Another week, another set of picks. We keep working our way down as the dead weight gets trimmed, and after this week we’ll have our Superbowl set up. Its, admittedly, a sad realization that we’re down to our final 3 football games of the season (don’t you dare BRING UP the Pro Bowl, and pass that off as a “game”).

Last week I improved by the smallest possible margin going 2-2. I got Chicago and Pittsburgh right. Almost no one saw the Jets doing what they did. Clearly I gave Atlanta too much credit or Green Bay too little. So here we go. Championship weekend. Who is going to the Superbowl?

Rob:  More than likely, one of the teams I pick.  That’s right, I killed it last week.  Sure, no one saw the Jets winning last week, so I don’t even count it that I picked New England.  The other three games?  That’s right, all me.  Packers, Steelers, Bears, oh my, 3-0.

JMB:  Well Guys Nation, it feels good to be 3-1 this week instead of the abysmal 1-3 from the Wild Card round.  I’ll even take that since it means that the Patriots get to go home early.

Gools:  while my picks didn’t get posted in time last week, I went 3-1with the Pats being my sole defeat.  I also changed my SB pick to GB over Steelers since I felt the Pack would beat Atlanta.  GO PACK GO!

#6 Green Bay(10-6, wildcard) @ #2 Chicago (11-5, NFC North Champions)

Two teams that are very very VERY familiar with one another. One of the best rivalries in sports. These team’s fan bases detest one another. These teams go at it when they play. The Bears played their starters week 17, partially to keep players sharp, but also because they had a chance to keep the Packers out of the playoffs. The Packers have been fighting and clawing for the last month plus. First to get in the playoffs and now to keep moving on. They split their regular season series, each team winning at home. Vegas like Green Bay and has made them a road favorite. Everyone is on Green Bay.

How Green Bay Wins: Rattle Jay Cutler. Get to him, make him make mistakes. He’s good for a few absolutely mind boggling throws a game. Make him pay for those. If they can shut down Forte and the running game, and make Martz’s offense one dimensional? They’ll win this game. PS Avoid kicking to Devin Hester!

How Chicago Wins: Ball control. Run effectively, sure, but most importantly sustain drives. Keeping Aaron Rodgers off the field will go a long way to getting to the Superbowl. The Bears’ offense is their best defense.

Better Offense – Green Bay. Its firing on all cylinders. Aaron Rodgers has been amazing. That receiving corps is excellent, and they’ve found just enough of a run game to keep people honest.

Better Defense – Chicago, but just barely. A lot of this defense was around for the Bears last Superbowl run, so they have experience, and they are playing at home.

Better Special Teams – Chicago. 2 words: Devin Hester. Plus a slight nod to Gould over Mason in the Kicking game. gould has better numbers kicking in, arguably, the hardest stadium ot kick in.

X-Factor – the Field. The turf at Soldier Field is NOTORIOUSLY bad. Will a slip or stumble lead to a costly interception? Will the defensive lines be able to generate a pass rush?

MY PICK: Chicago – so many people are on Green Bay, I feel Chicago comes out feeling slighted and goes back to the Superbowl. Also from a strategy standpoint, I feel I can make up a game on people being the only one picking the Bears!

Rob’s Pick:  The Packers.  While I believe in the Bears defense, I don’t believe in their offense… more accurately Jay Cutler.  If there’s anyone I trust almost as much as Aaron Rodgers, it’s the Green Bay Packers.

JMB:  I have to go with the Packers over the Bears, but not by much, and I think this game will come down to the QBs and D.

The Bears D will stuff the run and force Rodgers to throw, and throw a great deal on short to intermediate routes.  Barring a mistake in coverage moving in and out of the Cover 2 scheme (they mix it up on Rodgers), the Packers won’t be going deep, and look out for Peppers. The Packers D will stuff the run and go after Cutler as well.  I’m not sure that line is ready for Clay Matthews and Co.  Lastly, Special Teams could play a role, and the Bears Special Teams were executing well last week, and the return game is a plus.  So really breaking this down.

Offense – Edge GB
Defense – Tie
Special Teams – Edge Chicago.

So what does this mean?  Barring the X-factor Special Teams, I look for both D’s to have a great day, but when push comes to shove, GB will be able to force Cutler (or attract) Cutler into making 1-2 ill-advised throws, where Aaron Rodgers will stay turnover free.  GB and Chicago will both get to the QB, but Rodgers maintains his poise and doesn’t make Cutler’s mistakes.

Green Bay: 13, Chicago 10

Mindcrickets:  Last week I said I wasn’t sure Aaron Rodgers could carry the full burden on his own.  Guess we have the answer now!  What an amazing performance – Rodgers has firmly cemented his status as a top 5, likely top 3 quarterback in the NFL today.  With his youth, athleticism, smarts, accuracy, and excellent organization around him, we could be witnessing the beginning of an all-time great.  As such, I can’t possibly pick Jay “here, please intercept me” Cutler to outplay the Green Bay QB here.  Yes, yes – I know Chicago has an excellent defense, a strong running game, and homefield advantage.  None of those will matter if Cutler makes the two or three horrific throws he usually makes because Green Bay, unlike Seattle, will actually catch those ducks and make the Bears pay.  I’m all in – Packers 27, Bears 17

Gools: Thank God the Packers are alive.  No other team could offset 3 of my 4 least favorite NFL teams being in the Semis (at least the Deadskins are sitting home).  Well, this one is the rubber match for the Bears and Pack; the first game was an odd affair with some special teams plays and weird happenings in which the Bears won in Chi-town.  The 2nd game was recent and the Pack won in Lambeau 10-3, despite the Bears having 0 to play for.  So, I’m throwing out the first two matchups altogether.  Pack defense will create Cutler turnovers and Rodgers will move the ball vs. Lovie’s Cover 2.  Packers 24 – Bears 13.

#6 New York Jets (11-5, wildcard) @ #2 Pittsburgh (12-4 AFC North Champion)

Another rematch from the regular season. The Jets went to Pittsburgh week 15 and won. The Steelers haven’t lost since. Each team is coming off a big, emotional win against a bitter divisional rival. The Jets ran their mouths, and then did a great job bottling up Tom Brady and the Patriots’ offense. Pittsburg went down 21-7 and came back winning a much higher scoring game than I would have imagined. So far this week has lacked the verbal fireworks of last week. Its not “personal” between Rex and anyone on the Steelers. I’ve heard numerous Jets raining respect upon Ben Roethlisberger. Finally, yesterday or today Steeler CB, Ike Taylor, has said Santonio Holmes is in for a world of hurt. THAT’s more like it! Both of these teams are known for their defense. LIke I thought with the Baltimore game, this game could be a low scoring defensive slugfest.

How the Jets Win: Mark Sanchez doesn’t screw up. He has to play a clean game. No interceptions. No dancing around in the pocket and taking unnecessary sacks. This game really boils down to which offense can move the ball. Pittsburgh’s run defense is stellar, so the weight is gonna be on the “Sanchize”.

How the Steelers Win: If they can establish the run, and work the ball in the middle of the field to Heath miller, Hines Ward, or Antwaan Randle El. The Jets corners have been very good… and whoever Revis is covering is going to be just about useless, offensively. So you hope you can go at Cromartie, but if they get Mendenhall going, the middle of the field will open up for the guys now covered by Revis or Cromartie.

Better Offense: Steelers. A huge tilt in Pitt’s favor at Quarterback. Skill positions are close to a push. Slight edge for the Jets at wide receiver.

Better Defense: Man its close. A huge thing for Pittsburgh will be if Aaron Smith returns from his tricep injury. A slight edge to the Jets, partly because of how well they game planned for New England, and partly because Pittsburgh gave up 24 last week.

Better Special Teams: New York. I think Cromartie could be a difference maker in “flipping the field”. Edge to Pittsburgh for field goal kicking, even though NY’s Nick Folk did kick a game winner at Indianapolis. Jets have one of the best punters in the league. Laugh, but field position could be huge in this game.

MY PICK: Pittsburgh

Rob’s Pick:  The Steelers.  Remember last week when I said the Jets were going to lose to the Patriots because they were going to have problems running the ball without offensive lineman Damien Woody?  I was over-estimating the Patriots defense.  Pittsburgh’s defense is a far more dominant beast, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the Steelers defense out-scores the Jets offense.

JMB: In the AFC this will be a very physical game, and I look for both defenses to come up big at times, but the difference will be the QB’s and returning stars.

Rex Ryan and that D have done a great job, holding down Manning and Brady in back to back appearances, but Ben is a different beast.  The size, the ability to extend the play, and the chemistry he’s built with the 3rd and 4th options will play out huge here.  Ben trusts Sanders and Brown, and won’t be looking to force the ball to Revis Island.  Also, look for Wallace to prove a match-up problem for Cromartie.  In addition the presence of Heath Miller who was absent from the first Jets-Steelers meeting will matter.  He’s the sure-handed guy Ben could hit in the end zone on the last drive of that game instead of looking for Matt Spaeth who doesn’t have Miller’s exceptional abilities – and Miller’s is a great blocking TE to help out the beleaguered Steelers line.

On the flipside, the Steelers D is going to be looking to man-up and stop the Jets running game and put the ball in Sanchez’s hands, something they didn’t do well enough in the first meeting.  I think they can do it here with that challenge from Dick Lebeau, and let’s be honest.  Troy Polamalu is a game and game plan changer, and a mindset changer for the players on the field.  I look for him to come up big here against Sanchez with the game on the line, and the Steeler LB’s
gunning for Sanchez.

Big makes big plays.  Troy leads the D to big plays.

The Steelers make one more big play than the Jets.

Pittsburgh:  24  Jets:  17

Mindcricket:   I anticipated the Jets would give the Patriots fits, but did not expect they’d be able to keep up the pressure into the 2nd half.  Props to Rex Ryan for keeping his squad focused and fierce in such a hyped up game.  On the Steelers side, I thought the Ravens would get over the hump and it seemed they were about to do that until a disastrous 3rd quarter let Pittsburgh back in the game.  Picking this AFC championship is extremely hard.  These two teams are nearly mirrors of each other – fiery young coaches with tenacious defenses and balanced offenses with enough playmakers to be explosive at times.  Pittsburgh has the edge in several areas, most notably Big Ben at quarterback and homefield advantage.  Last week, the Jets were very efficient on third down thanks to the running game putting Sanchez in manageable situations.  That should be different this week, as the Steelers defense will likely create some third and longs for the young signal caller.  Clearly my brain is saying to pick PIttsburgh, but I just can’t shake this feeling that the Jets will control the pace with yet another amazing defensive gameplan.  I’m going to go out on a limb and pick the upset – Jets 19, Steelers 17

Gools:  This game already played out once this season with New York winning 22-17.  That game was a must-win for the Jets coming off of the Patriot spanking and disappointing loss to the Fins in the Meadowlands.  Meanwhile, the Steelers were coming off a win over the Ravens that pretty much sealed the division, and they were without Polomalu.  This time both teams have the same motivation and Polomalu will be on the field.  I don’t see the Jets running well at all and that’s going to create Sanchez turnovers.  I think Pittsburgh advances to another SuperBowl with relative ease.  Steelers 20 – Jets7.

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