There are three games left in the NFL season and one of the three is Super Bowl LI (51 for you non-Romans), played on February 5 in Houston, Texas. The other two games will be played tomorrow and feature four teams who are each one victory away from securing a spot in the biggest game in NFL football, the Super Bowl and then just four quarters away from a possible Vince Lombardi trophy…and that gigantic diamond ring. Let’s take a look at each of the remaining four teams and break down their chances.
National Football Conference Championship (Packers @Falcons, Sunday, 3:05 ET, FOX)
The Atlanta Falcons are the number two seed in the NFC this year, finishing the season with a record of 11-5. After number one seed Dallas fell to Green Bay last week, the Falcons were relegated to top seed, guaranteeing that NFC Championship game would be played in Atlanta. Hosting the Packers, defensive minded coach Dan Quinn will be pivoting his approach to his offense under coordinator Kyle Shanahan and QB Matt Ryan. The Falcons team offense this year has ranked 1st in the league in points per game, 2nd in total yards per game, 3rd in passing yards and 5th in rushing yards, according to NFL. With star wideout Julio Jones and RB Devonta Freemon, Ryan and the dirty birds will need to score 30+ points to hope for a spot in the 2017 Super Bowl, or even to keep pace with the streaking Packers, winners of their last eight.
The Green Bay Packers head to Atlanta riding an eight-game winning streak capped by last week’s upset of the heavily favored Dallas Cowboys on the road. Not to mention that during that time, since Rodgers successfully predicted that Green Bay would win out after starting 4-6, Aaron has been the highest rated QB in the NFL and there is a lot of MVP chatter surrounding his name. The Packers’ QB is spreading the ball around, throwing almost no interceptions and looking like a kid on the playground. Plus, Green Bay has a defense led by energetic LB Clay Matthews that looks to create turnovers and disrupt Matt Ryan’s rhythm. I’ve wrongly assumed that the Packers would hit the wall the past two weeks, so I’m taking Green Bay, 38-35 and be one more game closer to Super Bowl victory.
American Football Conference Championship (Steelers @Patriots, Sunday, 6:40 ET, CBS)
The Pittsburgh Steelers are no stranger to the playoffs under head Coach Mike Tomlin and QB Ben Roethlisberger, and according to ESPN, have been to the NFL playoffs 10 out of the last 15 seasons, including this year’s trip to the AFC championship game, their sixth such title appearance in that span, and Roethlisberger’s 2006 Super Bowl victory over the Seahawks. Big Ben is coming off an upset win in Kansas City and would love to upset the Patriots at Gillette Stadium to avenge New England’s 2005 victory over Pittsburgh in the AFC title game. He has plenty of weapons including WR Antonio Brown, RB La’Veon Bell, and a punishing defense known for brutal hits and interceptions. They should make things very interesting in a game where New England will be favored.
The New England Patriots have been virtually dominant since the return of star QB, sure to be hall of fame inductee, Tom Brady in week five. After serving a four-game suspension from NFL commissioner Roger Goodell for his role in last year’s Deflategate scandal, Brady returned to Super Bowl form immediately, won 11 out of 12 games in the remaining season, throwing 28 touchdowns to only two interceptions. Brady will have to do better against the Steelers than he did in last week’s playoff against Houston, when he threw as many interceptions in one game as he did all season. TE Rob Gronkowski is out indefinitely with an injury, but Coach Bill Belichick has always been able to fill in the blanks. With gutsy WR Julian Edelman, the downhill running of RB LeGarrette Blount, an MVP like Brady and a defense that quietly allowed the fewest points per game in the entire league at just over 15, I’m guessing Tom and the Pats make another Super Bowl appearance. Patriots win, 31-23.
[Featured Image by Arnie Stapleton/AP Images]