My NE boys had a tough week as many of our readers know. Their Patriots suffered another huge playoff letdown, and now they have been asked to breakdown the NFC Championship game between the Bears and Packers as objective observers.
Yes, salt in the wound I am aware.
With the NFC Championship game pitting together two of the fiercest rivals in NFL history, I thought it was only fair that we took the time to break down each aspect of the game, give you an X-Factor and our predictions.
Enjoy it, after the jump:
Passing Game: When you break down the NFCCG through the air, the immediate edge has to go to the Packers. Rodgers was among the top of the league in a variety of passing categories, and the WR core, which at times has been a weakness for the Bears, is pretty strong for the Pack between Greg Jennings, James Jones, and old reliable, Donald Driver. The fact they lost Jermichael Finley at the beginning of the year and continued to put up numbers can’t be ignored. Cutler on the flip side had an underrated year for the Bears. He has the speedster in Devin Hester on the outside with Johnny Knox and Greg Olsen over the middle of the field. The question with the Bears passing game as always is, can they protect? And can they avoid the big mistakes? GB is a defense that capitalizes on the opposition’s mistakes and given the outdoor January weather of Chicago, this game favors Chicago’s style of offense over Green Bay’s. But a disastrous game from Cutler would quickly negate that advantage.
Running Game: The Bears would like if they could to run the ball and make Cutler only have to throw in must throw downs. If Cutler is dropping back 35-40 times, they have no chance. Matt Forte had a decent year, though his TD numbers aren’t elite. GB is a tough defense to beat playing one-dimensional as B.J. Raji up the middle with Clay Matthews not far behind makes them a tough D to run on. Charles Woodson, one of the elite corners in the game will challenge Cutler to throw his way. The Packers, contrary to what the win over the Eagles in the WC round would suggest, really have no run game ever since Ryan Grant went down. The Packers will run merely to keep balance, but when plays get to crunch time, don’t expect the Pack to be putting the ball in their back’s hands.
X-Factor: Julius Peppers. The Bears DE has to get to Rodgers and make him uncomfortable. The Pack had their issues putting up points last meeting and the Bears can do it again if they can rattle Rodgers. I don’t have a lot of faith in the Bears offense to score with GB, so for them to win I think it has to be in the teens.
Defense (Coley Mick):
Passing: Julius Peppers and Tommy Harris will need to get a strong push up front and apply pressure on Aaron Rodgers or else he will pick apart Chicago’s secondary. Chris Tillman and Daniel Manning are tremendous in the Bears secondary, but Green Bay has a loaded passing game with quality targets such as Donald Driver and Greg Jennings. Jay Cutler has played well of late, but Charles Woodson and Tramon Williams are going to be too much for the likes of Johnny Knox and Devin Hester. Cutler’s best bet is to find TE Greg Olson, which will not be an easy task with A.J. Hawk and Clay Matthews spying him, and RB Matt Forte out of the backfield. Going down field is Rodgers’ specialty and a likely death sentence for Cutler.
Advantage: Green Bay
James Starks has been great for the Packers all post-season, but he will be running right into the teeth of a hungry Bears defense. Lance Briggs, Brian Urlacher, Peppers, Harris, and the rest of the defense will make sure that Green Bay has to rely on the pass and will keep them as one dimensional as possible. For the home team, Matt Forte and Chester Taylor aren’t exactly the most traditional tandem of backs but they have the potential to be the catalyst for Chicago. B.J. Raji is a legitimate stopper in the middle of the Packers 3-4 defense and Clay Matthews may have established himself as one of the best linebackers in the league, so the ground game may not pick up a lot of yardage however, Chicago can use Forte in the screen game as well as short passing routes for solid gains and cause match up problems outside of the hash marks. With neither quarterback ever playing in a Championship game, whichever team establishes a run game first may take crown.
Advantage – Chicago
The X-Factor for the Bears is Julius Peppers. This is what they brought him in for. He has been to a Super Bowl before and he was a disappearing act. This is his chance to redeem himself. If Peppers applies pressure to Rodgers early and often it may result in some arrant throws that could turn into interceptions. He will need to have a solid game at the minimum in order for the Bears to take home the W.
For the Packers, the X-factor is Nick Collins. Not only can he make a difference in the passing game, but he can spy Taylor and Forte and insure that Cutler’s safety options do not burn Green Bay. He can help Clay Matthews get free by stepping up and entrusting Charles Woodson and Tramon Williams to cover their receivers one-on-one and throw some confusing blitz packages at Cutler and the Bears offense. Matthews and Woodson are as consistent as they come but in order to ensure victory Collins needs to play at a higher than usual rate.
BD Prediction: Green Bay 24 Chicago 14
Coley Mick Prediction: 17-13 Green Bay
The CEO’s Precition: Green Bay 27 Chicago 24
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