The Packers will face the Steelers in Super Bowl XLV if things go as I expect, setting up a first-of-its-kind meeting for an NFL championship between the two marquee NFL franchises.
Here are four Cold, Hard Football Facts on why the Packers will maul the Bears, and four more on why the Steelers will fly past the Jets:
1. Aaron Rodgers is about to steal the national spotlight. Green Bay's quarterback quietly entered the record books midseason as the most efficient passer in NFL history (98.4 career passer rating). But quarterbacks earn their reputations in the playoffs, and Rodgers is taking it to the next level here in the 2010 postseason.
In three career playoff games, he's completed 77 of 105 passes (73.3%) for 969 yards, 10 TD, 1 INT and a 129.4 passer rating. If not for the fact his defense got torched last by year Kurt Warner and the Cardinals in a wild-card shootout for the ages (a 51-45 Arizona win), there's no telling what his numbers might look like.
Rodgers was virtually unstoppable last week against the Falcons (366 yards, 3 TD passes, 1 TD run, 136.8 rating). The record for highest career postseason passer rating (min. 150 attempts), by the way, is currently held by Green Bay legend Bart Starr (104.3). Barring a complete reversal of fortunes, Rodgers will soon blow past Starr's record and will easily outgun Jay Cutler on Sunday.
2. The NFL is all about establishing air superiority, and nobody does it better than the Packers. The Cold, Hard Football Facts have long held that winning in the NFL is all about dominance in the passing game.
To demonstrate the importance of air superiority, we look at Passer Rating Differential. You simply subtract a team's Defensive Passer Rating from its Offensive Passer Rating. The result proves a lot about a team's chances for postseason success.
The average NFL champion, dating all the way back to 1940, was +27.4 in Passer Rating Differential (82.1 to 54.7). The Packers this year were No. 1 in Passer Rating Differential, at +31.7 (98.9 to 67.2).
In other words, the Pack moved the ball effectively through the air on offense, as evidenced by Rodgers' incredible numbers, and made life extremely tough for opposing passers. Green Bay was No. 1 in Defensive Passer Rating (67.2), our preferred measuring of measuring pass defense.
Chicago quarterback Jay Cutler knows how tough it is to pass against the Pack: he completed 56 percent of his passes with 1 TD, 3 INT and a dismal 59.5 passer rating in two games.
Green Bay will win Sunday because it'll dominate the battle of passing efficiency.
3. Clay Matthews & Co. will meet for tea in the Chicago backfield. The Packers were also No. 1 in the NFL this year at forcing what ColdHardFootballFacts.com calls Negative Pass Plays (sacks and INTs). Green Bay forced a Negative Pass Play on 12.2 percent of opposing dropbacks this year.
That ability to pressure passers sets up a total mismatch against a Chicago offense that suffered a Negative Pass Play more often than any other team in football: nearly 15 percent of Jay Cutler's dropbacks ended with a sack or INT. He was sacked a league-high 52 times. Green Bay sacked Cutler nine times and nabbed three picks in two games this year.
The Packers will win Sunday because they'll swarm all over Cutler in the Chicago backfield and force him onto the ground and into several errant passes.
4. The Packers are better against Quality Teams. We track how each team performs against opponents with winning records, or what we call Quality Teams. It helps us separate teams who faced tough competition from those who beat up weak opponents.
Green Bay is easily the NFC's best team in this indicator: an impressive 6-3 vs. Quality Teams, including their playoff wins over Philadelphia and Atlanta. They outscored these nine opponents by an average of 24.6 to 16.4 PPG -- far and away the best mark in the NFC.
Green Bay failed to show up for a lot of games this year, including losses to the bad Redskins, Dolphins and Lions. But against Quality competition, they were better than any team in the NFC. They'll be better than the Bears on Sunday.
1. Ben Roethlisberger is the most underrated quarterback in the game today. How many Super Bowls does Big Ben have to win before he joins the upper echelon of NFL quarterbacks in the eyes of the public?
Maybe three will do it.
Clearly, Roethlisberger's reputation has taken a hit over the years because of a variety of off-field incidents. But on the field, he's a truly underappreciated performer. For example, we like looking at average per pass attempt as a way to measure quarterbacks.
Here's why: Quarterbacks with high averages per attempt win a lot of games, even if they don't draw oohs and ahhs from fans obsessed with big fantasy-friendly volume numbers. And Big Ben is a perfect example. He's one of just five passers in history who have averaged more than 8.0 YPA in their career (8.04).
In others words, he's historically effective at getting the ball down field. It may not look pretty. His style may be unorthodox. But none of the game's elite quarterbacks -- Manning, Brady, Rodgers, Brees, whoever -- get the ball down the field better than Big Ben.
Oh, by the way, Roethlisberger is No. 8 all time in career passer rating (92.5) -- right behind the prolific Kurt Warner (93.7) and ahead of some guy named Joe Montana (92.3).
The Steelers will win Sunday because Big Ben will make big plays down the field, no matter how unorthodox it may look.
2. It's all about the Defensive Hogs. ColdHardFootballFacts.com ranks each defensive front on what we call the Defensive Hog Index. You should take a look at the indicator, because It has an incredibly high correlation to postseason success.
In fact, teams better on the Defensive Hog Index are 30-11 in postseason play since we introduced it in 2007. Teams with the better defensive front were a perfect 4-0 last week, by the way.
The 2007 Giants topped the DHI and won the Super Bowl. The 2008 Steelers topped the DHI and won the Super Bowl. The 2010 Steelers topped the DHI again this year. And they delivered a Defensive Hog tour de force against Baltimore last week. They pressured Joe Flacco into five sacks and an interception, held the Ravens to a dismal 1.9 YPA on the ground and allowed Baltimore to convert just 5 of 13 attempts on third and fourth downs.
Pittsburgh will win Sunday because it'll beat the New York offense at the point of attack.
3 . Mike Tomlin and Dick LeBeau are the NFL's best 1-2 coaching punch. In true Pittsburgh tradition, the Rooneys in 2007 handed the keys to the organization to a very young man (34 at the time) who had never been a head coach in the NFL.
But Mike Tomlin is proving Pittsburgh prophetic. He's still one of the youngest coaches in all of sports (38), already has one Super Bowl victory under his belt and sports a nifty 4-1 playoff record. This is his third postseason trip in four years at the helm.
One of Tomlin's first decisions was also his smartest: he kept longtime defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau, when he could have cleaned house in an effort to put his own stamp on the organization. The Steelers have finished No. 1 or No. 2 in scoring defense in three of Tomlin and LeBeau's four seasons together.
In fact, since the glory days of the Steel Curtain, only the 2001 Steelers (13.3 PPG) surrendered fewer points than Tomlin-LeBeau's Super Bowl champion 2008 Steelers (13.9 PPG allowed) and 2010 Steelers (14.5 PPG).
Rex Ryan is the story du jour in the NFL. But Pittsburgh will win Sunday because it has the best 1-2 coaching tandem in football.
4. The Pittsburgh roster is filled with game-breaking play-makers. The Steelers are not the prettiest team in football. And Pittsburgh fans certainly like it that way. But the Steelers have game-breaking playmakers all over the field -- beyond Roethlisberger and Polamalu.
Safety Ryan Clark produced a pair of huge game-changing big plays in the third quarter of the Ravens game last week, forcing two turnovers that led to Pittsburgh touchdowns.
James Harrison proved his playmaking chops back in the 2008 championship season. He was the NFL's Defensive Player of the Year and his 100-yard pick-six against Kurt Warner was the biggest play of Super Bowl XLIII. He brought the heat again on Sunday, sacking Flacco three times.
Receiver Mike Wallace, meanwhile, might be the best "Big Play" receiver in football today. Wallace this year became just the fifth player since the AFL-NFL merger to catch 60 or more passes and average 21.0 yards or more per reception. Meanwhile, unheralded rookie receiver Antonio Brown entered Pittsburgh's playmaking pantheon with his 58-yard reception on 3rd and 19 against Baltimore on Sunday.
These aren't isolated incidents. ColdHardFootballFacts.com tracks each team's Big Play capabilities on what we call, conveniently enough, the Big Play Index. Pittsburgh finished second on the indicator, at +28. The Jets, by the way, were No. 3 at +23. (Of course, New England was No. 1 this year with a bullet (+41) and that advantage didn't help them last week.)
Pittsburgh will win Sunday because it will make more big plays than the Jets.