Green Bay vs Atlanta; Pittsburgh vs New England: Which teams will make it to the Super Bowl? It’s hard to believe they could be more evenly matched, with each team led by some of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history. If your fantasy draft was held tomorrow would you take Tom Brady, Ben Roethlisberger, Aaron Rodgers, or Matt Ryan? Would it even matter – they are each that good! No team would really seem to have the advantage at the quarterback position, but which one is better at crunch time? Here is how I see the match-ups for this Sunday with the winner making a trip to the Super Bowl.
Green Bay at Atlanta – 3:05pm (Fox)
As I write this the over/under on this game is 60! That’s right – 60 points. Someone forgot the adage that “defense wins championships”. So, obviously, Las Vegas does not believe either defense can stop Aaron Rodgers or Matt Ryan.
The Packers have won eight straight and Aaron Rodgers is the reason for the streak – 24 TDs and one interception. And he just finds a way to win the game – the throw to Jared Cook on the sideline to set up the game-winning field goal is the most recent memory of Rodgers’ ability to just make something crucial happen. And speaking of game –winning field goals, the Packers’ placekicker, Mason Crosby, has made 23 consecutive playoff field goals. He last missed one in 2010. At the end of the game, getting in field goal position is Rodgers’ job and winning the game has been Crosby’s job and both are getting their jobs done.
Matt Ryan of the Atlanta Falcons will most likely be the NFL’s MVP and he has a receiving corps led by Julio Jones that is better than the Cowboys. The Packers have all kinds of trouble stopping both the run AND the pass. If Atlanta can run enough to keep the Packers concerned about that aspect of the game, Matt Ryan could have quite a day. Statistically, the Falcons run the ball almost as effectively as the Steelers and the Steelers’ rushing attack is very good. Dallas was able to exploit the Packers’ secondary. Most fans, I think, would agree that the Seattle Seahawks’ defense is more formidable than the Packers’ defense. I am beginning to understand the over/under.
WHO WINS? – The Falcons are favored; they are at home; but can I bet against Aaron Rodgers? No!
GREEN BAY – 34 ATLANTA – 31
Pittsburgh at New England – 6:40pm (CBS)
Is anybody better than Tom Brady in these situations? Is anyone’s pass rush in the playoffs been better than the Steelers? The answer to both questions is “No”. But there are some troubling stats if you are a Steelers’ fan. The Patriots have lost only once to the Steelers (Brady was injured in that game) in New England in the past 18 years and the Patriots have won nine of the last 12 match-ups between these two teams.
For Pittsburgh to win, and they have won nine in a row, they must be able to run the ball and I believe they will. Le’Veon Bell was exceptional against Kansas City – 170 yards on 30 carries. Throw in DeAngelo Williams and the New England rush defense will be severely tested. Balance that rushing attack with the wisdom of Roethlisberger and his talented receivers, especially Antonio Brown, and life could get miserable for the Patriot defense. But the Steelers did not score a touchdown against the Chiefs.
“Ho hum” for New England. Aren’t the Patriots always in this playoff position – in the playoffs and at home? They are 4-1 in the AFC Championship games and 16-3 all-time at home in the playoffs. And Tom Brady is Tom Brady! With the exception of Brady, the Patriots do not have the “name players” that the other playoff teams have, but they do have Bill Belichick. And those two are the true “killer Bs”.
WHO WINS? New England is favored; the game is in Foxboro; and Brady and Belichick do not lose.
NEW ENGLAND – 24 PITTSBURGH – 23
ABOVE THE EARS (SOME MUSINGS)
- Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin made a valid point after the Steelers’ late Sunday win at Kansas City. New England has a day and a half preparation advantage over the Steelers due to the Patriots playing early on Saturday and the Steelers late on Sunday night and having to fly back to Pittsburgh. Just what the Patriots need – another advantage.
- I hate to harp on the officiating, but do you agree that splitting up the NFL officials’ crews was a bad idea. There have been so many incidences where the crew just does not seem to be on the same page. It makes them look bad and most fans think they are bad anyway. There sure seems to be many more “booth reviews” than ever before. Suffice it to say, no team is angrier with the officials than the Kansas City Chiefs – a holding call on the two-point conversion kept them from tying the game and sending it into overtime.
- Packers’ kicker Mason Crosby has been unbelievable – he became the first kicker to make two field goals of 50 yards or more in the last two minutes of a playoff game. His 56-yarder was the third longest in post-season history. He had to make the game-winning 51-yarder twice after the Cowboys called time-out right before he made the first one. That makes 23 in a row, a record.
- New Lafayette football coach John Garrett is certainly not a fan of Crosby’s. His brother, Jason, is the Dallas head coach and he had just put his team in position to go to overtime.
- Congratulations to both Allen and Bangor as they continue to stay undefeated in the high school basketball season. Allen is 6A and Bangor is 5A so they will not meet in the playoffs. That’s a shame.
Gary’s Guesses: NFL Picks – (Last week – 2-2; Overall – 167-94-2 – 64%)