Both Doc and Del went 2-2 on their playoff picks last weekend, each nailing the Bears win and Packers upset while missing on the Ravens and Patriots. This weekend it’s the AFC Championship Game and the NFC Championship Game. It’s the final four of the NFL — winners move on to the Super Bowl, losers lament how close they came before ultimately failing.
So who will get it done? Can Jay Cutler — the guy we call the heart breaker — really lead a team to the Super Bowl? Will Ben Roethlisberger make history and join these legends? Will Rex Ryan avoid a third straight loss in the AFC Championship Game or finally break through? Can the Packers keep rolling on the road? We provide our predictions.
Doc’s Pick: Green Bay has been the story of the NFC playoffs, beating the Eagles on the road and destroying the Falcons in the dome. Aaron Rodgers is playing like a champ and the defense is packing the heat. They appear to be the better team and the one the public likes, but I caution you against getting carried away. Take a slight stroll down concussion-free lane and you may recall that in week 17 the Packers struggled to score against the stingy Bears defense. Keep in mind that was at Lambeau Field with the Packers needing a win to get into the playoffs, and the Bears having little motivation other than to try and keep Green Bay out. Chicago held the vaunted Green Bay offense to just three points most of the game. The Bears defense has an excellent chance of shutting down the Packers. They also can make plays in special teams and they’ve scored points offensively. I think the Bears will pull off the stunner, but can’t bring myself to pick Jay Cutler to reach a Super Bowl before Aaron Rodgers. Packers 20 Bears 17
Del’s Pick: Del picked the Packers to win the Super Bowl in our preseason predictions, so there’s no turning back now. While Doc makes a good point about the Packers offense struggling at home against the Bears in week 17, this is a different Aaron Rodgers. I realize that was only a few weeks ago, but Rodgers is as locked in now as he’s ever been. He’s thrown six touchdown and no interceptions so far in the postseason and protected the ball on the road. You won’t find a tougher road opponent than the Falcons, so obviously that isn’t an issue with this Green Bay team. While Rodgers will get most of the credit, the Packers defense is really the glue that’s held this run together. Jay Cutler’s tendency to turn the ball over and Green Bay’s nose for the football is a dangerous combination for the Bears. Cutler got away with a couple of bad throws against Seattle, but that won’t happen against the Packers. Packers 24 Bears 14
Doc’s Pick: The Jets have already beaten Peyton Manning and Tom Brady on the road in consecutive weeks, winning in Indy and New England. Their task does not get easier with Big Ben and the Steelers awaiting, though the Jets proved in week 15 they can win at Heinz Field. New York’s defense took Tom Brady and the Pats out of their offensive gameplan by hitting him early, then sitting back with several dime packages in coverage. The difference with Roethlisberger is that his game is based on improvisation and broken plays, unlike Tom, so sending pressure won’t work to spook him. That means the Jets won’t be able to disturb the Steelers offense as much. Pittsburgh’s defense meanwhile is the best in the league. They were without one of their biggest playmakers in week 15, as Troy Polamalu missed the game with an achilles injury. His ability to cause turnovers and to stuff the run will make a major difference for the Steelers.
Beyond the Xs and Os of the matchup, the biggest reason why I like the Steelers in this one is emotion. The Jets expended so much time and energy on beating New England last weekend I think they’ll be spent for this one. They say otherwise, but I’ll believe it when I see it. Steelers 27 Jets 22
Del’s Pick: Like the Doc, I fully believe in the theory of expending too much energy in a victory. Had the Jets not been so amped up for last week’s game against the Patriots, they wouldn’t be in the AFC Championship for the second straight year. However, they wanted to beat New England so badly that it almost seems like their goal has been accomplished. Can they get up for this game as much as last week’s? We’ll see.
Mark Sanchez played extremely well at New England, but that was against a poor pass defense. The Steelers defense is a much different animal than the Patriots — especially with Troy Polamalu roaming the secondary — and it will be a lot harder for Sanchez to protect the football. Running the ball against a defense that held opponents to a league best 62.8 yards in the regular season — 28 more than the next best team — will not be an easy task, either. I expect the Steelers to focus on completely taking the run away and forcing Sanchez to make plays. If he can do it again, the Jets will win. I’m not sure he can. Steelers 23 Jets 17