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Rodgers, Packers look to keep rolling

Naturally, every team has to be on some kind of a roll to get to the conference championship stage in the National Football League playoffs. But is there a hotter team than the Green Bay Packers, who will play for the NFC Championship against the Bears at Soldier Field in Chicago today?

The Packers' wins at Philadelphia (21-16) and over the No. 1 seed Falcons (48-21) in Atlanta are as impressive as the New York Jets' road triumphs in the AFC against Peyton Manning and the Colts in Indianapolis and Tom Brady and the Patriots in Foxborough.

A big reason is that Green Bay has the hottest playoff quarterback in Aaron Rodgers, who has thrown for six touchdowns with a 134.5 passer rating in the two wins.

Rodgers, however, will be facing a Chicago defense that was statistically superior to the Eagles and Falcons in the regular season. The Bears were fifth in the NFC in overall defense -- first in rushing defense (90.1), but 10th in pass defense (224.3).

Chicago's fortunes always seem to hinge on quarterback Jay Cutler's ability to take care of the ball. Of the Bears' 31 turnovers in the regular season, all but four were interceptions or fumbles lost by Cutler and backup Todd Collins.

A closer look at the teams in today's NFC Championship Game:

Packers (12-6) at Bears (12-5)

TV: Ch. 29, 3 p.m.

The line: Packers (-3 1/2 )

The scoop: Overcoming injuries has been the story with the Packers all season. True, Green Bay has played much of the season without TE Jermichael Finley, LB Nick Barnett and RB Ryan Grant. Since Week Five, however, the Packers have started the same five offensive linemen in the same positions.

Of the four playoff teams, Green Bay has the longest win streak. Since a four-point loss at New England without Rodgers, the Packers have won four in a row, including the 10-3 win over the Bears at Lambeau Field in the season finale. Chicago won the first meeting between the teams at Soldier Field, 20-17.

Rodgers had a passer rating of better than 100 in seven of the 15 regular season games he played. He threw for at least one TD in all but one of the 14 regular season games he started and finished. Against Chicago, Rodgers was not quite as effective, completing 53 of 73 for 595 yards and two touchdowns.

Green Bay has a receiving corps that will challenge the Chicago secondary. Greg Jennings had 76 receptions, 12 for touchdowns in the regular season. Donald Driver, a seventh round draft choice in 1999, still is dangerous (51 receptions for 11.1 average and four TDs). James Jones and Jordy Nelson had 95 receptions and seven TDs between them.

Since Chicago went to a quicker passing game and more runs, Cutler has been more effective, less prone to turnovers and less susceptible to sacks. He still had 16 interceptions during the season and was sacked a league high 52 times. RB Matt Forte is one of the most productive backs in the NFL, averaging 4.5 rushing and 10.7 receiving.

Two things to watch for in special teams: Green Bay's Mason Crosby had two field goals blocked in the regular season. Chicago blocked one field goal and an extra point. Also, Devin Hester of the Bears is as dangerous a punt return man as any in NFL history. He returned three for scores this year.

Best player you probably know little about: Packers CB Tramon Williams, undrafted out of Louisiana Tech, had six interceptions in his second season as a starter after breaking in as a punt returner (8.0 average) in 2010.

Matchup to watch: Green Bay OTs Chad Clifton, an 11-year veteran, and rookie Bryan Bulaga against Chicago DEs Julius Peppers and Israel Idonije, who had eight sacks apiece in the regular season.

Fast fact: At times this season, the Packers have four Mid-American Conference products in their starting lineup -- RB James Starks (UB), WR Greg Jennings (Western Michigan), DE Cullen Jenkins (Central Michigan) and OLB Frank Zombo (Central Michigan).

Outlook: These teams and their followers have hated each other going all the way back to the 1930s. In an emotional setting, Green Bay's edge in firepower is good for a 20-14 win.

e-mail: mnorthrop@buffnews.com