Green Bay Packers
In an NFC Championship matchup that's sure to evoke the ghost of Packers and Bears past, the NFC North rivals will be meeting for the first time in the playoffs. Call it familiarity breeding comfort, call it a defensive struggle, just don't call it boring because it'll be anything but.
The fan base of each team is devout and expect a win for their historic franchises. Expect Mike Ditka to be foaming at the mouth on Sunday Countdown and a token appearance by a Packer great at some point during Sunday's broadcast.
Best of all, the weather should be a debated point given the fact that both teams are accustomed to playing in frigid temperatures and wintery conditions. Now the networks will really have to work hard on a new sideline reporting angle for both teams.
There's an old adage in football...actually...it's not an old adage. I just came up with it while I was brushing my teeth, but if it was an adage, it'd read: "If you're going to go all in to keep your divisional foe out of the playoffs, then you better make sure you win to prevent it from coming back to bite you in the a**."
The Chicago Bears had a chance to eliminate the Green Bay Packers from playoff contention in Week 17, but came up short. In doing so, Lovie Smith chose to forgo an additional week of rest for his starters after already clinching the NFC North and the Packers gained steam heading into the playoffs.
A disciple of the Tony Dungy school of coaching, Smith should have either conceded the loss like his mentor would've by playing his back-ups (they get paid too) and saving his team's best for another day.
The gamble failed and now the Packers are back with a hot quarterback and momentum behind them.
In two games versus Chicago this season, the Green Bay secondary has held Bears quarterback Jay Cutler to 389 yards passing on 37 of 66 completions, one touchdown, and three interceptions. They allowed one passing touchdown in their Week Three matchup and none in their last meeting.
Strong safety Charlie Peprah intercepted Cutler twice in Week 17. His backfield teammates are formidable opponents in their own right against Chicago's receivers. Look for Woodson, Peprah, Williams, and Collins to come up with big plays and turnovers, if Jay Cutler feels pressure or starts trusting his arm more than his eyes.
Who? My thoughts exactly, but Masthay is the starting punter for the Packers. When you're staring down the loaded barrel of the weapon otherwise known as the NFL's all time leading kick returner, Devin Hester, you'll need a good kicker/punter on your side.
Masthay learned his lesson in Week 3 after giving up a 62 yard punt return for a touchdown to Hester. In a follow up performance in Week 17, Hester was held to a long return of 19 yards. He'll have two words on his mind all week, "directional kicking."
Green Bay's Pro Bowl left tackle will have the pleasure of squaring off with Bears defensive end Julius Peppers all afternoon as he protects Aaron Rodgers' blindside. Clifton will be helped by Rodgers' mobility, but it's a daunting task nonetheless. The good news is that in two meetings in the regular season, Peppers failed to register a sack.
I can only hope that for Clifton's sake, good things do come in three's.
Very few quarterbacks in the NFL ever achieve the level of play that Aaron Rodgers is currently playing at. He's smooth, methodical, precise, unfazed, and just flat out cool!
He's playing head and shoulders above the competition right now and at times it looks like he's playing in real speed while his opponents are in slow motion. He'll be aided by Green Bay's new found running game utilizing unheralded backs Jackson, Starks, and Kuhn to set up the play-action game.
It's a thing of beauty to watch him throw the ball and I'd expect him to make several throws that help put the game away for his team on Sunday even at windy Soldier Field.