Sunday, 3 p.m. Eastern Soldier Field, Chicago
This is an article from the Jan. 24, 2011 issue
Sunday's NFC title game will feature two defenses that rank in the top 10 in the league in fewest points allowed, fewest yards allowed and takeaways. Yet in looking at both the Packers and the Bears, the focus will be on the other side of the line of scrimmage, where the postseason's two hottest quarterbacks will face off for the right to play in their first Super Bowl.
In three playoff games this year, Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers and Chicago's Jay Cutler have combined to throw for 820 yards and eight touchdowns and have run for three scores. The next interception either throws will be the first. Rodgers's rating for his two games is 134.5. Cutler's was 111.3 in his playoff debut against the Seahawks.
"Aaron Rodgers was on fire," Bears cornerback Charles Tillman said after watching Rodgers dissect the top-seeded Falcons last Saturday night. "His receivers were amazing. Secondarywise, we've got our hands full. If Green Bay plays like they played against Atlanta, it's going to be a tough day for us. We've got to lock in on what we have to do and just play good defense."
History says the quarterbacks' pinball numbers will cease this week. The familiarity between these division rivals, who see each other twice every season, has favored the defenses over the last two years. During that time Cutler has thrown nine interceptions and only four touchdowns against the Pack, while Rodgers has just three scores with two picks versus the Bears. Neither team tallied more than 21 points in any of those four games.
"They do a great job schemewise," says Cutler, whose interceptions dropped from 26 in his first season in Chicago to 16 this year. "They're going to show you a lot of different looks, they're going to fool you and bring a lot of different things at the snap of the ball. The way they use those linebackers, they kind of walk them around. And Charles Woodson is one of the best nickel [cornerbacks] in the league, especially blitzing off the edge and timing things up. They do a good job of disrupting. We're going to have to run the ball and hit some gaps and make them pay when they do stuff like that."
In a low-scoring game that will amplify the cost of mistakes, expect Rodgers to make one fewer than Cutler.
THE PICK: PACKERS 17, BEARS 13