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.
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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