The Chicago Bears and Green Bay Packers meet this afternoon with the Super Bowl on the line. The NFC Championship Game will be the lastest edition in a rivalry that will see the two teams play for the 182nd time in their storied histories. I mean, think about it. The winner of today's game will be awarded the George Halas Trophy. Halas, of course, is the long time coach and owner of the Bears. What Paul Brown is to the Browns, Halas is to the Bears. The team is still in his family.
The Super Bowl winner, of course, is awarded the Lombardi Trophy, named after the longtime coach of the Green Bay Packers. NFL History has it's finger print all through today's game at Soldier Field in Chicago. If you are a football fan, this is what it is all about!
What about today's game? For me it is filled with irony. In a lot of ways, today's game features the man who replaced Brett Favre going against the man who replaced Brett Favre. What do I mean? Aaron Rodgers replaced Brett Favre at quarterback for the Packers when Favre retired, then unretired in 2008. The Packers needed to make a choice, and the indecisiveness of Favre off the field, along with his inability to protect the ball on it, finally had Green Bay ready to move on. The choice has turned out to be the right one for Green Bay as they have quickly built a championship caliber team.
In Chicago, it is Jay Cutler, fresh off his first playoff win. For Cutler, he has taken over Favre's 'gunslinger' image. Cutler has never seen coverage he wasn't afraid to throw into, and the inexplicable mistakes he makes at crucial times has Bears' fans constantly shaking their heads. What Cutler does provide, however, is the 'WOW' factor. Just like Favre, Cutler can make the impossible throw, possible.
Who wins today will likely be determined by which team - and which quarterback - protects the football. For the Packers that means giving Aaron Rodgers the ball as much as possible - allowing him to make decisions. He has proven, especially in these playoffs, that he knows exactly where to go with the football and he is the most accurate of the quarterbacks left in the playoffs.
For the Bears, that means taking the ball OUT of Jay Cutler's hands, relying on the running game, defense, and of course, the Bears' X-Factor - Devin Hester. Hester, along with Josh Cribbs, is the most explosive special teams player in football. If I am the Bears, I have him returning kicks as well to increase the number of times he handles the football.
Chicago rallied past a mistake-laden Packers squad for a 20-17 victory in the Windy City in Week 3, capitalizing on a team-record 18 Green Bay penalties and forcing a pivotal fumble by wide receiver James Jones in the final minutes to set up kicker Robbie Gould's deciding field goal. The Packers got their revenge with a much-needed 10-3 triumph at Lambeau Field in the regular-season finale, a result that earned the Green and Gold a postseason spot as the NFC's final Wild Card entry.
The Packers have followed up that critical win with two highly-impressive road efforts to advance to Sunday's conference title game, besting NFC East champion Philadelphia by a 21-16 count in the Wild Card Round before humbling top-seeded Atlanta in a 48-21 shocker last weekend at the Georgia Dome.
Green Bay used a near-flawless performance from quarterback Aaron Rodgers and its offense to overwhelm the Falcons, piling up 442 total yards and scoring touchdowns on five straight possessions at one point to build a commanding 42-14 lead. The Packers held their own on the other end as well, limiting Atlanta to a mere 194 yards and inducing four turnovers, including a back- breaking 70-yard interception return for a touchdown by cornerback Tramon Williams to close out the first half.
Rodgers completed a crisp 31-of-36 passes for 366 yards and three touchdowns while also running in a score, becoming the first signal-caller in NFL history to both throw for three touchdowns and record a passer rating of 120 or better in each of his first three postseason starts.
Chicago, which finished a game ahead of the Pack in the NFC North standings to claim the conference's No. 2 seed, also received a big-time showing from its quarterback during the Divisional Round. Jay Cutler's playoff debut was a smashing success, with the sometimes-erratic triggerman accounting for four touchdowns (two passing, two rushing) and not committing a turnover to lead the Bears to a 35-24 ousting of surprising Seattle last Sunday.
Repeating that sharp effort could be essential to Chicago's hopes of reaching the Super Bowl for the second time in head coach Lovie Smith's seven-year tenure. Cutler threw two interceptions, the last of which came in Green territory in the closing seconds, in the Week 17 loss at Lambeau, and he's been picked off nine times in four bouts with the Packers since joining the Bears in a trade with Denver prior to the 2009 campaign.
Green Bay will be vying for its first Super Bowl invitation since 1997 and is participating in the NFC Championship for the first time since 2007, when the Pack dropped a gut-wrenching 23-20 overtime decision at home to the New York Giants in what turned out to be Brett Favre's final game with the franchise.
That Giants team stands as the only NFC member to get to the Super Bowl by winning three times on the road in the playoffs, an achievement the Packers can match by prevailing on Sunday. Green Bay is also seeking to join the 2005 Pittsburgh Steelers as the only sixth seeds to advance to the Big Game.
The Bears' last NFC Championship appearance came in 2006, when it defeated New Orleans by a 39-14 score at Soldier Field to move on to Super Bowl XLI.
The Packers are favored right now, and I simply don't trust Jay Cutler to win the game throwing the ball. He will throw 2-3 interceptions today - he always does. It's just a matter of whether or not the defense catches them. Last week, the Seahawks dropped them - the Packers won't.
FINAL SCORE: Green Bay Packers 20 - Chicago Bears 16