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CONFERENCE CHAMPIONSHIP PREDICTIONS

January 23rd, 2011 · 1 Comment

NFC Championship Game: 3:00 PM
Green Bay Packers 20 at Chicago Bears 10

Championship Sunday pits two number 6 seeds at two number 2 seeds, and the teams without the first round byes are the marginal favorites. Go figure. This proves one undeniable fact of sports: the hotter team is the best team. This season, there is no hotter team in the NFL (now that Patriots are gone) than the Packers. GB has erased all doubt about the big-game abilities of its unquestioned leader on offense, Aaron Rodgers. We are witnessing true ascendancy to superstar, elite status with each game in which No. 12 picks apart his opponents with surgical precision. Equal to the task, enter a defense anchored by pass-rushing monster Clay Mathews, Jr., and propelled by former league defensive MVP Charles Woodson. And budding star Truman Williams is just starting to get hot (key pick to end game vs. Phily and 2 int’s, including game-changing Pick-6 vs. ATL). GeeBees are team equally adept on offense and defense, peaking at just the right point, and facing its division nemesis for the third time this season.

While the Bears and Pack split 2 division games, GB is a much more solid team with increased balance on offense thanks to rookie phenom James Starks. The Bears’ defense plays to stop the run first, with ferocious LB’s Briggs and Urlacher ready to pounce on anything that moves in opposing teams’ backfields. But the story in this game will be their ability to play within the Tampa 2 defensive scheme while putting pressure on Rodgers AND limiting Starks’ big play potential. I don’t think they can do it all with much success. If Rodgers has shown anything, it’s his abillity to sidestep pressure while keeping his eyes downfield, or escaping for rushing yards himself. It is this ability which will negate the strength of the Chicago defense. I don’t see Julius Peppers, Israel Idonojai, or Tommy Harris getting to Rodgers enough to alter his hot streak of finding Receivers Jennings, Driver, Jones and Nelson for back-breaking first downs, or big plays downfield. I see at most a sack or two thwarting drives, but the ability of Rodgers to regroup his squad and make the big play when needed most will be truly telling in this match. Meanwhile, Jay Cutler will be overmatched. The Packers did not allow a TD in the last game despite Cutler and starters playing an entire game in regular season finale. Packers can stop run and pass with equal success thanks to underrated AJ Hawk at LB and a defensive front that is always stuffing RB’s for losses. Add to this the blitzing prowess of Mathews and Woodson off the edge, and you have a recipe for stuffing Forte and making it a long day for Jay as well. DC Dom Capers has some interesting packages Bears and Martz havent seen yet, I’m sure. My only question is: Will Return-Man D.Hester play any sort of role on punts and kickoffs, or will HC McCarthy steer his punter and Crosby clear of No. 23? Special teams and weather may be only chance Midway Monsters have of registering upset and advancing to Super Bowl 45.

AFC Championship Game: 6:30 PM
NY Jets 17 at Pittsburgh Steelers 14 (OT)

I don’t believe in teams of destiny. I subscribe to the theory that you do what you can to win the game at almost all costs (exclusive of coaches tripping players on sidelines). It is no fluke that the Fast Planes have reached the conference title game in consecutive years. They are built to win close games where a staunch defense and power running game, sprinkled with short but efficient passing to backs and explosive receivers make the difference in incremental fashion. This game is the epitome of a pickem match. No team should be favored. In fact, the 3.5 line in favor of hosts is more reflective of venue rather than any substantive edge one could conjure. So with all that said, is there any reason to hang your hat on the underdog? Let’s inspect closer…

Jets’ HC Rex Ryan has repeated to anyone who will listen, ad nauseum: “It’s all about ‘Ground n Pound’ baby!” But don’t be fooled, that’s not all NY does on offense. OC B.Shottenheimer is a bit more crafty now that he knows QB Sanchez’ strengths and limitations these past 2 years. The key for him is to establish a rhythm with the 2nd year QB through screens, slants and high percentage passes to WRs Holmes and Edwards. A rejuvenated LT helps this cause and a change-of-pace S.Greene pounding serves to wear down even the stiffest of D-lines. The key for Jets is getting off to fast start, either through a first score, or a defensive play which sets the tone, much as it did last week in 1st Q when picking off Brady and giving Tom his first INT inr 340+ passes (NFL record). NY is also more resilient than most will admit. They showed no quit after NE scored late in 3rd Q to cut lead to 3 points; instead, they countered with a big play to Cotchery and a perfect throw with even better catch by Holmes to keep their distance and force time-consuming drives by Brady to catch up. Most of all, it was their game plan of mixing blitz with dime and hybrid man-zone schemes which made Brady incapable of finding open receivers. The same will be employed against the Big Ben group. But unlike Tom Terrific, Ben is known for breaking out of pocket and extending plays with arm and legs. So, will WR Wallace be able to escape Revis or Cromartie long enough to make game-changing play? Can Ben find others such as TE Miller to exploit defensive strategies? Can RB Mendenhal prove his big game prowess in biggest game of career? Or will Jets conquer Steelers at their place for second straight game in past month? Remember, All-World Safety Troy Polamalu did not play last time, but how much of an impact will he make in this one? Does NY steer clear of him or will the Samoan exert his influence in busting up short pass timing routes? A very intrguing matchup indeed. Again, I like the hotter team, and the one who has been battle tested slightly more from the 6-seed position. Can’t stand the Jets, but can’t see them losing in regluation either. OT and its new rules may come to fruition after all. Super Bowl 45 awaits.

That’s all for now

by: Eric Miller – Sports / Fantasy Football Contributor
Follow Eric Miller on Twitter @footballnutsy

Related posts:

  1. Playoff Predictions – Divisional Round
  2. Miller’s Mid-Season NFL Grades
  3. Playoff Predictions: Wild Card Round
  4. Miller’s Week 9 NFL Predictions (Winners, ATS, Fantasy, Survivor)
  5. Miller’s Week 16 NFL Winners, ATS, Survivor and Fantasy

Tags: Eric Miller · Sports

1 response so far ↓

  • 1 joey michelena // Jan 23, 2011 at 10:39 am

    nutsy, i respecfully disagree on both your picks.

    BEARS 27 Packers 16…here`s why:
    ———————————————–
    Defense ( clearly the Bears are superior).
    special teams ( clearly the Bears are better).
    running game ( Bears again with a slight edge).
    QB ( packers have the edge here).
    WR`s ( very slight edge to GB ).
    intangibles ( EVEN ) , sure the pack are hot, but home field trumps everything).

    STEELERS 34 JETS 12….. here`s why:
    —————————————————-

    Defense..( EVEN) ..however, polomalu reigns more valuable than the over-hyped Revis island.
    and, Cromartie will be picked on unmercifully
    as he has to be the worst cover corner i have ever seen in my life.
    QB—( what a glaring mismatch, almost akin to a Beach High Qb named Miller some 25 years ago.
    Big Ben`s presence is huge and Sanchez can only dink and dunk for so log before he must stretch the field, something he is incapable of doing).

    WR`S ( slight edge to the Jets).
    Special teams( Even)
    Inatngibles ( who in their right mind really believe the Jets can beat Manning, Brady and Ben consecutively on the road); NOBODY DOES !
    Biggest factor here is the QB mismatch which will
    result in the game being over at halftime.
    Look for Sanchez to throw 4 int`s, Brunell ?

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