Green Bay Packers (-3.5) @ Chicago Bears
The Bears have not received respect all season. The Packers had to fight their way into the playoffs. Dealing with adversity is not a challenge for either of these NFC-North foes. These two teams don't like each other, they are physical, and they both play different styles on both sides of the ball.
Offense: Advantage goes to Green Bay. Led by Aaron Rodgers, who is coming off one of the most impressive playoff performances of all time last week vs Atlanta, the Green Bay offense can put up points in a hurry. But, to the dismay of Philadelphia Eagles fans, the Packers have found a talented running back on the roster; James Starks. Starks' ability to have some success against the Bears defensive front will be huge for the passing attack. The Packers will force the issue with the run in order to keep the Bears defense honest, but if Starks is able to have success and pick up chunks of yardage the Packers will be in a good situation.
For the Bears, Jay Cutler played very well against the Seahawks last week. A few questionable throws (but they did not hurt him), but Matt Forte will be the key for the Bears. Forcing the issue with Forte will open up the passing game for Chicago, but it will also protect the Bears "sub-par" offensive line. It will be very interesting what type of third down's both teams will face, but the advantage clearly goes to the Packers on offense.
Defense: This is a tough call for me as the Bears were able to limit Rodgers to only 10 points during week 17, but I have to go Green Bay here. The Packers go into Philly and shutdown Vick, then they go into Atlanta and have a more impressive performance against Matt Ryan who was 20-2 in his career when playing at home. Clay Matthews and BJ Raji have been excellent on the d-line, but Charles Woodson has played a pivotal role for the Packers defense. For the Bears, holding Rodgers to 10 points in week 17 was a brilliant performance, and last week they shutdown the Seahawks for 45 minutes. The key for the Bears will be their pass rush. Can they get pressure on Rodgers without bringing an extra guy on the rush. Playing a Tampa-2 defense requires the defensive line to get to the quarterback without bringing an extra rusher. Look for Julius Peppers to rise to the occasion and make his presence felt early. Urlacher and Briggs will be ferocious on the second level, but can this Bears defense play all 60 minutes of shutdown football, create turnovers, and dominate the battle in the trenches. I say no, and edge goes to Green Bay.
Special Teams: HUGE ADVANTAGE to the Bears. Devin Hester, I repeat, Devin Hester should not get a chance for a return. By doing that, the Packers will be punting the ball out of bounds and that is always a difficult thing to do successfully. The opportunity for the Bears to have great field position is largely due to the fact the Packers won't allow Hester to get his hands on a return.
Prediction: The Packers have the edge here. Hotter defense and a red hot quarterback. It is so hard to win on the road in the playoffs, but the way Rodgers is playing it won't matter. Close game throughout, Packers by a touchdown late.
GREEN BAY PACKERS 24 - Chicago Bears 17
New York Jets @ Pittsburgh Steelers (-3.5)
I love this matchup for the Steelers. The Jets are coming off their Super Bowl. They put everything they had in that game against the Patriots. I truly believe they will come out flat against the Steelers and Sanchez will struggle with all of the pressure.
The quarterback mathcup here is a clear advantage for the Steelers. 9-2 is Big Ben's career playoff record, but Sanchez has gotten his team to the AFC Championship two years in a row winning 4 road games in the process. Very impressive, but Big Ben is so dangerous here.
The defensive matchup that I am looking forward to seeing the the Jets pass rush against the Steelers offensive line. The Jets have to get to Big Ben. And the Steelers offensive line has not played well all season. It will be very interesting to see how often the Jets bring an extra rusher, and how the Steelers are able to handle it. If the Jets have success blitzing early, they will bring the pain all game long. That would be a big issue for the Steelers as they do not want to be in a situation where they need to keep Heath Miller in for extra protection. Mwelde Moore is a good pash rush running back, but keeping Miller in for protection would hurt the Steelers game plan.
Special teams is always big in playoff games. Brad Smith will be back for the Jets and he is explosive returning kicks. The cold weather and some wind will force the kickers and punters to adjust a little bit, but expect both teams to be very caution kicking long field goals. Both coaches trust their defenses so don't be surprised if these two teams are punting from the 30-35 yard line trying to pin the opposing teams deep in their own field.
Prediction: I really like the home team in this matchup. I love Big Ben in these situation's, I love Polamalu to have a big game defensively against a young quarterback. I see the Steelers up 7-10 and the Jets driving late, but its a Polamalu big play then ends the drive and the Steelers are on their way to Dallas.
PITTSBURGH STEELERS 23 - New York Jets 13