Roger Goodell makes over $30 million per year and probably expenses every step he takes outside of the NFL headquarters, so I have come up with a very simple solution for the league’s commissioner to show that he has enough stones to show up in New England for the AFC Championship game.
He could very easily attend the game in Atlanta at 3pm EST, hand the NFC Championship trophy to the winner right after the game is over, board his private plane or jet, and take the 2 and a half hour flight to Logan Airport in Boston, and still be at Gillette Stadium for the second half of the AFC Championship with time to hand the winner the trophy at the end. Oh, and since he flies private, there is probably massive big screen televisions available to watch the first half when in the air. He has the money and resources to make this happen, it’s just too bad he doesn’t have the heart or balls to.
Anyways, on to the real story of the weekend, the Conference championships. Four teams remain and three of them are led by MVP candidate quarterbacks, while the fourth team, in my opinion, features the best running back and wide receiver in the sport. It should be a great Sunday of football, and we have your exclusive WBOB preview below.
Green Bay Packers vs Atlanta Falcons – NFC Championship
This game features the number 1 and 3 scoring offenses in the NFL, as the Atlanta Falcons (33 ppg) host the Green Bay Packers (27 ppg). The Falcons put up 36 points and recorded 422 yards in a win against the Seattle Seahawks on Saturday, and the Packers have averaged 38 points and just over 400 yards in their two playoff games.
The two teams met in week 8 and it took a Matt Ryan touchdown with 31 seconds remaining in the game for the Falcons to beat the Packers 33-32, but what a game the two teams played. They combined for 698 yards, 49 first downs, 5 lead changes and 0 turnovers. There were 18 total drives in this one, with only 5 punts to 10 scores. It was as exciting of a game as we had all season long. Quarterbacks Aaron Rodgers and Matt Ryan had stellar games, with 4 and 3 touchdowns respectively, and no interceptions.
So what has changed since then? The Packers have found a more solid ground game with Ty Montgomery, but so have the Falcons with Devonte Freeman (only 35 yards in this game) and Tevin Coleman (did not play due to injury), who were limited in the October match up. With great quarterbacks, solid running backs, and wide receivers such as DeVante Adams, Randall Cobb and Jared Cook for Green Bay, and Julio Jones, Mohammed Sanu and Tyler Gabriel for Atlanta, this game will feature big play after big play.
Last week the Falcons looked very calm and confident in their game plan, which was especially surprising for a team who hasn’t been to the playoffs since 2012, and has been snake bitten in big games. They completely picked apart the Seahawks’ secondary, who even without stud Bobby Wagner, are better than the Green Bay deep backs. Matt Ryan is so good at using all of his targets, that it wouldn’t be surprising for Julio Jones to get less receptions than one of the running backs. Freeman and Coleman are so good at getting open spaces to run off pass plays, that the Packers will have their hands full trying to scheme up a way to cover these shifty backfield threats.
The Packers are one of those scary teams to play in the post season because it seems like a guy like Aaron Rodgers can always find ways to win, regardless of the defensive game plan. Whether it be a last second Hail-Mary, or a play action bootleg where he throws a dart along the sidelines for a perfect throw, he knows how to make the plays and give his receivers seemingly easy plays to make. He is so effective running the ball, that in the week 8 match up, the Falcons weren’t able to use Vic Beasley as they normally would because he was used as a spy for the scramble and bootleg. That is not the most effective way to use the NFL’s leading sacker.
Make no mistake about it, this game is going to feature big plays, plenty of scoring and limited turnovers. Ryan and Rodgers are great about their decision making, Freeman, Coleman and Montgomery are good at protecting the ball, and their special teams are steady. This contest could come down to the last team to have possession. Mason Crosby showed last week that it doesn’t matter what 50-something yard field goal you strap him with, he is calm under pressure.
Vegas is giving the Packers 4 points in this one. I believe it will be a one-score contest, and likely come down to the final play. Games that unfold like that, generally end in a field goal. I like Green Bay to win this outright, I think Aaron Rodgers has just been-there-done-that so much down this stretch of outstanding football that he is playing, that he will make that one big throw, or run, one more time, and bring the Pack to the Super Bowl. Take the points however, but if you are feeling frisky, an out-right win isn’t a bad direction to go either!
New England Patriots vs Pittsburgh Steelers – AFC Championship
This Championship features the league’s best coach and quarterback combination against the best running back and wide receiver in football. This game should be fun to watch, especially since Mike Tomlin and his Steelers’, “spotted those a—holes a day and a half.”
Looking at historical trends, this is a tall task for Pittsburgh, if you believe in recent trends. In the time that both Bill Belichick and Mike Tomlin have been head coaches for their respective franchises, the Patriots are 4-0 in Foxboro and 1-5 overall against the Steelers. Patriots’ quarterback Tom Brady has over 500 yards, 6 touchdowns and no interceptions in his two games against Steeler’s defensive coordinator Keith Butler, and his favorite target, Julian Edelman, has 20 catches.
The two teams met in October and the Patriots won 27-16, but that game, however did not feature Steelers’ quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. It is hard to use that game as any prediction towards this Championship’s outcome, because they are a totally different team with their true-signal caller. This will be the first time that the Patriots have faced all three of the ‘Killer-Bs’ in Roethlisberger, Antonio Bryant and Le’Veon Bell. We know what Brown is capable of doing in this match up, as he ate up Patriots’ cornerback Malcom Butler in last year’s season opener for 9 catches, 133 yards and a score. Last week Logan Ryan covered Texans’ Deandre Hopkins, with help from the safeties, so we should expect to see Butler on the number 2 receiver most of this game as well. As for Bell, he is everything you could dream of in a running back. He can run, he waits on his blockers to create holes, he can catch and he can run. He has 337 yards rushing through the post season so far, which is a record for the league. He only mustered 81 yards on 21 carries against New England earlier this season, but with Landry Jones as the quarterback, it was easy for the defense to key the run.
Pittsburgh has won 9-games in a row and averaged 26 points per game in doing so. That is impressive, but on Sunday, they run into the NFL’s top-scoring defense, allowing just 15.6 points per game. Keith Butler said earlier this season that the Patriots’ offense isn’t special and that it does things that are borderline legal, so I expect Bill Belichick to enjoy pushing the limits on this once again. The Patriots’ defense can be the difference makers in this game. They have been ball hawks towards the end of this season and have come up with big plays in the secondary to seal victories. Sunday night, expect them to be aggressive, especially considering Ben Roethlisberger has struggled away from Heinz Field, with just 9 touchdowns and 8 interceptions.
Offensively, we know what the Patriots are capable of, and that is scoring, moving the chains and eating the clock. The good news for Tom Brady is that he should have rookie receiver Malcom Mitchell back in the fold, and deep-threat Chris Hogan appears to be back at normal speed. Brady will have his full arsenal, except for Rob Gronkowski, and that includes multi-purpose back Dion Lewis, who has played in 15 games the last two seasons, all Patriots wins. Tom threw two interceptions in his 12 game regular season, but managed to match that number last Saturday against the Houston Texans, though one of them was a ball that Patriots’ Michael Floyd should have caught and instead tipped into the hands of the Houston secondary. The Texans put a lot of pressure on the Patriots’ quarterback, and no doubt the Steelers will look to duplicate that.
Brady and Belichick have now gone to 11 AFC Championship games together, and this is standard schedule for this duo since they came together back in the early 2000’s. For the Steelers, this is their first conference title game since 2010, a year when they went to the Super Bowl, however, that team allowed just 14 points per game on defense, which was best in the league. This Steelers team is not as good defensively as that year when they featured a younger James Harrison, Will Allen, Ryan Clark, Troy Polamalu and Ike Taylor.
The Patriots have a more balanced team and that will show on Sunday night as Brady and Belichick hoist their 7th AFC Championship trophy. The Patriots are giving 6 in this game, but I expect New England to win by more than a touchdown. It might not be much more, but it will be more.
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