NFL Playoffs Conference Championships
A road team was finally victorious in the post-season, but that doesn’t mean the results of last week’s divisional round have taken away any of the appeal to either of the NFL playoffs conference championships matchups (Enter contest). In fact, the outcomes have left us with a pair of regular-season rematches featuring the league’s two hottest teams taking on its two most dominant teams in the regular season for the right to play in Super Bowl LI.
The NFC Championship Game features Green Bay, winners of eight in a row, against Atlanta. The Packers are coming off of a thrilling, last-second 34-31 win in Dallas over the top-seeded Cowboys, while the Falcons are fresh off of a 36-20 dismantling of the Seahawks. Aaron Rodgers (21 TDs, 1 INT over last eight games) has been playing at an MVP level the past two months, but the award could end up going to Matt Ryan. The first-team All-Pro threw for 338 yards and three touchdowns in last week’s win over Seattle, and he hasn’t been intercepted since early December.
New England had little trouble dispatching of Houston 34-16 last week and Sunday will be Tom Brady’s 11th conference championship game, the most of any player in NFL history. To make it to a record-breaking seventh Super Bowl, Brady and the Patriots will need to beat a red-hot Pittsburgh team that has already won in a hostile environment. The Steelers made it nine wins in a row after outlasting Kansas City 18-16 in Arrowhead Stadium last week. Le’Veon Bell has been a beast (NFL-record 337 rushing yards in first two career playoff games) thus far, but Pittsburgh will need Ben Roethlisberger (8:9 TD-to-INT ratio since Week 13) to play better than he has lately.
These teams already have some familiarity with each other, as Atlanta beat Green Bay 33-32 in Week 8 at home on a late touchdown pass from Ryan to Mohamed Sanu. Ryan and Rodgers combined for 534 passing yards and seven scores in the high-scoring affair. New England defeated Pittsburgh 27-16 at Heinz Field in Week 7, behind a 127 rushing yards and two touchdowns from LeGarrette Blount. However, Roethlisberger didn’t play because of a knee injury and the Patriots’ leading receiver that day was Rob Gronkowski, who went on injured reserve (back) in December.