by Ryan Meehan (Davenport, IA – US)
and Joe Feeney (Davenport, IA – US)
RM: Conference championship weekend is here, and it’s time for everyone to show their local colors. If you’re a Bears fan, you’re going to want to head up to your local watering hole and start early to catch up to all of the Packers fans, who have been drinking since December 22nd. If you’re a Steelers fan you can stumble into any AFC-friendly bar and check out the game there, or you can join the rest of us in church Sunday morning to pray that the New York Jets don’t end up barking their way into the Super Bowl.
Since Joe smoked me in our predictions last week, he’s coming back to do more in hope that SOMEBODY who writes for this site can pick a winner. And for the record, I’m kind of bummed the Seahawks didn’t make it further because I absolutely love the term “Seabags”.
JF: Ok, so I go 4-0 last week picking the playoff games…big deal. Anyone can do that. This week I’m stepping my game up and putting my life savings on a two team parlay with my picks. In other words, I’m putting my money where my mouth is.
NFC Championship: Green Bay Packers (12-6) -3.5 at Chicago Bears (12-5) – 44 @ 2PM CST – FOX Television
RM: This rivalry dates back to 1921, with both of these two teams having met 181 times to date. Both coaches have a 3-2 playoff record. One of my co-workers pointed out something interesting to me earlier this week: If that Calvin Johnson play at the beginning of the season is ruled a catch, then Green Bay wins the division, the Giants make the playoffs, and the Bears don’t even get to the postseason. And then combine that with the fact that either way Seattle would have still made it.
Any football fan would have to appreciate Aaron Rodgers’ performance in last week’s game on the road against the Falcons. Well, almost. Bears fans are a different horse in the sense that they tend to drink a lot of Miller products in the week up to each individual playoff game. This tends to create the illusion that they are always a legitimate Super Bowl contender, even if they’re 4-6 facing an extremely difficult remaining schedule. In any other situation I would agree that they were, but Green Bay should scare any Bears fan to death right now. Aaron has had a passer rating of 125.0 over the past nine games with 22 touchdowns and only two interceptions in the same stretch. Not bad for a guy who’s suffered two concussions since August.
The Packers are a fucking killing machine. I really, really, tried to work around calling them that, but I haven’t been able to figure out any other way to describe it. I picked Philly to win the Wild Card game, but deep down in my heart I knew that if the Packers won surely they would score more than 21 points. Well, the next week they went into Atlanta and scored a tad bit more than 21 points.
How the Bears can win: Chicago does have a few things going for them: Their defense held Mr. Rodgers’ neighborhood to only three points in the first three quarters of the Week 17 loss. If their defense comes out the first series and gets lit (and stays lit) they can try to use that to their advantage and try to stockpile some points, even if it is just field goals. Jay Cutler got sacked six times in the last meeting between the two teams, and they need to make sure he’s well protected. Also, take advantage of every opportunity to hang on to possession because if they can’t do that they Packers are going to wear them down. The Bears got away with not having to worry about that on Sunday because the Seahawks can’t really wear anybody down.
How the Packers can win: There are a lot of ways the Packers can win, way too many to list here. I know that Dom Capers is considered a defensive master mind, but let’s be honest…he’s incredibly lucky to be working with such a talented front and linebacking corps. It’s not that hard to get inside Cutler’s head so once they do if they can maintain a cool head they’ll have no problem winning this game: I can’t imagine that Rodgers is going to come out in the conference championship game and go 13 for 28 with three picks, he just doesn’t have games like that.
Injury report: Chicago may be without safety Chris Harris who injured his hip in Sunday’s game against Seattle.
And to think Green Bay almost missed the playoffs altogether. A six seed holding down the fort. Never would have guessed, even though I’m a Giants fan and watched the same thing happen in 2007.
Da Bears? 50 to 1 Super Bowl odds at the beginning of the season.
Meehan’s Prediction: Green Bay Packers 26, Chicago Bears 21
JF: I’ll let Chris Berman do the cheesy setup for the epicenter of humanity which will be the NFC Championship game between the Packers and the Bears. Fox probably creamed their pants as soon as Tramon Williams had the pick six and dreamed that it could truly happen…these 2 teams to meet in this game. Wel,l it’s here and I’ve already told five friends of mine we’re no longer cool because of how heated it’s been in the trash talking department.
Here’s how I see it…the Packers should win this. They should win this by double digits…but that’s why they play the game (damn you, Berman). The Packers blew it in week 3 with 18 penalties against the Bears. It cost Green Bay 2 turnovers and a TD. Then James Jones fumbled at midfield in the final 2 minutes with the game tied. One pass interference call later, Chicago found themselves in field goal range, winning the game. Then in the final week of the season, the Packers continued to shoot themselves in the foot. Driver fumbled early in Bears territory. A big gain by Jennings deep into Bears territory was nullified by a terrible holding call on Bulaga. Then Jennings later dropped a long TD after beating Tim Jennings on a corner route. So this is why this game could easily be won by the Chicago…Green Bay seems to crap their pants when playing Chicago!
Let’s face it…Rodgers is on fire right now and Cutler played the Seabags. Yes, Cutler became the 2nd player ever to throw for 2 and run for 2 TDs in a playoff game besides Otto Graham. Again, it was the Seabags. Let’s not get carried away people. Rodgers was masterful and Ditka even called it the greatest individual performance in the playoffs he’s ever seen. But the Packers are not playing in a dome…this is Soldier Field with some terrible turf.
If Cutler can start hot fast and keep the crowd behind him, this one might come down to the end again. If the Packers can get to him early and bring Evil Jay out to play, it could get ugly fast. I expect A LOT of blitzing by the Packers early and to counter that, expect a lot of screens to Forte and maybe even Olsen. If the Bears catch them at the right time, it could be a 60 yd screen pass for a TD. Also look for a lot of quick passes to Olsen when GB blitzes. It’s a sight adjustment for Cutler and wonder if Dom Capers will possibly drop a defensive end in a zone blitz to possibly disrupt that.
I don’t think the weather will affect much in McCarthy’s play calling. I’d almost expect to see 5 WR the first play of the game by GB. One guy to watch is TE Andrew Quarless. If someone’s going to find some holes in that Tampa 2 defense, it could be him. He’s tall, fast, and not your typical TE. Finley had a big game in Week 3 so he could play that part on Sunday.
A new wrinkle we saw last week was B.J. Raji in the backfield for the Packers in their goalline package. If they’re at the 1 yard line again, don’t be surprised to see that again…but maybe play-action out of it. I can’t see the Packers risking a fumble by giving Raji the ball to do his very own Fridge impersonation, so don’t hold your breath on that.
The Packers tried picking on corner Tim Jennings all game a few weeks ago and he really held his ground. Will the Packers do that again? Probably because if you throw Tillman’s way, he’s going to get his hands on the ball via a pick or stripping the ball. I think the Bears have forced fumbles on a Packers receiver the last 5 or 6 games so ball security is a huge issue for the Pack.
Another huge factor here is Mr. Devin Hester. Remember, he hadn’t returned a kick or punt for a TD for like 2 years until he did it against GB in Week 3. Then suddenly Hester was back in beast mode and at it again. The Packers did a great job keeping it from him the last time, with great directional kicking by Tim Masthay. Green Bay gave up the kickoff return for a TD last week so this could be a problem on Sunday. Also, the Packers keep switching their kickoff returner and Starks fumbled one out on the 8 yd line. Not a good time to keep putting in new returners.
So in the end, without being a homer, I can totally see Green Bay making the same mistakes they have in the past against the Bears and lose a heartbreaker 24-23. BUT…I really believe this team is focused and is ready to play their best game yet. Even better than what they did against Atlanta last week. I’m really going to go out on a limb here with the score, but I think Green Bay wins this thing…I can only hope.
Feeney’s Prediction: Green Bay Packers 30, Chicago Bears 13
AFC Championship: New York Jets (13-5) +3.5 – Pittsburgh Steelers (13-4) – 38 @ 5:30 CST – CBS Television
Of course the Jets talk a lot of shit. And it is cliché to say they “backed it up”, because by definition “backing it up” doesn’t have a lot to do with pro football. Ryan made sure that his players were motivated, he tends to have a more severe approach than a lot of most structured coaches, and another thing that I noticed, is that he doesn’t tend to suspend players a lot. He’s got a laid back personality and he tends to like to use the media to fuck with the other team during the week leading up to the game.
Now, the Steelers are a team that I don’t like. After the way they performed in the first half of the Baltimore game, it would be easy to assume they can have stretches where the offense can’t move the football effectively in any manner. However, Ben Roethlisberger is the man when it comes to clutch drives. I’m not thrilled about admitting it, but he is.
What’s also odd is that this matchup might end up quickly moving from a running game/line of scrimmage type of game to an air show. I can see Tomlin in the middle of the third quarter, just telling Ben to change the pace of everything so that the battle will be between him and Sanchez. I’m about 78% sure Ben could nail him to a garage in the thick of the fourth quarter when they get down to it, but it’s the other 22% of the time I’m worried about. But think about how tough the NFL has been this year from the Jets’ standpoint: They’ve defeated Peyton Manning AND Tom Brady, and they aren’t even in the Super Bowl yet. That’s crazy.
How the Jets can win: The Jets are going to have to get up early and STAY up during the third quarter. As evidenced by last week’s comeback win against the Ravens, Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin can give one hell of a halftime speech, and Ben Roethlisberger can get knocked around and come out of that locker room, get right back up, and get that offense down the field quickly. Sanchez absolutely can not get discouraged at any point, and LaDanian Tomlinson is going to need to have at least 60 yards rushing and 30 yards receiving. Shonn Greene will have to continue to do what he has been doing, and Braylon Edwards CANNOT drop the ball like he did when he was in Cleveland: This is the big stage, and the next three weeks might be the most important of his life.
How the Steelers can win: The Jets haven’t been much of an offensive powerhouse this season, so the way that the Steelers can win is through their defense’s ability to shut everything down. Troy Polamalu has a great eye for coming forward and making tackles, and since the Jets run that screen/flanker play to LaDanian Tomlinson so much he’s going to have to make sure those plays don’t go over 5 yards and don’t result in any third down conversions. Speaking of Troy’s hair, the Steelers are 31-8 with him in the lineup since 2008, and 6-7 without him.
Injury Report: Darelle Revis saw limited participation in practice Thursday but of course he’ll end up playing.
I’m not really a fan of either team, but I like the Steelers at home. And for the record, Rex Ryan can go ahead and stop mentioning that every game is personal. We get it: that’s his schtick. If they end up winning this game, I’m sure he’d be more than happy to make up some story about how he stayed at the same hotel Jay Cutler did five years ago and Cutler wouldn’t shake his hand, so now it’s “personal”. I like Rex, but he’s become very more and more predicatble throughout the course of this season. And he was pretty predictable to begin with.
Meehan’s Prediction: Pittsburgh Steelers 31, New York Jets 27
JF: This comes down to the quarterbacks and obviously Big Ben is the guy. He continues to make plays, take a beating and bring his team back…but he couldn’t quite do that last time these 2 played a few weeks ago. I expect the same thing this week.
The Steelers are vulnerable against the pass and Mark “Sanchize” has been throwing more like “Sanhigh”. Can he step up and make some throws to beat the Steelers? Well, when you have Santonio Holmes playing against his former team again, you have to think he’s going to show up big.
I think the Jets will run the ball more effectively than people think they will and this will allow the passing game to open even more. It will be more short stuff, but they could take one or two shots deep. But if they do, they can’t do what Flacco did and overthrow it and have it picked by Ryan Clark or ol’ #43.
And I just can’t see Big Ben being able to withstand the beating this Jets defense is going to deliver. They were all over Brady, but we know Ben can escape some of those…but I don’t think he’ll be able to enough for them to win. I really see this being a Jets victory, and it will be a battle of the #6 seeds in the Super Bowl.
Feeney’s Prediction: New York Jets 24, Pittsburgh Steelers 17
Other football-related news:
Mike Singletary agreed in principle to become the linebackers coach for the Minnesota Vikings, whatever the fuck that means. I would think finding a stadium to play in would be more of a priority than finding a new linebackers coach, but maybe that’s why I hawk cell phones and tutor algebra for a living.
There are some questions in a lot of the forums about what the Eagles plan to do with Michael Vick. If the game were only two quarters long, you’d LOVE to have that guy every time. But, the games aren’t two quarters long, and so there were several questions within the forum this week pertaining to whether or not Vick is a long term solution in Philadelphia. I did hear a rumor that they were discussing a trade to Washington for Clinton Portis and a fourth rounder, but that would be the stupidest trade since…well…since the Redskins traded Champ Bailey to Denver for Clinton Portis.
AS I said earlier this week, Brett Favre filed his retirement papers with the league. (I will probably get fined by the league if I don’t mention his name twice the week he “retires”) I don’t really know why, because if he wants to come back next year I’m sure the NFL would have no problem with it, and it’s not like they are going to help him out with anything in ten years when he starts running into walls and drinking out of the toilet.
New England Quarterback Tom Brady underwent surgery on Thursday, where a screw was inserted into his right foot to help heal chronic stress fracture of the navicular bone:
Who will make it to the Super Bowl? Come back to FOH next week and find out, because we’re the only website on earth where you can locate that information.
Once again thanks for visiting First Order Historians and enjoying more of the internet’s finest in user generated content, and please follow Feeney on Twitter @joeyhawkeye.