Green Bay Packers (-3) at Chicago Bears: The longest standing rivalry in the NFL faces off for a berth in the Super Bowl. How storied are these franchises? The NFC champion receives the George Halas trophy (named for the legendary Bears owner) and moves on to the Super Bowl, where the winner will hoist the Vince Lombardi trophy (named for the legendary Packers coach).
In the nearly 90 years these two have been rivals, the Bears hold the edge in the series with an all-time record of 92-83-6. Yet despite the longevity of these franchises, they have only met once in the playoffs. Exactly one week after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the Bears defeated the Pack 33-14.
It would be easy to say that Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers will not replicate his incredible performance last week against the Atlanta Falcons. Of course, if Rodgers ends up being merely great against the Bears on Sunday, that's quite a step down from “masterful”, which he was against Atlanta. Some observers believe that Rodgers has overcome the specter of Brett Favre with his clutch performances over the past month. But in the cruel world of NFL lore, that is simply not the case unless Rodgers leads the Packers to a Super Bowl win.
Despite his great performance last week in a win over the Seattle Seahawks, Bears quarterback Jay Cutler still has his doubters. But his first playoff game since he was in high school showed that he was not intimidated by his circumstances. And while Culter needs to play well for the Bears to win this week, I believe he will need a lot of help from his running game to make it happen. Matt Forte had a nice game in the season finale at Green Bay (15 carries, 91 yards), but it was all for naught because of two costly Cutler interceptions deep in Bears territory.
Even though the Bears' playoff position was solidified, they were all in against the Pack in week 17, but still came up short in a hard fought 10-3 loss. Earlier in the season, the Bears were the beneficiary of 18 Green Bay penalties in a last second 20-17 win. So if the two regular season matchups are any indication, this battle for the NFC championship should be epic.
Green Bay 21 Chicago 17
New York Jets (+3) at Pittsburgh Steelers: Matt Ryan. Aaron Rodgers. Matt Cassel. Carson Palmer. Matt Schaub. Jay Cutler. Tony Romo. Josh Freeman. Alex Smith. Matthew Stafford. Sam Bradford. All fine quarterbacks, yes? Would you believe that the Jets' Mark Sanchez now has as many playoff victories as those other QBs combined? It's true! Despite not putting together the most eye-popping statistics in his two years with the Jets, Sanchez has embraced his role as a “game manager” and has taken advantage of his club's has a stellar defense. Face it. There aren't a lot quarterbacks in the modern day NFL who have led their clubs to the conference championship game in their first two seasons. One of the few exceptions would be Ben Roethlisberger, who happens to be the opposing QB in this game.
Roethlisberger is in his seventh season as the Steelers' signal caller but will be playing in his fourth AFC title game. Of the four quarterbacks remaining this postseason, Big Ben is the one guy I would want running my offense with the game hanging in the balance. He could be utterly inept for 3 ½ quarters, but everything suddenly comes together when the Steelers need that one big drive.
I don't believe either team will be able to run the ball effectively, so it comes down to the passing game. Because of Roethlisberger, the Steelers will prevail in what I anticipate will be a tight knit ball game.
Pittsburgh 17 New York 13
Straight Up: 3-5
Against the Spread: 3-5