By Tony Cocco
The Cold, Hard Football Facts real and spectacular victory machine looked in great shape after last Saturday: we nailed both Pittsburgh's 31-24 win over Baltimore and Green Bay's 48-21 win at Atlanta.
But we wobbled on Sunday: we expected Seattle to keep it within 10.5 points at Chicago. They lost by 11 (35-24).
And we told you the Patriots would stomp the Jets again. Instead, the Jets stomped the Patriots, 28-21, in a game that wasn't even as close as the final score.
We're still a respectable 5-3 against the spread here in the 2010 postseason. And, far more impressively, we've gone .500 or better against the spread – picking every NFL game! – every week since Halloween. It's almost February.
So our real and spectacular picks continue to live up to the hype.
Here are both NFC title contenders sized up across the board in all of our Quality Stats. Our analysis, and our picks, follows below.
2010 NFC championship game
Green Bay (-3.5) at Chicago
The NFL's two oldest rivals meet up in the post-season for just the second time in their storied histories this Sunday, and for the first time with a Super Bowl berth at stake.
More importantly for our purposes, they enter the game with the league's No. 2 (Green Bay) and No. 4 (Chicago) scoring defenses in 2010.
The teams split their two regular season meetings. The Bears won the first meeting, 20-17, in Chicago. The Packers won the rematch, 10-3, in Green Bay.
But the Packers easily could have swept both games had they been able to avoid dumb mistakes in the first meeting on Monday Night Football early in the season (18 accepted penalties).
Of course, playing dumb football was the main reason why a Quality Stats juggernaut (see the chart above) like the Packers won just 10 games in the regular season.
But Green Bay has its act together over the last four weeks, defeating the Giants and Bears at the end of the regular season to squeak into the playoffs. They then beat the Eagles and destroyed the Falcons here in the postseason.
In fact, the Packers have completely won us over with their recent hot streak. They've won us over not out of the pathetic weakness of human emotion, but because they're playing exactly the way our Quality Stats say they should have been playing all along.
We've talked a number of times about statistical equilibrium this year: sooner or later performance on the stat sheet will find a meeting point with performance on the scoreboard. And right now Green Bay is finding that statistical equilibrium.
So we expect that they will earn the franchise's fifth Super Bowl appearance when the final gun sounds at Soldier Field on Sunday.
You don't even need to look to know the big difference between these two teams. It comes at quarterback. Aaron Rodgers, the No. 1 rising star of the 2010 postseason, had another brilliant campaign this year.
And as a result, the Packers were No. 3 this year in Offensive Passer Rating and in Passing Yards Per Attempt. Coupled with the league's top pass defense, too (No. 1 in Defensive Passer Rating), it's been a deadly one-two combo here in the playoffs. Green Bay is easily No. 1 in Passer Rating Differential this year. (If they win the Super Bowl, Passer Rating Differential will be a perfect 2 for 2 identifying champions since we introduced the indicator.)
Rodgers has easily outplayed NFC Pro Bowl quarterbacks Michael Vick and Matt Ryan in the playoffs.
Meanwhile, Chicago's history of struggles at quarterback is well chronicled, and the 2010 season was no different. Jay Cutler produced another non-distinct season. The Bears struggled to move the ball through the air: No. 20 in Offensive Passer Rating; No. 25 in Passing Yards Per Attempt.
Of course, the NFL is all about establishing air superiority, and nobody does it better than the Packers. The Packers this year were No. 1 in Passer Rating Differential, as noted above, while the Bears were ranked No. 11, so there's a wide gap there.
Worse yet for the Bears is the fact that their terrible, worst-in-the-NFL Offensive Hogs (No. 32 at allowing Negative Pass Plays) will be facing a Green Bay pass rush that was No. 1 at forcing Negative Pass Plays this season. In other words, Cutler should spend most of Sunday afternoon running for his life.
Chicago' s defense was No. 3 in Defensive Passer Rating, No. 6 in Bendability and had the No. 6-ranked Defensive Hogs and held the Packers to just 27 points in two meetings this year. So they have a fighting chance.
But Chicago needs a monster performance in the Midway from its defense on Sunday to slow down a Green Bay offense that is clicking on all cylinders right now.
The Packers just seem to have too much on both sides of the ball to allow that to happen.
Green Bay 20, Chicago 13
show video here