|Best game of the year
If you pretend to know who's going to win this game, you're just kidding yourself. There's a laundry list of reasons why each team should win or lose. It's setting up for a memorable NFC Championship game. I can't recall a game I've personally been more intrigued to watch.
Why the Bears Will Win:
- Soldier Field. In a match-up this close, the home team will have an edge. While the Packers have spent much of the week saying the field conditions are the "worst in the NFL," the Bears are used to it. Put on the right cleats.
- Bears Defense. Clearly one of the best in the league, again. The ability to pressure with just the four down linemen will cause problems for Aaron Rodgers, who has exploited teams who must blitz all year. Julius Peppers could be MVP of the game. Briggs, Urlacher and Co. will stop the run and put even more pressure on Rodgers to do it himself in cold, windy conditions. The Packers struggled to move the ball on them both time they played this year, once when the Bears had nothing to play for.
- Jay Cutler and Mike Martz. This combo continues to impress with good play-calling and excellent execution. Chicago's screen game, with Matt Forte, will keep the hard-blitzing Packers' defense off balance. A veteran like Martz will be able to scheme on the Dom Capers' defense better than most.
- Special Teams. Devin Hester is the best return man in the history of the game. The Packers are known to give up big plays on special teams. A lot of pressure falls on the Packers' coverage teams.
- They seem to have the Packers' number. Beat them at home on a late field goal and shut them down in the last game of the season before giving up a late touchdown on the road. The Bears' strengths match up well with against the Packers.
- Underdog. No one outside of Chicago and Bears fans think they can win. Vegas has Packers by 3.5. People haven't given the Bears credit all year (I'm guilty). They proved everyone wrong by making the playoffs, winning the division and being in this position. The masses will be against them again with Green Bay and Rodgers playing at such a high level right now. As we continue to see in the NFL, the team people don't give a chance rise up and shoves it in their face.
- Aaron Rodgers. No one is playing at a higher level right now. After the Atlanta beat down, people were saying how it was the greatest game ever by a Packer QB. Rodgers is driven by the need to prove he can do it better than Favre, and Packers fans want that just as bad. He dismissed the foolish rap of not being able to win a playoff game with two huge road wins. The accuracy, athleticism, scrambling and composure are putting Rodgers into the top-tier level of NFL quarterbacks. With a Super Bowl win, or even appearance, no one will doubt he belongs in that category.
- Packers Defense. The blitz will be in Cutler's face all game long. The Bears must account for Clay Matthews on every play because he is coming and he is relentless. Cutler was sacked nine times in the two meetings in the regular season. With less time to throw, Cutler will have to avoid Tramon Williams, who single-handedly crushed the Falcons' hopes with two back-breaking interceptions. The Packers were second in the league in points allowed and the Bears were 21st in points scored.
- Cutler. Could be due for a stinker. Consistency has always been the issue. He's only got one playoff game under his belt and it was against a sub-.500 team that shouldn't have been there. It's a feast-or-famine situation with Cutler. It wouldn't surprise anyone if he had three picks, or if he throws three touchdowns. I'll need to see it to believe it with him.
- Mike McCarthy. He's been known to come with a dud in big games too many times. His clock management skills have widely ridiculed. His special teams will give up huge plays and his offense and play-calling have already been shut down by the Bears D twice.
- Motivation. I have to think the Bears have more with everyone picking against them and being at home. But the Packers have plenty in their own right. This is the true wildcard to the game. When everyone is going with one team (Packers), I cringe. Never seems to work out that way, i.e. Seahawks v Saints, Patriots v Jets.
I've debated the winner of this game all week. It seems after that breakdown I would be favoring the Bears. Not necessarily but I know they can win this game for those reasons. I've doubted the Bears and thought the Packers were the better team all year. The Bears had an easy road, but if you look at it, the Packers regular season road wasn't much tougher. However, they've proven themselves in the playoffs. The Bears beat the Seahawks. Despite my doubts, the Bears have proved me wrong time and time again. And they will have to do it one more time. I'm going with my head instead of the feeling that's been creeping into my gut this week. Packers 17 Bears 16. Prove me wrong again, Chicago.
AFC Championship prediction: Steelers 20 Jets 13. I really like the Steelers here. Big Ben, the defense and I don't see the Jets beating them twice at Pittsburgh in the same year.