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The Pro Football Notebook


December 26, 2010 8:47 AM

The Big Apple Goes To The Midwest

EliAaron.jpgThe city of New York heads to the Midwest today in the two games most of the country will see during the afternoon. It's the Jets in Chicago (1 EST, CBS), with the Bears looking to stay on track for the NFC's #2 seed and first-round bye, along with the Giants going to Lambeau Field to face the Packers (4:15, Fox), a game that's a virtual playoff showdown.

NY Jets-Chicago: This one is going to be a battle focused on winning the ground war and winning on special teams. The latter is a potentially huge factor in this game. Brad Smith has turned two games in New York's favor this year with big plays, and he'll be back as the return man. Devin Hester's return reputation is beyond dispute, as he set the career record for punts brought all the way back last Monday in Minnesota. Big plays from these two are going to be vital in a game where field position promises to be a huge factor. On offense, Jay Cutler is more capable than Mark Sanchez of winning an air war, but he also has fewer weapons in his receiving corps. I would expect Rex Ryan to try and stop the running of Matt Forte first and then turn his defense loose on Cutler if he gets a lead. The Bear defense won't be any easier to establish a running game on and Julius Peppers can make life miserable for Sanchez coming off the edge. Weather could be a factor here, just as it was when New England came to the Windy City two weeks ago. It's supposed to snow, although I don't know how much. If it does so substantially, this would be the third straight game the Bears have played (including last week outdoors at the University of Minnesota) where snow was the overriding factor. This game's a toss-up, but I'll lean Chicago's way. They're at home and they also need it more. The Jets are realistically in the playoffs and just as realistically not going to win the AFC East and there's not much difference between being the #5 or #6 seed. Whereas the gap between the #2 and #3 seed that the Bears are fighting for is huge. Let's say Bears, 19-10.

NY Giants-Green Bay: Both of these teams can get after the quarterback. Green Bay brings all-everything linebacker Clay Matthews from all over the field. New York has Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora on the ends, and both Aaron Rodgers and Eli Manning are going to have a steady diet of pressure. As long as Rodgers is feeling fine after his concussion he's better able to handle this then Manning. The Green Bay signal-caller is more capable at getting rid of the ball quickly, and Donald Driver and Greg Jennings both excel at catching quick slants over the middle. While Manning played well last week in the disastrous home loss to Philadelphia, he's still much more mistake-prone, and playing on the road, he can be forced into a few. But New York has a bigger advantage when it comes to keeping that pass rush honest. They have a solid two-pronged running game, with pounding Brandon Jacobs and shifty Ahman Bradshaw. If we want to turn the clock back to the last time the Giants were in Lambeau in 2007, for the NFC Championship Game, they won by dominating the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. They'll have to do the same again today in another game where inclimate weather is likely to play a role. Green Bay would be well-served to take some of the lessons they learned in last week's loss at New England and apply them here--namely, that fullback John Kuhn can be a valuable part of the offense, both running and receiving. The Packers used him frequently as they tried to compensate for Rodgers not playing. They shouldn't forget Kuhn now that the starting quarterback is back. On paper, I lean the Giants a way a little bit, because I think they're more physical in the trenches. But on the field, I have serious doubts about New York bouncing back from last week's collapse and winning a road game in Green Bay. The Pack pulls it out 24-17.

The Sunday night game is Minnesota-Philadelphia. I have to think NBC is regretting not choosing to put the Green Bay-NYG game in this spot, especially since it now looks like Brett Favre's really, really not going to play. The Eagles are fighting to keep pace with the Bears with the #2 seed (they need a Chicago loss) and also to put the finishing touches on clinching the NFC East. I really can't see a victory scenario for the Vikings in this game, especially with rookie Joe Webb at quarterback. The Minnesota defense has struggled enough this season, and the Philly offense is peaking--not just Michael Vick, but the way DeSean Jackson is involved. If they just run the ball with LeSean McCoy they will be a complete offensive team. The most Minnesota can do is try and run the ball with Adrian Peterson and Toby Gerhart, then hope for a miracle. Arizona got a miracle last night, but that was on Christmas. Now the holiday is over and reality sets back in. Philadelphia wins 37-10.

Image from sports.yahoo.com

Dan Flaherty is the editor of the Sports Notebook Family, published through the Real Clear Sports Blog Network, offering daily commentary in the NFL, coverage of college basketball.  and bowl commentary in college football. He is the author of The Last New Year's, a book that revisits the historic high points of college football's New Year's Day bowl games.

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