Friday, January 21, 2011

NFL Weekend Preview: Conference Championship Weekend

Ah, Championship Weekend. One of the best weekends for football that there is. For my money, this is the worst possible week to lose in the NFL. It's worse than losing the Super Bowl if you peter out in the Final 4. Because when you lose in this round you're an almost but not quite Super team and that hurts. Here are my best guesses for this weekend, and if you want to make some serious money, you should probably go place bets on the Steelers and Bears, because I'm a dreadful 2-6 thus far in the playoffs. Undaunted...I keep trying. Here my best guess, take it for what it is...

Jets at Steelers – This game reminds me so much of 2005-06’s AFC Championship game. The Broncos had defeated the two-time defending champ Patriots on Saturday night, and were looking at having to travel to Indianapolis most likely, as the powerhouse Colts were facing the sixth seed Steelers, and everyone and their brother thought the Colts would win. However, the Steelers surprised the top-seed Indy, and now Broncos fans were feeling pretty confident because all we had to do was take down the six seed in our home stadium and we were heading to the Super Bowl. Well, the Jets feel an awful lot like that Steelers team from January 2006 and the Steelers feel like my Broncos. I really feel like Pittsburgh should win this game, but something tells me the Jets are going to find a way.

The Steelers offensive line is in shambles, and their secondary was good but not great against the Ravens. Troy Polamalu can be such a difference maker when completely healthy, but he seemed completely average last week coming back from injury, and I’m not sure he’s healthy enough to be his usual crazed lunatic wild man roaming the secondary with a vengeance. Meanwhile, the Jets offense is clicking, and the defense just completely shut down the Pats last week. The thing that makes me wary about picking the Jets is the fact that it requires placing my faith in Mark Sanchez on the road, but then in the past two weeks he has outplayed Peyton Manning and Tom Brady, so why not add the head of Ben Roethlisberger to his wall too? Chances are great that the Steelers will be up by 17 halfway through the second quarter, and I’ll look foolish yet again in a postseason pick, but make mine Jets in a decent, but not great game. Jets 33 Steelers 24

Packers at Bears – This is the oldest rivalry in the NFL, and yet this is only the second ever meeting between the two franchises in the postseason, the first came in 1941 with the Bears winning 33-14 in what was basically the first playoff game in NFL history. Oddly, these two historical powerhouses have only made the playoffs in the same year four times in history. (1941, 1994, 2001 and this year)

This will be the rubber match game this season, as the Bears won 20-17 back in September on a Monday Night game that inspired a Vertically Striped Radio show (Episode 75) to take place. Then the Packers punched their ticket to the Playoffs in the final week with a 10-3 victory in Wisconsin in a game that had zero effect on the Bears situation. Now, we are faced with what very well could be the biggest game in the history of the rivalry. Scratch that, in what is DEFINITELY the biggest game in the history of the rivalry.

The Bears were the second seed in the NFC, and yet still no one believes in them. It's odd that the 2 seed playing at home is a three and a half point underdog to the six seed coming in, but that is where we find ourselves. As I look at the Bears record from the year, I see they went 11-5, which is solid, but only a game better than their rivals to the North who were struggling with injuries for a large portion of the year. During the regular season, I didn't think the Packers would be able to win without a running game. However, James Starks has come from nowhere to provide an adequate rushing attack and Aaron Rodgers has made like Frampton and come alive. Watching the way he carved up the Falcons defense last week, and knowing that the Packers defense has been very good over the past month, I have a hard time seeing the Bears being able to overcome Green Bay.

If Chicago is going to do it, they'll need to slow down Rodgers, make the Packers one-dimensional like they were mid-season, get the momentum of a home crowd that despises the opponent rocking, and hope that Jay Cutler doesn't make a Jay Cutler-like decision in a critical moment. Their defense has given the Packers fits, even in the season finale when the game meant nothing to Chicago and everything to the Pack, so it's not inconceivable that Chicago could make a run, but I keep coming back to Rodgers vs. Cutler...and I keep feeling like it's meant to be Green Bay's year. Packers 27 Bears 21

Divisional Round: 1-3
Regular Season: 161-95
Playoffs: 2-6
Year to Date: 163-101

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