Green Bay at Atlanta (-4.5)
Aaron Rodgers is playing so well right now that maybe it is possible for Green Bay to overcome all of their injuries and make another appearance in the Super Bowl by defeating the Atlanta Falcons in the NFC title game this Sunday. (The sideline throw he made against the Dallas Cowboys last week to put the Packers in field goal range late in the game was just incredible.) As long as Green Bay’s offensive line holds up in Atlanta, and there is no reason to expect it not to, Rodgers should continue to find open receivers against an Atlanta defense that will give up points. There were points available for the Seahawks to score last week, but unlike Seattle, Green Bay will take advantage of those opportunities. Green Bay’s problem is not on offense, though – it’s the secondary that may present the fateful Achilles’ heel. Green Bay’s secondary is so thin right now, I’m surprised that no coach from Green Bay called Deion Sanders to see if he could come play a few snaps this Sunday.
Guess what Atlanta does really well?
Yep, Matt Ryan and company can move the ball via the forward pass really well, accumulating 4725 passing yards which ranked third in the league. (By the way, Dallas placed 23rd in overall passing yards and moved the ball at will on the Packers in the second half.) Julio Jones is a nightmare to cover. Both Mohamed Sanu and Taylor Gabriel caught touchdown passes last week. Add in the fact that both Atlanta running backs Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman catch the ball really well out of the backfield, and you have to wonder how many times Atlanta will punt in this game.
Atlanta also has home field advantage. They are playing their last home game in the Georgia Dome. In other words, a dome team that likes to throw the ball won’t have to win at Lambeau Field – major plus for Atlanta.
Are there scenarios where the Packers win? Sure. The Packers rush Matt Ryan into a few interceptions, and Aaron Rodgers scores on almost every possession. However, the most likely scenario is Atlanta winning with their running game adding in bonus yards to an unstoppable passing attack against an injury-riddled Green Bay secondary.
Winner: Atlanta (-4.5)
Pittsburgh at New England (-6)
Anyone out there ever find themselves “sports hating” both teams in a playoff game, wishing both of them could somehow lose and not make it to the Super Bowl, even though the playoff game is the AFC title game? This is the scenario I find myself in for this game. The sports hate is strong in me – I’ll try to make it through to predict a winner. (Despite my sports hate, I fully admit that these two teams are the gold standard when it comes to football organizations, which makes everything worse for me…)
New England reminds me of a good tennis player that has a dynamite serve (Tom Brady), but the rest of his/her game is just…solid. The ground strokes don’t scare the other players, but the court coverage is way above average. The opponents who play this type of tennis player wind up with the “L” despite making the more memorable forehand winners. Basically, they find themselves besieged by a ton of aces, timely drop shots, and long rallies where mistakes are the deciding factor. Guess which player makes more mistakes?
Tom Brady is an all-time great player, but does anyone else playing on the offensive side of the ball for the Patriots scare the opposing the defensive coordinator? Gronk is out. Julian Edelman is a good player. Martellus Bennett? Maybe Dion Lewis with his ability to run and catch the ball poses real match up problems, but the point is wouldn’t you rather have Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown’s big-play capability in a playoff game?
Both defenses are pretty equal. New England may have an edge in the secondary, but Pittsburgh rushes the passer better.
In the end, I trust the Swiss clock efficiency of the Patriots instead of the big-play capability of the Steelers.
Winner: New England (-6)
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