If you didn’t enjoy what you witnessed in the divisional round of the playoffs this weekend, then you just don’t like football. Baltimore and Pittsburgh staged a battle of attrition as both teams hit each other with such ferocity in that rivalry. The players aptly named their third meeting of this season as Armageddon and that looked like how both teams approached it. New England and the New York Jets did most of their hitting below the belt in the media. The Jets just couldn’t contain themselves against their arch rival and actually backed up their brash talk with a defensive masterpiece that befuddled soon to be MVP Tom Brady. Aaron Rodgers and the Packers confirmed what I had thought all along about the Falcons with their crushing defeat. The monsters of the midway from Chicago easily handled Seattle as Jay Cutler showed he can execute under playoff pressure.
The winning teams now move on to the conference championships and both have a classic feel to them.
The Jets and Steelers battled each other just a few weeks ago with New York able to pull out the victory 22-15. That was the first victory ever in Pittsburgh for the Jets. The teams have met only 19 times. Even though they don’t have the quantity that Bears and Packers have, they do have in quality. The three burning questions for this game:
1. Can Sanchez do it again? Mark Sanchez was just sensational against the Pats going 16/24 for 194 yards and 3 touchdowns. He thoroughly out played Tom Brady and was the key factor on offense that allowed the Jets to be effective. His performance set up the Jets running game and plays action fakes that were so effective. He seems to be able to raise his play in the playoffs and for the Jets sake hopefully he can do it again.
2. Can the Steelers line hold up against Rex Ryan’s defense: The Jets forced 5 sacks against the Pats basically playing 3 man fronts. They were able to confuse Brady with the look and were able to bump the receivers to throw their routes off. Big Ben of course is a different animal then Brady but when you look at the stats from the Ravens game, you will notice that he was sacked multiple times including the one he fumbled that was taken in for a TD by the aware Cory Redding. The one thing the Steelers have that the Pats didn’t is a speedster in Mike Wallace. Wallace can be the deep threat that could break the coverage of the Jets, so he will be vital in this game Rothlisberger may be the hardest QB to bring down in the league but the Jets will certainly get after him.
3. Will either team suffer a letdown performance, after two emotional and physical games against their arch rivals: It goes without saying how much both of these teams hate the ones they just beat to get here. Both of those games were emotionally charged and physically dominating. The Steelers were down to their last offensive linemen against the Ravens and the Jets seemed way too emotional after their victory over New England. Its funny to think that these two both could have a letdown game based on their come from behind victories over their rivals. Which team can channel their emotions and pick themselves up will have the advantage in this game.
As for the Packers and Bears, these teams have been going at each other for quite some time, since 1921 as a matter of fact and have the longest standing rivalry in the NFL. This is the first time they have met in the playoffs since 1941. They split this year’s games and now face each other with a chance to represent the NFC in the pro bowl. The familiarity between these two teams breeds hatred. Bears Head Coach Lovie Smith spares no punches in his dislike for the Packers. He purposely played his starters in the week 17 even though they had a playoff spot locked up.
1. Aaron Rodgers can you keep this up? Rodgers has been on tear since entering the playoff. He could have gone to jail the way he absolutely assaulted the Falcons secondary for 366 yards and 4 touchdowns. He can burn the defense with his legs as well as he has showed great mobility his entire career. He was actually second in the league in QB rushing yards under Michael Vick. The playoffs have been his coming out party but the Bears defense will want to change that.
2. Will the real Jay Cutler stand up? Cutler played like grizzled vet in his first playoff game against Seattle. He came out firing for the Bears and hit TE Greg Olsen a TD on his third play. He would finish 15/28 for 274 yards 2 touchdowns and no INTs. He also rushed for two more scores becoming the first QB since the great Otto Graham to have at least two throwing and two rushing touchdown in their first playoff game. Not Aaron Rodgers numbers or anything but still good enough. Cutler is always the one rub I have against Chicago because you never know which Cutler will show up. As a matter of fact, the two of his worse games of the season against this very Green Bay Packers team. Cutler’s actions will dictate how Chicago fares in this game.
3. Which defense will impose their will on the offense: There will definitely be no shortage of great defensive players on the field with the likes of Brian Urlacher, Charles Woodson, Lance Briggs, Clay Matthews and Julius Peppers. Both defenses played lights out football in their victories over the past weekend. It poses the question of which one will be superior in the NFC championship game. Both will have to be on their A-game as both quarterbacks come into the game hot and looking to make plays for their teams.
This should be a great weekend of football featuring the final four in the NFL. Who pegged these four teams as the final standing this year? That is the great thing about the NFL, you never know who will rise to the occasion. It will be Jets-Steelers and Bears-Packers for a chance to represent their conference in the Super Bowl.