NFL Conference Championship Game Predictions

Green Bay at Chicago:

Green Bay remains the best team in football.  All-World QB Aaron Rodgers has the offense firing on all cylinders and, unless Chicago can get in his face all day, he should be finding the open receivers vs. Chicago’s secondary, cold weather or no cold weather.   Chicago’s secondary can focus in only on a few of Rodgers’ top targets, so this is an opportunity to shine for lesser-known guys like James Jones.

Meanwhile, Green Bay’s defense may have its toughest defensive test yet, with gunslinger Jay Cutler looking forward to lofting long passes all over the field, as offensive guru Mike Martz faces off against Green Bay’s star studded defense guided by coach Dom Capers.  Green Bay needs to pressure Cutler into mistakes, which they should be able to do, with Clay Matthews leading the charge.  And it is unlikely that Chicago will be able to run enough to keep Green Bay’s playmakers honest.   Charles Woodson will be looking for a piece of one of Cutler’s passes.  Plus, strategy aside, wouldn’t it be nice for someone to interview Brett Favre to see how he feels about Green Bay in the Super Bowl without him?  Green Bay 30-24.

Jets at Pittsburgh

To save space, it’s tempting to simply say that the Jets are not likely to win at Pittsburgh.  Then again, how likely were they to win at Indianapolis and New England this year?  So can Pittsburgh do what the Colts and the Patriots could not?  It’s also tempting to say that Sanchez cannot compete in a big game with Big Ben (Roethlisberger).  Of course, Sanchez just went toe-to-toe with Peyton Manning and Tom Brady and came out on top.

So, what will happen on Sunday?  Well one thing is easy to predict: Rex Ryan will have a lot to say afterward.  But that’s like saying the Yankees will have a large payroll next year.

When the Jets have the ball, one key is whether Pittsburgh is going to have to worry about the Jets running the ball.  In the Jets first two playoff games this year, they averaged 145 yards on the ground per game.  If the Jets put up anything near that, Pittsburgh is in trouble.  Pittsburgh needs to stop the Jets run so they can commit resources to their beat-up secondary.    Pittsburgh needs to either pressure Sanchez into mistakes or cover the Jets’ multiple WR threats, especially in light of the injuries to all-world safety Troy Polamalu and CB Bryant McFadden.   Pittsburgh can do that if they stuff the run better than Indy and NE were able to.  They should because their linebackers are far superior to what the Jets have faced thus far in the playoffs.  When the Jets played Pittsburgh during the season, the Jetskis ran for 106, but Polamalu did not play in the game. That said, Polamalu’s been fighting an Achilles problem and how well he is able to contribute to stopping the run will have a huge effect on whether the Jets have to change their game plan.  Also, Sanchez will have a much easier time passing if McFadden remains impaired by injury.

When Pittsburgh has the ball, they, too, will want to establish a running game.  In fact, when the two teams faced off in the regular season, Pittsburgh ran very well and put up many more yards than the Jets overall , but a Brad Smith kick return for a touchdown both set the tone to start the scoring and provided the eventual margin of victory for the Jets.   Yet Pittsburgh could not run the ball against Baltimore and were on their way to likely defeat until Baltimore fumbled the ball—and the game–away.  So Pittsburgh will look to re-establish its running game and then open up long passing lanes for Roethlisberger and his speedy downfield receivers.

One key to that passing game will be which receiver the Jets select to take out of the game by having all-world CB Darrelle Revis cover them.   Will he cover the steady veteran (and, according to the Jets, “cheap shot artist”) Hines Ward?  Or will he take out speedy young star Mike Wallace to cut down the deep threat. But that may not affect Big Ben, who can make use of secondary targets like he did at the end of the Baltimore game.  Plus this is a great opportunity to get into the action big tight end Heath Miller, who also missed the prior Jet matchup.

Pittsburgh should be able to run the ball like they did in the first matchup and stop the Jets from running. If so, it should be Big Ben v. Sanchez downfield and this time.  And unless the Jets get Polamalu out of the game, that kind of run and gun game favors Pittsburgh, since they, unlike New England and the Colts, should put up a multi-dimensional attack.  Pittsburgh 27, Jets 21.

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