Today is one of the five best days of sport in America and we look forward to two conference championship games that should epitomize what we consider as "real" football; defense and cold weather. All four teams play good defense and both games are being played in temperatures below 20 degrees. The interesting thing about today's games is that we expect them to be close. If you see the prior meetings, all the games were down to the wire. So does everything hold to form today?
Let's start with Green Bay and Chicago, who have their rubber match. The case for Chicago winning is this: Cold day and a tough field can slow down the Packers offense and Jay Cutler at his best. Here's the weird thing about today's games, Jay Cutler is the one QB who I'm afraid can either rise or sink his team. If he comes out like last week and throws a touchdown or two, I think it will get the Bears defense to play better. If he comes out flat, the Packers will runaway with this one like they did against the Falcons (though, I figure a runaway today would be 20-3). The other thing interesting, even though the Packers are the better offensive team, I happen to think a higher scoring game favors the Bears, unless the Packers are doing all the scoring. Otherwise, I still say that while the Bears have a good defense, if you block Julius Peppers, you can beat them. The Packers have the better all around defense and Clay Matthews, is tougher to stop. Add that the Packers have found a running back in James Starks who can free up Aaron Rodgers to have a little mystery in the plays and don't see how the Bears win. I have the Packers winning 24-14.
Onto the Jets and Steelers who it seems like a toss up. The Jets won the earlier meeting, but the Steelers didn't have Troy Polamalu. And if Jason Taylor gets blocked late in the 4th quarter, that game is likely tied and would have gone to OT. The two things the Jets must do: score first like the last time and avoid turnovers in their own side of the field. You don't want to give Ben Roethlisberger a short field, its a guaranteed score, just ask Baltimore. For Pittsburgh, their line play, particularly from the tackles will be key. If they give Roethlisberger time, he'll find success, whether the Jets cover the Steelers WR's well or not. So the defensive key for the Jets is to get to Ben quickly, don't count on getting a lot of coverage sacks. Offensively for the Jets, balance is necessary, as well as giving Mark Sanchez some easy passes to gain a rhythm. The interesting thing about the Jets today is that a) they don't have revenge on their minds and haven't said much, unlike last week and b) also unlike last week and the week prior, they aren't facing a particularly proficient offense today, so the gameplan will be more interesting as the Jets probably would go about their game the way they normally would.
So who wins? Here's what I believe: The Steelers always seems to force a turnover, and that turnover proves huge. I also believe the Steelers will run the ball better than the Jets, or at the very least, the threat of the run will open up more passing for Ben. You sense where I'm going, I have Pittsburgh outlasting the Jets 20-17, which for picks purposes means I'm taking the Jets +4. How's that for a hedge?