NFL Championship Week Preview/Predictions

I just realized that I never wrote any formal predictions for the playoffs this year. Better late than never I suppose. I made predictions for every week this season but neglected the playoffs…what kind of writer am I? Anyway, let’s get this going. I already made my Super Bowl predictions a few weeks ago and the two teams I picked are still alive. Who did I pick you ask? You’ll have to keep reading to find out.
NFC
Green Bay Packers vs. Chicago Bears


These two teams split the season series between each other with the Bears winning back on Week 3 and the Packers winning on week 17 to clinch a playoff birth. The Bears that first matchup due to poor discipline on the part of Green Bay and few poor decisions by Aaron Rodgers. The second meeting between the two teams was more of a defensive struggle. I’m expecting this game to be more like the first matchup with it being back-and-forth and having a close ending.

The Bears offense has really gotten better throughout the course of the year but Jay Cutler is still prone to throw a bad pass or two throughout the game and you can bet he’s going to keep the ball away from Packers corner Tramon Williams, who is has a couple huge INT’s in the playoffs already this year. He also needs to watch out for Charles Woodson on the other side as he’s always capable of making a play on defense. Cutler has gotten better with his decision making later in the season so if he should be fine if he knows when to check it down or throw the ball away. There’s one issue, though; the Bears’ offensive line is one of the worst in the league and they have to deal with BJ Raji and Clay Matthews this week. Yikes. Short passes to Greg Olsen and Matt Forte could be Cutler’s bail-out option here to avoid the blitz and turning the ball over but he was able to get the ball downfield to Johnny Knox in their first meeting so we’ll see what happens. The Packers defense is coming off a strong performance against a strong Atlanta Falcons offense so they must be licking their chops to face this Bears team again. They could surprise them, though.

The Bears have stayed in most of their games this season because of their defense and I can imagine that being the case again this Sunday. They have a tough assignment, though; stopping Aaron Rodgers and they should be able to get a substantial amount of pressure on him since their front four is one of the best in the league and can get pressure on QB’s without sending linebackers in on blitzes. Green Bay’s offensive line isn’t anything great either so they should be able to get in Rodgers face a little bit. Rodgers has been on fire this post-season and has made weapons out of basically anyone on the offense. Greg Jennings, Jordy Nelson, Donald Driver, James Jones, etc. The Bears defense is one of the best at creating turnovers, though so if Rodgers makes one miscue then they can make you pay.

Special teams will play a factor in this game, as well since the Bears have a huge threat on punt and kick returns in Devin Hester and the Packers allowed a kickoff to be returned back for a TD by Eric Weems against Atlanta last week and Hester returned a punt for a TD against Green Bay earlier this year. They can easily take him out of the game by not punting to him but Matt Dodge will tell you that directional kicking is easier said than done when playing outdoors so we’ll see what happens.

I’m going to side with Green Bay in this one, though for a couple reasons; 1) I think Aaron Rodgers is playing on another level right now and while, this will be his toughest test this season, I say he lives up to it and has a great game. 2.) I don’t want to see Julius Peppers in the Super Bowl (Sorry, Chris Harris….). I do think the Bears will be able to hold their own in this game, though. It’s not going to be a repeat of the Atlanta game.

AFC
New York Jets at Pittsburgh Steelers


The Jets did the unthinkable last week by knocking off thePatriots in Foxboro and they did it by playing basically the most perfect defense you can imagine. The front four was able to get pressure on Tom Brady and the coverage was outstanding. No one was open for Brady almost the entire game and he ended up taking a lot of sacks and throwing the ball away, killing drives as a result. The Jets will have to repeat that performance against the Steelers and I’m not 100% sure they’ll be able to do it.

One thing that works in their favor is that the Steelers have a porous offensive line and it was like that last week against the Ravens. Terrell Suggs was in the backfield on almost every play and wile the Jets don’t have a pass rusher as effective as him, they have a solid linebacking corps that should be able to get into the backfield consistently. Bringing down Ben Roethlisberger is a much bigger task, though. He’s a lot bigger and stronger than Brady and his reluctance to throw the ball away could end up killing him in this game if he ends up taking too many sacks or throwing a bad  pick. Brady’s flaw last week was that he constantly waited for the Jets coverage to break down and it wasn’t happening. If that happens again then it could be a long, frustrating game for the Steelers. Pittsburgh’s receivers are a tad more dangerous than New England’s, though. If only for Mike Wallace’s ability to stretch the field. Rashad Mendenhall could be relied on a lot in this game, too.

What about the Jets offense? Should we just assume that the Steelers defense will shut them down completely? Well, it’s stupid to just blindly assume things but the Steelers have a much better defense than the Colts and Patriots so Mark Sanchez is going to have his hands full. It’s going to be more difficult for him than it was on Week 15 since Troy Polamalu is playing this time and he preys on inaccurate passers like Sanchez. However, Sanchez has played well in the playoffs and looks a lot more composed than usual so things could be different. One thing I will assume is that Ladainian Tomlinson and Shonn Greene will have nowhere to go in this game because the Steelers D can definitely stop the run no matter what and the duo will probably be shut down so the game could lie on Sanchez’ shoulders. If he can beat Ike Taylor and Bryant McFadden over the top and get the ball to Santonio Holmes and/or Braylon Edwards again then we could see another upset.

Yes, special teams will play a factor in this game, too. Both teams have strong kick returning units and shaky field goal kickers. Shaun Suisham has played well since the Steelers signed him but he’s still questionable beyond 40 yards and we all know about Nick Folk.

I’m going to pick the Steelers to win this game. Mike Tomlin usually has his guys ready to finish off an opponent in the playoffs and the Steelers defense won’t let the Jets offense do that much unless Sanchez takes a huge step forward. Going with the proven QB in this matchup is the safe route even if he is a total asshat like Big Ben.

So, my Super Bowl prediction is Steelers/Packers. Let’s see how it turns out.

 

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