NFL Playoffs NFC Conference Finals Preview

Green Bay Packers vs Atlanta Falcons

Aaron Rodgers and Matt Ryan are enjoying the rides of their lives, although one quarterback’s impressive run will come to an unceremonious end at the other’s expense. Rodgers has made good on his confident promise to run the table as he powers the Green Bay Packers into Sunday’s NFC Championship Game against the host Atlanta Falcons (Enter Contest).

Rodgers posted a 117.9 passer rating with 21 touchdowns and one interception during his eight-game winning streak. The 31-year-old Ryan (franchise-record 4,944 yards) hasn’t been too shabby in his own right, throwing 14 scoring passes without an interception during Atlanta’s five-game winning streak while his 117.1 passer rating this season was tops in the league and his 38 TDs trailed only Rodgers (40). Ryan’s Falcons got the better of Rodgers’ Packers in the first meeting of the season on October 30, with Mohamed Sanu reeling in the quarterback’s third touchdown pass with 31 seconds remaining in a 33-32 victory.

ABOUT THE PACKERS (12-6)

While Rodgers has been blistering hot, the two-time NFL MVP will need some wide receivers to reel in his passes. Jordy Nelson (ribs), Davante Adams (ankle) and undrafted rookie Geronimo Allison (hamstring) all are nursing injures. Nelson (NFL-best 14 receiving touchdowns) sat out Sunday’s 34-31 victory over Dallas. He’s dealing with a combination of pain tolerance and medical clearance in his decision to play versus Atlanta. Adams (career-best 76 catches, 997 yards and 12 TDs) won’t practice before Sunday’s pregame workout.  Green Bay converted running back Ty Montgomery, who rushed for two touchdowns in the first half against the Cowboys, easily could provide an increased presence in the passing game should Adams or Allison sit out. Receiver Randall Cobb has gotten healthy with five touchdowns in his last five playoff games.

ABOUT THE FALCONS (12-5)

All-Pro wideout Julio Jones insists he expects to play in the NFC title game despite sitting out his second straight practice on Thursday. He’s been bothered by a toe injury in Saturday’s 36-20 victory over Seattle that has plagued him since Week 13. Jones is the NFL second-best in receiving yards with 1,409. Sanu had nine receptions for 84 yards to go along with his touchdown in the earlier contest versus the Packers. Fellow wideout Taylor Gabriel also found the end zone in that tilt. He has five TDs in his last seven games overall. Atlanta (NFL-best 540 points) has scored a touchdown on its first possession in each of its last seven games.

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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.

NFC Championship

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.

AFC Championship

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.

Overview

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.

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Falcons vs Buccaneers

The Falcons may own the NFL’s top-ranked offense, but the Buccaneers have had their number with Jameis Winston under center. The former Heisman Trophy recipient will attempt to get a second series sweep against Atlanta in as many seasons. The division rivals clash at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla. on Thursday night (Enter Contest)

On Sunday, Winston managed to get two touchdown in the loss against Oakland. He was able to toss four scoring passes during the season-opening victory over Atlanta on September 11.  Trusted target Mike Evans reeled in a scoring strike against the Falcons. His six touchdown receptions are tied for the NFL lead. Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan continued his stellar season with three touchdown passes in Sunday’s 33-32 victory over Green Bay. An 11-yard scoring strike to offseason acquisition Mohamed Sanu capped his 32nd career game-winning drive. Ryan, who leads the league in both yards (2,636) and touchdowns (19), has thrown for 1,000 yards and five scores in his last three encounters with Tampa Bay. He will face a Buccaneers defense that ranks 23rd in the league (274.7 yards per contest).

ABOUT THE FALCONS (5-3)

The Falcons leads the NFC South standings. Julio Jones has amassed an NFC-best 859 yards and is averaging 20.0 yards per catch, but the electric wideout finished with 29 yards receiving this past week for the second time this season. He was hobbled by an ailing knee. Jones is expected to play on Thursday. Running back Tevin Coleman (hamstring) is listed as questionable after sitting out last week’s tilt versus the Packers. Devonta Freeman more than picked up the slack with a rushing and receiving touchdown last week. He has 100-plus scrimmage yards in two of his last three contests, although he was limited to just 20 yards on 11 carries in the season-opening loss. Austin Hooper made five receptions for 41 yards during week 8 of the NFL in place of fellow tight end Jacob Tamme (shoulder), who has been ruled out versus Tampa Bay.

ABOUT THE BUCCANEERS (3-4)

While Tampa Bay’s passing game is pretty well defined, the backfield has remained in motion through most of the season due to injury. Jacquizz Rodgers filled in admirably for Doug Martin (hamstring) before sustaining a sprained foot versus the Raiders. This injury will keep him out of Thursday game. It will open the door for a three-man backfield of Antone Smith, Peyton Barber and Mike James. Linebacker Kwon Alexander recorded 14 tackles versus Oakland last week, his highest total since collecting 17 in the season opener at Atlanta. The Bucs acquired a conditional seventh-round pick in the 2018 draft from Detroit for corneback Johnthan Banks on Tuesday.

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