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Posted at 7:44 PM ET, 01/21/2011

My take on the AFC and NFC championship games

By LaVar Arrington

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.

By LaVar Arrington  | January 21, 2011; 7:44 PM ET
 
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the Caps at midseason and college hoops

Comments

I would put more stock in LaVar's analysis if he hadn't cited Nathan Vasher as a Bear's playmaker, since Vasher was cut prior to the beginning of the season. Even with subpar offensive play (especially from Cutler), the Bears were in both games with the Packers this season (winning the one in Chicago). If Cutler finishes with a QB rating 90+ the Bears will have won the game. Bears by 7.

Posted by: cflinn | January 22, 2011 5:50 AM | Report abuse

OK Lavar, good analysis. Especially since I agree w/ both of your picks. The Cheeseheads by 13? Interesting. That's a rivalry match-up. Dick LeBeau, Polamalu, Harrison, Woodley, et al will have Sanchez seeing cross-eyed by the end of the game.

Posted by: randysbailin | January 22, 2011 7:57 AM | Report abuse

Agree with both picks, but worry about the Steelers offensive line. Jet defense overwhelmed the more competent NE offensive line and gave Brady nothing but trouble. Big Ben will have to run on the blitz a lot to offset a leaky offensive line. Steelers by 3 in OT.

Posted by: bandcyuk | January 22, 2011 10:48 AM | Report abuse

Agree with both picks, but worry about the Steelers offensive line. Jet defense overwhelmed the more competent NE offensive line and gave Brady nothing but trouble. Big Ben will have to run on the blitz a lot to offset a leaky offensive line. Steelers by 3 in OT.

Posted by: bandcyuk | January 22, 2011 10:50 AM | Report abuse

"Both teams both have very impressive..."

Does the Post have Editors?

Posted by: UncommonCommoner | January 22, 2011 11:00 AM | Report abuse

Okay...so NO ONE is giving the Jets a chance! I find this to be crazy given what this Jets team has done...not just this year in the playoffs but last year as well. The Jets are ready for this game and so is Sanchez. Rex Ryan more than has his team ready to play Sunday but he has them ready to WIN! When you give a team as talented as the Jets NO RESPECT you are just asking for trouble! Just ask the Patriots!

I see it this way. The Stillers O'line is a MESS after last week. And consider how much that game took out of the Steelers. Now the Stillers are going to face an even more physical team in the Jets! I don't give the Stillers O'line a chance of opening up holes or being able to protect Big Ben. The Stillers have have maybe two legit O'linemen to play with this Sunday and against the Jets front-seven...that won't be enough. Alot has been made about Ben being able to find open guys after the play breaks down but I would be surprised if he made those plays this week. It's no secret to Rex and the Jets what Ben likes to do and they will be ready for it. IT will be a cold evening in the Burgh and the way Big Ben protects the ball in the pocket will be a problem. The ball will be slick and Ben will caugh it up twice giving a short field for Sanchez and the Jets.

Another thing to consider when talking about Sanchez's so called inexperience...he is has a 4-1 record in the playoffs in just his first two years people! He won on the road in Indy and New England. And yes...he made plays in both of those games to help his team win! I can't stress this next point enough...HE BEAT TOM BRADY IN HIS HOUSE!!! Everyone in the NFL was calling the Patriots the Best team in the Playoffs! JETS BEAT THEM!!! SO to me that Makes the JEts the best team in the playoffs. They have the better fronts in the trenches over the Stillers and I don't care how BIG Big Ben is he can't win this game with the O'line he has!

So Lavar...you and everyone else have over looked the most important factors in the Steelers v. Jets game and I have layed them out for you to study.

Jets 23 - Stillers 16.

Posted by: ekbinion68 | January 22, 2011 11:46 AM | Report abuse

Steel is only strengthen by heat thus the afterburners from the J-E-T-S will cause cracks in the Steeler, after 40 years baby we will be on the way.

Posted by: getagripped | January 22, 2011 7:01 PM | Report abuse

Both teams both have ... from the department of redundancy department.

And the other night I was regrettably listening to his show and a caller was stating how he liked the Jets over the Stillers for a few reasons, one of which being that Hines Ward was past his prime.

So LaVar lights into him saying that Ward may not be what he once was, but no way he's past his prime...

...? Seriously?

... and I like LaVar. lol.

Posted by: DikShuttle | January 25, 2011 8:46 AM | Report abuse

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