The NFL 2017 Conference Championships are this Sunday, Jan. 22. Green Bay upset Dallas as an underdog while Atlanta beat Seattle as a favorite in the NFC. Packers versus Falcons is the first game this Sunday. In the second game, the New England Patriots host the Pittsburgh Steelers in a battle between two of the best franchises in the history of the NFL.
Which team from the NFC and which team from the AFC are going to throw down in Super Bowl 51? Read below for my full analysis of each game along with my picks!
NFL 2017 Conference Championships Preview
Sunday, Jan. 22
Green Bay Packers +4.5 at Atlanta Falcons -4.5 (3:05 pm ET)
The Green Bay Packers did just enough to put their kicker, Mason Crosby, in position to send the Packers to the NFC Championship. Green Bay rushed out to an 18-point lead against 1 seed Dallas before the Cowboys stormed back to tie the game at 28 apiece. Crosby hit a 56-yard field goal. Dallas countered with a field goal. Crosby hit the 51-yard game winner, which gave the Packers a 34 to 3 win.
Atlanta beat Seattle rather easily during the Divisional Playoffs. QB Matt Ryan, who is the favorite to win the NFL MVP this season, was terrific. Atlanta’s defense picked off Seattle QB Russell Wilson twice. The Falcons beat the Seahawks 36 to 20.
Green Bay’s Offense vs Atlanta’s Defense
Green Bay’s offense was as good as any offense in the NFL in the second half of the season. In Green Bay’s last 12 games, quarterback Aaron Rodgers has played like this year’s MVP. The amazing Rodgers has an incredible 33 to 4 TD to interception ratio. In Green Bay’s last 5 games, including the 38 to 13 Packer win in the Wildcard Round, and the Divisional Playoff win over Dallas, Rodgers has a 14 to 1 TD to INT ratio.
Even though WR Jordy Nelson, Rodgers’ favorite target, wasn’t available against Dallas, Rodgers still managed to throw for 356 yards when completing over 65% of his passes. He threw 2 TD passes.
There’s no doubt that Aaron Rodgers is going to have success against Atlanta’s defense. The Falcons allow 266.7 passing yards per game. Atlanta’s defensive style is to be aggressive up front. What that means is that when Atlanta’s front four gets pressure on the QB, the defense thrives. But, if the Falcons must blitz to pressure the QB, the secondary can get burned.
Rodgers should have a terrific game on Sunday. With that being written, Atlanta’s defense did hold Wilson to a 17 out of 30 game in the Seahawks’ divisional win. Atlanta’s D also picked off Russell Wilson twice.
Atlanta’s Offense vs Green Bay’s Defense
Falcons’ QB Matt Ryan has been as good as Aaron Rodgers in Atlanta’s past 5 games. Matty Ice has an unbelievable 14 to 0 TD to INT ratio in Atlanta’s last 5. This includes not throwing an interception versus the Los Angeles Rams, the San Francisco 49’ers, the Carolina Panthers, the New Orleans Saints, and the Seattle Seahawks in the Divisional Round win.
Like Rodgers, Matty Ice prefers to spread the ball around. He completed passes to 9 different receivers in the win over Seattle. WR Julio Jones, arguably the best wide receiver in the NFL, caught 6 of his 8 targets. Speedster Taylor Gabriel caught 4 of his 6 targets. Ryan loves to throw to the running back. He completed 3 passes to Tevin Coleman, that includes missing Coleman on what would have been around a 35-yard strike, and completed 5 passes to Devonta Freeman.
Ryan should be able to counter whatever great things that Aaron Rodgers does with the Packers on Jan. 22.
Green Bay vs Atlanta – Pick
More than 66% of football handicappers so far like Green Bay to cover the spread versus the Falcons in the NFC Championship. Although there are a lot of reasons to believe that Green Bay will do just that, it’s hard for me to go against the Falcons after watching how they played against Seattle.
Atlanta was incredibly focused in the 36 to 20 win. The Falcons not only excelled on offense, but they also excelled on defense. Both offenses are going to be great on Sunday. The key will be which defense makes the big plays. My gut tells me that Atlanta coach Dan Quinn is going to have a defensive strategy ready for Green Bay QB Aaron Rodgers, one that could force Rodgers into making a couple of throws that lead to turnovers.
As much as I hate to make this pick (I’m a die-hard Saints fan), I must back Atlanta at -4.5.
Pittsburgh Steelers +5.5 at New England Patriots -5.5 (6:40 pm ET)
New England provided a workmanlike performance to beat Houston 34 to 16 in the NFL Divisional Round. The Patriots were only ahead 17 to 13 at halftime. But the Pats dominated the second half of the game. They outscored Houston 17 to 3 in the second half. New England managed to cover the spread as a -16.5 favorite.
Pittsburgh failed on multiple opportunities to score a TD in their 18 to 16 upset win over the Kansas City Chiefs in the Divisional Round. Steelers’ kicker Chris Boswell converted 6 field goals to lead Pitt to the win. Pitt’s defense kept KC from converting a 2-point conversion late in the fourth quarter that would have tied the game.
Pittsburgh Offense vs New England Defense
Pitt’s offense was terrible in the win over Kansas City. The Steelers did get 170 rushing yards out of RB Le’Veon Bell, but QB Ben Roethlisberger wasn’t sharp at all. Big Ben’s QB rating in the win came out to 72. That’s not going to cut it against New England’s defense.
In fact, it’s hard for me to see Pitts scoring more than 20 points in this game. There were plenty of games during the regular season when Ben failed to lead the offense the way that he’s capable of leading it. This past Sunday night was one of those games.
Unless Roethlisberger steps it up big time on Jan. 22, the Pittsburgh offense could be in a world of hurt against New England’s defense. The Patriots allow only 15.6 points per game. Teams pass for 237.9 yards and rush for only 88.6 yards per contest against the Patriots’ D.
New England Offense vs Pittsburgh Defense
Pittsburgh’s defense got better as the season wore on. The Steelers only allow 100 rushing yards and 242.6 passing yards per game. Pittsburgh’s D can shut down either a team’s rushing attack, or passing attack. It usually can’t do both.
New England’s offense is great at making adjustments. Tom Brady might be the best quarterback to ever play in the NFL. It’s hard to see how Pitt is going to shut down New England’s offense for an entire football game. The Patriots average 27 points per. They should at least reach that on Sunday.
Pittsburgh vs New England – Pick
Counting the two playoff wins, the Steelers have won 9 straight. That’s a lot of wins in a row. Pittsburgh’s winning streak has occurred due to various reasons. But, the win over Kansas City is more of a forecast of how Pitt can beat New England.
The Steelers only shot is to force Brady into a few bad throws, to control the line of scrimmage on both offense, and defense, and to break down New England’s terrific defense. None of those things are likely occur on Jan. 22.
The essential point in this battle, as opposed to the NFC game between Atlanta and Green Bay, is that New England is better than Pittsburgh. They’re better than Pittsburgh at almost every position on the football field save for running back where Pitt has the great Le’Veon Bell.
New England showed that they have the best offense, the best defense, and the best coaching staff in the league when they made adjustments during halftime and flat out dominated Houston in the second half of their impressive Divisional Playoff Round win.
I think that New England easily covers the spread in their AFC Championship battle versus Pittsburgh on Sunday, Jan. 22. Pitt could suffer a blowout loss to the hungry Patriots in the AFC Championship.