My take on the AFC and NFC championship games
This week boasts historical teams matching up in both divisional championship games.
The first matchup features two divisional rivals who know each other very well. Multiple story lines will play out when the host Chicago Bears face the scorching-hot Green Bay Packers.
Both teams both have very impressive, top-ranking defenses that will get after one another. The question is, which defense will be able to stop the run and prevent the opposing quarterback from finding a rhythm?
Can Jay Cutler put another good game together? He's been very inconsistent throughout the season and has been as bad as throwing four interceptions in one game to the same player. On the other side, it would be hard to argue there's a better quarterback playing right now than Aaron Rodgers. His balance of passing and running has made it virtually impossible to stop this Packers offense.
But if any defense has the players to do it, the Bears do. Led by Brian Urlacher, this unit has playmakers everywhere. Julius Peppers, Lance Briggs, Nathan Vasher along with a host of other players that anchor that Bears' defense will be poised to stop the run and pressure the passer.
If there's any part of the Packers' offense that is in question it would have to be their newfound running game. James Starks shocked the Eagles in a wild-card victory, posting 123 yards rushing. If Rodgers is able to be effective with the pass early on it could soften up the Bears' run defense, making them more susceptible to rush plays. Highly unlikely, but it is possible that this could happen.
Back to the Bears' offense. There aren't very many playmakers, but with the emergence of Greg Olsen this will be a large concern for the Packers. I look for Dom Capers to lock Charles Woodson on Olsen; that should cancel out that threat, forcing the Bears to depend on Matt Forte, Devin Hester or someone else to step up and make plays.
The Bears' offensive line has played well in the playoffs but by no means does this make it a truly formidable front. They will have their hands full with the Packers' front seven.
BJ Raji is as disruptive as any interior linemen in the game; he will demand a double-team at all times. Then there's the question of who will block Clay Matthews. Matthews will have the advantage of one-on-one blocking more often than not and that is a clear mismatch for the Bears.
This game will come down to which quarterback can make more plays under pressure.
The AFC championship game will be two bullies meeting on the block to make a statement as to who is the biggest bully in town.
I look for the Steelers to try to confuse the second-year quarterback Mark Sanchez. Jets Coach Rex Ryan was able to keep the game plan simple and plain for Sanchez against the Patriots. Here's the deal: The Patriots' defense is a young -- very talented, but very young. The defense that the Jets will see in Pittsburgh is a bunch of experienced veterans that will have the services of one Troy Polamalu, who did not play when the teams met las month. Polamalu is a difference-maker; his team feeds off of what he brings to the game. But quietly, Ryan Clark always seems to be a difference-maker in the playoffs.
On the other side, Bart Scott will make sure the Jets give a spirited effort on defense and this team's secondary is the best in the NFL.
For the Jets' offense, it will come down to if LaDainian Tomlinson and the deeply talented receiving corps will be able help Sanchez throughout the game.
My picks: I believe that the pressure will get to Cutler in Chicago and it will force him into mistakes that will give too much momentum to Rodgers and the Pack on offense. I have the Packers by thirteen points.
In the AFC, the Steelers' defense will overwhelm Sanchez and Big Ben just knows how to win in the playoffs. He will find a way to make the plays needed in this game. Steelers by a touchdown.
| January 21, 2011; 7:44 PM ET
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