Sunday, January 23, 2011

Championship Sunday preview

By Rick Morris

Happy Championship Sunday! One of the great days on the sports calendar for true fans has arrived with what is arguably the first doubleheader since at least 2004 with real intrigue on both ends.

In our weekly FDH Dignitaries NFL Picks Contest here on the site during the season, at 24-25-2, I barely outlasted FDH Senior Producer Steve Cirvello at 22-29. My picks in every game were 122-128-8 and 9-6-2 in my “1,000-Star Gold Plated Lock of the Millennium” selections. My picks will continue through the playoffs. Last week’s ones were 3-1, bringing me to 5-3 for the playoffs.

For more analysis about the playoff teams, check out our top three factors for each team.

Green Bay -3 ½ over Chicago. It is almost unthinkable to have these two historical beasts clashing for a trip to the Super Bowl on a wintry day at Soldier Field. Apex moments in an epic rivalry do not get any bigger than this. Chicago faces quite a dilemma in terms of their preparation for this game. Green Bay can be run on, certainly, and the Bears have managed to get through the season without running Matt Forte into the ground. Factor in the susceptibility of their secondary to the scorching-hot Packer passing game and the blueprint for keeping Aaron Rodgers iced for long periods of time becomes apparent. However, this runs completely contrary to the wide-open Mike Martz style of offense that the Bears have adopted. Their receivers are not good enough collectively to keep up with Green Bay in a shootout, though, and the Packer front seven is good enough to be all up in the grill of Jay Cutler as he tries to get the ball downfield. The Packers can reduce the odds of the Bears overcoming the firepower advantage by jumping out to a lead and neutralizing Chicago’s superiority on the ground. Look for exactly this, as Green Bay accomplishes what they were unable to do in the final game of the Brett Favre era three years ago. Green Bay 27, Chicago 16.

Pittsburgh -4 over New York Jets. These defenses are mirror images of each other in some ways; while the Jets are superior in pass defense and the Steelers are better against the run, both teams can get to the passer – and both quarterbacks are vulnerable to the pass rush. In the case of Ben Roethlisberger, this is due primarily to the occasionally-shaky play of Pittsburgh’s offensive line. Matchups will loom especially large, as Mike Wallace’s trip to Revis Island will hurt the Steelers, Nick Mangold will spar in the middle with Casey Hampton and Wayne Hunter has the injured Damien Woody’s big shoes to fill at right tackle as he goes up against LaMarr Woodley and James Harrison. The Jets are consummate road warriors, working their “us against the world” schtick better than most in recent memory. But in this rematch from last month, Pittsburgh will have Troy Polamalu back and that could well be decisive. It must be noted here how much this pick hurts me personally as a lifelong Browns fan and Steeler-hater. I will have some friends from New York at the game and I sincerely hope for their sake that I am wrong. Pittsburgh 23, New York Jets 16.

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