BY BARRY WILNER
AP Pro Football Writer
As illogical at it seems, a 6-6 parlay might be a winner in this weekend’s championship games. The Packers and Jets aren’t run-of-the-mill wild cards.
Does that mean a pair of non-division winners are headed to the Super Bowl? Read on.
Green Bay (minus 3) at Chicago — Yes, the sixth-seeded Packers are favored at Soldier Field in the second postseason matchup of these 90-year rivals and first since 1941. That’s how impressive Aaron Rodgers and his team have been in the last month, with wins over the Giants and Bears at Lambeau Field to get into the playoffs, then victories at Philadelphia and No. 1 seed Atlanta in the playoffs.
Rodgers is performing at a championship level, and he has the surrounding talent to keep this surge going. Green Bay (12-6) nearly won at Chicago in Week 3, stymied by a team-record 18 penalties as much as anything. The Packers have been far more efficient recently, with Rodgers regularly finding his impressive receiving corps, led by Greg Jennings, Donald Driver and James Jones. They will present matchup problems for Chicago’s cornerbacks.
Green Bay’s defense also has become formidable, just as dominating as Chicago’s can be. The Bears (12-5) have playmakers Brian Urlacher, Lance Briggs, Julius Peppers and Israel Idonije. The Packers counter with Clay Matthews, Charles Woodson, Tramon Williams and B.J. Raji.
Perhaps the Bears’ difference maker will be the dynamic Devin Hester. The record-setting kick returner has a strong history in the postseason, and it would be wise for the Packers to avoid kicking his way.
The last time the Bears got this far was 2006, when they won the NFC title, then lost in the Super Bowl to Indianapolis. Green Bay was in the 2007 championship matchup, losing to the Giants — a wild-card.
Going with the wild card again. ... PACKERS, 23-21
New York Jets (plus 4) at Pittsburgh — After disposing of Peyton Manning and the Colts, then Tom Brady and the Patriots, the Jets (13-5) try for the trifecta of championship QBs against Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers.
Rex Ryan might be bombastic, but in his two seasons as Jets coach he also has been brilliant, leading them to four road playoff victories in five attempts. Roethlisberger made note of that Wednesday, but veteran receiver Hines Ward mentioned that his quarterback gets away from the rush better and stays up longer when hit than Manning or Brady.
Still, the Steelers want to be a run-first offense and need to prosper on the ground to beat the Jets. New York cornerbacks Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie match up well against Pittsburgh’s wideouts, although Ward has a penchant for big plays in the biggest games.
Don’t forget that the Steelers are stingier defensively than the Jets, particularly against the run. That means Mark Sanchez, who is rapidly growing into a clutch quarterback, must be as effective as he was in Foxborough, where he threw for three touchdowns. One of those was to Santonio Holmes, the hero of the Steelers’ Super Bowl win two years ago and now the Jets’ game-breaking receiver.
New York won 22-17 at Heinz Field in December, a game that two key Steelers missed. Star safety Troy Polamalu and TE Heath Miller are back, and the Jets can struggle down the middle covering tight ends.
Are the returns of Polamalu and Miller enough to make up that five-point deficit and spoil a 6 vs. 6 Super Bowl matchup? We think so. ... STEELERS, 20-17
Versus spread, 2-2 (overall 132-106-19); Straight up, 2-2 (overall 169-102)
Best Bet: 8-11 against spread, 11-8 straight up.
Upset Special: 11-8 against spread, 11-8 straight up.