The NFL Playoffs championship weekend always comes with the realization only 3 games remain in the NFL season. Two of them will be for the conference titles: The Atlanta Falcons hosting the Green Bay Packers, and the New England Patriots accommodating the Pittsburgh Steelers.
In the NFC championship game, it smells like an offensive juggernaut waiting to happen. The Falcons led the NFL in scoring during the regular season (33.8 per game) and dropped 36 on the Seahawks last week. The Packers were 4th offensively during the regular season, and are averaging 32.12 points through their 8-game winning streak. That includes 38 points against a terrific Giants defense in the Wild Card round and 34 against the Cowboys in that classic of a game last week.
So what gives in this game? I think it’ll be about the Packers ability to handle Julio Jones without double teaming him too many times. The Falcons are bursting with offensive weapons and are healthier than the Packers. If Matt Ryan is “forced” to dump the ball to Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman all day long, the Packers aren’t going to enjoy their visit to Hotlanta, even with Aaron Rodgers playing the best football of his career all of a sudden.
And what about the AFC?
The Patriots’ two losses this season have come on the road, but it’s hard to believe they’re not happy to play the Steelers at home. It’s been four years since their last home postseason loss (to the Baltimore Ravens who ended up winning the Super Bowl). The last time the Steelers beat the Patriots on the road was in 2008, but Tom Brady wasn’t even playing.
Those hoping for a Steelers win or even more strongly for a Patriots loss, the slogan “the Pats defense hasn’t faced a real quarterback this season” is the big burning hope heading into this game. It does make sense. The Pats haven’t had the most difficult of schedules (life in the AFC East continues to be easy, going 5-1 in the division), and their only elite quarterback meeting ended with a home loss to the Seattle Seahawks. They did play the Steelers, but Ben Roethlisberger was injured that time. Roethlisberger arrives with his full arsenal of offensive weapons, including a scorching Le’Veon Bell.
No team has given up less points this season than the Patriots, allowing only 15.6 per game, and holding the Texans to 16 in the divisional playoff game. And still no one seems to completely believe in this unit’s pedigree, or call it very good. The Steelers, once a proud bastion of defensive quality, are middle of the pack when it comes to defense. Still bruising, but not as suffocating and perfect as before. Considering both teams pack a heavy punch offensively, this game will be determined by who comes up with the game-changing plays on defense.
As for what happens in the Super Bowl determined by Sunday’s games: I think the Steelers lose to both NFC teams, while the Patriots beat the Falcons and lose to the Packers. I also thought the Cowboys were going all the way, so what do I know?