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Its Conference Championship weekend and only three NFL games remain on the schedule. This is a bittersweet time of the year with the Super Bowl being close enough to touch while Week 1 of next season remains nine months away. Another downside to Round 3 of the NFL Playoffs is no Saturday games. On a side note, I heard/read somewhere that Seattle beat New Orleans a couple weeks ago because the game was played on a Saturday, and everybody knows Pete Carroll does his best coaching on Saturdays (Kudos to whoever said that). Luckily for the Bears the NFL scheduled the ‘Hawks/Bears game on a Sunday, rendering Pete Carroll’s talents irrelevant.
Other thoughts from Round 2 of the NFL Playoffs
1. I don’t think the Ravens/Steelers game was as close as the 31-24 score led us all to believe. Baltimore was extremely fortunate to score all three of their touchdowns. They were the beneficiaries of a bad pass interference call on 3rd and 15, a weird fumble return touchdown when everybody on the field thought the play was over, and another Pittsburgh fumble that gave Flacco and the Ravens the ball at the Steelers 16-yard line. Are you aware that Baltimore managed to gain a measly 126 yards of total offense? Are you kidding me? Obviously some weird things had to happen for them to score 24 points.
2. It was kind of weird watching the Packers blast Atlanta after everybody actually predicted Green Bay to win. Don’t games like that usually go the other way? Just so I can sound as generic as everybody else in the media: “Atlanta had absolutely no answer for Aaron Rodgers.” I kind of feel bad for Atlanta fans. I mean, the Falcons went 14-2 this year. 14-2! And they were humiliated at home by the 6th seeded Packers. I’m sure the Atlanta faithful would have rather seen…
3. The Seahawks come to town. The Bears were lucky enough to not jump Atlanta for the top seed in the NFC. Their gift was a home game against the worst NFL playoff team of all-time. Congratulations! Chicago did what they should have done against a sub-.500 team at home. A Bears loss would have been even more embarrassing than what the Saints had to endure one week earlier.
4. After watching the Pats/Jets game, I felt like everybody in the entire world had overrated New England. Going into the game everyone (including myself) thought they were the class of the playoffs. For the record, I did mention in my December mailbag that I was worried about the Patriots defense in the playoffs. Well, Jets Offensive Coordinator Brian Schottenheimer exposed their defense and called a fantastic game. He put Mark Sanchez in great situations usually involving quick, 3-step drops that never gave New England a chance to get at the quarterback. As for the Jets defense, where was this unit all season? Do they not really care during the regular season? Do they even watch film and game plan before the playoffs? Rex Ryan has them playing with ridiculous confidence and when you combine that with really good players you’re usually going to get a shut down unit.
Before I get to my picks, I’d like to admit that I’ve flipped flopped for the past three days. There are just too many different scenarios that I can see panning out this weekend. Here are the Super Bowl matchups that I have considered, but ultimately dropped.
Packers vs. Steelers
Way too easy, right? To regrettably use a tired cliché, if the games were played on paper this weekend, this would be the Super Bowl matchup. I mean, Green Bay and Pittsburgh should just win this weekend, it makes the most sense. The Packers have split with the Bears this year but they gave away the Week 3 matchup when they committed 18 penalties and only lost by three on the road. The Steelers lost in Week 15 to the Jets, but New York got a kickoff return touchdown, a safety, and Mark Sanchez played a near flawless game. Pittsburgh was without Troy Polamalu and Roethlisberger was still one play away from winning the game in the end.
Bears vs. Steelers
Honestly the only reason I considered this matchup is because of Lovie Smith and Mike Tomlin. The only other time Lovie Smith was in the Super Bowl he coached against his mentor, and fellow black head coach, Tony Dungy. It was the first time two black head coaches faced off in the Super Bowl. Wouldn’t it be fitting if Lovie was involved in the second matchup of two black head coaches? In the end, I decided this wouldn’t really be as big of a story as it was the first time, therefore it probably won’t happen. Note: This match-up would also produce talk of the ’85 Bears defense vs. the Steel Curtain defenses of the 1970s.
Bears vs. Jets
Wouldn’t it be great if both underdogs rose up and took down the favorites to play for it all in Super Bowl XLV? Well, most of America would probably say “NO”. I can’t imagine most people wanting to watch a Super Bowl that featured Jay Cutler and Mark Sanchez. There were a couple reasons, however, that made me consider this matchup. I liked the idea of Rex Ryan, son of former Bears Defensive Coordinator Buddy Ryan, taking on his dad’s old team in the Super Bowl. I also like the idea of New York beating Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, and Ben Roethlisberger in consecutive games leading to a meeting with the abominable Jay Cutler. If those three quarterbacks can’t figure out the Jets, how would Cutler?
Obviously there is one more possible matchup left. On to the picks.
Packers (-3.5) over BEARS
There are a bunch of reasons to go against Green Bay in this game:
1. They looked a little too good last weekend indoors and now they’re traveling outside to play a better defense.
2. Everybody is picking the Packers this week. Usually when everybody is going one way, you should go the other.
3. The Bears are familiar with Green Bay as opposed to Atlanta who had only played the Packers three times in the last five years.
4. I’m sure the Bears aren’t too happy about being an underdog in a conference championship game at home.
5. These teams played three weeks ago in a pseudo-playoff game for Green Bay, therefore Chicago has film of the Packers pulling out all of the stops in a must-win game.
All of those reasons still don’t sway me to pick against Aaron Rodgers and Green Bay. Like I mentioned earlier, the Packers should win this game simply because they are better on paper. There is a reason the odds makers are favoring this team on the road. If this game was being played at Lambeau Field the Packers would be favored by at least 6-7 points.
There’s one more reason why I like Green Bay to win this game. Somehow Aaron Rodgers was left off of the Pro Bowl roster. Now usually I don’t care at all about the Pro Bowl, but when I found out he didn’t make the team I had to investigate. The NFC quarterbacks are Drew Brees (Okay), Mike Vick (That makes sense), and… Matt Ryan (Huh??). For the record, Aaron Rodgers had the best quarterback rating in the NFC. Basically he should be the starting quarterback in Hawaii with Vick and Brees/Ryan filling in as the 2nd and 3rd string. This is the biggest All-Star snub since… this summer when Joey Votto was left off the National League All-Star team. Of course the fans ultimately voted Votto into the game, but the NFL has no such vote for the fans. So what does this have to do with this weekend? I think the Packers winning the game will be kind of a “make up” for Rodgers not making the Pro Bowl. You see, he wouldn’t have gone to the Pro Bowl anyways because Green Bay would be prepping for a trip to Jerry World in Arlington, Texas.
Jets (+3.5) over STEELERS
The first two weekends of the NFL playoffs haven’t gone as everyone expected, so why would this weekend? The main reason I’m taking the Jets is because the playoffs have been pretty much unpredictable up to this point. Doesn’t at least one of the underdogs win this weekend? There are two reasons I like the Jets chances of winning more than the Bears: Rex Ryan has them believing they can beat anybody, and their defense has been dominant against two of the best quarterbacks in the NFL in back-to-back weeks. We’ve all heard about Pittsburgh’s depleted offensive line. Well, if that’s true, shouldn’t the Jets absolutely have their way with them up front? Ben Roethlisberger is very good, but there is only so much you can do with little to no time to throw. This is not me taking Mark Sanchez to beat Ben Roethlisberger. That would be ridiculous. This is me taking the Jets defense to continue their strong play and beat up another elite quarterback.
Packers/Jets won’t be the sexiest Super Bowl of all-time, but it will be a Super Bowl. And it would be better than Giants/Ravens, which we can all agree is the worst Super Bowl matchup of the last 10 years.
Last Week: 3-1