I know I’m going with the two favorites here by picking the Packers and Steelers, and it’s always dangerous to pick against a home underdog, but if I had to put my life down on one of these two teams coming out on top, I’d have to go with Green Bay for a few reasons.
First of all, while Jay Cutler has been playing well as of late, there are always seemingly one or two moments during any game where he will seemingly put a football or two directly in the hands of opposing defenders. He had two moments against Seattle, including one on the goal line, that he was fortunate to get back. I do think Cutler is a quality QB, but I just think he is not the caliber that Aaron Rodgers is. Rodgers has entered the Manning, Brady, Brees category as elite franchise QBs to build your team around. With Manning, Brady and Brees all closer to the downside of the slope than Rodgers, Aaron just might be the heir apparent to the throne of top QB in the NFL. It would go along way towards cementing that status by earning a trip to the Super Bowl.
Part of what scares me about Rodgers and his success, particularly in the playoffs, is that Mike McCarthy has gotten himself into trouble against the Bears by not handing the ball off. In the two previous meetings with the Bears, the Packers leading rusher has been John Kuhn in Chicago (6 carries), and Aaron Rodgers in the season finale (7 carries). That is part of the reason the Packers have only been able to score 27 points in the two meetings. Part of what has made Rodgers so successful in these playoffs is that Western New York’s own James Starks has led the playoffs in rushing yardage. The Packers need to continue to utilize Starks, if for no other reason than to keep the Bears honest.
While the QBs might get the headlines for these two teams, it is really the defenses that are the reason these teams are competing for a chance to go to the Super Bowl. The Packers’ defense finished 5th in the league, while the Bears finished 9th, though they gave up some yardage at the end of games that was less than meaningful. The Bears feature the 2nd best run defense and the Packers the league’s fifth best pass defense. They each have an elite pass rusher (Clay Matthews for the Pack and Julius Peppers for the Bears) and are physical at the point of attack. Both Mike McCarthy and Mike Martz are going to have to be careful to not abandon the run too early so they have the opportunity to make some big plays in the passing game.
Both games between the teams have been one score games, and I see this game in Chicago being no different. I expect this to be a great game in this great rivalry.
Prediction: Packers 20 – Bears 14