Article written by Ben Gansenberg
It’s a star-studded Conference Championship Sunday that is primed to produce a great Super Bowl matchup whichever way the games may fall. The GOAT and Bill Belichick up against Big Ben, Lev Bell, and the high-flying Steelers offense. Mr. Clutch Rodgers and the Pack taking on Matty Ice and the Falcons’ not-great-but-coming-together defense. Before we dive into it, let’s acknowledge one thing first: both Championship games are going to be outstanding contests, following suit to this season’s two most recent NFL playoff games. Let’s break it down with the NFC first. When the Packers started their season off with a 4-6 record and fans called for Mike McCarthy’s head, the situation looked bleak. Then Aaron Rodgers happened. He said they’d run the table, and he threw the team on his back and they haven’t looked back since, winning eight games consecutively, including their two playoff wins against great teams in the New York Giants and Dallas Cowboys.
Going into their heavyweight matchup with the Falcons, the Packers may be without top target Wide Receiver Jordy Nelson. Nelson injured his ribs in the Wild Card against the Giants and had to miss the Divisional Round matchup with the Cowboys. If Nelson can somehow find his way back into the lineup, it would completely change the Packers’ offense. Atlanta will have to pay much attention to Nelson, giving more opportunities to other pass catchers like Randall Cobb, Davante Adams, and Jared Cook to step up again and have themselves huge days. As well as obviously helping the pass game, Nelson would also indirectly give the horrid rushing game of the Pack a boost. The Atlanta D will have to keep a combination of Defensive Backs and Linebackers on Nelson, Adams and Cook at all times, allowing some more space to spike the number of the rushes after only gaining 87 yards on 17 attempts versus Dallas. As bad a rep as it got early in the year, Atlanta’s defense has posted one of the lowest scoring totals down the stretch. It’s a huge task, but the Falcons’ defense may be capable of stopping the Packers’ offense. With a white-hot Aaron Rodgers leading the charge it’s almost impossible to pick against the Packers, unless of course the opposing offense is first in the NFL, averaging 33.8 points per game.
On the other side of the ball is MVP favorite Matt Ryan and his higher-flying Falcons offense. Playmakers surrounding Ryan, including star wideout Julio Jones and stud back Devonta Freeman, look poised to replicate their performance against the Seahawks last week. The one-two punch of Freeman and Tevin Coleman in the Atlanta backfield is also one of the league’s best, if not the best. The problem doesn’t lie within Atlanta’s offense; it comes on the other side of the ball. Atlanta is just the sixth-worst total defense in the league, allowing 25.4 points per game (PPG) and the fifth-most yards through the air at 266 YPG. If you think Aaron Rodgers is licking his chops at this matchup, you’re right. If the Falcons want to win, they will have to purely outscore their opponent. The Atlanta defense simply just does not have enough playmakers on the defensive side of the ball to stop the Packers’ red-hot offense more than a couple of times.
We have seen it before and we will see it again. When Aaron Rodgers gets hot, he keeps cooking and to me, the Atlanta defense isn’t talented enough to stop him. In a shootout in the Georgia Dome’s final game, the Packers come away with a win and punch their ticket to Super Bowl 51.
Prediction: Packers 31, Falcons 24
Now onto the AFC Championship, where the Pittsburgh Steelers go into Foxboro on a nine-game winning streak as five and a half-point underdogs and take on the 14-2 New England Patriots. This is another match-up between machines of offenses built of playmakers all over the field. The Patriots will continue without their star Tight End Rob Gronkowski, while Pittsburgh is fully geared up and ready to go with the Killer B’s leading the charge, (Ben, Bell and Brown). Pittsburgh’s only setback might be the absence of new Tight End Ladarius Green, but if he can’t go, Jesse James has shown he can be the next Heath Miller for the yellow and black. Now, let’s get something on paper right off the bat; Tom Brady is not unbeatable. In fact, with the right personnel and great coaching, the opposing team could be the favorite in the game. But, unfortunately for the Steelers, their defense lacks that talent and smarts on the field. To beat the Pats, The Pittsburgh D would have to replicate exactly what the Texans defense did last week and execute it even better, which they are likely incapable of doing. There really isn’t much to break down here other than the Patriots defense up against the Steelers offense. The Pittsburgh offense has been highly efficient this whole season, averaging a seventh-best 368.8 YPG. Unfortunately for Big Ben’s offense, Bill Belichick has a well-documented history of great game-planning to defeat Big Ben and this year he’s got the personnel to carry out the task. With D’onta Hightower, Malcolm Butler, and Devin McCourty leading the charge it doesn’t look to great for the Steelers.
In another high-scoring, fun-to-watch baun-burner, the Patriots will find themselves on their way to Houston to take on the Packers in Super Bowl 51. Both offenses are going to have good games, but it comes down to defense where the Steelers are inferior to the Patriots number one scoring unit, giving the upper hand to the Pats, setting up Brady v Rodgers, a football lover’s dream.
Prediction: Patriots 27, Steelers 23