The final stop on the road to Super Bowl 51 takes place this Sunday with the conference championship round. With four teams left, who do Jake, Nolan, and Tyler think will punch in their ticket to Houston?
NFC Championship: #4 Green Bay Packers @ #2 Atlanta Falcons – 3:05 pm – FOX
Jake: In week 8 these teams squared off in the Georgia Dome, where the Falcons picked up a 33-32 victory. The Falcons rallied from behind in the fourth quarter on an 11-play, 75-yard drive that ended with an 11-yard Mohamed Sanu touchdown with 31 seconds to go in the game. Sanu was the team’s leading receiver that day with nine catches. Matt Ryan threw for more yards than Aaron Rodgers, but Rodgers threw four touchdown passes, whereas Ryan had only three.
This time around, the situation is completely different and the circumstances are much more drastic. The Packers are looking to reach their second Super Bowl in the Aaron Rodgers era, while the Falcons are looking to reach just their second Super Bowl appearance in franchise history.
Since going 4-6 earlier this season, the Packers have won eight straight games, capped off with their 34-31 win over the Dallas Cowboys last weekend. Rodgers once again made our jaws hit the floor with his 35-yard completion to tight end Jared Cook before the Packers kicked the game-winning field goal. Rodgers is playing out of his mind, throwing six touchdowns in two postseason games. The Packers offense will once again most likely be without their top receiving threat in Jordy Nelson, who suffered a rib injury in the Wild Card Round.
Going up against the Packers is Matt Ryan, who is at the helm of the eighth-best offense in NFL history in terms of scoring. Ryan had a great game against the Seahawks, throwing for over 330 yards and three touchdowns. The Falcons have Julio Jones and a dynamic two-running back attack with Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman. The Falcons are on a five-game win streak of their own, and will be fired up for the last game to be played in the Georgia Dome.
This game has shoot-out written all over it. You have two offenses that are among the best in football going up against the #22 and #25 ranked defenses, respectively. Both teams were able to score more than 30 points against each other in week 8, and they will most likely accomplish that again on Sunday.
Yes, the Falcons have the home field advantage. But this game comes down to one thing: Aaron Rodgers vs. Matt Ryan. Right now, I do not see how anyone can pick against Rodgers. All of the so-called “experts” picked against Rodgers last week, and look what happened. Rodgers is unstoppable right now. It is that simple.
Pick: Packers 35, Falcons 34
Nolan: While I have been impressed by how the Packers played against the Giants and Cowboys, it is important to keep in mind that the competition only gets harder this week. The Falcons are certainly the Packers’ most daunting opponent so far in the playoffs and I am expecting a highly unpredictable matchup with a lot of scoring.
Rodgers delivered an amazing drive in the final minutes of last week’s game but probably never would have been in that situation if he had not failed to score during the entirety of the third quarter. This can not happen again if Green Bay wants to win. There is far less room for error against a Falcons team that we have seen score very quickly. I do believe that the Packers can fix this issue but the Falcons are not going to have to dig themselves out of a hole like the Cowboys.
The defensive play of these teams does not jump out at you but there have been some highlights for each side in recent games. The Packers defense handled their business against the Giants while the Falcons stifled the Seahawks early and never let up. I don’t expect either of these defenses to stop the opposing QB but if it does happen, it will be the key to victory.
This one is a true toss up for me. I could make the case for either team as they both have high-powered offenses and the ability to produce with the game on the line. Since I have to pick one, I will go with the Packers. This is my least confident pick of the postseason but I can see Green Bay edging this one out in the final seconds.
Pick: Packers 41, Falcons 38
Tyler: My goodness we are in for a treat with this one. Be prepared for a game just as exciting to watch as the Green Bay/Dallas game last week. Two high-powered offenses will square off in a game where defense may be optional. I fully expect both teams to put up at least thirty points in this one. Matt Ryan and the Falcons have by far the most high-powered offense of the four teams left in my opinion. Green Bay may not be at full strength once again as Jordy Nelson has been announced as a long shot to play and Davante Adams experiencing an ankle injury in last weeks game. Neither defense is terrible but neither compares to the two defenses left in the AFC. I expect that the team with the defense that can make one or two key stops comes out victorious in this one. I know everyone is saying that you can’t pick against Rodgers. I know everyone is saying that Matt Ryan is a choke artist. But I think Ryan’s weapons, Rodger’s injuries around him, and Atlanta’s home field advantage will lead the Falcons to the Super Bowl. Also remember that this will be the last game to ever be played in the Georgia Dome. I guarantee that the organization and the fans will want to blow the roof off of the place and go out with a bang.
Pick: Falcons 38, Packers 34
AFC Championship: #3 Pittsburgh Steelers @ #1 New England Patriots – 6:40 pm – CBS
Jake: As soon as the Steelers defeated the Chiefs 18-16 on Sunday, and it was announced that Pittsburgh would be facing the Patriots in the AFC Championship game, a collective groan was heard across Baltimore and the surrounding area. This game will be tough on all Baltimore Sports fans to watch, but the fact is these two teams proved that they are the best of the best in the AFC.
Earlier this season, the Patriots beat the Steelers 27-16 in week 7. However, Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger missed that game after undergoing a knee surgery a few days prior.
The Steelers have now won nine straight games, and defeated the Chiefs last week without scoring a touchdown. The Steelers defense is ranked #1 overall this postseason, giving up an average of 266 yards in the two games played against Miami and Kansas City. Pittsburgh also has the top rushing attack in the NFL this postseason, with Le’Veon Bell putting up outrageous numbers. Last week Bell rushed for 170 yards on 30 carries. That is an average of 5.7 yards-per-carry for those of you who are not good at math. If the Patriots can’t stop Bell, it will be a long night.
However, Big Ben has proven to not be the same quarterback on the road this season. His completion percentage is 59.4%, and he has thrown nine touchdowns and eight interceptions. Ben cannot afford to make a few dumb mistakes in this game, because Tom Brady and the Patriots will capitalize on them.
The Patriots defeated the Texans 34-16 in the divisional round, but the game did not break out until the second half. The Patriots allowed the Texans to hang around because Houston was able to get after Brady, who was hit eight times and sacked twice. Brady will probably have to do a decent amount of throwing on Sunday, as the Steelers have limited their opponents to just 108 combined rushing yards this postseason.
The Patriots defense should not be taken lightly either, as they finished the regular season first in the NFL in points allowed. However, the Patriots have not faced many good quarterbacks this season. As mentioned, they did not face Big Ben in week 7. They did face Russell Wilson, and the Patriots lost that game to Seattle at home. Aside from Ben and Wilson, the top QB’s New England faced included Carson Palmer, Ryan Tannehill, Andy Dalton, and Joe Flacco. Facing Brock Osweiler last week did not break that trend, so facing a quarterback like Roethlisberger will be a big test for the Patriots.
This is a tough call. Pittsburgh has won nine straight, but New England has won eight straight. The Steelers have the 3 B’s – Ben, Bell and Brown, but the Patriots have Brady and Belichick. Both teams have outstanding defenses. With everything considered, this is probably the toughest pick I have made all season.
Pick: Steelers 27, Patriots 24
Nolan: I may not know who to root for but I have a good feeling about who will win this one. I understand that Brady and Belichick are probably the hardest to beat at home, especially in the playoffs. I also know that Under Mike Tomlin, the Steelers have not played well against the Patriots, but I don’t care about any of that.
Why? Because the Steelers are the better overall team, plain and simple. On offense the Steelers’ playmakers are impossible to contain and I don’t see the Patriot defense keeping them out of the endzone like Kansas City did last week.
On defense the Steelers have an advantage as well. Tom Brady is certainly better than the quarterbacks that Pittsburgh has faced so far in the playoffs but I don’t think that matters too much. Ryan Shazier, Bud Dupree, and James Harrison can bring the pressure against any QB and Brady is no exception.
Last week we saw what happens when you threaten Brady with a quality defense. He can turn the ball over like any other QB. These turnovers and overall poor offensive play gave Houston a chance in the fourth quarter. Brock Osweiler couldn’t take advantage of this but you better believe that Big Ben and company will fare better than the abysmal Houston offense.
Pick: Steelers 27, Patriots 20
Tyler: Ravens fans don’t worry. Listen to Nolan because he said it best earlier this week. Don’t be disappointed that one of your two most hated teams will be in the Super Bowl. Instead be happy that one of your two most hated teams will be absolutely crushed by just missing out on a Super Bowl appearance.
History says that the Patriots should win this game. They have been in the big game more than any other team over the last ten years or so. Vegas will most likely be picking New England too. Bill Belichick is very good at taking away a team’s best weapon. This week that is Le’Veon Bell. Bell has been extremely hot lately and he seems almost unstoppable. Another thing playing into the Patriots favor is the fact that Ben Roethlisberger has not played extremely well on the road this season. I believe I mentioned this last week as well. Ben didn’t play extremely well in Kansas City but he and the offense played well enough to get the win. That is all that matters in the playoffs. The third thing that plays into the Patriots hand is the fact that they have a shutdown corner in Malcolm Butler. Antonio Brown has struggled at times against elite, shutdown corners which obviously helps the Patriots.
With all of that being said I’m picking Pittsburgh. When you’re hot, you’re hot. And Pittsburgh is extremely hot right now. They are healthy and just seem like a team that can win it all. Plus, with the way their defense is playing recently I think they can give Brady fits.
Pick: Steelers 31, Patriots 27