The old saying was that people root for the underdogs, yet in Sunday's conference title games, the hottest team in the playoffs, as well as the most seasoned team, are solid picks to meet in Super Bowl XLV.
The Green Bay Packers, who finished as the No. 6 seed in the NFC, have pulled off two huge road wins, defeating the Philadelphia Eagles in the NFC Wild Card round and then destroying the No. 1-seeded Atlanta Falcons at the Georgia Dome, where Matt Ryan had won 20 of his previous 22 home games.
By the start of the fourth quarter, Green Bay was up 42-14 over Atlanta.
In the AFC, the Pittsburgh Steelers are exactly where everybody thought they would be, in the AFC title game. However, nobody expected the Steelers to be hosting the conference game, but that's what they'll be doing Sunday night after the New York Jets defeated the No. 1 seed New England Patriots, 28-21.
The Packers and Steelers are heavy favorites to win their conference title games, and for good reason, but as this year's playoffs have shown, the underdogs may get one last word in before Super Bowl XLV.
Here's a quick rundown with my predictions for the playoffs, where I'm currently 7-1 on the season.
Jets vs. Steelers
For the second straight postseason, the New York Jets are on the road and in the AFC title game. This time, however, they won't be facing Peyton Manning, but Ben Roethlisberger, who might overthrow Tom Brady as the big-game hunter.
The overall in this game is going to boil down to the play of the quarterback. Both defenses balance each other off. The Jets don't have the big-name recognition that the Steelers have with players like James Harrision and Troy Polamalu, but they are stout.
This is the same defense that was embarrassed on Monday Night Football by the New England Patriots, 45-3, only to come back one month later and hold the Patriots to 21 points.
The Jets have the best cover corner in the league in Darrelle Revis, who has the ability to lock down an entire half of the field. If the Steelers are going to win this game, they will have to attack Antonio Cromartie and go downfield with speedy second-year wide receiver Mike Wallace, who broke the century mark the first time the Jets and Steelers played.
In the end, I'm going with the hot hand, Mark Sanchez. The Jets have the advantage of having played five straight road games. They are completely unfazed, having played in road games in the cold, against hostile crowds and against the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds.
Orly's Pick: Jets, 24-20
Packers vs. Bears
In the NFL's oldest rivalry, the Packers and Bears split the season series at one apiece. The second game, however, was meaningless to the Bears, who still played their starters and lost, 10-3.
This time around, Green Bay is smoking. In the win over Atlanta, Aaron Rodgers became the first quarterback in the history of the league to throw 10 touchdown passes in his first three playoff games. What this stat won't tell you however, is that seven of those touchdown passes came inside a dome or enclosed stadium, where weather had no effect.
Yes, I do realize that Green Bay plays outdoors and pretty much in the same weather as the Chicago Bears, but Aaron Rodgers has never played a defense as good as Chicago's on the road in the playoffs.
Both defenses will offset each other. What could be the key to this game, however, isn't Jay Cutler or Aaron Rodgers, but rather the running game, which pits the Packers combination of Brandon Jackson and James Starks against Matt Forte.
The most interesting stat of the day could be that whenever Matt Forte scores a touchdown, the Chicago Bears are 15-5, and when Forte scores a touchdown on the ground, Chicago is a whopping 13-2. This year alone, when Forte failed to carry the football more than 15 times, the Bears were just 5-4.
Bottom line, the key to Sunday's NFC title game will be the running game, and the Bears duo of Matt Forte and Chester Taylor is a bit better than that of Starks and Jackson.
Orly's Pick: Bears, 27-24
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