Rodgers, Cutler, Sanchez, & Roethlisberger, LLCJanuary 20, 2011
Whoa, a hell of a divisional round.
The weekend started with the Steelers erasing a 21-7 halftime deficit to defeat rival Baltimore. With less than two minutes to go in the fourth, and the score tied at 24, Ben Roethlisberger tossed a 58-yard dime to rookie Antonio Brown, which set up Rashard Mendenhall’s go-ahead score. Three turnovers in the 3rd quarter and huge drops by WR acquisitions Anquan Boldin (in the endzone) and TJ Houshmanzadeh (on 4th down) ensured that the Steelers escaped with a 31-24 victory.
Aaron Rodgers’s legend grew in the Saturday primetime matchup against Matt Ryan and the Falcons in the A. Rodgers threw for 366 beans and four touchdowns, and a Matty Ice pick-6 at the end of the first half put the proverbial nail in the coffin early in this one. Ryan’s second playoff loss in as many attempts set him up for an early career “can’t win the big game” label, and Rodgers’s performance put him in the Brady-Manning-Brees QB elite conversation.
The Bears-Seahawks game, as expected [by most], was a snoozer. The Bears jumped out to a 28-0 lead before they started toying with Seattle. We saw some wildcat formations, some Jay Cutler touchdown runs, and other tomfoolery from Chicago. Seattle made a late run (and almost covered the spread), but the Bears win set up an epic Packers-Bears NFC Championship game in the Windy City on Sunday afternoon.
The most anticipated matchup of the weekend saw Brady The Great, Belichick The Mighty, and the New England Patriots fall to the J-E-T-S, to the chagrin of one smug fan base and the delight of one boisterous fan base. The Jets got to Brady early and often, which affected him the entire game. Belichick made some head scratching decisions, and the Jets executed perfectly. The Patriots’ terrible defense helped validate Rex Ryan’s trash-talking coaching style, and I could not hate the Pats more for that. But alas, the Patriots move to 0-3 in the playoffs since their epic Super Bowl meltdown against the New York Football Giants, and Mark Sanchez and the Jets move on to face Roethlisberger and the Steelers Sunday evening. Also, Bart Scott.
Green Bay (-3.5) at Chicago
Week 3 at Chicago: Bears 20-17 Packers
Week 17 at Green Bay: Packers 10-3 Bears
Completely disregard the week 3 game because that was a century ago. In week 17, the Packers were in a win-and-in [the playoffs] situation. Thanks to a Vikings win over the Eagles in week 16 (…), the Bears locked up the 2 seed, so they weren’t playing for anything tangible in week 17. Still, they came out and played a full game, and put up a good fight against the rival Packers. The Packers played poorly considering the situation they were in, but Jay Cutler, in true Jay Cutler form, threw a late pick which sealed a win the 6 seed for the Packers [and sent Giants fans everywhere to hit the bottle].
Fast forward 3 weeks. Aaron Rodgers plays two perfect games and leads the Packers to two road victories. Pundits everywhere start praising him as one of the best in the game, the “truest” QB with the best fundamentals, “the next John Elway,” etc. He is absolutely deserving of all of this praise. He has become a Blake Griffin/Michael Vick-esque must-watch talent. He can make any throw in the book, and his accuracy on the run is second to none. This guy is the truth.
On the other hand, we have Santa Claus, Indiana’s native son, Jay Christopher Cutler. Though no fault of his own, the “experts” have been downplaying Cutler’s 4 TD (2 rushing) performance vs. the turrible Seahawks. The consensus is that Cutler has great talent and terrible decision making. [Cutler’s career record as a starter at Vanderbilt, Denver, and Chicago: 39-59]. Granted, a win against the Packers will erase most of that talk, but a loss would just add fuel to the “Jay Cutler is garbage” fire.
The game between the Packers and Bears Sunday will be only the second playoff matchup in the history of these longtime rivals. Clay Matthews and the entire Packers defense benefitted immensely from the return of Cullen Jenkins to the lineup, providing a huge boost in the trenches (where championships are won, they say). The Bears defense is nothing to sneeze at, either. However, the Packers are peaking at the perfect time, and the Bears D will prove only a minor pest to Mr. Rodgers.
Pick: The Packers were the chic pick in August to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl. The Aaron Rodgers legend grows. Green Bay -3.5.
New York at Pittsburgh (-3.5)
Week 15 at Pittsburgh: Jets 22-17 Steelers
Take the Week 15 Jets win with a grain of salt: they beat the Steelers sans Troy Polamalu. Polamalu will make Sanchez think twice about some of the throws he makes, and he’ll provide extra pressure. Basically, he does everything, and does it well. Also, even without Polamalu, Roethlisberger still had two shots at the end zone to win the game. Unfortunately for the Steelers, the Jets forced Ben out of the pocket and blanketed the receivers, resulting in two incomplete passes and a Jets victory.
The Steelers’ offensive line is brutal. They were the weak spot of the team going into the season, and injuries have decimated this unit. If the Jets can get pressure without blitzing, it will be a long day for Big Ben. Mike Wallace will likely be on Revis Island all day, so Ben’s favorite deep threat will be essentially shut down. Luckily for Steelers fans, Ben is the best in the game at improvisation and staying on his feet when facing pressure, but the Jets will still give him a few licks (nothing like the licks he got from these broads, though).
Speaking of Ben, he made me a fan this year. The four game suspension was the best thing to happen to him: he’s now a good teammate, and says all the right things. We’ll find out if he’s a truly changed man this offseason, when the call of spring break and drunk co-eds will undoubtedly draw his attention. Seriously though, he should be mentioned in the Manning-Brady-Brees-[now Rodgers] elite, but I doubt he ever will for two reasons: 1) people’s perceptions of his off-field behavior, and 2) the Steelers. His off-the-field nonsense speaks for itself (2 Super Bowl rings would probably inflate your ego, too), but Ben acknowledged in a press conference this week that he would never win an MVP or be mentioned in the elite because of his team. The Steelers are historically a ground and pound team, winning with running and defense. Ben will never get the credit he deserves because he’ll never get a chance to put up those kinds of numbers. He’ll keep collecting rings, and haters will keep crediting the defense. With the game on the line though, I’ll put my duckets on Ben to come through.
A subplot that I haven’t heard much about this week is Santonio Holmes’s return to Pittsburgh. I don’t have any comments on it other than he’s making the catches he made with the Steelers in 2009 with the Jets in 2011. He’s a phenomenal player, and he’s been invaluable in Sanchez’s development into the Franchize.
The “Same Old Jets.” Playing like a Jet two years ago meant playing like a perennial loser, but two straight AFC Championships have re-energized the New York B-Squad. (I thoroughly enjoy that song.) Hopefully [for me and other bitter Giants fans/Jets haters], the Jets follow the Eagles blueprint: obese coach, green uniforms, obnoxious fans, and multiple championship game losses.
Pick: The Mike Tomlin Steelers picked up where the Bill Cowher Steelers left off, and they’re poised to win their second. Pittsburgh -3.5.