NFL Conference Championships Preview: Pittsburgh At New England, Green Bay At Atlanta
By Space Coast Daily // January 22, 2017
Space Coast Daily’s Zach Clark and Alan Zlotorzynski break down Championship Weekend and their predictions.
Green Bay At Atlanta
3:05 p.m. ET on FOX
ZACH: ‘Survive and advance’ that could be the motto for the Green Bay Packers this season. Despite a slew of injuries and illnesses, the Green Bay Packers are one game away from playing in the Super Bowl. After last week’s thrilling game against the Cowboys, QB Aaron Rodgers continues to prove why he may be the best quarterback in the league. With injuries at starting running back and wide receiver, Rodgers has been throwing to guys that were on the scout team to begin the season. Defensively, the Packers have somehow managed to do enough to pull out victories despite their 31st rated pass defense.
Atlanta is coming off of an impressive victory of their own after defeating the Seattle Seahawks with relative ease 36-20. The Falcons have won five straight games and during that stretch, QB Matt Ryan has been nearly perfect, throwing for 14 touchdowns and zero interceptions. Falcons defense hasn’t been much better than the Packers, rated 26th in the league in passing. Look for both teams to air it out Sunday.
I like the QB that has been in these games before and has succeeded, despite everything going right for QB Matt Ryan right now, Aaron Rodgers has gotten the job done with 8 straight victories and the Packers seem to be a team on a mission right now.
Packers 38, Falcons 31
ALAN: If you believe in the mantra “defense wins championships” then it doesn’t matter which one of these two teams wins today because neither will stand a shot in two weeks. However, while possessing a top-notch defense is usually a formula for post-season success, having two of the best quarterbacks to ever grace a football field doesn’t hurt either.
Both of these teams are eerily similar to the 2006 Indianapolis Colts that took out the Chiefs, Ravens and Patriots on their way to beating the Bears in Super Bowl XLI in Miami. They have all world quarterbacks with below average defenses.
Today’s tilt is likely to come down to whatever team has the ball last or which quarterback stays away from the one costly mistake. While many believe the biggest play in the Packers game was the third and 20 completion to Jared Cook to set up the game-winning field goal, it wasn’t. Aaron Rodgers ability to hold onto the football while being sacked a few plays before was bigger. A fumble there, which the Cowboys would have recovered and the game is over.
Both Rodgers and Falcons signal caller Matt Ryan are on fire but it’s Rodgers that carries a slight chip on his shoulder into Atlanta today. Ryan won the MVP award this past week and was named first team All-Pro this past season. Remember when Alex Smith was picked No.1 overall by the 49ers and Rodgers waited in the green room until the Packers called his name 23 picks later– he’ll feel that same passion today.
Back in October, these two teams played a classic with Ryan hitting Muhammed Sanu for an 11-yard TD pass with 36 seconds to play. The Packers got the ball back but somehow Atlanta’s secondary held up to preserve the 33-32 win. Look for an identical game today only this time it’s Rodgers at the end.
The Packers have won eight straight and have been essentially playing in elimination games since Week 12 when they were 5-6 after beating the Eagles to start the must-win out streak. They and their quarterback finish the job in the NFC today with another thriller in the Georgia Dome.
Packers 35 Atlanta 30
Pittsburgh At New England
6:40 p.m. ET on CBS
ZACH: The Killer B’s for Pittsburgh (Ben Roethlisburger, La’Veon Bell, Antonio Brown and Chris Boswell) have been lights out this postseason. It wasn’t pretty for Pittsburg last week, as they needed only six field goals to beat the Kansas City Chiefs on a frigid Midwest January night. The defense for the Steelers is playing as good as any other team remaining, however, the final hurdle between the Steelers and a Super Bowl berth is the The Hoodie (Head Coach Bill Belichick) and arguably the best QB to ever play in 4-Time Super Bowl Champ Tom Brady.
New England, at one point last week, was in a one possession game in fourth quarter with the Houston Texans and QB Brock Osweiler. Nonetheless, the Patriots finished off the Texans 36-14 but not how many experts thought the game would go. New England hosts the Steelers at Gillette Stadium Sunday night and it could be an instant NFL classic as both teams are clicking on both sides of the ball. Big Ben vs Tom Brady. New England is playing this season with a chip on their shoulder, something tells me Tom Brady and Bill Belichick would love nothing more than NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell awkwardly handing them the Lombardi trophy at the end of the year after everything that has happened between the Patriots and Tom Brady in ‘Deflategate.’ Reminder, Tom Brady was suspended four games to begin the season much to the distaste from Brady and Co.
Patriots 27, Steelers 24
ABOVE VIDEO: Tom Brady doesn’t understand why anyone would punish the #WeekofGreatness for something that never happened. Tongue-in-cheek referring to Deflategate.
ALAN: The Steelers became the first team ever in NFL Playoff history to win a post-season game not scoring a touchdown while allowing two themselves. That’s a special kind of MOJO to have this time of the year but as impressive as that stat is, the next one is the reason Pittsburgh’s magical ride ends in Foxborough today.
When facing quarterback-running back-wide receiver Pro-Bowlers in the playoffs or Super Bowl, Bill Belichick’s teams are 5-0.
|TRIO FACED||PATS RESULT|
|2012 Divisional vs. Texans||Schaub/Foster/Johnson||Won 41-28|
|Super Bowl XXXIX vs. Eagles||McNabb/Westbrook/Owens||Won 24-21|
|2004 Divisional vs. Colts||Manning/James/Harrison||Won 20-3|
|Super Bowl XXXVI vs. Rams||Warner/Faulk/Holt/Bruce||Won 20-17|
|2001 AFC Championship at Steelers||Stewart/Bettis/Ward||Won 24-17|
*ESPN STATS & INFORMATION.
Belichick made those teams one dimensional. He stopped Arian foster, kept Donovan McNabb in the pocket, stopped Edgerrin James, limited Marshall Faulk and forced Kordell Stewart into Mistakes. I believe in the law of averages when it comes to the NFL and LeVeon Bell has them going against him. If the Steelers are going to win today, Bell must duplicate his amazing performances from the past two weeks, rushing for over 330 combined yards.
Belichick will not allow that to happen and while Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger is capable of beating the Pats through the air but defensive coordinator Matt Patricia will have a game plan to limit Antonio Brown.
Just like Aaron Rodgers is carrying a slight chip, so is Tom Brady—he wants so badly to accept another Super Bowl trophy from the man that made it his mission to sit Brady for four games to start the season, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.
The only way Brady and even Bill Belichick and team owner Robert Kraft have that opportunity is to win today, which they will somehow find a way to do setting up the game everyone really wants to see even if you won’t admit it–Rodgers vs. Brady.
Patriots 24 Steelers 20