NFC Championship Game 2011: Tiebreaker of the Century for the Halas Trophy

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NFC Championship Game 2011: Tiebreaker of the Century for the Halas Trophy
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
Sept. 19, 2010: Lovie Smith communicates with his coaches in Cowboys Stadium. He's looking to get back there.

How does Aaron Rodgers hold up in the snow in NFC Championship Games?  We could find out this Sunday in Chicago if Mother Nature cooperates. 

Quarterback Jay Cutler proved he could be solid in the snow instead of flaky in crunch time.  That was, however, against the Seahawks secondary. 

He now faces the Green Bay Packers secondary—Charles Woodson, Tramon Williams and company.  Woodson is the reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year.  He has the extreme goatee and the extreme focus to fire off the corner on a blitz.  Williams missed the Pro Bowl, but NFL Network analyst Deion Sanders believes he should’ve made it. 

Williams is from Louisiana Tech—FOX analyst Terry Bradshaw’s alma mater.  This postseason, the 27-year-old cornerback has three interceptions—including two nails in the coffin.  He had the one on the last play of the game against Michael Vick. 

And his pick six against Matt Ryan right before halftime—right before—sent the Falcons spiraling.  If Cutler goes into Rex Grossman mode and flings no-look passes in the blitz’s face, then Williams could pick more.

Seven days after Pearl Harbor was blitzed in 1941—that was the last Bears and Packers meeting in the playoffs.  With both clubs part of the NFC North division, they play twice each regular season.  They’ve met only once in the playoffs, and the Bears won—33-14—on the way to winning their fourth NFL Championship. 

Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
January 16, 2011: A Bears fan has a message for Packers fans in Chicago. His team will try to back up his words on Sunday.

They played the playoff game to determine which team would win the Western Division.  In the over 180 regular games played in their rivalry—without counting preseason—the Bears are up 92-83-6. 

Both teams won in their home stadiums, and they split the season series in 2010.  Chicago had the chance to send the Packers packing for the season in the last game.  Green Bay won it, 10-3, and punched a ticket to the playoffs. 

Behind the running and throwing of Aaron Rodgers and Jay Cutler, both teams advanced to the NFC Championship game.  They’ll now play one of the most classic tiebreakers ever. 

There have been two other season tiebreakers played in this year’s playoffs—all among division rivals.  The Pittsburgh Steelers came from behind to beat the Baltimore Ravens in the AFC Divisional round last week.  In the other matchup, the Jets beat the Patriots. 

The winner of the Bears-Packers match—the new NFC champion—gets presented with the George “Papa Bear” Halas Trophy.  New Orleans won the trophy last year on their way to winning the Super Bowl.  The last Halas Trophy winning quarterback—Drew Brees—is known for striking like lightning with deep throws.     

With a lightning quick release, Rodgers has been off the chain in the playoffs.  FOX analyst Troy Aikman said Rodgers would be the No. 1 player on his roster if he was starting a franchise.  He’s not starting a franchise and quarterbacks stick together, but you get the idea.

Streeter Lecka/Getty Images
January 15, 2011: Mike Smith (left) congratulates Mike McCarthy (right) in Atlanta. McCarthy will shake Lovie Smith's hand after the game on Sunday.

As the defensive coordinator for the Bears, Rod Marinelli is assigned to come up with ideas to stop hot quarterbacks.  This Sunday, he’ll be trying to stop the hot quarterback.

According to ESPN Stats and Information, Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers is 7-3 when the game-time temperature is 30 degrees or below.  

He has 25 touchdowns and five interceptions in those games.  Marinelli’s schemes will probably try to cool him off by denying rhythm passes.  Whatever the game plan, it will be tough denying Rodgers. 

Last Saturday, he had one of the better playoff games in history, completing 31-of-36 passes for 366 yards.  He accounted for four touchdowns in the 48-21 victory against the Atlanta Falcons. 

Against the Falcons, he was part Michael Vick with spin moves, fast feet and ball placement on the move.  He was part Tom Brady with passion and part Peyton Manning with accuracy.  Rodgers has above average speed.  After Sunday, we’ll learn more about how fast he’s progressing in the NFL. 

He took the NFC’s No. 1 seed to the woodshed.  Rodgers kept tight end Tony Gonzalez winless in playoff games—same for hyped quarterback Matt Ryan and head coach Mike Smith.

Believe the hype when it comes to Rodgers.  He’s thrown three touchdowns in his three NFL playoff starts—the most ever.   

Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
December 6, 2010: Charles Tillman tackles Braylon Edwards in Chicago. The Bears secondary will be tested again vs. the Packers.

The Bears are hot themselves.  Against the Seahawks they set a franchise playoff record with 437 total yards and Cutler did what he did in tying Otto Graham in the record books.

At 21-0, the big bad Bears had their biggest halftime lead in a playoff game since 1941—the last time they played the Packers in the postseason.   

This game could be considered too close to predict by some analysts, but I’ve already stuck my neck out there.  I picked the Bears to face the Pittsburgh Steelers in my Super Bowl bracket. 

Here’s how the Bears will get there and prevent my neck from being chopped off.

Prediction:

What will Cutler do for an encore?  He’s making only his second NFL postseason start, but he already tied a record set by Graham in 1954.  Cutler's two touchdowns passing and two rushing tied Graham. 

The Super Bowl experienced coaching tandem—head coach Lovie Smith and offensive coordinator Mike Martz—will continue to coach Cutler up.  He’ll make good playoff decisions with the ball against the Packers blitz. 

With 113 yards receiving and a touchdown, Greg Olsen showed off in the first half against Seattle.  He’ll be big again this Sunday—especially in the red zone.  Balanced on offense, Chicago ran the ball 32 times for over 160 yards against the Seahawks.  They’ll need to keep that balance before they let Cutler shoot it out with Rodgers. 

Streeter Lecka/Getty Images
January 15, 2011: Aaron Rodgers flings a pass to the flat in the Georgia Dome. His throws can't be flat in Atlanta.

The Bears will have success stopping the Packers quarterback’s third down conversions.  They’ll also stop the running game with Urlacher and Briggs and do a good job protecting the slot. 

Packers slot receivers could exploit the Bears linebackers in zone coverage.  To stop them, Julius Peppers and the pass rushers have to get to Rodgers quickly on the front end.  When he gets mobile, the secondary has to go to their men to contest the coverage.

The Bears will probably be ready even if the Packers lineup in five wide receiver formations and try to make it a shootout. Redirecting and rerouting the Packers receivers will help throw timing routes off. 

Rushing less than four Bears could be options on any given obvious pass play.  Dropping 11 defenders into coverage would be an interesting wrinkle. Receivers will still have to be physically located and turned over.    

The Bears need to win the turnover battle and make the Packers go the distance without big plays. The defensive backs—Charles Tillman in specific—can’t drop any interceptions.  Chicago let a couple of opportunities go by the boards against Seattle. 

The Packers cornerbacks and the Jets cornerbacks, according to Deion Sanders, are No. 1 and No. 2 in the NFL today. The Bears will be out to prove they’re better than advertised and will take advantage of the opportunities that could come their way for interceptions. 

Chris Trotman/Getty Images
January 9, 2011: James Starks gets loose in Philadelphia. He'll try to do the same in Chicago.

Only a few defensive backs play the game to make plays and the Bears have several of them. Deion missed mentioning where Chicago falls in his cornerbacks echelon. 

If the Bears win, we could see a Bart Scott type Rant directed his way from Charles Tillman.  Deion is less than impressed with Tillman’s hands.  Tillman is good at stripping the ball and blitzing—like Charles Woodson—according to Rodgers. 

The Packers quarterback couldn’t miss against the Falcons suspect secondary.  He won’t be like a kid in a candy story against the Bears.  Chicago will find a way to defend the passing game between the hash marks.  The Bears will close a game on defense and advance to the Super Bowl to face the Pittsburgh Steelers.

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