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5 Questions with John Lynch

FOX Sports John Lynch
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1. There are three playoff rematches from games played on the final regular-season weekend. Do you think once a team starts losing, do the coaches go vanilla with the game plan and do players tend to ease up knowing the playoff game is so much more important?

Yes, absolutely they do. I think even more so than within the game, but going into the game.

Particularly for a team that is locked in and can’t move anywhere within the playoff seeding. Arizona was a perfect example of that after the Vikings won last Sunday. They decided to play Kurt Warner a series or two and basically dialed down the game. Now, everybody is saying that Green Bay is so much better than Arizona. But during the course of the game, not only do they tend to go vanilla but they will throw out what are known as absolute tendency busters to try to get that team off the mark for the following week.

Particularly, the good teams have established a lot of obvious tendencies. One thing in the NFL, the better teams have a lot more tendencies. They do the same thing in the same situations because they do them so well. A coach may show or do something that is so different from the norm just to mess with the teams that have to play them down the road.

The second part of that is that it’s very dangerous when it goes badly. When I look at Cincinnati, I think certain things are dangerous when you get dominated like that; there is the old saying that stuff creeps in. When you play sloppy, whether it’s because you aren’t playing your starters a lot, bad stuff creeps in and often that is hard to fix in a week.

You look at Philadelphia’s pass protection problems vs. Dallas, and whether they were going vanilla or not on offense, when you start being exposed with certain things it is tough to come back from, it really is. Another example is Indianapolis at the end of the year, giving up all those rushing yards. When you get exposed a little bit, well, that is the danger of going vanilla and not playing starters. You open up some holes that at least gives another team confidence and lets them feel, ‘Hey we can beat these guys!’ Sometimes, that confidence is half the battle in playoff games.

2. Of the teams that lost last Sunday, who has the best chance of winning this weekend?

I would say the Eagles. And if you watched their game in Dallas, you wouldn’t say that at all. For me, it’s hard to buy into these Cowboys. If I just looked at the two games these teams played this year, and where Dallas is at right now, I would say Dallas is definitely the better Football team. I say that because they have beaten Philadelphia up front in both games and I’m a big believer in that you win or lose games up front.

I think the wild card in the whole deal is Brian Westbrook; he always has come up big for the Eagles come playoff time. A lot of people say he hasn’t been the same since these concussions, but a competitor like that is going to turn it on for this game. I think when you get Westbrook going then all of a sudden DeSean Jackson becomes a lot more explosive. And then Brent Celek, the tight end, and all the weapons start settling in.

The Eagles also have the benefit of having another week with the offensive line together. When you study the matchup at the quarterback position, I like Philadelphia there. Plus, I think it is hard to beat a team three times in a year.

3. No one thought the Cardinals would reach the Super Bowl last season. And no one really is picking them to repeat. How do they bounce back and win on Sunday?

I had the Cardinals this year and they definitely are an inconsistent team. You never know what you’re really going to get. Sometimes, their defense is dominant to where you can’t really run the ball on them. Offensively, sometimes they seem unstoppable and then other times they seem extremely beatable. It’s the same pattern as last year. It’s dangerous to mess around like that and say, ‘We’re going to get hot at the right time.’

I know that isn’t how they want it to be, but that’s also how they could bounce back. I had them toward the end of the season and I think they have really established some balance offensively. When you listen to all the experts, and I agree, the NFL is a throwing league and you have to be explosive, but you also have to be able to protect your quarterback. I think a great way to do that is to be balanced and be able to run out the clock when you’re ahead — you know, converting third-and-ones.

Even though the Packers stopped them last Sunday, the emergence of Beanie Wells and Tim Hightower as running backs is going to be very important in this game. But, ultimately, it is going to be Kurt Warner throwing to Larry Fitzgerald and that great receiving corps. Green Bay is playing extremely well right now, so it’s going to be a tough challenge for the Cardinals. I tell you, I have a ton of respect for Mike McCarthy because a lot of people had left the Packers for dead.

The Packers are a resilient team. They seemingly had their own dissension within the locker room with defensive players complaining about Dom Capers’ system, even though they were always ranked high. There were a lot of guys complaining that his defense wasn’t allowing players to play to their strengths. The Packers are playing great and they are going to be a tough out, but I believe Arizona can bounce back to win.

4. The Patriots lost Wes Welker for the season. Does that mean New England has no shot of getting to the Super Bowl?

I won’t ever say a Bill Belichick team has no shot. I have too much respect for what this team has accomplished and for him as a coach.

Now, was Wes an integral part of this offense and this team? Absolutely. In the three weeks I was around this team last year, I could tell that Wes was very much an inspirational leader. In many ways, Wes is the heart and soul of that football team. He’s just a consistent guy, a player you can always count on.

Belichick is constantly saying we need more guys like Welker; he doesn’t say anything, he just goes and does his job. I think he kind represents what that organization is all about when they have won championships. And most of all, he’s incredibly productive on the field and I think he opens it up for Randy Moss. The other part, though, is that the Patriots are better than most teams in being able to respond to adversity. Sometimes, they thrive on it. When someone big is down, when the experts are counting them out, that’s when they are at their best.

No shot? I won’t say that, but it does make it awfully tough on them. But that’s because this team isn’t up to where their championship teams have been in the past. I will say this, too, about Randy and Wes. Everybody on the outside would think they are an odd couple, but those two were extremely tight. They were always around each other, talking football.

5. The Saints aren’t going into the playoffs on a high note. They have lost three straight and no team has won a Super Bowl with that kind of a regular-season ending. Do they have a shot?

I had New Orleans early and I looked foolish for saying it even with what Brees and that offense was doing, but I thought they were certainly beatable. Gregg Williams was doing an incredible job with that defense, but I thought a lot of it was smoke and mirrors.

I feel that if you can make it a mano-a-mano game with their defense, you could have some success. Teams started doing that; Carolina was running it down their throat. But you have to score touchdowns and the Panthers didn’t do that the first time they played. If you can, it nullifies that great blitz scheme that Williams throws at you. I could see either Dallas or Green Bay going down to New Orleans and giving them all they can handle.

The Home-field advantage has become less and less of a critical factor in recent years, but when you get dome teams like New Orleans and Minnesota I think it really comes into the play. With the noise and the emotions; those are two of the loudest stadiums and two of most passionate fan bases in the league. These are offenses that don’t want to be outside in 15-degree weather. I think both of them also benefit from being very good running teams.

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