ESCANABA - It's conference championship week in the NFL and there's certainly an intriguing matchup in the NFC as the Green Bay Packers and the Chicago Bears go at it for the right to play in the Super Bowl.
Amazingly enough, this is the first time the Bears and Packers have met in the playoffs since the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941, and only the second time they've met in the postseason period.
Can anyone now say the NFC North isn't the strongest division in football? Green Bay has humiliated their past two opponents on their home fields. They didn't even punt against Atlanta, a game I was sure the Falcons would win.
Aaron Rodgers has been a top flight quarterback since earning the starting job three years ago, but he has elevated his game to new heights over the past four weeks. Since being successful in two win or die games against the New York Giants and Chicago Bears just to get into the postseason, Rodgers has given two brilliant postseason performances against division winners Philadelphia and Atlanta.
So what will Rodgers do for an encore? As a No. 6 seed, Green Bay wasn't expected to upset two division winners on the road. Can the Packers make it 3 for 3? They'll certainly be favored. Because of the bar Green Bay has set for themselves over the last two weeks, expectations have increased for this Packers team of destiny.
The two Packers/Bears games this season have been close. Green Bay took a three point loss on the road while edging the Bears by a touchdown at home.
Chicago is coming off a dismantling of the upstart Seattle Seahawks, who couldn't make it two upsets in a row. The Bears defense locked down from the start of the game, not allowing a single point until the end of the third quarter.
Seattle quarterback Matt Hasselbeck was effective in the game, but Marshawn Lynch sure wasn't and neither were the rest of the running backs.
Seattle abandoned the run early, rushing just 14 times between six different players for 34 yards.
The Packers might be good enough to survive without a strong running game with Rodgers at the helm, but it's never good to have all your eggs in one basket either.
James Starks has been successful as the Packers lead back the last two weeks, but he's going up against one of the stingiest rush defenses in the NFL. Green Bay in two games against the Bears has run the ball 37 times for 123 yards, an average of 3.3 yards per carry.
Factor in that nine of those rushing plays were scrambles by Rodgers and well, the Bears have effectively rendered the Packers ground game ineffective.
Starks rushed five times for 20 yards in the regular season finale. Maybe he'll come out inspired, but more than likely this is a game Green Bay will have to win on the arm of Rodgers, which based on his last performance, isn't a horrible spot to be in.
Green Bay wins a close, low scoring game here and will head to their first Super Bowl in 12 years. With a win, Rodgers can finally step out of the shadow cast by Brett Favre and be recognized as a superstar in his own right.
With a loss, doubts will again be tossed around by some. Such is the fickle fanbase of the NFL.
The New York Jets are another No. 6 seed that has the opportunity to run the table by winning three straight road games, and against three straight division winners to get to the Super Bowl.
You could argue the Jets had a tougher road, having to beat the two most successful postseason quarterbacks in the NFL in Peyton Manning and Tom Brady to get to the AFC championship game against Pittsburgh.
Neither New England or Indianpolis possessed an outstanding defense though. The Steelers certainly do. It's their lifeblood.
There's something to be said for the Jets undisputed defensive star, Darrelle Revis consistantly shutting down the oppositions top receiver, but nearly everyone on the Steelers defense plays in sync. They stuff the run, they effectively harrass the quarterback, and they force turnovers.
So while Mike Wallace might get stranded on Revis island, what are Mark Sanchez, Braylon Edwards, Shonn Greene and LaDainian Tomlinson going to do?
You have to favor Pittsburgh's receivers over New York's. They're more experienced, and just altogether more sure handed. The Jets get the edge on the ground game, but shouldn't count on it to carry them through.
The Steelers also have the edge at quarterback. Ben Roethlisberger has been here before and knows what it takes to win. He's also in the prime of his career whereas Sanchez is just now starting to come along.
The Jets have had an outstanding run to this point, but a lot is going to have to go right for them to get to the Super Bowl.
I'm taking Pittsburgh at home. Defense wins championships.