The stage is set for the National Football Conference and the American Football Conference championship games. On January 22, Green Bay will face Atlanta at 2:05 p.m. central time followed by Pittsburgh at New England at 5:40 p.m. central.
Atlanta and Green Bay couldn’t be coming off two more different victories. The Falcons won in convincing fashion against the Seattle Seahawks and the Packers scraped by the Dallas Cowboys on a Mason Crosby 51-yard field goal that looked less convincing than Johnny Manziel at quarterback. It was good for three, grabbing Aaron Rodgers and the Packers another playoff victory.
Heading into the matchup between these two it’s important to note the offensive show these two put on in their respective matchups, with the Packers putting up 34 points and the Falcons putting in 36 points against the “Legion of Boom.”
It’s safe to say this matchup will be a shootout between the gunslinger Rodgers and red hot Ryan with both tallying over 300 yards in the air in their previous respective matchups.
As far as ground games go, my money’s on the Atlanta Falcons with the always dangerous Devonta Freeman in the backfield. This dangerous back sprinted for only 45 yards on 14 carries, but he received for 80 yards with an average of 20 yards per reception.
Although impressive, and better than the packers with Ty Montgomery in their lineup, it just isn’t enough to give them the edge.
Defensively these two teams have issues, but they can come up with big plays on occasion.
With Beasley Jr. and Keanu Neal the Falcons have more speed and youth on defense than the Packers. Beasly, the second-year linebacker out of Clemson, had 15.5 sacks on the season and is getting better by the day. The rookie middle linebacker Neal racked up 106 combined tackles on the season.
The Packers, on the other hand, have an aging defense including Julius Peppers and Clay Matthews. Matthews is coming to the downside of his career.
The Falcons held a mobile and dangerous quarterback in Russell Wilson to a measly 20 points, whereas the Packers allowed 31 points and 132 yards to Dez Bryant. It’s not lopsided by any means, but advantage Falcons.
Overall this game should be high scoring, interesting, and above all fun. Key players to watch are Julio Jones and Aaron Rodgers. Prediction is the Packers will take the NFC championship in a 31 to 28 victory.
The Steelers and Patriots was a matchup that many predicted at the beginning of the year. Both teams are coming off hard-fought wins with the Texans giving the Patriots more fits than anyone predicted — but they got the win.
The Steelers sent the Chief’s home in a thriller that effectively ended with a holding call on Chiefs left tackle Eric Fisher followed by a failed two-point conversion from the 12-yard line.
Offensively these two teams have the players to put up monster numbers but aren’t impressive in their respective matchups. With questions surrounding these teams, I’m actually confident that Brady and Roethlisberger will have their teams ready and sharp for a shootout.
Antonio Brown should dominate the matchup with Malcom Butler but watch for Belichick to move a safety over the top and try to put a stop to their air attack. Expect Jesse James to have another big game and step up when that happens.
The Patriots, even with their issues on offense, still put up 34 points against the Texans. Watch for wide receiver Julian Edelman to get open early and often, if Mike Tomlin moves a safety to help there, look for Patriots to look to Gronkowski and Bennett to get them down the field. Both teams are headed by future Hall of Fame quarterbacks. The advantage has to go to the Patriots.
Both defenses fail to impress. However the Steelers have some great pieces on defense even though they lose focus at times. Look for James Harrison to rush the edge and get to Brady early, his experience will serve this team well. The Patriots have some good players but in the usual Belichick way there aren’t many superstars here, look to the sideline for Belichick to instill a sense of focus and discipline in his players. They’ll try to take Antonio Brown out of the picture. Advantage goes to the Steelers on this one.
This game will be hard to predict but look to the quarterbacks to dictate this one with their experience focus and leadership. Key players to watch are Tom Brady and Ben Roethlisberger. In the end though look for the Patriots to out maneuver the Steelers with Brady and Belichick at the helm, Patriots 28 and Steelers 17.