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Saturday, January 22, 2011

Eric's AFC/NFC Championship Picks

Green Bay Packers (-3.5) @ Chicago Bears

Since the demise of the Patriots, the public appears to have jumped on the Packers bandwagon. If the Packers do in fact go on to win the Super Bowl, we will remember the 2010 playoffs as the year Aaron Rodgers established himself as one finest quarterbacks in the game alongside Manning, Brees, an Brady. If the Pack does in fact win, Rodgers will also have as many Super Bowls as Brett Farve. Perhaps no one benefited more than Aaron Rodgers from Brett Farve’s choice to come back to the Vikings for one more year (except for maybe Joe Webb). Farve twice beat Rodgers convincingly last season and took his team to the conference championship. Had Farve ridden off in to the sunset, Rodgers would never had the chance to beat him and perhaps his lecherous behavior would have gone relatively unnoticed (or he could have simply bought them off). Regardless, Packers GM Ted Thompson made a ballsy but terrific move going with Rodgers and dealing Farve to the Jets.

In a similar vein, the Bears knew they couldn’t win the big one without a QB. Even if you have one of the all time great defenses and spectacular special teams, championships require at least a competent quarterback (Trent Dilfer was better than people like to give him credit for). The Bears brass rolled the dice and brought in the enormously talented Jay Cutler. Cutler’s potential is unlimited. I love watching the guy throw ropes all over the place. However, he’s a narcissistic semi-jerk who dates reality TV stars. The gamble paid off. The Broncos have the #2 overall pick in the draft and the Bears grabbed the #2 seed in the playoffs. I do not feel Cutler is as responsible for his team’s success as Aaron Rodgers is for the Pack. However, as Jay goes, so go the Bears. He could single-handedly lose the game for them by forcing throws, holding the ball too long, or giving the Pack turnovers. Conversely, he can make throws no one else can. He makes the Bears’ mediocre (and that’s a generous adjective) receiving corps appear adequate. Cutler has Rodgers in the raw talent department but I would take Rodgers any day of the week.

Both of these teams have defenses. I’m well aware of this fact despite what the above paragraphs lead you to believe. We all know the Bears’ D. They established their brand in the Super Bowl run a few years back. Julius Peppers was the perfect addition. Peppers infused youth, speed, and power into the aging Chicago defense. Perhaps most important, Peppers must be accounted for. He consistently draws the attention of the offense in the form of double teams. He takes the burden off guys like Urlacher who need the relief. Green Bay’s offensive line and their running attack are the only thing I foresee stalling a Super Bowl run. I do not feel the Packers will find much of anything on the ground. Aaron Rodgers leads them in rushing yards and makes at least two big first down runs in the game. Unfortunately for the Bears, Rodgers will also lead them in passing yards. Danieal Manning will play a prominent role in this one for the Packers. Can you see him containing James Jones or Donald Driver? Me neither.

This Mike Martz offense isn’t exactly a clone of the ’99 Rams. They rank 28th in the league in passing and 22nd in rushing. Cutler has the ability to have a huge game, but I just can’t see him getting over on this Dom Capers’ defense. Clay Matthews emerged into a premier pass rusher this season. He will give Cutler a fit and force him into at least 1 interception perhaps more.

I would like to see the Bears win, I really would. 2 weeks of Cutler and Rex Ryan mouthing off-maybe Mark Sanchez could start dating LC- but I just don’t see it. The Packers are peaking at the perfect time.

Lock it up, PACKERS -3.5

New York Jets (+3.5) @ Pittsburgh Steelers

This Jets team reminds me somewhat of the ’85 Bears in terms of brashness. That Bears team had a right to be. They were perhaps the best defensive unit ever and had the NFL’s number 2 all time rusher. That was supposed to be the Jets this season- stellar defense, great rushing attack, pretty boy QB that manages the game well *and* a couple of receivers to stretch the field). They have accomplished all of those things in a way, but not in an overly convincing fashion. Last week, I don’t know if I was more impressed with the Jets or more disappointed in the Patriots. I wrote that the Jets primary advantage was their speed and talent at receiver. That proved to be true, but I was shocked at how the Jet’s D handled the Patriots. The Pats appeared poorly prepared for the game and I cannot recall seeing Brady more rattled in a big game.

Just when I think you can stick a fork in Tomlinson, he proves me wrong. I can’t see him playing a big factor on the ground in this one. This kind of game is Shonne Green’s turf. Green runs low with power. That’s what it will take to move the chains against the Steelers. Even still, I do not foresee more than 60 yards for Green. The Jets ability to pull off the upset will lie with their receiving corps. Braylon Edwards flashed some of his potential in that big TD catch and run last week and Santonio Holmes, as Steelers fans know, has an ability to make insane catches in big moments. If Joe Namath were under center (or even Ken O’Brien) I’d like the Jets’ chances for an upset a whole lot more. Sanchez has certainly had his moments, but I don’t know if I can trust him with my money.

Roethlisberger will not go down as easily as Brady. Big Ben not have the ability to read defenses like Brady but he’s a more imposing figure in the pocket. He has a great knack for extending plays, which places a more stress upon the Jets’ secondary. Darrelle Revis will have his hands full with Mike Wallace. Wallace is an underrated emerging star and I think Pittsburgh will find creative ways to get him away from Revis. Rashard Mendenhall is much better than the Green-Ellis/Woodhead combo of the Patriots. He’s a big physical runner and a much more difficult match up for the Jets. One big plus for the Jets, the Steelers offensive line has been decimated by injury. If the Jets get rolling with the pass rush, I feel the secondary will shut down the Steelers passing game.

I like the Jets, but can you trust Sanchez? Can you bet against Big Ben? I’d love to see Flozell Adams get a ring but also love the idea of a Jets-Bears Super Bowl. This is a Pittsburgh team that held the Ravens to under 150 yards of offense last week. However, the Ravens lacked any real speed on the outside allowing the Steelers to focus on shutting down Ray Rice. The Jets have the talent to prevent a clamp down. It’s a tough call, but my gut says the Jets cover and may just eek out a win.


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