Conference Championships

Courtesy of nfl.com

By TLarner

Win and you’re in, to the Super Bowl that is. Fierce NFC North rivals face off in Chicago, while hopefuls in New York travel to the Steel City.

NFC Championship: Green Bay at Chicago

For the third time this season, NFC North rivals face off, but this time for all the glory. With a trip to the Super Bowl on the line, the Packers (12-6) and Bears (12-5) meet for only the second time in postseason action. On December 14, 1941, the Bears beat the Packers 33-14 to reach the NFL title game.

In Week 3, Chicago hosted Green Bay, and won 20-17. The Packers led 10-7 going into the fourth quarter, but a punt return by Devin Hester gave the Bears the lead. Aaron Rodgers drove down the field, and finished the drive off with a three-yard touchdown run, but Chicago Kicker Robbie Gould connected on two field goals to secure the win. In that game, the Packers had 18 penalties for 152 yards, which ruined many drives.

Then in Week 17, Green Bay defeated Chicago 10-3 at home. It was a must win for them to reach the playoffs as the sixth seed in the NFC. Rodgers threw the only touchdown of the game in the fourth quarter on a one-yard pass to tight end Donald Lee. In a defensive battle, the Packers picked off Jay Cutler twice.

Last week, the Green Bay defense terrorized the Atlanta Falcon’s high powered offense. They sacked Matt Ryan five times, intercepted him twice, and also forced a fumble. Atlanta was held to under 200 total yards, and was only 3 of 10 on third down conversions. In Chicago’s first playoff game, they beat the Seattle Seahawks 35-24. Seattle’s three running backs were held to 20 yards on nine carries, while the Bears ran for 176 yards.

This week, I believe the Green Bay Packers have the edge. The defense has played lights out football since that Week 17 game against the Bears. They have shut down two of the best offenses in the league by beating Philadelphia and Atlanta in the first two rounds of the playoffs. And last week, the offense was unstoppable. Rodgers threw for three touchdowns, and ran for another. Four different receivers had over 75 yards. The Bears need defensive ends Julius Peppers and Israel Idonije to harass Rodgers all game long. If they can disrupt the passing game, and Cutler is able to play without any turnovers, and Hester can take a kick to the house, then Chicago has a chance.

My prediction, Green Bay Packers 24-14.

Courtesy of nfl.comAFC Championship:

New York Jets at Pittsburgh

The New York Jets (13-5) and the Pittsburgh Steelers (13-4) will face off for the right to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl. This is a position the Steelers are used to being in, unlike the Jets. The last time New York played in the Super Bowl was in 1969 against the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III. Joe Namath’s infamous “guarantee” led to a 16-7 victory. The Steelers are looking for their third Lombardi Trophy since 2006. In Super Bowl XL, they defeated the Seattle Seahawks 21-10, and in Super Bowl XLIII, they beat the Cardinals 27-23.

In Week 15, these two teams faced off in Pittsburgh. The Jets won 22-17. Special teams ace Brad Smith returned the opening kickoff 97 yards for a touchdown. In the fourth quarter, Pittsburgh running back Mewelde Moore was tackled for a safety by Jason Taylor, putting the game out of reach. It’s important to note that Steelers’ safety Troy Polamalu did not play in that game, but he will play today.

The Jets have knocked off Peyton Manning and Tom Brady in consecutive weeks, and are hoping to add another elite QB to that list by defeating Ben Roethlisberger. Against New England, the New York defense sacked Brady five times, and picked him off once. Mark Sanchez threw three touchdowns and no interceptions. The Steelers defeated the Ravens last week 31-24. Roethlisberger threw for two touchdowns, and running back Rashard Mendenhall ran for two more. The Pittsburgh defense sacked Joe Flacco five times, and safety Ryan Clark added an interception and forced fumble. Baltimore was held to a pathetic 126 total yards.

Fans in New York should be worried today. The Steelers have the top run stopping defense in the NFL. Although the Jets have the third best defense against the run, I would take Roethlisberger over Sanchez any day. Sanchez is 4-1 in playoff games, but Roethlisberger already has two Super Bowl rings.

My prediction, Pittsburgh Steelers 21-7.

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14 Responses to "Conference Championships"

  1. Rey   January 23, 2011 at 5:20 pm

    Great job as always, TLarner. I’d have to agree with both of your picks and see the scores as reasonable. Right now in Packers game, you’re dead on with the defense causing havoc on the Bears. IN tonight’s game I just don’t see the Steelers D opening any windows of opportunity for a busted play, ones that always seem to bail out the Jets’ offense.

  2. TLarner   January 23, 2011 at 6:22 pm

    The Packers defense bailed out a less than spectacular offense. Starks and Rodgers did just enough to score two rushing touchdowns, and what a play by B.J. Raji on the interception. Like I said, Chicago would win if they could shut down the passing game of Green Bay, not turnover the ball, and Hester had to return a kick. They did the first by picking off Rodgers twice, and Urlacher had a nice sack. However, Cutler and Hanie combined for 3 INTs, including the touchdown return. And Packers punter Tim Masthay did a great job all game with coffin corner punts, pinning the Bears deep and not giving Hester a chance for a big return.

  3. Crossword Pete   January 23, 2011 at 6:23 pm

    A guy named Caleb Haney from…CHICAGO STATE almost carrying the Bears to the Super Bowl. Would have made quite a story if he succeeded.
    A few weeks ago Lovie Smith said Jay Cutler was a tough guy and you expect the QB of the Bears to be a tough guy. I was thinking; “Lovie, you are sooo right!” Well, it should have been “you are sooo half-right!” You do expect the Bears to have a tough guy at QB, but apparently Jay Cutler is not it. If you can walk to the bike and pedal it, you can play, and if your coach is saying “no”, you have to be tough enough and leader enough to override him. Not that Cutler had done anything, but still, he is QB 1; he belongs on the field.

  4. Crossword Pete   January 23, 2011 at 6:25 pm

    TLarner nearly nails the score of game 1. Nice call, buddy!

  5. Rey   January 23, 2011 at 7:39 pm

    I’m with you on Cutler, Pete. Even the announcers were questioning how he just stood on the sideline like a lump. He wasn’t even trying to stay warm and to continously test it out. It was like he never planned to even attempt to go back out there.

  6. Rey   January 23, 2011 at 8:54 pm

    Early Super Bowl prediction: Packers narrowly defeat the Steelers as they showcase their warm weather offense. And yes – I am the same person who wondered what the big deal was with the Packers going into Atlanta and picked them to lose.

  7. Rey   January 23, 2011 at 9:53 pm

    Where will MIke Tomlin rank in the heirarchy of great NFL coaches when his career is done?

  8. Crossword Pete   January 23, 2011 at 9:57 pm

    And he’s not even 40 yet! I am guessing he’s a candidate for a top spot. And he is very articulate to boot.

  9. Wally   January 23, 2011 at 10:10 pm

    Jay Cutler is nadless the way Lovie Smith is brainless. Result … Bears are not as good as they could be … and are not going to the Super Bowl.

    Note: Caleb Hanie is from Colorado State. I don’t think Chicago State has a football team.

    The brain was right this weekend. Unfortunately.

  10. Crossword Pete   January 24, 2011 at 9:48 am

    I did not think Chicago State had football either, but I was listening to that portion of the game on radio and heard Chicago State. CSU makes a little more sense. We must all realize that Cutler and Lovie are protecting Cutler’s long term career. Do you all see my tongue in my cheek right now? A career ending injury would be deemed a mercy killing in Cutler’s case.

  11. TLarner   January 24, 2011 at 10:10 am

    Do you think Cutler will have a chance to play in another NFC Championship game in his career? I wouldn’t bet on it. He definitely doesn’t have the leadership abilities of the elite QBs in the league.

  12. Wally   January 24, 2011 at 10:39 am

    Gee … given the negative buzz both nationally and in Chicago surrounding the fact that Cutler sat on the sidelines in the second half of yesterday’s “winnable game” is gonna make it very difficult for him to progress in Chicago. He may be booed from now on every time he step on the field. Cutler may have just joined Bartman as Chicago’s most disliked “sports villain”!

    I still have to sort out “the facts” surrounding why he “couldn’t play”, but it sure didn’t look justifiable from the “TV perspective”. All Bears fans were thinking “Gee … 70% of your starter is still better than any of your backups … esp our backups. And we’re a few scores away from going to the @#@!$% Super Bowl!! Man up and get your @$$ in there, buddy!”

    To share the blame for yesterday’s loss has to be the Bears coaching staff who did not have the team prepared to face what GB was running for the entire first half. Now that is not surprising to Bears fans … unfortunately. At least they were game in the second half … but you cannot play poorly for an entire half in playoff games like these.

  13. Chas   January 24, 2011 at 11:21 am

    Even on Boston sports radio this morning, they were making Cutler-Bartman comparisons.

    Prior to the Pats-Jets game, they were saying that in the playoffs, generally the team with the better QB wins. Of course, it didn’t happen in that game, but it did in both games yesterday. Aaron Rodgers didn’t look great yesterday, but now he has a chance to beat arguably the best postseason QB in the game today.

    Keep in mind, I said arguably. I’m not ready to say Roethlisberger is better than Brady (in terms of being a big-game performer), but Brady has slipped up recently and Ben hasn’t.

  14. Wally   January 24, 2011 at 2:24 pm

    I still don’t look at Brady as a “great big game performer” … and it’s probably cuz I’m still carrying “Tuck rule” baggage around. And I know Brady has 3 rings … but it always seems like Adam Viniateri was the “real hero” in most of those SB wins. Shouldn’t great QBs be leading TD drives instead of leaving your kicker a pressure-packed 47 yarder??? Just sayin …. 🙂

    Couldn’t ask for a more evenly matched Super Bowl … at least on paper. Will be very interesting to see if GB’s defense can contain the Steeler power running game … that’s the key to the game, IMO.

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