NFL Playoffs: Conference Championships Picks

January 22, 2011

Only four teams are left in the NFL playoffs, but each brings to the table it’s own unique story. We’ve got the team with a fan base that finally seems ready to shed their old identity and embrace their quarterback (Green Bay). We’ve got the “model franchise”, the one that would rather let other teams do the talking, and instead just take the success that comes with hard work (Pittsburgh). We’ve got the team that has done a lot of talking, but to the surprise of many, have also done the walking (New York). Finally, we’ve got the team that many people have seemingly counted out, who are probably licking their chops at a chance to prove the doubters wrong (Chicago).

After this weekend, only two of those unique stories will be left to play for the Super Bowl. All four remaining teams have a very realistic shot of playing in Dallas; there are no clear cut favorites here. However, here are my picks for the two games.

AFC Conference Championship

New York vs. Pittsburgh

New York proved me wrong last week by going into Foxborough and beating the Patriots in the cold. Now, if the Jets can beat the Steelers tomorrow, they will have dispatched three of the top quarterbacks in the league from the playoffs.

I didn’t think that Mark Sanchez would be able to handle the cold weather last weekend, but he looked like a completely different quarterback than the one who helped the Jets slip by the Colts the previous week. One of the biggest reasons for this was the job done by New York’s offensive line. Sanchez was not sacked in the game against New England, while Tom Brady was sacked five times. New York has one of the best offensive lines in the league, which should serve them well against Pittsburgh tomorrow.

Last time the Steelers played the Jets (in Week 15), the Jets won by playing as close to perfect a game as possible. With that being said, on paper the Steelers are probably the better team. Roethlisberger is the biggest name left in the playoffs, and in his own way is just as good a quarterback as Peyton Manning and Tom Brady. The Jets have already beat both Manning and Brady in the playoffs, though. In addition, Pittsburgh has had trouble protecting Big Ben this season, which is what helped Baltimore get out to a 21-7 lead against the Steelers last weekend.

I think that momentum has a lot of effect on teams in the playoffs. Sometimes, the team that is hot is just really difficult to beat. Right now, the Jets are the hot team. I think that the offensive line will hold up for Mark Sanchez, and the young quarterback will be able to lead the Jets to their first Super Bowl since Joe Namath did in back in 1969.

Final Score: 27-24 Jets

NFC Conference Championship

Green Bay vs. Chicago

Just because Chicago had a road to the Conference Championship game that has been deemed “easier” than the other four teams doesn’t mean that they aren’t deserving. Chicago is the number two seed in the NFC, and has already beaten Green Bay at home this season.

This game really comes down to how well Jay Cutler will play for the Bears. Against Seattle last weekend, Cutler ripped up the Seahawks defense with both his arm and his legs, throwing for two scores and rushing for two more. However, go back to Week 17 against the Packers, and you get a Jay Cutler that threw two interceptions and led an offense that was unable to muster a single touchdown in the game.

So, Chicago fans everywhere have to be asking, “Will the real Jay Cutler please stand up?” Hopefully for Bears fans, the real Cutler is the one that made mincemeat of the Seattle defense last weekend.

Unfortunately for Chicago, I still don’t have enough confidence in Cutler to believe that he can have a great game against the Packers. While Green Bay’s defense isn’t as good as Chicago’s, it is good enough to capitalize on the mistakes that Cutler often makes. I really can’t stress enough how much I believe that Cutler’s performance is going to determine Chicago’s fate, and I just don’t know if he will play great tomorrow.

Final Score: 20-14 Green Bay

– K. Becks

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