Daily Blog • January 23, 2011


3:00 PM FOX

green bay packers (12-6) at chicago bears (12-5)

Despite 181 previous meetings this will be only the 2nd time the Packers and Bears face off in the playoffs (1941 the only other meeting). GB is 4-2 in the Aaron Rodgers era splitting the series TY. CHI won the 1st game 20-17 on MNF in the 1st meeting. GB self-destructed with 18 penalties as a fmbl on their final drive set up a 19 yd FG by CHI for the win. In the 2nd meeting just 3 weeks ago, CHI played its starters the full game despite having clinched the #2 seed as they wanted to keep GB out of the playoffs. GB won 10-3 as they played sluggishly for the 1st 3Q. On the 3rd and 4th plays of the 4Q, Rodgers had 21 and 46 yd passes to set up the game’s only TD. CHI punted on its next 2 drives and went 66/15pl before being int’d at the GB11 with :20 left. CHI is 5-3 at home TY (no GB) with basically even ydg (-1 ypg) with -2 TO’s with a 22-22 avg score due to the NE blowout. GB is 5-5 on the road TY outgaining foes by 51 ypg (0 TO’s) with a 21-15 avg score. Vs common foes CHI is 9-3 being outgained 322-298 (+4 TO’s) with a 22-19 avg score. CHI faced CAR once and SEA at home twice outside of common foes. GB went 9-4 with a 350-326 yd edge (+10 TO’s with a 26-15 avg score. Outside of common foes GB faced PHI and ATL twice on the road while hosting SF.

GB and NO are the only teams to finish in the top 10 on offense in each of the L5Y. Rodgers is an elite QB ranking 4th in pass yds, pass TD and QBR since he took over as the st’r in ‘08. TY he was 78 yds short of being the 1st QB to throw for 4,000 in each of his 1st 3 yrs. He has had to cope with the loss of RB Grant (brkn ankle in opener) and TE Finley (knee, 5th gm) who was a huge loss for 3rd down pkgs. As a result GB used its run gm to set up the play action and serve as an extra pass protector. GB has 5 plyrs in the top 100 for rec’s with Jennings finishing in the top 10 rec yds (1st time in career). Unlike LY, GB has enjoyed stability on the OL as they’ve had the same lineup for 14 str after Bulaga was installed at RT. LY Rodgers was sacked once every 11 att and TY it’s once every 14 TY. GB has capitalized on pts off takeaways 124) which has helped them make up for a beaten up front 7. After starting 1 gm LY, Raji has been a beast as he’s the only DL with 18 sts and his 6.5 reg ssn sks are the most by a NT S/’90. Despite a nagging hamstring inj Matthews is the 1st in GB hist with 10+ sks in his 1st 2Y. However, GB is very thin at the other OLB spot having started 4 diff plyrs. GB has had good health in the secondary (#1 pass D) with 3 of 4 st’rs together for all 18. This will be the 4th time in 5 yrs that GB’s ST’s have finished 24th or lower in my rankings with the return units (7.9 PR, 20.1 KR) being the main culprit TY.

Despite adding Martz as OC CHI avg’d just 289 ypg (327 ypg LY) while their scoring stayed at 20 ppg for a 2nd str reg season. While Jay Cutler threw for 392 fewer yds in the reg ssn TY his ratio improved from 27-26 to 23-16 with his QBR improving from 76.8 to 86.3. He accounted for 4 TD’s in LW’s win over SEA. Matt Forte topped the 1,000 yd mark (1069) in the reg ssn with three 100+ gms and he improved from 3.5 to 4.5 ypc as the Bears won all 5 gms when he rushed for 92+. Forte also tied for the team lead with 51 rec (10.7). In OC Martz’s 1st yr we expected to see a significant increase in the passing #’s but that didn’t occur. CHI lacks a star WR but Johnny Knox (51 rec, 18.8) finally gave them a deep threat after LY’s top WR avg’d only 13.3 ypc. Bennett and Hester comb for 1,022 (11.9) while 09’s leading rec hybrid TE Greg Olson had 404 (9.9). To say the OL struggled is an understatement. They allowed a league high 59 sks incl 10 to the NYG and 3 LW. They shuffled the OL early in the ssn but this group did start the final 10 together and all’d 27 sks in that span. While the offense was shut out in terms of Pro Bowlers, the D had 3 players named. The Bears finished 4th in pts all’d and 9th in yds (#21 and #17 LY) as they held 8 opp’s to under 310 yds and 3 teams under 187 yds. The DL was bolstered by the FA acquisition of Pro Bowler Peppers (8 sk) and while the team doesn’t blitz often to get sks they led the NFL in FF’s (15) and all’d only 3.7 ypc. The LB’s continue to be the heart and soul of the team with both Urlacher and Briggs earning post ssn honors. The Bears secondary was productive as they finished #3 in the reg ssn with a defensive QBR of 74.4 and their 21 int were 5th in the NFL thanks to DC Rod Marinelli’s streamlined Cover-2 system. CHI finished 4th in my ST’s rankings due to elite coverage units (#3 PR’s, #1 KR’s) and Hester on PR’s.

It’s been 20 years since the NFC Championship has seen a matchup of division rivals. These two teams are the league’s oldest rivals and they know each other well. These two historic programs have made a combined 50 playoff appearances and have 21 NFL Championships including 4 Super Bowls. Over the L/2Y these two teams have comb for a total of 30 ppg as the Packers always find ways to pressure Cutler and Chicago’s Cover-2 D stops GB’s main offensive threat of YAC. With the field conditions at Soldier Field not ideal, I look for a lower scoring with the pack coming out on top in the end.

PHIL’S FORECAST: green bay 21 CHICAGO 17



6:30 PM CBS


The AFC Championship will have the feel of a classic late 70’s slugfest with a pair of old school style teams. The Jets pulled a 22-17 upset of the Steelers in Wk 15 winning in PIT for the 1st time since 1970. PIT was without TE Miller & SS Polamalu and the defense struggled to mount an effective pass rush (1 sack, 2 QBH) vs Sanchez (170 yds 66%). PIT had a 378-276 yd edge but were done in thanks to 3 key mistakes. They gave up a 97 yd KR TD to open the game and down 3 with 2:38 left RB Moore was tackled in the EZ for a safety. PIT forced the Jets to go 3&out getting the ball back at the 8 with 2:08 left. Roethlisberger led them to the Jets 10 but on the final play of the game TE Spaeth went for a ball intended for another wide open PIT receiver and it went incomplete. PIT is 6-2 in its other home games TY outgaining foes by 51 ypg (+11 TO’s) with a 25-17 avg score. The Jets are the 1st team since the 2002 Titans to beat Manning/Brady in B2B weeks. They are 7-2 in road games TY outgaining them by 42 ypg (-3 TO’s) w/a 25-24 avg score. Vs common foes the Jets went 7-3 w/a 342-277 yd edge (+15 TO’s) for a 23-17 avg score. They faced the NFC North with DEN/HOU while PIT got the NFC South with TEN and OAK. PIT went 8-2 vs the common foes w/a 342-282 yd edge (+9 TO’s) for a 25-18 avg score.

After having the most rush att’s in ‘09 (607), NYJ trimmed them to 534 TY in the reg ssn as they opened the playbook to take adv of Sanchez being in the system for the 2nd yr and the FA pickups. The result was a mixed bag as Sanchez hit 54% (6.7 ypa) with a 12-20 ratio LY vs 55% (6.5) with a 17-13 ratio TY in the reg ssn. He has read D’s better, but his progress was slowed by a shldr inj vs PIT. Sanchez has avg’d 184 ypg (60%) w/a 7-3 ratio w/ just 1 200 yd passing game in the playoffs. Tomlinson is an asset on 3rd Dn’s and in blitz pickup with Greene failing to make an impact there. LY the Jets had the #31 pass attack (149 ypg) but had a decent improvement TY (22nd, 209 ypg) although they still haven’t had a 1,000 yd rec S/’07. They have spread the ball around more as 4 players have at least 52 rec’s. The Jets have had the same OL for 13 gms TY and they got RT Woody (knee) back vs the Colts. Ryan cut his teeth on D and after finishing 1st LY (+1 TO), they were 3rd (+9 TO’s) TY. NYJ are all’g an impressive 92 ypg (3.6) rush TY. The muscle of the D is its LB unit with Scott setting the tone and Harris being a drastically underrated ILB. The Jets use a 3-man OLB rotation to stay fresh for pass rush sit’s with Thomas, Pace and Taylor comb for 16.5 sks (20 ideal for OLB’s in 3-4). LY the Jets were fearsome in pass D all’g 52% (5.4 ypa) with an outstanding 8-17 ratio but TY Revis hasn’t been himself. They’ve all’d 51% (6.5) with a 24-12 ratio as offenses have more tape to study. NYJ have my #5 ST’s unit with P Weatherford having a strong year (50% punts In20) and Smith (28.6) having a great year on KR’s.

PIT opened 2010 3-1 without Roethlisberger thanks to some great defensive work which held foes to 289 ypg with a 21-12 avg (+7 TO’s). With their QB, PIT has outgained foes in 10 of 12 gms (NO/NE) in the reg ssn by 98 ypg (2nd overall) with a +9 TO mark (24-15 avg score). Thanks to the bye week and easy lead in gms vs CLE/MIA, Roethlisberger finished with a 17-5 ratio not throwing more than 1 int in a game. PIT has been very balanced with a 348-398 run-pass mix since his return thanks to Mendenhall who is the team’s first 1,200 yd rusher S/’07. Mendenhall had 26% of PIT’s offense TY with Moore being a standout 3rd Dn back again. Wallace has evolved into the primary rec option finishing 5th in rec yds and 2nd in ypc in the NFL. Ward is now the possession WR here with excellent blocking skills and Miller is the prototype balanced TE. PIT is used to dealing with a patchwork OL in recent years with only LT Adams and star rookie C Pouncey starting all 17 gms for a unit that gave up 1 sk every 12 att’s in the reg ssn with Roethlisberger. PIT missed being the #1 overall D by 84 yds but finished 1st vs the run (62.8, 3.0), sks by with 48 (1 every 12.4 att’s) and pts all’d (232). PIT’s DL is geared to occupy the opposing OL and allow the LB’s to flow to the ball with DE Smith being regarded as one of the top 5 of the last decade. PIT has long set the standard for 3-4 LB’s with Woodley and Harrison again combining for 22.5 sks in the reg ssn. After giving up a 22-12 ratio LY, PIT’s #2 pass D is one of 3 to have more int than TD TY. PIT finished 18th in my ST’s rankings TY improving their coverage units but the PR is weaker.

The shoe is on the other foot as the Jets used the motivation of LY’s playoff loss vs the Colts and the humiliation of a 45-3 loss earlier this season vs the Pats. They now face a team that they beat just a few weeks ago although Pittsburgh finished with 378 yds including 147 yds rushing which are both the highest totals the Jets have allowed TY. The Jets are now traveling for the 5th time in 6 weeks while the Steelers have traveled only once since Dec 5th and, of course, had the opening playoff week bye. The Steelers are not afraid of Ryan’s defense and in the L/2 gms at home, when he was the DC at BAL, they scored a combined 61 pts. While it is noted that the Jets are 5-1 in playoff gms under Ryan all on the road, the Steelers are the most successful franchise in NFL history and will punch their ticket to yet another Super Bowl.

PHIL’S FORECAST: pittsburgh 21 ny jets 14