The NFL Conference championship games have finally arrived for the four teams still remaining. It has been a long journey, especially for both the Pittsburgh Steelers and Green Bay Packers will be competing in their third playoff game of the season.
The Steelers, in particular, are fortunate enough to be participating in this round of the playoffs. This is taking into consideration the team failed to score a single touchdown last Sunday. Nobody would have predicted that.
As for the New England Patriots and Atlanta Falcons that were both on byes during the Wild Card round, they handily beat their opponents last week. But some of the plays that went down along the way delivered unexpected results.
With the Super Bowl on the line, the Falcons will host a red-hot Packers’ offense in the first of Sunday’s games. Next, New England will play host to the Steelers. Both matchups should be action-packed and may potentially make some of the following bold predictions actually come true.
1. Aaron Rodgers and Matt Ryan pass for 10 combined touchdowns
While neither of these two Pro Bowl quarterbacks had a five-touchdown performance in 2016, both came close. Rodgers had four regular season games when he threw for four touchdowns and he did it once again durin the Wild Card round. And Ryan had three games when he scored four times through the air.
Now, two of the finest quarterbacks in the league come together to play against two of the most questionable pass defenses in the NFL. Rodgers will be facing a Falcons defense that gave up 31 passing touchdowns during the regular season. Even better for Matty Ice, the Packers’ pass defense ranked 31st during the regular year.
Considering the echelon of receivers both star quarterbacks possess, we see each launching five touchdowns in what promises to be an epic conference championship game. If Ryan and Rodgers hit the magic number it will top the seven total touchdowns the pair scored last time they played back in Week 8.
2. Malcolm Butler picks off Big Ben twice
The Pittsburgh Steelers are going to have to be more aggressive in their passing game in order to keep up with the Patriots. With everything on the line, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger needs to male sure he doesn’t shy away from Antonio Brown.
There is almsot no way the Steelers are going to win by not involving Brown on offense.
Unfortunately, Brown will likely spend a lot of time being shadowed the Patriots’ top cornerback in that of Malcolm Butler. The third-year corner registered four interceptions on the season and could prove pesky for Big Ben’s game plans.
Roethlisberger tossed 13 interceptions in 2016 and embarrassingly added three more during his two playoff appearances. This is why we see Butler making more must-see TV when he picks off Roethlisberger not once but twice.
3. Taylor Gabriel has a better performance than Julio Jones
Gabriel and the Falcons’ receivers should be tallying up yards galore at what could be compared to an “all you can eat” buffet. This tweet by Gabriel represents that theme perfectly.
— Taylor Gabriel (@TGdadon1) January 15, 2017
After all, Green Bay’s defense surrendered 287.7 receiving yards on average per game during the regular season. And in more recent events, the Dallas Cowboys offense just combined for 302 yards through the air against Green Bay.
In sticking with what happened last week, Gabriel could have a repeat performance, ultimately gaining more yards than Jones. In the divisional round, Gabriel recorded 71 yards off of just four catches. Jones put up six catches for 61 yards and a score.
The Packers’ defense should make Gabriel look like a hero while it is putting up its best attempt to stop Jones. We are predicting two of Ryan’s touchdowns will go to Gabriel while he tops Jones in receiving yards.
4. Julian Edelman nabs a dozen catches
Edelman has been a gem of a right-hand man for quarterback Tom Brady as of late. A prime example is the 26 targets Edelman received in his last two games. The shifty receiver turned those targets into 18 catches and a grand total of 288 receiving yards and one touchdown.
Now, Edelman could be up for an even bigger performance playing against a defense thats not as stingy as the Houston Texans. We should also see Brady rebound in a game that could help him hoist a fifth Lombardi.
If the Steelers’ dynamic offense heats things up, Brady will have to increase his pass attempts. It would be easy to envision Edelman drawing even more targets than he has thus far in the playoffs, which could get him those 12 receptions. Nine catches is Edelman’s best number so far on the season.
5. Jared Cook tops last week’s performance
Cook knocked the ball out of the park in last Sunday’s win over the Dallas Cowboys. The former St. Louis Rams free-agency bust put up six catches for 103 yards and a touchdown on 11 targets.
It was quite an amazing performance and could be a hard one to top. Cook had only one other game when he crossed the 100-yard plateau while scoring a touchdown.But he could stand to inflate last week’s numbers playing in what should be a war through the air between Rodgers and Ryan.
It’s also important to note that the Falcons’ defense gave up an average of 5.3 catches per game to opposing tight ends in 2016. With the Packers potentially missing Jordy Nelson and Davante Adams perhaps a bit limited, Cook could exceed last week’s rock star numbers.
6. James Harrison forces a Brady safety
At 38 years old, Harrison is still a major pass-rush force. The veteran linebacker finished the 2016 regular season with five sacks and 53 combined tackles. He has also been on quite the roll in the postseason.
— ProFootballReference (@pfref) January 16, 2017
So far in two games, Harrison has registered 2.5 sacks and 16 combined tackles. Now, he will set his focus on attempting to thwart the efforts of Brady and his offense. The future Hall of Fame quarterback was not easily sacked during the regular season, going down just 15 times.
But the Houston Texans’ defense recently got the upper hand against Brady and sacked him three times in the divisional playoffs. He was also intercepted twice. It is not unfathomable to imagine Harrison getting at Brady near the end zone on a play that could result in a safety.
7. Packers and Falcons won’t crack 100 total rushing yards
The Packers do not orchestrate a lot of rushing plays. They have also been working with a make-shift rushing attack ever since they lost running back Eddie Lacy in Week 6. This has primarily consisted of Ty Montgomery and Rodgers himself.
As for the Falcons, they operated a top-five rushing offense in 2016. Devonta Freeman was the team’s lead running back after tallying 1,079 yards and 11 touchdowns on the ground during the regular season.
But we are calling for a quiet day all around when it comes to both the Packers and Falcons on the ground. Each offense is going be pass-heavy to keep up with one another.
In last week’s win over Dallas, the Packers attempted only 17 rushes in a game that came down to the wire. The Falcons ran the ball 29 times, because by the second quarter, they controlled the lead over the Seahawks.
Freeman and Montgomery should still make big impacts through the air, but we don’t envision either team piling up that many rushing yards considering the circumstances.
8. Antonio Brown makes sure Pittsburgh scores twice
Last Sunday’s game against the Kansas City Chiefs was a real snoozer until the last moments of the game. During 60 minutes of play, the Chiefs were the only team capable of scoring a touchdown. They scored on their opening drive, then again late in the fourth quarter.
Meanwhile, all the Steelers could do was muster up six field goals. That was awesome for Chris Boswell’s ability to set a record, but it was mind-blowing that Brown nor Le’Veon Bell could not come up with one score between them.
Enough of the boredom. Brown must find the end zone for the Steelers to have a shot at winning. We already suggested that Malcolm Butler will pick off Roethlisberger twice. But this doesn’t mean Brown won’t have some catches and find a couple of touchdowns along the way.
After all, it was just two games ago that Brown recorded an awesome pair of touchdowns within just a few moments of each other (watch here).
9. It takes the Falcons 41 points to advance
We are going for it. Yes, we are boldly predicting that the Falcons will win the NFC title game. But it won’t come easily. During the regular season, the Falcons led the league in scoring at 33.8 points per game. Ryan and his offense were a brilliant work of art to watch in action.
Similarly, Rodgers and his team have been on a beautiful eight-game winning streak. During that span, the Packers averaged 32.1 points per contest. Rodgers had earlier said the Packers would run the table after they snapped a four-game losing streak. They are keeping to that plan so far.
But, after each quarterback throws for five touchdowns, it is the two field goals Atlanta makes that advances the Falcons to the Super Bowl.
10. Botched field goal sends Patriots to the Super Bowl
We all watched Boswell in action last week when he connected on a postseason record six field goals. But nobody wants to see a repeat Steelers’ performance, especially the people who have paid the big bucks to watch this game live at Gillette Stadium.
The Steelers will likely put points on the board with Brown, Bell and Co. New England won’t lie down either. Brady is bound to score couple of times and LeGarrette Blount and Dion Lewis will have a pretty good shot of finding the end zone as well.
But, like so many games that have come down to the wire, this matchup should be a close one. It could easily come down to one team or the other depending on a late-game field goal.
This time around, we are predicting that Boswell caves under pressure and misses a critical attempt. In-turn, Brady might be delivering a similar performance to this one on the sidelines as the Patriots claim the victory.