NFC Playoffs Q&A: Experience counts

Newton is a much better closer now. But the playoffs can define a quarterback. Ask Andy Dalton. The Panthers went 12-4 behind Newton's play, but this is his first experience in the playoffs. It won't be easy. The 49ers' defense will give him a hard time. If he wins, he might have to travel to Seattle and see if he can win in a tough, noisy environment. If the Seahawks lose and the Panthers win, Newton would have to face the division rival Saints in Charlotte.

8. What's the most interesting sidebar to the Seahawks-Saints game? For the second time this season, the battle of the short quarterbacks will take place. Brees is 6 feet. Wilson is just less than 5-11. Wilson grew up watching Brees and trying to figure out what allowed him to be so good. On tape, Wilson watched how Brees made deeper drops behind center to see downfield better. Wilson copied that. He watched how Brees moved in the pocket to pick up throwing lanes.

At last season's Pro Bowl, Wilson spent plenty of time asking Brees questions about how he prepared for games. The teacher faces the student at an interesting time. If Wilson beats Brees, does that means he moves ahead of him in the hierarchy of quarterbacks? Wilson is winning the road games that have caused Brees to struggle.

Because the Seahawks run a power running offense, Wilson won't put up the gaudy passing numbers of Brees and may take years to reach the 4,000-yard-a-year level. Brees can throw for 5,000 yards in any given season. But the game is about winning, and if the Wilson gets the advantage Saturday, it creates an interesting debate about which quarterback is more valuable.

9. What is the injury situation? Haralson wasn't the Saints' only notable injury Saturday. Cornerback Keenan Lewis was not allowed to return to the field after suffering a concussion, but he has time to clear concussion protocol. If he can't play, the loss to the secondary would be huge.

The Seahawks won't have outside linebacker K.J. Wright, who is recovering from foot surgery. Wright might be available for the NFC title game. Harvin might be able to play despite his sore hip. On offense, there is a chance Seahawks tight end Luke Willson (high ankle) and wide receiver Jermaine Kearse (ankle) could be able to play.

The 49ers are in pretty good shape. Cornerback Carlos Rogers has a hamstring injury that kept him out of Sunday's game, but he has time for it to heal. Cornerback Eric Wright was bothered by a hamstring injury. Even though he played Sunday, the 49ers elected to use Perrish Cox more as the nickel corner even though he was just signed a few days before the game. Defensive tackle Demarcus Dobbs suffered a knee injury that kept him out most of the second half.

Panthers coach Ron Rivera is optimistic wide receiver Steve Smith can play despite a PCL knee injury. Rivera said Smith could be able to practice by mid-week.

10. Who will play in the NFC Championship Game? With the Seahawks having such a home-field advantage, they should advance to play San Francisco. The 49ers are red hot. Even though they lost earlier in the year to Carolina, they have a great chance of beating the Panthers next week. A Seattle-San Francisco championship should be a monster for ratings. It's the best rivalry in football.

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