beadles, Ramirez, Franklin, Trevathan, and Phillips all ranked higher than players you did include, such as Welker, J Thomas, Knighton, DRC, or Jackson.