The NFC: Green Bay @ Atlanta
Once upon a time, Aaron Rodgers was just Brett Favre’s backup. He languished in the draft room, and spent a few forgettable seasons watching a legend get all the reps. Feels like an eternity ago, doesn’t it? Well, now he’s a 2 time league MVP, Superbowl champion, and for the second time in the last three years, is one road win away from the Superbowl. He’s also the number one reason why I expect Green Bay to dominate this weekend and walk away with the George Halas trophy. If Coach Mike McCarthy stays aggressive with the play sheet, and Aaron Rodgers plays like Aaron Rodgers, this offense is primed to explode. Don’t worry about Jordy Nelson, either, because even a third of Jordy Nelson is more than enough to give Atlanta’s soft secondary tough fits.
But Atlanta is going to have a pulse. Save for the first drive of the game, they thoroughly dominated the Seattle Seahawks last week and will look to keep the momentum going in what should be the last game ever played in the Georgia Dome. Unfortunately, when I say momentum, I mean stringing enough third down conversions together to not look utterly pathetic. The fact is, despite having the most productive offense in the league this season and the tenacity to secure the second overall seed in the NFC, the Falcons are overrated. Matt Ryan has played at an elite level in 2016, credit to Kyle Shanahan, but he lacks the grit necessary to win a game of this magnitude. While Aaron Rodgers’ Packers are a respectable 9-6 in the playoffs with a handful of road wins and a Lombardi, Matt Ryan’s Falcons are a paltry 2-4, with both wins coming at home over flawed Seahawks teams. On top of that, they found creative ways to lose at home to the Bucs, Chargers, and Chiefs this season. They’ll still have the home advantage in this one, but the competition is about as tough as can be.
Perhaps the Falcons defense seizes the moment and proves me wrong in the process, but I’m pretty sure that for every point the Falcons offense is good for, Aaron Rodgers is good for at least one more. Prediction: Green Bay 31, Falcons 26.
The AFC: Pittsburgh @ New England
You can’t ever count the 3 Bs out, can you? I’ll be honest, I was so sure Pittsburgh was going to crush the Chiefs last week I didn’t even watch the game. I called Pittsburgh to the Superbowl on day one of training camp, and I’d be sticking with that if not for the fact that the Patriots are on deck. Pittsburgh has all the trappings of an elite offense, but execution is still problematic at times. I won’t get into Le’Veon Bell, because he’s a man who makes the most out of his touches. The real issue is Antonio Brown’s susceptibility to creative defensive gameplans. 6 times in 2016 he was held to 5 receptions or less, and 8 times he had 78 yards or less. He did have over 100 yards when he played the Patriots earlier this season, but he did not produce a touchdown. Speaking of, in 8 career playoff games, Antonio Brown has exactly 2 touchdowns, and he scored them both this year against a very raggedy Miami secondary. Despite having over 100 yards against the Chiefs last week, Brown could only do enough to help his team kick 6 field goals to win. On the road at Gillette, it’s going to be tough sledding once again for the league’s “best” wide receiver, and as he goes, so goes the Steelers offense.
At the top of this article I wanted to put a tag line that we might as well skip to the end of this piece, because the New England Patriots are the inevitable Superbowl LI Champion, but the journey is just as important as the destination. Not having Tom Brady for four games didn’t phase these bastards. They went 14-2 overall in the regular season, including 5-0 against AFC playoff teams and 2-0 against AFC division winners. They beat Houston for the second time in the divisional round, really bringing that record to 3-0. Both of their losses were actually at home, but one of those losses was sans Brady and the other was against a very hungry Seahawks team in primetime. I absolutely despise New England, but I can’t hype them enough. They have a top tier offense featuring a bruising running game, and actually had 2016’s top ranked scoring defense. I’m not happy about it, but I expect them to win this weekend at home, and win again two weeks later. Four rings just isn’t enough for Tom Brady. Prediction: Patriots 38, Steelers 23.