Wayne Root: The NFL Final Four
THE NFL FINAL FOUR
by WAYNE ALLYN ROOT
NEW YORK JETS vs PITTSBURGH STEELERS
New York Jets (10-6) travel to Pittsburgh to take on the Steelers (12-4). This game will feature big-time players such as Mark Sanchez, LaDianian Tomlinson and Darrelle Revis for the Jets, along with Ben Roethlisberger, James Harrison and Troy Polamalufor the Steelers.
All that brash talk the Jets throw around won't have any impact on the Steelers. These guys are seasoned vets so Rex Ryan needs to actually put his test on the field. You can't talk yourself into a trip to the Super Bowl. These two teams battled each other earlier this season in Week 15, with the Jets taking that one 22-17 on the road. There's only been one team to beat the Steelers twice at their place in a season, that being the 2007 Jacksonville Jaguars.
Interestingly enough, the Steelers edged out in virtually every statistical category. They had eight more first downs, 99 more total yards and a 5.8 yard per carry average in comparison to the Jets modest 3.9. In addition, the emerging tandem of Mike Wallace and Emmanuel Sanders combined for 14 receptions for 180 yards. Ben Roethlisberger is outstanding at scrambling outside the pocket and making throws whichhelps eliminate some of the great coverage and schemes that Rex Ryan can employ.
The Steelers could be getting back the player everyone inside the organization says is the team's defensive MVP. Defensive end Aaron Smith is returning to practice this week. The 12-year pro has been out since tearing his triceps Oct. 24 at Miami.
The true test, in my opinion, will be the Jets rushing attack (fourth) against the Steelers run defense (first) and whoever wins that battle could end up taking the game. As for playing in Heinz Field, I don't think they'll have much of an edge, especially since they are just 5-3 there during the regular season, while the Jets are 6-2 on the road.
This is an intriguing match-up and Wayne Allyn Root is following the money trail, staying in touch with the Oddsmakers line moves, gathering information about injuries, practices and emotional edges all week long.
GREEN BAY PACKERS vs CHICAGO BEARS
The NFL's greatest rivalry will add another chapter to its storied history this Sunday in the 2011 NFC Championship game. That history includes the two winningest franchises in pro football history; franchises that have combined for 49 NFL Championships and have 48 Hall of Fame inductees.
These two rivals split two low-scoring games in the regular season, each winning on their home field. The thing that stands out from those two games is how well the Bears defense played. They really slowed it down by playing a lot of Cover 2. Week 17's performance shows the Bears can handle the Packers offense. Or can they?
Aaron Rodgers has a ridiculous 134.5 quarterback rating this 2010 postseason, as well as six touchdowns, zero interceptions and a 77.8 completion percentage in just two games. The Bears ranked just 20th vs the passin the NFL this season, allowing over 224 yards through the air on average. If the Green Bay Packers are strong in any particular area at the moment, it would be passing offense. The Bears should hope to stop the run first.The Bears boasted the best run defense in the NFC all year.
I think it will be great watching Bears offensive coordinator Mike Martz match wits with Dom Capers, Packers defensive coordinator. During the Packers' current streak they have outscored their opponents 124-57, including28- and 27-point victories over the Giants and Falcons. The Bears pretty much have no chance if Cutler struggles. His phenomenal play last week gives Chicago's offense hope. But the Packers are clicking. That will put pressure on Jay Cutler and his offense to keep up. Cutler has the tools to do so.
Additionally ,RB Matt Forte's success could mean more big numbers in the NFC Championship game for the Bears. The Packers struggled with yards-per-carry on defense this season. That could mean many opportunities for Matt Forte if he's up to it. Chicago carries more than the average home field advantage though. The turf at Soldier Field is horrible. It's widely known that it's probably the worst in the league.
Emotionally the Bears haveto be feeling disrespected going into Sunday's game as underdogs. That could really be playing in their minds. Many think the reason for this point spread is that the Green Bay Packers have never trailed by more than a touchdown this season and postseason. Green Bay lost six games during the regular season. All six were decided by four points or less, four were decided by three points and two were decided by a field goal in overtime. They are always "in the game" and since the Green Bay Packers and Chicago Bears played two nail-biters this year already; there's a good chance a third will take place this weekend.
Stay tuned to Wayne Allyn Root finding out about emotions, practices and game plans. But more importantly, the Money Trail!
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