NFC Championship Game: Breaking Down The Packers vs. Bears Matchup

Alec DoppCorrespondent IJanuary 18, 2011

NFC Championship Game: Breaking Down The Packers Vs. Bears Matchup

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    Now that the Aaron Rodgers era has officially hit its first peak, the Green Bay Packers find themselves competing in their first NFC championship game since 2007 with a chance to reach the Super Bowl for the first time in 13 years.

    A trip to Dallas will be on the line Sunday afternoon in Chicago, as the Green and Gold invade Chi-town for the second time this season.

    The feeling is sublime for each squad, however both Green Bay and Chicago will have their work cut out for them this time around.

    As one of the many rematches bestowed upon us this postseason, there are a plethora of matchups and question marks needing to be answered before game-time.

    I'll address some of those questions and more in my breakdown of Sunday afternoon's colossal rematch in Chicago.

Aaron Rodgers Vs. Jay Cutler

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    Aaron Rodgers

    Against the Falcons Saturday night, Rodgers torched the Atlanta secondary for 366 yards and three passing touchdowns, setting a Packers' playoff record for completion percentage at 86.1.  How do Chicago's corners stand a chance?  That, we are unsure of.

    However, we are certain that both the Chicago and Atlanta secondaries have given up 225.5 yards per game on average during the regular season, making the defenses nearly statistically identical.

    With the roll Rodgers and the Green Bay receivers are on right now, it's hard to bet against them. If you don't believe me, just take a look at Rodgers' numbers compared to that of Favre and Starr.

    Jay Cutler

    In his first postseason appearance, Cutler attained a 111.3 passer rating against the league's sixth-worst pass defense during the regular season; while completing just 53 percent of his passes.

    The passer rating was solid enough to squeak out a victory, however the Green Bay secondary containing two Pro Bowlers in Nick Collins and Charles Woodson will be a different story.  Oh, and let's not forget Clay Matthews on the hunt nearly every passing down.

    Advantage: Green Bay

    QB, Years W-L-T Playoff Appearances Pct. Yards TD Int YPAtt Rating
    Rodgers, 2008-10 27-20 2 .644 12,723 86 31 7.9 99.4
    Starr, 1964-66 29-10-2 2 .593 6,456 45 16 8.4 97.0
    Favre, 1995-97 37-11 3 .608 12,179 112 42 7.5 96.1

James Starks Vs. Matt Forte

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    James Starks

    It's no surprise how dismal the Green Bay running game appeared during the course of the regular season.  However, rookie James Starks has relit the Packers' ground game, while attaining 189 yards on the ground so far in the postseason.

    Starks has been the difference maker Mike McCarthy has been looking for all season long, and with a reliable offensive line leading the way, there's no telling what Starks can do Sunday.  Nevertheless, Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs will be looming in the mind of Starks for the full 60 minutes.

    Matt Forte

    As "ineffective" as the Packers' run game has been, Chicago's Matt Forte has been just the opposite for Jay Cutler and the Bears, rushing for 1,069 yards and six touchdowns in the regular season.

    His productive play has taken the pressure off Cutler and contributed to a balanced offensive attack.  However, that effective ground game may disappear if Chicago is forced to keep pace with Aaron Rodgers' passing assault.

    This is an extremely tough call, but Chicago should have the advantage to start.  However, look for Starks and company to surprise many.

    Advantage: Chicago

Green Bay's Receivers Vs. Chicago's Secondary

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    Over the course of the regular season, Green Bay's aerial attack ranked fifth in the NFL in yards per game (257.8), and third in yards per completion (8.0).  In addition, seven different Packer receivers accumulated over 230 yards during the regular season, certain to give Chicago a few matchup problems once Green Bay comes out in their five-receiver sets.

    Between the Packers' "fab four" receivers (Greg Jennings, James Jones, Jordy Nelson, and Donald Driver), they've caught 23 of Aaron Rodgers' 28 touchdowns this season. 

    Green Bay's talent at wide receiver has gone severely unnoticed this season, and that diversity may just lead to another stellar performance by Rodgers this Sunday.

    Take into account Chicago's 20th-ranked passing defense, and we might be in for an offensive explosion from Green Bay yet again.

    Look out, Chicago.

    Advantage: Green Bay

Chicago's Receivers Vs. Green Bay's Secondary

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    Now, you have to give credit were credit is due.  Jay Cutler was very efficient for Mike Martz and the Chicago offense, racking up 274 yards and two touchdowns in his first playoff appearance.

    In addition, the Bears had four receivers gain 400 yards during the course of the regular season (excluding running back Matt Forte, who gained 547 yards).

    Johnny Knox has proved to be Cutler's primary target.  Chicago's leading receiver has 960 yards with five touchdowns and an 18.8 yard per reception average this season.

    However, with Dom Capers' 3-4 defense and Charles Woodson, Nick Collins, plus Pro Bowl snub Tramon Williams on Knox from beginning to end, Chicago could be in for a letdown on Sunday.

    Green Bay gets the advantage here.  However, don't be surprised to see a few big-play opportunities from Matt Forte in the Chicago passing attack.

    Advantage: Green Bay

Special Teams

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    Averaging just over 17 yards per punt return, Devin Hester is obviously one of the most prolific punt returners in NFL history, if not the most.  So, what must Green Bay do?

    Well, to be quite frank, they must do exactly what they did in their Week 17 matchup in Green Bay: punt away from him.  If Packers' punter Tim Mathsay can continue his solid punting, Green Bay will have won the field-position battle.

    However, that's not where Green Bay's special teams troubles end: giving up a critical kick return from Falcons' wideout Eric Weems last week was costly, but ended up to be minimal damage in the Packers' 48-21 victory over Atlanta.

    So, for the time being, Chicago gets the nod.

    Advantage: Chicago

Defense

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    As solid as the Chicago defense has been this season, the Green Bay defense has been that much better, to tell the truth.

    Edging Chicago in yards per game allowed, points per game allowed, passing yards per game, and turnovers forced, Green Bay's defensive squad has the upper edge in nearly every statistical category over Chicago.

    With that being said, Julius Peppers and the Bears defense has remained the kryptonite to Aaron Rodgers' passing abilities throughout his career.  In fact, Rodgers has been limited to just a 92.8 passer rating on average versus Chicago since 2008.

    Still, with Tramon Williams, Charles Woodson, Nick Collins, and Clay Matthews looming in the mind of Jay Cutler, it's hard to imagine a turnover-less 60 minutes transpiring on Sunday.

    Advantage: Green Bay

Coaching

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    Sunday will be Lovie Smith's fifth playoff appearance since becoming Chicago's head coach in 2004, which includes an Super Bowl XLI loss to Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts.

    Owning a 3-2 record in the postseason, Smith has solidified himself as one of the most consistent, reliable head coaches in the league.

    For Mike McCarthy, Sunday's NFC championship game will also be his sixth playoff appearance, matching Smith's 3-2 playoff record.

    However, for McCarthy and the Packers, overcoming adversity has been the name of the game in 2010.  15 of Green Bay's players have been placed on injured reserve over the course of the regular season, including the loss of Aaron Rodgers for two straight games.

    Yet, the Packers still find themselves here thanks to their role players and backups. It can make all the difference in a promising season.

    Smith and McCarthy have identical career playoff records.  But this season, McCarthy and the Packers get the coaching advantage.

    Advantage: Green Bay

Prediction...

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    When you're on one of the most dominating rolls in NFL playoff history, it's tough for anyone to bet against you.  With a quarterback in the midst of fulfilling his destiny, it's hard to imagine a team completely stopping Green Bay in its tracks.

    However, if there's one team that is capable of that, it's the Chicago Bears.

    We all know the story: Aaron Rodgers has had his troubles against the vaunted Monsters of the Midway in his career. 

    But let's take into account who Green Bay defeated getting here: Michael Vick and the "unstoppable" offense of the Philadelphia Eagles, and the No. 1 overall seed in the Atlanta Falcons.  Both on the road.  Both in hostile environments.  That's a formidable schedule.

    But the bottom line is simple: should Rodgers and the Packers offense start rolling early and often Sunday afternoon, Chicago will be in for a long day.  If not, the Bears will be hoisting the George Halas Trophy.

    Nevertheless, Rodgers is playing insane football right now, and I don't see anyone stepping in his way.

    Let the games begin.

    Prediction: Green Bay 28, Chicago 23