In case you've been unconscious for the last four days (or amazed at the lack of noise coming from the New York Jets), allow me a sentence to catch you up to speed on the NFC scenario. The Green Bay Packers are favored in the NFC Championship against the Chicago Bears, after winning (on the road) in games against the NFC East Champion Philadelphia Eagles (barely) followed up by a (strong) win in Atlanta against the top-seeded Falcons and "Matty Nice".
And so we dance for the third time this year, second time in Chicago. The Bears are a curious case:
- NFC North Division Champions at 11-5 this season
- Second seed in the NFC playoffs this year, host to the NFC Championship Game
- Underdogs by four at home against a team they beat this year (albeit early in the season)
One of these things is not like the other, yet more anomalies exist. As a famous ESPN personality says, "yeah, but":
- 11 wins, but three against teams posting a winning record this season (GB, PHI, NYJ). In comparison, the Packers had 10 wins this year, four when facing an opponent ending the season with a winning record (CHI, PHI, NYJ, NYG).
- Cutler threw for 23 touchdowns this season, but 16 interceptions. "A-Rodge" threw for 28 touchdowns against 11 picks—in 14 games and one half in Detroit.
- Their defense allowed 17.9 points/game this season (fourth best in the NFL), but Cutler and the pass-first offense scored 20.9 points/game this season (21st in the NFL). The Green Bay defense allowed 15.0 points/game this season (2nd best in the NFL) and the offense (though sputtering at times) scored 24.2 points/game this season (10th in the NFL).
As we start adding these items up, we begin to see the case for Chicago being four point dogs in Sunday afternoon's matchup. However, games aren't played on paper, and there are a few things for Packers fans to remember before gaining too much confidence:
- The Packers are a confident bunch, winners of four elimination games in a row, but just as confidence is a key conducive to greatness, it is also a component to hype and disappointment. The Packers have been here before—recently in 2007 against the Giants (at Lambeau) and further back, with the same result, in 1996 against the Cowboys. The Bears have been here with success in 2006, up-ending the Saints in a similar matchup at Soldier Field.
- Rodgers, despite donning the green and gold, is not as good in the cold as he is in the dome. He has the highest passer rating in NFL Playoff history, sure, but his game does suffer when the temperatures plummet, as forecasts are calling for in Chicago on Sunday.
- The Packers defense has been blown out of proportion before—Dom Capers has put together another great year—especially when one considers the injury-plagued lineup of the Packers' defensive (and offensive) squad(s). However, the comparisons the Packers defense has drawn ties in with the first point—too much confidence can be a bad thing—this needs to be kept in check throughout the preparation for Chicago.
The long and short of this Sunday afternoon's matchup is this—we should be in for a hard-hitting, cold weather, rivalry revitalizing battle. And really, isn't this what fans were hoping for in an NFC Championship game?