Another 2-2 weekend has come and gone. Much like the previous weekend, almost nobody picked the biggest upset (even including the people in the winning team’s locker room). If the pattern holds up, then which game will be this weekend’s upset?
Jets @ Steelers
Despite being home, the Steelers were better on the road than at home this year (7-1 vs 5-3) so playing at Heinz field is no advantage. The Steelers must run the ball well, and they had success in the Dec. 19th meeting. They also must pressure Sanchez, something they failed to do last month. DC LeBeau will adjust during the game (see how he changed the scheme last week vs Flacco) and he has Polamalu back. The Jets alternate their ground game between two great RBs in Green & LT. They both were effective vs the Steelers last month (89 yards total). If they can be effective again, QB Sanchez will have an easier time throwing to WR Edwards and Holmes.
CB Revis is back on the top of his game and will blanket the Steelers’ go-to guy, WR Wallace. QB Rothsliberger will have to go elsewhere in this game or risk pick offs. His offensive line is absolutely atrocious (gave up six sacks to the Ravens last week and RB Medenhall only gained 46 yards rushing). The Jets are more about coverage than they are about rushing the passer, but the Jets got to QB Brady 5 times last week. Thus, Rothsliberger MUST not hold on to the ball too long and make quicker decisions. The Steelers’ OL will be their downfall, not because of a mighty Jets pass rush, but because of their superior coverage packages.
Prediction: for the 1st time in 42 years, it will be Jets in the Super Bowl. They exorcised their demons by beating Manning and Brady, and as long Sanchez maintains his level of play, they’ll be in Dallas. Jets 24-20
Packers @ Bears
These two great rivals finally meets in the title game – in which both traditionally smash-mouth teams are led by QBs with powerful arms. In Cutler, the Bears finally have a decent QB that can make any throw. But he must avoid poor decisions like a couple he made last week vs the Seahawks, which were dropped. If he makes the same mistakes, CB Woodson and Williams will make Cutler pay. QB Rodgers has turned into one of the very best in the league, and just may be the best Packer QB ever. Yes, over legends Starr and Favre. On top of a terrific arm and accuracy, Rodgers doesn’t turn it over and is secretly athletic. He has exploded in the 2011 playoffs, with 134 passer rating and 77% completion rate, plus 6 strikes and no picks.
Both teams’ RB are serviceable, with a slight edge to the Bears’ RB Forte, and can help take pressure off the QBs. However, the Packers have the better WR corps in Jennings, Jones, Driver, and Nelson. They just may be the best in the league. The Bears’ corps is decent (WR Knox is the fastest in the game, Bennett is great over the middle, and TE Olsen can make plays) though, and it’s up to OC Martz to utilize them properly. Both teams’ OL aren’t anything special. The Packers’ OL seem to protect Rodgers well but that’s more of Rodgers getting rid of the ball on time.
The Bears are led by the best DE in the league, Peppers, whose presence has made his entire DL better. Because they are good enough, the Bears don’t need to blitz. Packers are in a 3-4 defense, so their DL is less glamorous, but they’re just as efficient. The Bears’ LB corps is probably the best also, with two studs in Urlacher and Briggs. They never come off the field, and do everything (cover, stop the run and blitz). Packers have had injury problems here, but they have the most relentless rusher in Matthews. However, the Bears’ DBs are weak, unlike the Packers (Woodson & Williams) and their safety Harris is injured. Woodson can do it all (safety, CB, linebacker, and blitz) so he must be game planned. KR Hester is the most dangerous returner in NFL history so he MUST not see the ball at all. Packers’ cover team totally sucks so here the Bears must take advantage.
Prediction: The packers have proven to be terrific road warriors in the playoffs (dispatching the Eagles & destroying the overrated Falcons) so playing at Soldier field won’t be much of a factor. The Bears’ defense is absolutely fantastic up front, but their weaknesses in the secondary will doom them vs a red-hot Rodgers. Although they have slowed him down in their previous two match-ups, Rodgers seems to be on a historic roll. Plus the Packers’ D is one of the fastest and has better playmakers in the secondary, enough to take advantage of Cutler’s inconsistent throws. Plus he has very little experience with adversity in the playoffs. Moreover, in two games vs the Packers, Cutler has been very pedestrian (63% completion & 1 strikes vs 3 picks). I’ll have to go with the hotter team with the better QB and coach: Packers. 35-21