Conference Championship Chaos
Here we are - the Conference Championship. The NFL's final four is sure to be full of memorable moments and two great games. Today, we will look at both games offensively to determine who moves on, and who will learn their official 2017 draft slot. I will also make a bold prediction or two throughout. So I think I can speak for everybody when I say that no matter who wins, Super Bowl 51 will be a great matchup, indeed!
Green Bay Packers (10-6) @ Atlanta Falcons (11-5)
In a 2010-2011 playoff rematch, these two teams have much more at stake this time around. In their previous encounter, Atlanta had a great regular season, but Green Bay won their last two games, beat the Eagles in the Wildcard round and took down the 13-3 Falcons. They actually won the Super Bowl that year over the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Aaron Rodgers is the best quarterback in the league, and he can make anybody look like an all-pro (see: Allison, Geronimo). Even without Jordy Nelson against the Cowboys last week, Rodgers threw for 355 yards and two touchdowns. Davante Adams, Jared Cook, Randall Cobb, and the aforementioned Geronimo Allison are plenty of weapons for Rodgers to work with. Ty Montgomery has developed into quite a solid running running back as well, so he adds another weapon to the Green Bay arsenal.
Matt Ryan has had an MVP caliber season in 2016, throwing for nearly 5,000 yards and 38 touchdowns (only 7 interceptions). He has looked more poised, focused, and just better overall than in years past. The duo of Davonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman combined for nearly 1,600 rushing yards and 19 scores - which is incredibly impressive. Both are quick and can also catch the ball out of the backfield, which helps Ryan out, should he receive quick pressure. Julio Jones was incredible, as always, tallying 83 receptions for just over 1,400 yards and 6 scores. Jones is a matchup nightmare no matter who the Falcons go up against. His combination of size, speed, and hands are unbelievable. With Mohammed Sanu, Taylor Gabriel, and tight end Austin Hooper, this is an explosive offense, who can put up points almost at will.
Matt Ryan will test his mettle against (in my opinion) the best quarterback in the NFL, in Aaron Rodgers. This will be a shootout, and I predict we will see at least seven combined passing scores. In the end, however, it will be Aaron Rodgers (and maybe Mason Crosby) who decides this one. Atlanta will stand toe to toe with Green Bay, but they will end up three points short.
Packers 34, Falcons 31
Pittsburgh Steelers (11-5) @ New England Patriots (14-2)
In a final battle of AFC juggernauts, the Steelers will attempt to dethrone the 14-2 Patriots in New England. While the latter beat the former in week 7, by a score of 27-16, this was with Landry Jones at quarterback. Ben Roethlisberger is a huge upgrade from him, and he obviously knows more about the offense. I don't think the end result of that game is relevant when discussing the AFC title game.
If Pittsburgh can get Le'Veon Bell going, the Steelers will win this game. Bell is an extremely talented running back who can take over a game at any given moment. In addition to him, Antonio Brown will be lined up on the outside as well, giving the Patriots an interesting choice on who they want to focus on more. Eli Rogers is a decent option as well, but if he's open, Roethlisberger will give him plenty of targets.
The Patriots have a solid offense themselves. Obviously Tom Brady is still a top three quarterback, who (like Aaron Rodgers) can make anyone look good. Rob Gronkowski's injury earlier in the season definitely hurt them, but Martellus Bennett could prove to be the better option in the long run. The group of Julian Edelman, Michael Floyd, Chris Hogan, and Malcolm Mitchell is a good group of talented receivers. Danny Amendola is questionable at the time of this writing, so it's unknown whether or not he will play. LeGarrette Blount and Dion Lewis make a diverse tandem at running back, with Blount playing the big bulldozer type of role, while Lewis is the receiving scat back. This is the kind of offense that will give many teams fits. Not because of one or two great players, but because of five or six good players across the board.
This is a great showdown between possibly the two best passers in the AFC. I think this game will hinge on Le'Veon Bell's performance and whether or not New England can stop him. With the always looming threat of Antonio Brown to also worry about, I think Bell will have over 140 total yards from scrimmage, and we will indeed have a Super Bowl rematch.
Steelers 27, Patriots 23