Conference Finals Player Rankings
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1. Aaron Rodgers (@ Chi) – Okay, you’ve got to be kidding me with this stat-line: 31 completions in 36 attempts, 366 yards, three TDs, zero INTs and a 136.8 QB Rating. Now we all knew the Falcons pass D was their weak link, but to go into the Georgia Dome last weekend and completely demolish a team led by a QB that had lost only two games at home his entire career is downright scary.
What’s even more insane is what Rodgers has done in his two road playoff games this year; six TDs, zero INTs, 546 passing yards and a 134.5 QB rating! Even though he didn’t do nearly as well in his two games against the Bears this season, it’s hard to go against a guy on a roll like this.
2. Ben Roethlisberger (vs NYJ) – Roethlisberger is another QB that never ceases to amaze. After missing the first four games of the season (suspension) and dealing with injuries throughout the rest, he has once again led his team on a deep playoff run and now has a chance to go to (and win) his third Super Bowl in seven years. Unreal.
Last week against the Ravens, Big Ben played well enough to earn a win, throwing up 226 yards and two TDs without an interception. Against the Jets back in Week 15, he also played pretty well throwing for 264 yards and a TD with zero interceptions, but couldn’t come away with a victory. If the Steelers want to get by the streaking Jets this Sunday, Ben is going to have to pull the hero card and beat Revis Island and Co. with some regularity. I expect a pretty good game, but whether or not his beat-up offensive line can give him enough time to throw will tell the story.
3. Jay Cutler (vs GB) – Cutler proved he can rise above the pressure of a playoff game last Sunday as he threw for 274 yards and two TDs while rushing for two more in his first ever post-season appearance. However, his foe this weekend won’t be the defensively-challenged Seahawks again, it’s the hated Packers.
Does he have a chance of putting up a nice game? Absolutely, but don’t bet on it. His career stats against the Pack in four games as the Bears QB are pretty poor as not once has he thrown for more TDs in a game than INTs against them. OC Mike Martz will do everything he can to put Cutler in a position to succeed, but don’t expect him to do what he did to Seattle last weekend.
4. Mark Sanchez (@ Pit) – The Sanchize continues to surprise even his biggest supporters as this week, Sanchez becomes just the second QB in NFL history to lead his team to the Conference Finals during each of his first two years in the league (the other is none other than Ben Roethlisberger). Basically, what the guy lacks in overall talent, he more than makes up for in charisma and leadership.
When these two teams met in Pittsburgh back in Week 15, Sanchez had the kind of day you’d expect against a hard-nosed defense like the Steelers: 19 for 29, 170 yards, zero TDs and zero INTs. However, the Jets ended up winning the game due in no small part to a game-tying seven-yard TD run by Sanchez deep in the third quarter. The question for Sunday’s game is not whether Sanchez will put up great stats or not, because he won’t. The question is, can the kid from Long Beach, Calif. play error-free ball once again and lead his team to a Super Bowl berth over the mighty Steelers? The answer is yes, but only if his teammates can follow suit.
1. Rashard Mendenhall (vs NYJ) – The Jets rush D is third in line behind the Steelers in terms of domination, so Rashard will have his work cut out for him again this weekend. He did just fine in their first matchup putting up 99 yards and a TD on 17 carries against them, and because there's no way Pittsburgh will stray from the running game, you know he’ll at least get the touches to produce. This could turn into a battle between the trenches, so how Mendenhall fares just might determine the outcome of this game. I expect his ferocity to step forward and answer the call.
2. Matt Forte (vs GB) – Forte had himself another solid game against the Seahawks putting up 134 total yards; 80 by way of the run with another 54 yards on three catches. Mike Martz might be thought of as a passing offensive coordinator, but it’s clear at this point the Bears offense works best when filtered through Matt Forte.
In the final game of the regular season, Matt had 91 yards rushing and eight catches for 60 yards receiving against Green Bay. I’m not sure the Packers will allow that much out of him this Sunday, but the Bears RB is looking the best he has in his career right now, so I wouldn’t put it past him.
3. James Starks (@ Chi) – His second career playoff game wasn’t nearly as good as his first, but he still leads the league in playoff rushing yards (189), attempts (48) and first downs (eight) this year. It’s not going to get any easier for the rookie this weekend as the Bears are one of the best in the league at defending the run and held Seattle to just 34 yards on 12 carries last Sunday. The Packers will use him quite a bit to set up the pass, but don’t expect too much.
4. Shonn Greene (@ Pit) – Shonn and his punishing style of running should end up with a good amount of carries and some decent final numbers this Sunday, but with the Steelers allowing so few yards on the ground, you can’t expect too much. If Pittsburgh decides to let Sanchez take his shot at winning this one, Greene will without a doubt be stuffed at the line more often than not. However, with the front seven all bunched in tight, we also could see a long run or two take place if he can sneak by the initial set of defenders.
5. LaDainian Tomlinson (@ Pit) – The offense still seems to be doing a good job of splitting the work load between Tomlinson and Greene, but like last year during the Jets playoff run, the edge in carries has swayed toward the bigger, more physical Greene. Expect more of the same against the brutish Steelers this week as the Jets will have to win the battle in the trenches if they want to take this game on the road.
6. John Kuhn (@ Chi) – Kuhn’s worth comes mainly along the goal line as the Packers use either his 6’0”, 250-pound frame to bust in the one-yard TDs or his receiving ability to catch play-action passes in the flat. Other than that, he’s simply a blocker.
7. Chester Taylor (vs GB) – Even though Taylor was the one with a touchdown in the final statistics last weekend, Forte is still the man on this team. Chester will get a few touches here and there in order to give Forte a rest, but it won’t be enough to make a difference.
8. Brandon Jackson (@ Chi) – After receiving just three carries against the Eagles in the Packers first playoff win, Jackson found himself with just one carry on the final stat sheet against the Falcons. It’s clear Brandon has been passed on the depth chart by the bigger, more talented Starks, and this time I think it’s for good. Jackson still might see a few carries and dump-offs on third down, but his chances of putting up fantasy-worthy stats are pretty slim.