The Reuters global sports blog
The Lineman’s NFL picks — Still backing the Pack
That was another great football weekend made all the more exciting for the Lineman by going a very respectable 3-1. Only two games this week and both look like crackers. Enjoy.
Playoffs: 5-3. Pick of the Week 1-1.
Last week: 3-1
Regular Season Record: 53-49
PICK OF THE WEEK:
Green Bay Packers (12-6) at Chicago Bears (12-5) (Line Packers minus-3.5): I backed the Pack to get to the Super Bowl when the season started and there is no reason to slip off the Green Bay bandwagon now.
The Bears and Packers have clashed 181 times since 1921 but number 182 promises something special as the NFL’s two most storied franchises renew a rivalry that is as old as the league itself.
While a game between the Packers and Bears is nothing new, Sunday’s meeting will be an event rarer than a total solar eclipse.
Surprisingly, the game will mark only the second time the two teams have met in the playoffs and the first since Dec. 14, 1941, a week after the bombing of Pearl Harbour.
Both the Packers and Bears posted impressive divisional wins last week but the Packers beat down of the top seeded Atlanta Falcons was clinical and ruthless.
Chicago QB Jay Cutler made a dazzling playoff debut tossing a pair of touchdowns and running for two others against the overmatched Seattle Seahawks but his display was little more than a sideshow compared to Packers Aaron Rodgers who delivered a playoff tour de force performance.
Rodgers has had the Packer offense humming since returning from a concussion with Green Bay reeling off four consecutive must wins – each one more impressive than the last.
How good has Rodgers been? So good the Cheesehead Nation has forgotten about Brett Favre.
Rodgers shredded the Falcons defense last week completing 31-of-36 passes and his fleet of talented receivers led Greg Jennings and Donald Driver will give a leaky Bears secondary fits.
Cutler does not have the same type of talent in his offensive arsenal.
Both teams play tough defense. The Packers finished the regular season with the NFL second ranked defense allowing an average of just 15 points per game while the Bears ranked fourth limiting the opposition to 17.9.
The teams split their regular season meetings, each winning at home but the Packers self-destructed during a Week Three visit to Soldier Field committing a franchise record 18 penalties for 152 yards.
The Bears won that last playoff meeting in 1941 and now 70 years on the Packers have a chance to get even. They have long memories in Green Bay.
It’s payback time. Take the Packers and give up the 3.5.
New York Jets (13-5) at Pittsburgh Steelers (13-4) (Line Steelers minus-3.5): What is going on with the Jets? After a season spent trash-talking, bad-mouthing and baiting opponents Rex Ryan and his boys have had only nice thinks to say about the Steelers.
Until this week, the only nice things the Jets had to say were about themselves but have changed it up for the Steelers, perhaps trying to kill them with kindness.
While the Jets have often talked a better game than they have played this season, they have been able to back up their bravado during the post-season with impressive victories over the Colts and Patriots to reach the AFC final for the second straight year.
If the Jets can clear the final hurdle and beat the Steelers few could deny them the right to gloat after having navigated one of the most treacherous paths any team has ever taken to a Super Bowl.
A trip to Dallas will have required the Jets to post road wins over the Colts, Patriots and Steelers and taking down three of the NFL’s top quarterbacks, who are all possible future Hall of Famers and have combined to win six of the last nine Super Bowls.
With one ring for Manning, three Super Bowl rings for Brady and two for Roethlisberger, another win at Heinz Field on Sunday would cap a glittering treble and send the Jets to their first NFL title game in 42 years.
Outsmarting Roethlisberger, who is one of the league’s great playoff performers with a 9-2 record in the post-season, may be the toughest challenge of all.
With Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie manning the corners the Steelers will try to establish a running game but Roethlisberger will not be afraid to test the Jets cornerbacks at some point with speedster Mike Wallace and reliable Hines Ward.
New York’s Mark Sanchez has had to work through some rough patches and injuries this season but the sophomore quarterback has helped get his team to the AFC title game for the second straight season.
The Jets have just one win in eight trips to Pittsburgh but that lone victory came last month when the New Yorkers stopped the Steelers 22-17 to keep them from clinching a playoff spot.
Pittsburgh’s hard-hitting Pro Bowl safety Troy Polamalu sat out that game with injury but will be back in the lineup on Sunday and Sanchez will have to wary of him at all times.
New York will also try to establish a ground game behind the running of LaDainian Tomlinson and Shonn Greene but will come up against a Steelers defense that is ranked number one against the run (62.8 ypg) and points allowed per game (14.5).
Jets get shot down in Steeltown.
Take the Steelers give up 3.5 and book your trip to the Super Bowl.
PHOTO: Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler stands on the sideline during his team’s play against the Seattle Seahawks in their NFC Divisional NFL playoff football game in Chicago January 16, 2011. REUTERS/Jeff Haynes