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Beating the Book: Chris Liss Handicaps the Conference Title Games

Chris Liss

Chris Liss

Chris Liss is RotoWire's Managing Editor and Host of RotoWIre Fantasy Sports Today on Sirius XM radio.

I went 2-2 last week, but I think the write-ups were pretty good because the Steelers-Ravens game was a farce, and I had the analysis right in the Jets-Pats, but just drew the wrong conclusion. In any event, it's still just a .500 week, and there are only three games left in the season.

This week, the lines are just about right, and I probably wouldn't bet either of these games if it weren't my job to do so. But it is my job, so let's take a look.

NFC CHAMPIONSHIP

Packers -3.5 at Bears

The teams split the season series, and Chicago held its own in a Week 17 loss at Green Bay with nothing to play for and the Packers playoff lives on the line. The teams are pretty similar with Jay Cutler a poor man's version of Aaron Rodgers and capable of outplaying him on any given Sunday. The Packers receiving corps is only slightly better without Jermichael Finley, as the Bears have the advantage at tight end and actually have more speed in Johnny Knox and Devin Hester. Neither offensive line is anything to write home about, and the same goes for the rushing attacks with James Starks emerging to give Green Bay a roughly equal option to Matt Forte (though Forte is more versatile).

The defenses are two of the league's best, but the Packers are better against the pass with the league's second best cornerback tandem and Chicago's front seven are more stout againt the run. Overall, I give the Packers a slight edge as a team due to better quarterback play and better pass defense, but it's not quite enough to make up for worse coaching, a softer run defense, worse special teams, the points and the venue. Back the Bears who keep it close enough.

Packers 20 - 19

AFC CHAMPIONSHIP

Jets +3.5 at Steelers

After beating a weaker-than-usual Colts team in Indianapolis, the Jets ran roughshod over a Patriots squad that was undefeated at home, had gone 8-0 in the season's second half, scoring 31 or more points in every game, including wins over each of the final four teams, three of which (NYJ, @PIT, @CHI) were blowouts. Once the Jets solved the Pats, though, New England looked a whole lot like the Colts - a soft team with a great QB, but few playmakers, and it's hard to believe that the Patriots were able to fool so much of the league for so long.

The Steelers have their own star QB, but the rest of the team is neither soft, nor bereft of playmakers (Mike Wallace might be one of the three fastest wideouts in the league, and Troy Polamalu and James Harrison are both capable of turning the game on defense). Pittsburgh is also nearly impossible to run against, but the Jets did have moderate success in the first meeting between the teams in late December. The Jets won that contest, but Brad Smith's kickoff return to open the game provided the margin of victory, something that's unlikely to recur, epsecially with Smith nursing a groin injury.

Mark Sanchez played far better against the Pats last week than he did against the Colts, but going into Pittsburgh and facing Dick LeBeau's blitzes is another degree of difficulty. Sanchez didn't make mistakes in the first contest, but he averaged only 5.9 YPA and had just one big play (38 yards to Braylon Edwards).

In the end, these teams are pretty evenly matched with New York having better receivers, the better offensive line and better pass defenders, and the Steelers having the better quarterback, the better pass rush, the better run defense and the home field advantage. Both Rex Ryan and Mike Tomlin are top tier coaches, but Ryan's got the tougher task keeping the Jets at peak effort and focus after shocking the world in their mini Super Bowl last week. I had originally picked the Jets because three and a half offers more than ample value, but my gut says the set-up favors the Steelers. Back Pittsburgh who wins ugly.

Steelers 20 - 10

We were 2-2 in the Divisional round to go 4-4 for the postseaosn. We were 126-125-5 on the season. We were 131-122 in 2009 against the spread. From 1999-2009 we've gone 1439-1262 (53.3%, not including ties)