We are getting closer to Dallas people. To be exact, we are just over 2 weeks away from the big game. The NFL is America’s most popular professional sport. And the Super Bowl is the culminating event. It has been another phenomenal year full of stellar on the field play, injuries, on/off the field issues, #4 shenanigans, and upsets galore. Plus there is the looming issue with the CBA (Collective Bargaining Agreement).
Well now we are down to the NFL’s version of the Final Four. We have already heard our very own Wesley Kaminsky’s outlook for the two Conference Championship Games. Now it is my turn.
Green Bay Packers vs Chicago Bears
Round 3 to one of football’s best rivalries. It is so hard to believe that two of the sport’s renowned franchises have only met once prior in the playoffs. That was over 70 years ago (1941 to be exact). Well get ready for playoff date number 2. It should not disappoint. When the season began, Green Bay was a sexy pick to win the NFC. And I will admit that I was a part of that bandwagon, picking them to win the NFC in my “NFL Preseason Preview.” Well for most of America, that all changed on a Monday Night in late September, when the Bears exposed the Packers. They showed that this previously undefeated team may not be invincible. In that game, Green Bay outgained the Bears by well over 100 yards, but they were unable to hold on to a late 4th quarter lead. Chicago won in their typical grind it out style and came away with a huge W. This was the game that got people to finally take Da Bears seriously. Fast forward to Week 17. It was no accident that these two great divisional foes were matched up to face off in the final week of the season. This was just a flat-out ugly game where neither team was able to even muster up 300 total yards of offense. The Packers were playing for more though, and came home with a much-needed victory.
Now both of these teams out of the NFC North are just one step away from the Big Dance. Green Bay’s lethal passing attack and stingy defense now will take on Chicago’s great defensive unit. This game will have some of the best linebackers in football out on the field. Green Bay sports the lethal tandem of Clay Matthews and AJ Hawk, while Chicago has Lance Briggs, and Brian Urlacher. Talk about some great linebackers.
Now we all know that Green Bay relies very heavily on their star quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who in my opinion, has played better than any quarterback in the League since Week 16. Rodgers brings back memories of Steve Young in the mid 90s. It is also no secret that Green Bay has perhaps the League’s best receiving unit in Greg Jennings, James Jones, and Donald Driver. But Chicago has kept Green Bay’s lethal offensive unit in check in their 2 prior meetings. Generally a great defense beats a great offense. But in this game, Green Bay not only sports a great offense, but they have a great defense too. The key matchup on this day will be Jay Cutler versus Green Bay’s secondary unit of Charles Woodson, Tramon Williams, and Co. This will also be the differentiating factor that puts Green Bay over the top. I will take my chances banking on the Green Bay secondary to come up with some key plays against the gun slinging Jay Cutler that will send the Packers back to the Super Bowl. Cutler has thrown 16 INTs this season. Expect number 17, 18, and perhaps number 19 to really hurt. Packers by 7 on the road. My preseason pick to win the NFC will survive Soldier Field and head to Dallas.
New York Jets vs Pittsburgh Steelers
Welcome to Round 2 in this blood bath. Two of football’s most physical teams will go head to head at Heinz Field for a trip to Dallas. The coaches of these teams are two polar opposites. Rex Ryan probably has the biggest mouth of all the coaches in the League. Mike Tomlin epitomizes the 3 C’s (cool, calm, and collected). Surprisingly this week, the trash talking has been at a minimum. Well you better believe it will be going on all game. New York came in to Heinz Field in Week 15, and defeated the Steelers in front of the home crowd. Can anyone remember a team coming to Steeler Nation in the regular season, coming home with a victory, and then doing it again in the playoffs? It just does not happen in Pittsburgh like that in front of the raucous Steeler fans.
The Jets have had perhaps the most difficult journey in recent memory for a playoff team to get to the Conference Championship Game. I mean they have already had to play against Peyton Manning and Tom Brady. How many teams have ever survived against these two future Hall of Fame Quarterbacks in consecutive weeks? Back in Week 15, Pittsburgh outgained the Jets by over 100 yards and committed 0 turnovers. Yet they lost at home? The difference was a big special teams play by the Jets “do it all” guy, Brad Smith. Could lightning strike twice for Smith? Only if he is healthy.
Pittsburgh prides themselves on their outstanding defense which only gives up an anemic 62.8 yards per game on the ground. The Jets also pride themselves on their great defense, but they also love to pound the rock when on offense, averaging 148.4 yards per game rushing. Many are saying that Troy Polamalu will be the X Factor in this game. He was not there for Round 1. I honestly see Polamalu making a difference in that he is a great playmaker, but he will not have a huge effect on the outcome of this one. The key matchup of this game will be the Jets rushing attack versus the Steeler’s defense. And I expect the Jet’s two-headed rushing attack of LaDainian Tomlinson and Shonn Greene to come out victorious. Plus expect Brad Smith to come up with some big time returns, if he plays. Yes I see the Jets running attack taking them to the Super Bowl. So what if this is a pass first League now. An effective old school rushing attack, mixed in with a great defensive unit can be pretty darn good too. I got my preseason AFC Champion winning this one by the slimmest of margins. Jets by 1 as they complete the trifecta. On Monday, they will be able to say that they beat Manning, Brady, and Roethlisberger in consecutive weeks. I do not see a team accomplishing this feat ever again.
So there you have my thoughts on the Conference Championship games set for tomorrow. They are both phenomenal matchups and will end up being some definite barn burners. Just make sure you are well hydrated while watching these ones. They will be very intense. Who would have thought that two number 6 seeds would meet in the Super Bowl? It could happen.
Stay tuned for the next edition of TheSportsKraze.