Rematches abound this weekend as the Conference finals are set in Chicago and Pittsburgh. The New York Jets travel to face the Steelers in Pennsylvania Sunday night in the AFC Championship game. The preceding game matches arch rivals from the same division.
Game one has Green Bay traveling south and playing arch rival Chicago. This will be only the second time they have ever competed against each other in the playoffs; the first time was in 1941, ten days after Pearl Harbor. Both teams are led by hot quarterbacks, Aaron Rodgers for the Pack and Jay Cutler seems to have finally settled into the Mike Martz offense in Chicago.
Against Seattle, Cutler threw for two TD’s and ran for two more. But he directed the Bears offense with confidence, something not seen in Chicago since Jim McMahon. Up and down this season, much like the rest of the team, Cutler was 15 for 28. On it’s own not that impressive. However it was for 274 yards and no interceptions. Cutler has matured and is leading the Bears into their biggest game.
Rodgers has been unbelievable in the last 5 games. A win over the Bears Sunday would cement his legacy as one of the greats in Green Bay. In two playoff games this year, Rodgers has completed 49 or 63 passes for 546 yards and 6 TD’s, including rushing for one. Rodgers has been the glue holding the Packers together this season. Playing to MVP levels, the California native has Green Bay on the cusp of their 5th Super Bowl.
Pittsburgh is the favorite and 7-7 in AFC title games. Ben Roethelisberger is shooting for his third Super Bowl win in his young career and in a season where he was suspended for 4 games at the beginning. The Steelers will rely on Roethelisberger to move the offense and their defense to stop the Jets running game. That will be the key to the game.
Mark Sanchez is the key for the Jets. Shonn Green and LaDainlian Tomlinson posture the running game, rushing for 1680 yards between them and 6 TD’s. The Steelers have the best rushing defense in the league, so their goal will be to stop the Jets running game and force Sanchez to beat them. This could be a make-or-break game for the second year signal caller. With a win, Sanchez can join Joe Namath as the most famous Jet ever. A loss could mean another QB coming in to compete for the starting job next year.
In both games this weekend, the home team could have eliminated their guest. In week 15, Pittsburgh lost to the Jets 22-15. The game was in doubt until Jason Taylor’s safety with 2:38 left. It ended a two game losing streak for the Jets and kept them in the hunt. It also stopped a 7 game losing streak to the Steelers in Pittsburgh since the 1970 merger.
The Bears entered the last weekend having already clinched the second seed in the post season. In that lst game the Packers came to town and Lovie Smith needed to decide if he would play his starters or rest them. He played them and the Packers scored early in the 4th quarter on a 1 yard TD pass from Rodgers to Donald Driver to take the 10-3 lead and the Packer defense held on to send Green Bay into the playoffs. On September 27th, the Bears beat Green Bay in Chicago 20-17 in a penalty filled game.
A high scoring game favors the Packers; a low scoring game favors the Bears. Weather could favor the Bears running game, and Rodgers is playing so well it’s hard to pick against him. Pittsburgh is the favorite and has something to prove after losing to the Jets at home. It’s been a love-fest between the clubs this week, diametrically opposed to last week when the Jets trash-talked all week. Pittsburgh is favored but the league would love to have the Jets in the Super Bowl. For no other reason than that, take the Jets 23-17 over the Steelers. And the Packers to beat Chicago 35-23. Two sixth seeds making the Super Bowl for the first time ever.