Friday, January 21, 2011

Championship Sunday Picks

I'm a much bigger fan of analyzing games after they happen than predicting them before they happen.  However, it helps to have my picks on record on the off chance that they're right.

AFC Championship - Jets at Steelers  
Sunday, 6:30pm
Steelers favored by 3.5 

The Storylines 
Santonio Holmes faces the team that dumped him and his bong for a 5th round pick and a pack of silly bands.  Ike Taylor has already pledged to lay him outThe Jets are quieter this week than they were before they faced the Colts and Patriots, but I'm sure Rex Ryan isn't here to kiss Mike Tomlin's ring.  The Steelers lost to the Jets in Week 15, in a game that meant a lot more to New York than it did to Pittsburgh, when Ben Roethlisberger's pass from the 10 yard line fell incomplete with no time left on the clock. 

Fact That Might Surprise You 
If the Jets win, then Mark Sanchez will have more road playoff wins than any quarterback in NFL history.  Right now he is tied at 4 with Roger Staubach, Len Dawson (two Hall of Famers), Jake Delhomme (definitely not) and Joe Flacco (to be determined).  An optimist would say that speaks to Sanchez's clutch playoff performances.  A pessimist (or most people outside of the Tri-State Area) would say that his inconsistent regular season play leaves the Jets fighting all of their playoff battles away from the Meadowlands. 

The Matchup 
The running game won't be much of a factor for either team.  The Steelers held their opponents to a paltry 62.8 rushing yards this season.  That was not only 28 yards lower than the next best team, but it was the 3rd lowest total for any NFL team since 1992.  The Jets are no slouches either, as they were the 3rd best defense against the run.

I think this game will come down to which quarterback can deal with the inevitable pressure that will come his way.  Wayne Hunter has taken over the RT spot for the injured Damien Woody, and Dick LeBeau will be able to attack him better than New England did.  The Steelers offensive line is banged up, but it has been all season.  Ben Roethlisberger is the only QB in the league who doesn't seem to be fazed by pressure.  The Jets will get to him, but I'm not sure that matters.  He'll make enough plays to give the Steelers a close win. 

The Prediction
Steelers 20, Jets 14

NFC Championship - Packers at Bears
Sunday, 3:00pm
Packers favored by 3.5 

The Storylines 
This 90-year old rivalry is the oldest in the NFL, but Green Bay and Chicago haven't met in the playoffs since 1941 (a 33-14 blowout for the Bears).  They split their regular season series with two close games that both went to the home team, but could have easily been won by the visitor. 

Fact That Might Surprise You 
In 9 games against the Packers, Devin Hester has averaged 14.1 yard per punt return, with 2 run back for touchdowns.  In Week 3, Hester had a 28-yard return and a 29-yard return before he broke one for a 64-yard touchdown en route to a 3-point victory for Chicago.  Green Bay punter Tim Masthay has to keep the ball out of Hester's hands. 

The Matchup 
If you thought that Aaron Rodgers' game against the Falcons was one of the best you've ever seen, then you're probably right.  Statistically, Rodgers had the 4th best playoff performance by a quarterback in the past 18 years.  A-Rod (which, believe it or not, is what they call him in Wisconsin) has led the Pack to 4 straight playoff wins, if you count the must-win games versus the Giants and Bears at the end of the regular season.  The good news for Chicago fans is that the one defense that slowed Green Bay's offense in that span was Julius Peppers and company.

I wasn't particularly impressed with Jay Cutler in the  regular season (only the 16th best passer rating in the league) and a thrashing of the poor Seahawks defense isn't enough to change my opinion of him.  The Packer corners love to gamble and I foresee Cutler making one mistake too many against Charles Woodson and the red-hot Tramon Williams.  Rodgers won't come close to replicating his performance in Atlanta, but he won't have to. 

The Prediction
Packers 24, Bears 13

Images found here and here.

1 comment:

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