The New York Jets go into Pittsburgh to take on the Steelers, and the Green Bay Packers head to Chicago to do battle with the Bears to decide who gets to compete in the biggest game in American professional sports: the Super Bowl. Four teams will duke it out on Sunday, January 23, for the chance to hit football's biggest stage.
Both games have similar dynamics in that each game pits one of its respective conference's most consistently productive quarterbacks against one of the conference's most inconsistent and turnover-prone quarterbacks. Each game also matches two terrific defenses against one another.
These games simultaneously have a very similar make-up to one another as well as glaring differences in composition. This article will delve into both of these aspects while giving you, the reader, some things to watch for.
Coming into the 2010 season, neither the Packers nor the Bears were picked as the favorite to win the NFC North, yet here they are playing in the game that many people had the Minnesota Vikings penciled into. It's a battle of division rivals for the NFC's Super Bowl representative, and it should be a great game to watch.
Still, those of you who are looking for an offensive explosion after last weeks combined 83 points between these two teams may be in for a surprise. The Bears and Packers played twice in the regular season, as they do every year, and put up a total of 50 points in both games.
This game is going to come down to which defense gets the most pressure on the opposing QB while stopping the run game. The Packers are very much one dimensional on offense against a team with a championship caliber defense like the Chicago Bears.
The Bears are ranked second against the run this season, which doesn't bode well for the Packers who are relying on rookie running back James Starks to carry the load in the running game. Starks is coming off a 25 carry, 66 yard performance against the Atlanta Falcons and will be making only his third start this season. If he can't muster up a better performance this week, it will allow Julius Peppers to pin his ears back and come off the edge gunning for Rodgers all day, making this a slugfest.
As for the Bears, they go as Jay Cutler and Matt Forte go. In the previous two games between these two, Forte was a bit of a non-factor in the run game. Look for the Bears to try to get him involved in some screen plays and even line him up in the slot on a few plays. This will bean attempt to alleviate some of the pressure coming at Cutler.
Cutler will have to play mistake free football, or at least close to it, as Clay Matthews Jr. will be pinning his ears back coming after Cutler more than a few times. This one is going to come down to the pressure, and I give the edge to the Bears in that department.
Because of this, I give the Bears the nod and my pick for NFC Champions.
Bears 20, Packers 17
Jets head coach Rex Ryan is taking a break from his pre-fight antics this week as his Jets have to go on the road to take on Linebacker sized QB Ben Roethlisberger and his Pittsburgh Steelers team. Ryan is known for running his mouth about his team, the opposing team, and anything else that one can talk about, but this week it's been all about respecting the opponent.
It's been more of the same from Steelers camp, as both teams know that this is going to be a fight as much as it will be a game. It's defense against defense in this one as the Jets were ranked third against the run this season, and no one has been able to run against the Steelers at all this season as they tout the no.1 run defense in the league.
I anticipate little success from both teams in the running game in this one, making it come down to the passing game as far as the offense goes, and let's face it: The offense scores the points. Ben is going to have his work cut out for him in this one though, as the Jets secondary matches up very well against a Steelers receiver corp that boasts only one real deep threat.
Darrelle Revis is probably going to be matched up on Wallace more often than not, but look for Antonio Cromartie to switch over to him as well. The bigger, more physical Cromartie will be able to bump him off the line of scrimmage and force Ben to look over the middle for some short passes. If those guys are covered, which I'm anticipating them to be often, it's gonna be up to the "backyard baller," Ben Roethlisberger, to make some big plays from outside of the pocket.
He's very good at extending the play, but it can also be his biggest downfall. He tends to pump fake a lot when he's pressured, and that causes some turnovers in key situations. If the Jets can get to Ben early and often, it's going to be a long day for the Steelers offense.
All Mark Sanchez will have to do is manage the game and pick up first downs for the Jets to pull off one more upset on the road to the Super Bowl. I can't believe I'm doing this, but I'm picking the Jets to win in yet another shocker on the road.
Jets 17, Steelers 14
Well, there it is, or at least the way I see it going down. We should see some hard hitting, hard fought, low scoring affairs this weekend. Nothing is easy in January, and this weekend will be no different.
With one more year almost in the books, things are really starting to heat up. The train is all set to leave the station, and the conductor is bellowing out his call: "All aboard?!? Destination Super Bowl!"
All that's left is to win that all important boarding pass. Let the games begin.