If you like offense this game is going to be for you as the Atlanta Falcons, the highest scoring team in the regular season host the Green Bay Packers who have won eight straight games on the strength of Aaron Rodgers right arm. When the two teams met in Week 8 they lit up the scoreboard with Aaron Rodgers passing for 246 yards with four touchdowns while Matt Ryan passed for 288 yards with three scores. The game at the Georgia Dome was won by Atlanta 33-32 as Ryan completed an 11-play 75-yard scoring drive with 36 seconds left with an 11-yard touchdown pass to Mohamed Sanu.
At the time the loss to the Falcons seemed like a back breaker for the Packers as they proceeded to drop their next four games and sat at 4-6, with the playoffs fading away after ten games. Their defense was getting roasted and Aaron Rodgers was said to be feuding with his teammates. The Packers of course turned things around after Thanksgiving, winning the last six games of the regular season and two playoff games to get one step away from a trip to Super Bowl LI in Houston. Over those eight games Aaron Rodgers has been downright magical, no more so than last week, when the Packers found themselves tied with the Dallas Cowboys with 35 seconds left. After a sacked knocked the Pack back, Rodgers on his last throw found Jared Cook on the sideline for a 33-yard pass to set up Mason Crosby game winning 51-yard Field Goal as time expired to upset the Cowboys 34-31 in Dallas.
Meanwhile in Atlanta Matt Ryan has had the best season of his career, with a league leading 4,944 yards with 38 touchdowns which was only topped by Aaron Rodgers. Some experts are saying that Ryan is the odds on favorite to be named NFL MVP after leading the Falcons to a 12-4 record. In the Falcons, Divisional Playoff Round win over the Seattle Seahawks, Matt Ryan was terrific again, passing for 338 yards with three touchdowns. A big part of the Falcons attack has been Ryan’s ability to spread the ball around, as three different receivers caught scored touchdowns last week.
Both the Packers and the Falcons have mediocre defenses that the other quarterback can exploit. This has the chance to be an old fashioned QB shootout with the winner simply being who has the ball last, like their first meeting on October 30th, and the Packers win in Dallas. Despite his win last week, Matt Ryan still has plenty to prove in the postseason as he has only won two of six games. Ironically both wins have come against the Seahawks. When the Packers last went to the Super Bowl they had to go through Atlanta, with Aaron Rodgers having a big game in the Georgia Dome, passing for 366 yards with three touchdowns as the Packers won a Divisional Round game 48-21.
It is hard to believe that this Sunday’s Game will be the final game ever at the Georgia Dome, considering the stadium only opened in 1992. Next year the Falcons will play at $1.5 Billion Mercedes Benz Stadium, which promises to be one of the NFL’s premiere modern locations. Forget about that, give me the classic Lambeau Field which just says football as it nears its 60th season. For that matter give me the Packers on Sunday. The Falcons may have had the better season and may have the home field edge, but sometimes when a team gets hot they can’t be stopped and begin to take on a magical air around them. That play Rodgers had too Cook looked like magic and will be repeated as Mason Crosby again hits a game winning Field Goal this time in overtime to propel the Packers to the Super Bowl.
Since 2001 Tom Brady, Ben Roethlisberger or Peyton Manning have been in the Super Bowl representing the AFC Champion. That trend will continue as Big Ben leads the Pittsburgh Steelers into Foxboro’s Gillette Stadium to take on the New England Patriots led by the luckiest quarterback in the history of football Tom Brady meet with a trip to Super Bowl LI on the line.
Like the NFC Championship matchup, the AFC title game is a rematch of an October regular season meeting as the Patriots beat the Steelers 27-16 at Heinz Field. That Week 7 game however, did not feature the Steelers at their best as they were in the midst of four game losing streak that was triggered when Ben Roethlisberger suffered a knee injury. The Steelers played well and kept the game close, but Landry Jones was no match for Brady.
Once Ben Roethlisberger returned and got healthy the Steelers took off, closing the regular season with seven straight wins and winning two playoff games to reach the AFC Championship. Unlike the Packers, the Steelers have not seemed to have the same fire or magic behind them as they have been good but not spectacular. In their 18-16 Divisional Round win over the Kansas City Chiefs the Steelers were quite fortunate as they had countless missed opportunities and failed to get into the endzone. However, Chris Boswell’s record six Field Goals was enough as they held on to win a tight battle on the road. The Steelers will not be as fortunate this week, as the Patriots will make them pay for not cashing in when they reach the red zone. If Pittsburgh is to have a chance they must finish drives and score touchdowns.
The Patriots are a machine chewing up opposing teams all season, and they did not even have to cheat to go 14-2. However, they too have to consider themselves somewhat fortunate as Tom Brady was not sharp in the Divisional Round game against the Houston Texans, throwing two interceptions to match the total he had in the regular season. However, it did not matter in the end as the Patriots won 34-16 as their Quarterback Brock Osweiler met expectations of being flat out awful. It will be hard to imagine Brady struggling two weeks in a row.
If the Steelers are to win this game a lot has to go right. Ben Roethlisberger must match Tom Brady, the Steelers must force at least two turnovers, Le’Veon Bell has to rush for over 100 yards and help the Steelers control the clock and Antonio Brown has to do some face time in the endzone. The only problem is to beat the Patriots you also need to go into stealth mode and not make any noise. Unfortunately, nobody told Antonio Brown who decided to turn the Steelers spy cam into a selfie, complete with the team giving out strategy and some less than complimentary words on the Steelers. Those words will only add fuel to the already the Patriots desire and motivation to a team that does not need any.
It is hard to believe that 15 years ago, the Steelers and Patriots met to go to Super Bowl XXXVI. In that game, Drew Bledsoe who began the season as the Patriots quarterback came off the bench for the first time since being crushed by Mo Lewis and led the Patriots to an AFC Championship in Pittsburgh. It was the last time Bledsoe played for New England as by than Tom Brady had begun his magical run, and to think if had not been for the tuck play a week earlier. There would have been a QB controversy in New England and perhaps the dynasty that began when Tom Brady led them to an upset of the St. Louis Rams a week later would have never happened, proving how lucky he is. As for this meeting its likely to end with another Super Bowl for the Patriots who just never seem to go away like a recurring nightmare or a bad headache.