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Green Bay Packers at Chicago Bears

When these two teams last met on January 2 in the regular-season finale for both , Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers led the team in rushing with 21 yards in a 10-3 Green Bay win. Unbelievably, Rodgers led his team in rushing three times in the last six regular-season games - from that perspective, it's a wonder his team made the playoffs at all. But when James Starks came out of nowhere to put up 123 rushing yards against the Philadelphia Eagles and 66 yards against the Atlanta Falcons in the two playoff games they've won, the Packers became a different team. Adding the threat of play action to Rodgers' own mobility turned Green Bay's passing offense into what you saw against the Atlanta Falcons, when Rodgers completed six different passes of 20 yards or more. To put that into perspective, he hit just 54 all of the regular season.

Beyond his 31 sacks in the regular season, Rodgers was also his 28 times, but he's been the NFL's best quarterback under pressure, based on Football Outsiders' efficiency metrics, over the last two seasons. It's difficult to know how to defend him at this point, but the Bears do have one advantage against Green Bay's multi-dimensional receiver corps - they rank highly in pass defense efficiency when facing just about every type of receiver, including running backs and tight ends. The only exception is against No. 2 receivers, but there's a pretty steep dropoff from Green Bay's Greg Jennings (who ranks third in the NFL in receiver efficiency) and Jordy Nelson (who ranks 49th).

Chicago's Jay Cutler, on the other hand, has never been great under pressure, and he'll face an extreme challenge. Only the Pittsburgh Steelers had more sacks than the Packers, and their multiple fronts have confused Cutler in the past. When facing Green twice already this season, Cutler completed 37 passes in 66 attempts (a 56.0 percent completion percentage) for 389 yards, one touchdown, and three interceptions.

New York Jets at Pittsburgh Steelers

One of the things that makes defending Ben Roethlisberger so difficult is that when you have the Steelers in third-and-long situations, Big Ben knows how to convert. He had the league's best conversion percentage on pass plays that came on third-and-8 or longer (23 of 51 possible plays), and the league's best on third downs overall (54 of 107). And in a general sense, the Steelers of today are transitioning between passing offense and pass defense - they tied with the Denver Broncos for the second-most passing plays of 20 yards or more (62, behind only the San Diego Chargers' 66), and they allowed the fewest (35).

Quite often with defensive players, their value becomes more evident when they're off the field than when they're on. This may be the case more with Steelers safety Troy Polamalu than any other defensive player in the game right now. Over the last two seasons, the Steelers are 15-4 when Polamalu plays, and 6-7 when he does not. It's a team game, and putting too much on an individual can be oversold, but Polamalu is clearly the exception. Polamalu was hurt and out when the Jets beat the Steelers, 22-17, in Week 15. Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez had thrown at least one interception in each of his eight games before that game, but he went pick-free with Polamalu out of the picture. In that same game, Roethlisberger completed just 23 of his 44 passes, which is a very important number for the Jets - their defense allowed the lowest regular-season completion percentage (50.7), and they'll have to keep that up.

Neither of these defenses allows much on the ground - the Steelers ranked first in the league in Defensive Adjusted Line Yards (a Football Outsiders metric which assigns responsibility for rushing plays based on the length of the play) with 3.47 Line Yards per play, and the Jets ranked fifth with 3.61. Pittsburgh caused fewer negative plays (20 percent to New York's 21 percent), and the Jets lagged a bit behind Pittsburgh in short yardage conversions allowed, but it's hard to put the proverbial thin piece of paper between these two defenses. This could turn the AFC Championship game into a passing contest, which gives the Steelers a decided advantage.

By Doug Farrar  |  January 21, 2011; 8:36 AM ET  | Category:  Doug Farrar , NFL , Playoffs , Statistics Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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Thoughts of a Redskins Fan...

As we Redskins fans watch these great teams play this weekend, and particularly as we watch the quarterback we could have had if we had a quality organization - Mark Sanchez - play today, we Redskin fans can bow our heads in shame and sadness at what has happened to our town's franchise since the unethical little thug Daniel Snyder took over the team.

Yes, it's a very sad story as we all know. A money-grubbing, meddling fool named Daniel Snyder who had received all his money from his Dad, shoved aside the son of Jack Kent Cooke to steal the team and thereby seal its fate.

Today his characterless business "morality" infects the entire Redskins organization and everything it does. It has gradually decayed into a dead, corrupt, unethical organization with no honor of any measurable kind. The few truly honorable players on our team - the London Fletchers, the Chris Coooleys - simply tolerate the hell that they must endure as they work toward their retirement as best they can. The rest simply consider the Redskins to be a salary party with laughs. They know that nobody respects them and they no longer care

Neither do most Redskins fans, who console themselves with memories of Jack Kent Cooke, a gentlemen of character and love for his teams who spread a sense of honor through every last thing he ever did with the Redskins. His were the teams that produced Darrell Green, Art Monk, Joe Jacoby, and so many other great heroes both on and off the field. Today's self-centered team is simply a mirror of their owner. Their coach, like all other Redskins coaches, is just a speed bump, an irritant, that the players must deal with as they ignore their way to their next paycheck.

Compare the great teams we see today. Compare the organizations. Compare the owners. Honor pervades both. Ethics and character and effort are found in every corner of these teams.

I remember when the nitwits in Washington said they didn't want Mark Sanchez, despite the fact that we so badly needed a quarterback. But I am glad for Mark that he didn't join the Redskins. He would not be playing in a championship game today if we did pick him. So I am happy for him.

When will the Redskins ever have hope again? I have been a fan for 47 years. My first game was when I was 10 and saw Bobby Mitchell catch an impossible pass in a 72-point Giants game. Today, I can only hope that Daniel Snyder disappears. That he gets sick or ill, and others take his place. Or dream of dreams - he sells the team to a person of character and morality, not a money-grubbing animal who thinks he deserves respect simply because he has more in his bank account than anybody else.

But Daniel, you cannot buy respect, and neither can your team. Until you are gone, the real rebuilding on the Redskins will never occur, and we can only watch teams like the Jets and Steelers and dream of what could have been had you been foiled in your attempt to buy our beloved team.

DS

Posted by: dstafford2 | January 23, 2011 1:56 PM

A question just came up &, I thought, if any section of the WP could answer it, it'd be here:
Bears, Packers, Steelers & Jets have all won previous Super Bowls--has there ever been a 'final four' like that before?
A quick look at SB contestants got me to 35 instances where it couldn't have occurred.
Is this the first?

Posted by: adelaide1 | January 21, 2011 3:06 PM

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