Friday, January 21, 2011

Championship Game Predictions

(photo courtesy of

Another week, another set of NFL regular-season rematches. After the AFC had two divisional games last round, the NFC will feature NFC North foes Green Bay and Chicago while New York and Pittsburgh will meet at Heinz Field, where the Jets won 22-17 in Week 15.

Packers at Bears:

These teams are similarly built with brand-name quarterbacks, excellent defenses and running games that tend to leave something to be desired. Both of their regular-season matchups were decided by a touchdown or less and I expect this one to be close as well.

Jay Cutler is coming off a 4-touchdown performance against Seattle, whose secondary pales in comparison to Green Bay's. Cutler was also just 15-for-28 passing and will need to be much more efficient if he expects to lead this offense to the Super Bowl.

Aaron Rodgers is coming off an NFL-record setting first three career playoff games and while the Bears have an excellent front seven, their secondary is vulnerable to the deep ball. Even Mark Sanchez and the Jets beat this Chicago defensive backfield down the field; who's to say Rodgers won't be able to?

I don't think either team will run the ball particularly effectively and while I hate when people say this, it's going to be about who gets more attempts and controls the pace of this game. As much as I have loved James Starks since before the season started, Matt Forte is the better back in this game. But he's also facing a slightly better run defense and neither team has a great offensive line.

I think this game will come down to three things: which quarterback can be more efficient moving his team downfield with short passes, which will hit the deep ball when necessary to keep the opposing defense honest, and which team wins the turnover battle.

I think the Packers are better equipped than the Bears in all three of these aspects and I think they win. Packers 24, Bears 20.

Jets at Steelers:

Two sixth-seeded teams have never played in the Super Bowl, but the Packers and Jets have the opportunity to rewrite history this weekend. After picking against my boys last week (hey, I was just playing the odds!) this week poses another scary matchup.

The Jets did win in Week 15, but Troy Polamalu didn't play. In the past two seasons, the Steelers allow almost 40 yards more on the ground and almost a touchdown more per game when Polamalu is out of the lineup. The Jets ran for 106 yards in the first meeting and if they can't match that feat, it might be a cold, long night for them in Pittsburgh.

But I'm a believer. You can argue that Pittsburgh has the better defense and the better quarterback, but I still think the Jets are a better overall football team. New England was better at the two most important spots, head coach and quarterback, but Rex Ryan and Mark Sanchez managed to outduel their counterparts last Sunday. So why should this week be any different?

I know the Jets could've lost that Week 15 matchup if Ben Roethlisberger had a little bit more time at the end of the game, when the Jets stopped the Steelers deep in their own territory. But a win is a win is a win and this team, despite going into battle with a second-year quarterback and head coach, has showed time in and time out this season that they can close out games.

Both of these games will be great to watch if you like real football. The four top-10 defenses will be fired up and playing at their best, while each team has an offense that can put up points when necessary.

I'm a little disappointed in the lack of trash talk on either end; instead we get Bears' players calling Green Bay's receivers the best in the league and Santonio Holmes saying Polamalu is the greatest player he's ever played with. But lack of trash talk aside, these teams will be ready to go on Sunday.

And in all my ranting, I forgot to make a prediction for Jets-Steelers. Call it Jets 20, Steelers 17 and give me two sixth-seeded teams in the Super Bowl. And by the way, Green Bay-New York would be another rematch. Destiny?

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