JZ Sports welcomes back contributor Bill Eckert back from vacation, with his prediction for Sunday's AFC Championship battle between Gang Green and the Black and Yellow. Read and Enjoy.
Hey there gang! Bill Eckert here to make a few predictions on Sunday’s games. I found myself in a situation last week that didn’t allow me see the Steelers/Ravens game live, but thanks to my trusty DVR I was able to go to work and not worry myself about the game. Fast forwarding through the unneeded flagaphiles we call refs tends to eat up too much play time and I find no more joy zipping past that as I do in any other enjoyable activity (how’s that for vague). Anyhow, as the chef of my kitchen warned me earlier in the shift, I wasn’t getting out of that shift without knowing what happened in the game. With an hour or so left in my shift, Brian, our door guy, strolls back into the kitchen for a cup of coffee; before I knew it, Brian turns to Chef and I, matter-of-factly stating, “So, the Steelers won,” leaving me only to hang my head and nod in acknowledgment to Chef that he was on the money and I was out the results to what I was calling MY Super Bowl, since it was my Steelers facing their greatest rival.

Don’t fret though sports fans, for as any of you that watched the game know, when I arrived home that evening I sat through the game either way and found myself pleasured by the battle between what might be the two hardest hitting teams in the NFL (even though I found myself disappointed at times knowing that I might have been truly hooting and hollering at times had I not already know the outcome).

Now, down to brass tacks, the AFC and NFC Championships! Both of these games are going to rest on the shoulders of the quarterbacks, more so than usual. I’ll get even more specific. These games are going to rest on the shoulders of, in the NFC match up, Jay Cutler, and in the AFC match up, Mark Sanchez. Both these guys can be remarkable when they on their mark; Sanchez showed what he was made of last week when he seemed impervious to the New England defense, and Cutler ran wild, literally, on the Seahawks. But things are going to be very different this week.           

Both Cutler and Sanchez, though they have moments where they shine brightly, they have also been the providers for a rival’s victory through interceptions, and frequently. Their biggest weakness has been their inconsistency and this is a problem that both Green Bay and Pittsburgh lack.

In the NFC Championship the rivalry between Green Bay and Chicago alone will be something that should both turn up the heat in Soldier Field and, in the words of Chef Emeril Lagasse, both teams will “kick it up a notch” when they hit the field. Green Bay is going to bring hell and Cutler isn’t going to be able to gallivant around the field as he did last week. Urlacher and the Bears defense is going to give Aaron Rodgers a work out; however, this isn’t something new to Rodgers and he has always been a team commander who understands the importance of his roll as QB and has the know how to help his team advance to The Big Show in two weeks. If Cutler is smart, he’ll be smart and not try to outrun Clay Matthews and the rest of the Lemon-Limebackers, and if can’t find himself a receiver, don’t give it up as he has been know to do.

Things on the AFC end of the league are a little less cut and dry. For those of you that have read any of my previous posts, you know well that I am a long time fan of The Steel Curtain and JZ’s own Zack Pumerantz is a raging Jets fan (Would raging be a good adjective, Zack?), so hopefully he’ll not want my head for writing such things about Sanchez and the Jets. Let it be said that I like the Jets. Hell, I’m going AFC for the remainder of this stint and if the Jets do beat my Steelers, I want them to take it all. That being said, I don’t see that happening. My personal fandom aside, the Jets has a few things working against them.

I’ve already mentioned that Sanchez has been known to turn the ball over through rushed passing, but he showed last week, against the Patriots, that he can handle the pressure when it is poured on, so though he played well last week and is still capable to choke, I’ll dispel said weakness and trade it for these other potential issues. The Steelers defense IS NOT the New England Patriots defense, and what they have working for them that the Pats didn’t have last week is that the Jets beat Big Ben and the gang in Pittsburgh the last time they met, James Harrison and the rest of The Curtain will not want to lose at home against the Jets twice and this time they brought Troy to play.

I believe I mentioned this in the past, but for the sake of continuity I would like to mention (maybe again) that I don’t like the idea of placing a teams victory or loss on one player, though here I am clearly saying that Cutler and Sanchez are very likely the deciding factors for their teams, I am now going to add in what I like to call the “Troy Factor.” When the Jets came to Pittsburgh last they faced a team without their Pro-Bowl safety Troy Polamalu. The Jets won by five points that day, but it was a very hard fought five points and they played very well. Sunday’s game is going to have to be harder fought on New York’s end. Troy is back, and that will certainly beef up the Steelers D but to wind down and wrap up, I’ll just say that there is a threat on the Jets end as well.

Big Ben is a force to be reckoned with and defensive opponents have to often work very hard to strike fear into him, nevertheless bring him to the ground, but in a press conference Ben sang the praises of the Jets defense and all that they are capable of. It was their art of confusion that Ben sang about most. He went on about their raw talent and the hug fest between Antonio Cromartie and Big Ben and their comments about loving one another and what they do was all well and good; however, I found myself only slightly stirred, as a Steelers fan, when I heard Ben say that after watching the Jets defeat the two best quarterbacks in the league at home that he didn’t know how he was going to beat them. I’m sure Ben will continue to do as he has done all season long and help to press his team forward.

These Championship games are going to be featuring a lot of hardcore defense and by looking back at them, Roethlisberger and Rodgers have been consistently solid when it came to handling the pressure. Having said that, my buddy Sweet Jimmy B. reminded me that when it comes to the Playoffs, statistics and everything else we think we know can go out the window, but pressure, well she can be a bitch and hopefully neither Cutler or Sanchez buckle at the crack of her whip.