GREEN BAY @ CHICAGO
The Bears and Packers have played 181 times since 1921, making it the oldest rivalry in the NFL. This marks only the second time they’ve played in the playoffs however. The only previous time was a Bears win in 1941.
The Bears are a pretty simple team to understand. If Jay Cutler plays well and is protected, they win. In their 5 losses, Cutler threw 1 TD to 9 INT. He had 22 TD and 7 INT in their 11 wins. Defensively they are good. They rush the passer and stop the run.
The Packers are much more difficult to figure. In their 6 losses, the most common element was their offense not being as productive. They averaged just over 16ppg in those losses, and if you take out the Patriots loss where QB Matt Flynn led them to 27 points, that average drops to 14ppg. In those games they did have turnovers, but not a ton. They typically struggled to run the football too. In only the Patriots loss could you pin the defeat on their defense. The 31 they gave up to New England was by far the most points they’ve surrendered this year.
The Bears were #1 in punt returns and #2 in kick returns this year. Special teams can make a difference for Chicago, and might have to against a stingy Packers defense.
Aaron Rodgers had a very good season, and is coming off a particularly excellent game, but it has been their defense that carried them to the playoffs. They ranked second in points allowed this year only trailing the Steelers. They cover well and they rush the passer. They can give up chunks of yards on the ground.
So, can Chicago win as an underdog at home? Yes, but they have to get field position, and maybe even a score out of special teams. They also will have to run the ball often, and well. The first thing they do well, and the second not so much.
One thing I am not buying is a Packers blowout. Green Bay did only manage 21 points at Philly and 10 at Chicago in the last three weeks. The nations’ memory only seems to stretch back to last week in Atlanta though when Green Bay scored 48.
The Packers have lost 3 of their last 4 games at Chicago, and each of the last 5 meetings overall have been decided by 7 points or less. There are reasons to think Chicago can win, but I think Green Bay is better on offense and defense. I do not think they are much better though, and will need to spread the Bears out passing, but at the same time establishing some sort of run game. Ultimately the Packers pass rush and their secondary will this game for them.
GREEN BAY 17
NEW YORK AT PITTSBURGH
The Steelers, Colts, and Patriots have represented the AFC in every Super Bowl since 2003. Those three teams have been the best teams of the decade in not just the AFC, but the entire NFL. NY is trying to crash the party, and are 2/3 of the way there.
The Jets are best known for Rex Ryan and their defense, but on a few occassions this year they’ve been blistered. They actually rank last in points allowed of the 4 teams remaining. They are clearly well-coached and have shown they can rise to the occassion in shutting down Indy and NE to this point. But the defense cost them as many games as the offense this year.
The Steelers have been the team I’ve said is the best since about October. They can run, throw, and score. They definitely can defend and makes plays on defense. I am very concerned about their offfensive line’s ability to hold up.
Mark Sanchez is 4-1 in the playoffs, all on the road, and has a QB rating of 92.2 with a 7-3 TD-INT ratio. I am not sure if it is NY, or that he came from USC, or that he had such a up-and-down rookie season, but he doesn’t get the respect he is due. He is probably most comparable to Eli Manning, his fellow NY QB. Manning has done a lot of good things in the playoffs, and in the clutch during his career, but has had enough bad games to be dismissed as a great quarterback.
Santonio Holmes did a lot of great things for the Steelers, including win Super Bowl MVP just a couple of seasons ago. Holmes has 6 touchdowns in 6 career playoff games, only failing to score in the wild card victory over Indianapolis this year. He is not one of the best WR’s in the league, but it’s not an accident he keeps making plays in the postseason.
Darrelle Revis is the best defensive player left in the playoffs in my opinion. Revis is a Pittsburgh kid. He went to high school and college in the city he returns to in hopes of getting to his first Super Bowl.
Pittsburgh is 5-5 all-time at home in AFC Championship games. Not what you’d guess for a franchise that has arguably been the NFL’s best ever. I don’t think home-field matters for the Jets. So I think where they play is a non-factor.
For the Steelers to win and get back to another Super Bowl, Roethlisberger will need to make some big plays down the field. It can be done, and he is both elusive enough in the pocket, and has a big enough arm to make them. Mike Wallace has to show up this week. He was quiet last week. Rashard Mendenhall had a nice game earlier this year against NY and will need another one. Pittsburgh was a +17 TO this year, and needs to win that battle.
Despite liking Pittsburgh all year, my brain is telling me this is the Jets week. NY struggles at times to get a pass rush, but schematically should be able to create one against a beat-up Pittsburgh o-line. The secondary should be able to silence the Steelers WR after shutting down Indy and New England. On offense, they managed to crack 100 yards rushing against the Steelers, and can do it again. Brian Schottenhiemer will be a head-coaching candidate after this game. He must continue to vary his play-calling and sprinkle in creativity. Mark Sachez has missed some open guys that he can hit, but more importantly he must continue to protect the football. The Ravens let the Steelers back in because they got sloppy.
NEW YORK 16