We’re now down to the final four in the 2016/17 NFL season as the AFC and NFC Championship Games will be held this weekend. The Atlanta Falcons will be hosting the Green Bay Packers on Sunday, January 22nd while the Pittsburgh Steelers visit the New England Patriots a few hours later. The two winners will then square off in the 51st Super Bowl in Houston, Texas on Sunday, February 5th. Check out our weekly predictions below to see how each of the eight clubs will fare in the second week of the playoffs.
Sunday, January 22nd
Green Bay Packers at Atlanta Falcons
Green Bay will be taking on the Falcons down in Atlanta this Sunday in the NFC Championship Showdown. The Packers managed to get past the top-seeded Dallas Cowboys (13-3) in Texas last weekend with a last-second field goal courtesy of Mason Crosby for a thrilling 34-31 triumph. Meanwhile, the Falcons took care of the visiting Seattle Seahawks to the tune of 36-20. Atlanta won the NFC South Division this season with a record of 11-5 while the Packers were the top dog in the NFC North at 10-6. Green Bay downed the New York Giants 38-13 at home in their NFC wildcard game in the first week of the playoffs.
The Packers gave up the second-most passing yards in the NFL this year with 269.2 per contest and this is something that the high-scoring Falcons should try to take advantage of. However, Green Bay’s winning streak is now up to eight games and quarterback Aaron Rodgers is as hot as can be at the moment. Rodgers has thrown for 24 touchdowns with just one interceptions and has averaged about 300 passing yards each game over the past nine weeks. He threw for 356 yards in Dallas with a pair of touchdown tosses and a pickoff by going 28 for 43.
The team’s hero was Crosby though as he booted a pair of 50-yard field goals during the last two minutes of the contest. The Packers nearly blew a third-quarter 15-point lead though and will need to be better in Atlanta especially since Dallas had 429 yards in the game. Green Bay scored 40 of their touchdowns in the air this season and their 27 points per game in the regular season was ranked the fourth-best in the league. When it comes to running with the ball, Green Bay rushed for 106.3 yards a week, which was ranked a mediocre 20th in the league, so fans should expect an aerial attack led by Rodgers.
He has some fine receiving options on the other end with the likes of Davante Adams, Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb and Jarred Cook. All four of them have run more than 100 yards on at least once occasion during the club’s current winning streak, but Nelson missed last week’s game and may still be out for this week’s tilt. The Green Bay run defence has been playing relatively well lately and has held five of their last eight opponents to less than 100 yards. The Packers went 4-4 on their eight road trips this season and are in the NFC Championship Game for the first time since 2014.
Atlanta is hoping to make it to the NFC Championship Game for the third time now over the last five seasons and to the Super Bowl for the first time since 1998. They’ll be counting on their high-octane offence as they led the league in scoring this year with an average of 33.8 points per outing. However, if the offence struggles the Falcons could be in some trouble since the defence gave up an average of 25.4 points per game this season, which was the sixth-most in the league. The Falcons have won five straight games with quarterback Matt Ryan throwing 14 touchdowns in those games without an interception. He went 26 for 37 against Seattle with three touchdown passes and 338 yards. He also combined with eight different receivers in the game.
Ryan obviously has plenty of fine passing options as he’ll have targets such as Taylor Gabriel, Julio Jones and Austin Hooper to throw to. In addition, running-backs Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman are also key attacking players as they combined for 2,482 yards along with 25 touchdowns this season. They teamed up for 25 carries last week with a touchdown 102 yards. The defence also did its job as it sacked Seattle quarterback three times and picked him off twice. Atlanta has won five of their past six home outings, but went just 5-3 at the Georgia Dome this season. They also edged Green Bay 33-32 on October 30th.
Prediction: Atlanta wins by seven points, 34-27
Pittsburgh Steelers at New England Patriots
The Steelers head east to New England to take on the top-seeded Patriots in the AFC Championship Game at Gillette Stadium. The Patriots handled the Houston Texans 34-16 at home last week while Pittsburgh visited Kansas City and edged the Chiefs 18-16. New England won the NFC East Division and were the top team in the conference this campaign at 14-2. Meanwhile, the Steelers went 11-5 and captured the AFC North. They then beat the Miami Dolphins by a score of 30-12 at home in their AFC wildcard contest. New England beat Pittsburgh 27-16 on the road in week 7.
New England has proven to be tough to beat since they’re a well-balanced club with one of the league’s best offences and defences. The team scored an average of 27.6 points per game this season and gave up a league-low 15.6 against. Of course, their marquee player is quarterback Tom Brady. The Patriots went 4-1 at Gillette Stadium under Brady this season and are now 8-1 at home over their past nine playoff games. Brady has 18 touchdown passes and three interceptions in the past eight games, with his team winning all eight of them. Defensively, New England’s rush defence was ranked fourth-best in the league this year so Pittsburgh may need to focus on an aerial attack. Brady wasn’t at his best against Houston as he went 18 for 38 for 287 yards.
He tossed a pair of touchdown passes, but was also picked off twice. Dion Lewis had a big game though as he scored a kickoff return touchdown along with a receiving, and rushing score. Lewis and LeGarrette Blount should be key players in the backfield against Pittsburgh. Blount carried the ball 24 times against the Steelers earlier in the season with a pair of touchdowns and 127 yards while Brady went 19 for 26 for two touchdowns and 222 yards. New England’s offensive line will need to step up to the plate against the Steelers as he didn’t get a lot of protection against Houston. He was sacked twice and hit numerous times in the game and couldn’t find his rhythm.
Pittsburgh has reeled off nine consecutive victories including five straight on the road. Their key players are quarterback Ben Roethlisberger along with Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell. However, Roethlisberger has been inconsistent lately with nine interceptions in his past eight games. But football’s a funny game and the Steelers didn’t score a touchdown in their 18-16 win over Kansas City as kicker Chris Boswell took care of all of the team’s scoring by going six-for-six in his field goal attempts. Boswell can’t be depended on to do it again though so Roethlisberger, Bell, and Brown will need to come up with big games. Big Ben went 20 for 31 in passing last week for 224 yards with no touchdown passes, but he did throw an interception.
Bell chipped in by carrying the ball 30 times for 170 yards and helped set up most of the Steelers’ field goal attempts. Brown also had a fie game with 180 yards on half a dozen receptions. Roethlisberger didn’t play earlier in the season when Pittsburgh met New England as Landry Jones took over for him. Brown played well with Jones in that game with seven catches for 106 yards. The Pittsburgh defence played well in Kansas City last week by conceding just 166 passing yards to quarterback Alex Smith and giving up just 61 yards on the ground. The Pittsburgh pass defence was ranked 11th in the league this season and the run defence was ranked 12th-best. Pittsburgh was 5-3 on the road during the season and Roethlisberger struggled away from Heinz Field.
Prediction: New England wins by seven points, 27-20