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NFC/AFC Championship Overview

By Dave Bruning

The NFL has reached its version of the Final Four. The Regional winners are Green Bay, Chicago, Pittsburgh and the New York Jets. It takes tremendous effort, talent and a few lucky breaks to make it this far. There is much to be proud of. Just like the NCAA basketball tournament, there is still work to be done to be ultimately crowned champion. Let’s break down the two games that will give us the participants for Super Bowl XLV.

Green Bay Packers @ Chicago Bears

I have been driving the Aaron Rodgers’ bandwagon and I am not about to hop off now. Rodgers has been my fantasy football quarterback for the last two years. I have watched him play very closely since he supplanted Brett Favre as the starter for the Packers and he continues to impress me. His arm is stronger than I think most realized, as is his understanding of how to play the quarterback position. His mobility and ability to elude the rush were on full display as the Packers dismantled the Falcons in Atlanta.

Rodgers faces a much sterner test against the defense of the Chicago Bears. The Packers managed to score 27 points in two regular season games against Chicago, going 1-1. The Bears play a stout version of the Tampa cover two defense and do it very well. They do a tremendous job eliminating the big down-field play (a Packers specialty) and force the quarterback to be extremely patient. It usually takes a well-executed drive to score on the Bears. I think Rodgers will be content to throw the ball underneath the coverage of the Bears, especially out of 4- and 5-wide receiver sets. This is the area the Bears do not match up well with against the Packers and prove to be critical to a Green Bay victory.

There are two wild cards in this game; Jay Cutler and Devin Hester. I believe the Packers aggressive, ball-hawking defense will put tremendous pressure on Cutler. I expect the Bears to be playing from behind, thereby minimizing the effectiveness of Matt Forte and forcing Cutler to throw more than he would like. Chicago turnovers are an inevitable result. Hester gives the Bears a definite advantage on special teams if he is given an opportunity. I think Green Bay will be smart and generally kick away from Hester. The poor playing surface at Soldier Field is not really a factor as Green Bay is familiar with this field. Green Bay is the better team and will advance to the Super Bowl with a hard-fought 24-16 victory.

New York Jets @ Pittsburgh Steelers

The AFC Championship features the rugged Steelers against the brash and loud Jets. Pittsburgh will be making its record 15th appearance in the AFC Championship game (7-7 overall) while the Jets will be making their second consecutive appearance in the AFC title game.

On paper I like the Steelers. Football games are not played on paper. The Jets have been built to win in the playoffs, and sport a 4-1 record over the last two years in the playoffs. All of those games have been played on the road with an inexperienced head coach and starting quarterback. Beginning with their appearance on HBO’s Hard Knocks to start the preseason and culminating with a thorough performance against their hated divisional rival New England, Rex Ryan and the Jets have embraced and thrived in the spotlight. The lights only get brighter, and I believe the Jets are up to the challenge.

The Jets are riding the emotional motivation of honorary captain Dennis Byrd. For those who don’t recall, Byrd is a former Jet player who was suffered a neck injury on the playing field in 1992. Byrd was unable to walk for a time being but after extensive physical therapy is able to walk again. He gave the Jets an inspirational speech before the Patriots game.

The big match up in this game is the Jets wide receivers vs. the Steelers secondary. Pittsburgh is a little banged up in the secondary and I think the Jets have the receivers to take advantage. Former Steeler Santonio Holmes could definitely come back to haunt his former team. I also think the Jets will run the ball better than most people think.

The Steelers have been very fortunate most of the year. I honestly felt Baltimore was the better team last week and would have won the game had they protected the football in the 3rd quarter. I like the Jets defense to exploit Pittsburgh’s inferior offensive line and harass Roethlisberger all day. The Jets move on to the Super Bowl 23-17.

Posted 1/22/2011 – I can be reached at dabruman23@comcast.net to share thoughts or disagreements, just share!

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