The NFC Championship game that we've all been waiting for is almost here. The internet is flooded with predictions on the 182nd matchup between the greatest rivals in football. Analysts around the country are confounded by the matchup, and many are unsure of who to pick. I am not one of these people.
In this slideshow, I will demonstrate that the Green Bay Packers should be considered the definite favorite in this game.
The Green Bay Packers are the hottest team in the playoffs, coming off of a 48-21 domination of the NFC's number one seed. Many skeptics will attempt to suggest that the Bears have momentum as well coming into this game because of a 35-24 domination of the worst team ever to make the playoffs. That's a little bit of a stretch, isn't it?
The Packers are clicking on all cylinders, with the defense preventing any gains by opposing offenses and forcing turnovers. 14 of the Falcons' points last week were produced by their offense, but one TD was the direct result of a Greg Jennings fumble. This gave the Falcons ideal field position to put up seven. The other TD occurred as a result of the Packers playing prevent defense after the game was already sealed. Meanwhile, the Packers offense did not punt the ball once and came away with a franchise-high 48 points in a playoff game.
The Bears, meanwhile, dismantled the Seattle Seahawks with ease. However, the week before, the Bears had a chance to keep Green Bay out of the playoffs and failed, despite playing every one of their starters. The team had offensive line troubles all game and Cutler threw two interceptions. That was only two weeks ago.
If you want me to believe the Bears have "momentum" after beating the sub-.500 Seahawks, you're out of your mind.
I find it amazing how many advocates of the Bears this Sunday point to Week 3 as evidence that the Bears can beat the Packers. For those of you who didn't notice, the Packers beat the Packers in Week 3.
In that game, the Packers committed 19 penalties (18 accepted) for 152 yards, fumbled the ball once, threw an interception once, and missed one field goal. The Bears won by three points. Come on, now, it's ridiculous to even discuss that game. The Packers are now one of the least penalized teams in the league and possess a +10 turnover differential (+12 with playoffs).
This is not the team that you beat in Week 3, Chicago.
In Week 17, the Packers were effectively shut down by the Bears defense, winning the game with only a field goal and a touchdown to show for it. Rodgers was efficient in this game (19/28, 229 yards, one TD, one INT), but far from impressive.
The emergence of a running game for the Packers is huge in this matchup. James Starks was given five carries in the Bears game in Week 17, and the leading rusher was Aaron Rodgers. Needless to say, Rodgers being the leading rusher is not as effective in setting up the play-action pass.
With the running game finally performing somewhat decently, the Bears are going to have to prepare for James Starks, and that will open up room down the field for Aaron Rodgers to throw.
Early forecasts are suggesting that there will be no precipitation anywhere near Chicago throughout game day, much less during the game. Temperatures will be in the upper 10s throughout the day, and winds are not expected to exceed seven MPH. Of course, we are talking about Chicago, and the lake can do ridiculous things. Assuming this forecast holds up, though, the weather should be a non-factor.
The one issue brought up by the cold is the terrible condition of Soldier Field. One would think on first glance that this would favor the Bears because they are used to it. But based on comments by Urlacher and Cutler complaining about the field, I wouldn't be so sure.
With the field in this kind of shape, the receivers are going to have an easier time running their routes than a defender will have protecting them. This is true for both offenses, of course, but it is more favorable for the Packers. Aside from the Packers having the better offense, the Bears use slowly-developing schemes on their offense, which will allow Green Bay's defensive backs a bit more time to catch up than Chicago's will have.
The Packers are used to being in high-stakes away games by now. On the Packers' first few drives in the Georgia Dome, fans attempted to raise sound levels above the threshold of pain and came rather close at times. The Packers' offense hung in there and couldn't be stopped by the noise all day. If this was true in one of the NFL's loudest domes, why shouldn't it be in an open-air stadium just down the street from Green Bay?
The Packers travel well, which was verified in the audible "GO PACK GO!" and "KUUUUUUUUUUHN!" chants throughout the game in the Georgia Dome. There will be plenty of Packer fans in the much-closer venue of Soldier Field. Perhaps not enough to overrule the Chicago fans, but enough to make home field another non-factor for the Bears.
Everyone says this, and they say it for a reason. Aaron Rodgers found seven different receivers in Atlanta, and four of them went for over 70 yards on the day. Defenses do not have enough skill players to cover every player Aaron Rodgers can make throws to. Rodgers will find a matchup or two that he likes and make opponents pay all day on those matchups. If you switch up your coverage, he'll just find a new matchup.
The improved running game previously mentioned can also help as Chicago generally plays a Cover 2 defense. The Packers can use this in play-action situations to draw the middle linebacker and safeties forward, opening the deep ball downfield.
The Bears cannot afford turnovers in this game, and Jay Cutler just keeps serving them up. Cutler has thrown three interceptions against the Packers this year (2 in Week 17), and despite the hype from analysts, has not gotten past this problem. In the matchup against Seattle, Cutler threw at least two interceptions that were avoided by nothing more than blatant drops by Seattle defenders. Tramon WIlliams and the rest of the Packers' secondary will not be so forgiving.
The Bears' offensive line doesn't do Cutler any favors either, as the Packers have sacked Cutler nine times this season (6 in Week 17). Cutler is constantly under pressure by Green Bay unlike during his "career" performance against Seattle. Welcome back, Bad Jay.
Devin Hester is a dangerous return man that can give an offense the field position advantage all day, especially on punts. However, in Week 17, the Packers appeared to have a lock on how to stop the man from being too dangerous.
- Punt the ball as little as possible, and kick for touchbacks.
- When you do have to punt, use Masthay's strong leg as effectively as possible and get the ball either out of bounds or into the endzone.
This method was simple enough in Week 17 against the Bears, and Hester only managed one significant return. Unsurprisingly, the Bears only scored three points. Hester is such an important part of the game plan of the Bears, because against tough defenses like the Packers, they need some yardage help. The Pack will be similar to Week 17 in that they won't give that away.
The newest Pro-Bowl cornerback will have a huge impact on this game. Leading the playoffs in interceptions (three), Tramon Williams will be the cornerback Jay Cutler most wants to avoid. Even in situations like the INT return for a TD in Atlanta last week, Tramon will create a play out of nothing.
The man studies routes intensely and often gets a pick based on recognition of the route. He lets the receiver get into somewhat open space and then jumps the route at the exact right time. This guy has been such a complete player in recent weeks, I'd be shocked if he didn't get at least one pick on Jay Cutler.
Was there any question to what the number one reason would be?
Aaron Rodgers has been inhuman since entering the playoffs. He has completed 49 of 63 (77.7 percent) for 546 yards, six touchdowns, and no interceptions. Through this, he has attained an amazing postseason passer rating of 134.5. He's got great pocket presence. He can throw ridiculously accurately outside of the pocket. If you blitz him, he'll find somewhere to go with the ball. He can dodge free-runners in the backfield and make plays. It would seem that there is only one way to stop this man, and that is to never let him touch the ball at all. And when he does touch the ball, try your best to contain him.
I don't believe the Bears, with all the factors against them, can stop Aaron Rodgers' hot streak.
Final Score: Packers 27, Bears 17