Mattie T's Conference Championship Game Picks
In the 182nd meeting of the NFLís longest-running rivalry, there has never been THIS much on the line with a trip to Super Bowl XLIV awaiting the winner of Sundayís NFC Championship Game. Will the Packers win the George Halas trophy on enemy territory, or will the Bears head to their 2nd Super Bowl in the last 5 years?
The top headline will be the red-hot Aaron Rodgers, who leads all playoff quarterbacks in passes completed (49), completion percentage (77.8%), first downs (31) & passer rating (134.5).
However, Chicagoís defense has been able to keep Rodgers in check, as his passer rating against them in 6 games (92.6) is below his career mark of 98.4, which is an NFL all-time high.
In addition to this, Rodgers has tossed only 7 touchdowns in 6 games against the Bears and has only gone over 300 yards once.
In the past, Rodgers has been able to get away with subpar performances due to a strong run game, but he wonít have that luxury on Sunday as Chicago has only allowed two 100-yard rushers all season defensively & sports the NFLís 2nd best run defense (allowing 90.1 ypg).
Donald Driver (11 receptions for 132 yards) & Greg Jennings (9 receptions for 109 yards) have been Rodgersí two biggest targets offensively in the playoffs, but the Bears have held the twosome in check career-wise.
Amazingly enough, Driver has just 2 touchdowns in 21 career meetings against Chicago, and has been held scoreless against his NFC North rivals in his last eight games.
As for Jennings, heís only gone over the 100-yard mark once against the Bears in 9 career meetings, as Green Bay is just 2-3 in games that Jennings has caught a touchdown reception against Chicago.
James Jones (15 receptions in 8 career games with no touchdowns) & Jordy Nelson (8 receptions in 6 career games with no touchdowns) are Rodgersí 3rd & 4th options offensively, who have both yet to produce against their NFC North division rivals.
As for Chicago offensively, they will need an efficient & mistake-free outing out of Jay Cutler, who has more interceptions (9) and sacks (16) against Green Bay than any other NFL team.
One way to take pressure off Cutler is with a big game out of Matt Forte in the backfield, as he has more receptions (22) against Green Bay than any other opponent.
Forte also averaged 6.1 yards per carry against the Packers in Week 17, which is the highest total Green Bay has allowed to running backs with 15 or more carries against them in a single game this season.
Johnny Knox will look to provide a huge presence at wide receiver, as he has more receiving yards (259) & first downs (8) against Green Bay against any other team, and has a 68-yard catch vs. the Packers to his credit that is the longest play of his career.
Then, thereís the Devin Hester factor. Hester has 335 career punt return yards against Green Bay, which is his 2nd highest total among NFL opponents heís faced.
If it comes down to a game-winning kick, give the Bears a big advantage. Gould has connected on 21 of 23 career field goals against Green Bay for a percentage of 91.3%, while Mason Crosby has connected on 12 of 17 field goals against Chicago for a 70.6% percentage clip.
Among Green Bayís 6 losses this season, 4 of them have ended via game-winning field goals by the opposing team. Look for Robbie Gould to hand the Packers their 5th different three-point loss, as the Bears use their homefield advantage to earn a return trip to Dallas for Super Bowl XLIV.
Mattie Tís NFC Championship Game Prediction: Bears 23, Packers 20.
Heís already taken down 4-time League MVP Peyton Manning & 3-time Super Bowl winner Tom Brady in the playoffs so far. Can Rex Ryan knock off 2-time Super Bowl winner Ben Roethlisberger to get his New York Jets to the big game?
It feels weird saying that 28-year old Ben Roethlisberger is the most experienced quarterback left, but that is indeed the case as he looks to send Pittsburgh to their 3rd Super Bowl appearence in the last 6 years.
Roethlisberger would like to improve his sub-par play against the Jets, as heís completed just 53.4% of his passes (lowest percentage among AFC opponents), thrown for 201 yards per game with 2 touchdowns & 3 interceptions.
Rashard Mendenhall did rush for two big touchdowns to help the Steelers in their comeback win over the Ravens in the Divisional Round, but his 2.3 yards-per-carry average is a season-low.
Hines Wardís presence was surely missed during their Week 15 loss to the Jets, as he missed most of the game with a concussion. However, Ward hasnít enjoyed his usual homefield edge as he has just two receiving touchdowns in 9 home games this season. (including playoffs).
That will be key, since Darrelle Revis is figured to be paying extra close attention to Mike Wallace, who had 102 receiving yards in that Week 15 loss & is averaging 21 more yards at home this season.
Another key guy could be Heath Miller, who played a key role in the second half of the season and did miss the regular-season meeting with a concussion.
The key for Mark Sanchez is to limit the mistakes, since the Jets are just 2-8 when the former USC star commits more than one turnover in a game for his career.
Ex-Steeler Santonio Holmes hasnít been a big factor in the playoffs so far (7 receptions for 66 receiving yards in 2 games), but did come on late & had several clutch 4th quarter or overtime catches for the Jets to help them sneak out some close wins.
This will be a very close & low-scoring game, but i think Pittsburgh will flex their top-ranked defense late & force Sanchez into a key mistake to clinch a Super Bowl berth to Texas Stadium.
Mattie Tís AFC Championship Game Prediction: Steelers 10, Jets 7.