Hell, I don't know. But I've got a theory!
Since 1980 only 7 conference champion teams have been less than #20 in the league in rushing yards allowed. Only one of them (the 2006 Indianapolis Colts) won the Super Bowl. True to form, 3 of the last four teams standing are 1-2-3 in this stat (Steelers, Bears, Jets).
I ranked all the conference championship teams from 1980 to last year and found the average league rank in the following categories: Scoring Offense, Scoring Defense, Passing Yards and Rushing yards, and Passing Yards and Rushing Yards allowed. The average conference champion was:
1. 5th in the NFL in Points scored per game
2. 7th in the NFL in Points Allowed
3. 10th in the NFL in both Rushing Yards and Passing Yards
4. 13th in the NFL in Passing Yards Allowed
5. 9th in the NFL in Rushing Yards Allowed
Here are the four teams left in this years playoffs, ranked by their proximity to the averages:
1. NY Jets
The Bears offense is far worse than the average, but is well positioned to exploit the Packers where they are weakest: against the run. However, the Bears put up only 77 yards on the ground in the first meeting; this was before Mike Martz scaled back the playbook. Since then, the Bears are 7-2, with a blowout loss to the Patriots and a 10-3 loss to the Packers.
The Packers rank 18th in the league in Rushing Yards Allowed. Only 7 Super Bowl champs since 1980 have been ranked below #10...but the Packers match up with them all in Points Allowed. Only 2 (the 2009 Saints and 2006 Colts) ranked less than sixth in the NFL in points allowed. The Packers rank 2nd this year. Red Zone defense? Check. I'm taking the Packers, but will be rooting for the Bears.
Steelers vs. Jets
Very evenly matched teams. Yes, yes, the Jets beat the Steelers a month ago 22-17. That was the Steelers defense without Polamalu and Aaron Smith. Smith is most likely not going to play, and if he does, he will be limited. The Jets put up 106 yards on the ground in that contest a month ago; they are not likely to do it again. The Steelers are vulnerable to the passing game and quick throws. The real question is can Mark Sanchez play like he did last week? If he can, the Jets can win. The reliance on the passing game, however, relies heavily on Ladanian Tomlinson in the running game and limits Shonn Greene, which may benefit the Steelers.
The Jets have an excellent, fast defense. Can the Steelers offensive line stand up to Ellis and the rest? I don't think so. Look for lots of dinking and dunking from both teams. Draws and misdirection plays will be the rule of the day. One thing to consider, however: the data for the Steelers is skewed. In the first four games of the season, the Steelers averaged only 269 total yards a game. In the final 12, they averaged 370. The difference? Ben Roethlisberger.
Again, can the offensive line keep him clean? I don't think so. Will it make a difference? I don't think so. I'll say 16-7 Steelers. Maybe Mark Sanchez will make a believer out of me, but I hope not this week. Whoever wins the AFC Championship will win the Super Bowl in any case. I may think Rex Ryan is a tubby blowhard, but he is an excellent coach. Plus, he may dislike the Patriots more than I do, which I did not think was possible.