Green Bay Packers (12-6) at Atlanta Falcons (12-5) (3:05 PM EST)
Spread: ATL -5.5
In the wild card and division rounds, my
Green Bay lost in Atlanta in a 33-32 squeaker, way back in Week 8 (10/30). But injuries have taken their toll since then, mostly on Green Bay. The Packers have no running game to speak of (20th in average rushing yards per game), and their defensive backfield is in tatters (31st in passing yards allowed). They barely hung on to beat the Cowboys despite building a 21-3 lead early on, and leading 28-13 in the fourth quarter. Rodgers has done a hell of a job getting the team this far, but he's battling the flu (spread was 3.5 at the beginning of the week), and can't do everything by himself. The Falcons are going to close out the Georgia Dome with their first trip to the Super Bowl in nearly twenty years.
Predicted Score: Falcons 41, Packers 24.
AFC Championship Game
Pittsburgh Steelers (13-5) at New England Patriots (15-2) (6:40 PM EST)
Spread: NE -6
I don't care for either of these teams, so let's just start this by saying that I hope the Patsies lose by five touchdowns, and then the Steelers get blown out in the Super Bowl by whichever NFC team makes it. But assessing the likely outcome of this game is a much different matter.
The Steelers looked inept and inefficient in derping their way to six field goals and no touchdowns, beating the Chiefs 18-16 at Arrowhead. But the flip side of that is that Chefs' DC Bob Sutton is an underrated strategist whose schemes and personnel led the league in generating turnovers, and did a hell of a job on their red-zone defense, keeping the so-called Killer Bees (Ben Roethlisberger, LeVeon Bell, and Antonio Brown) out of the end zone.
New England visited Pittsburgh in Week 7 (10/23) and came out with a 27-16 victory, but Roethlisberger was recuperating from knee surgery and did not play in that game.
Throughout the regular season, New England's o-line did a decent job of keeping Brady upright, but in the first half of last week's divisional round game against Houston, the Texans' pass rush exposed some holes, knocked down Brady eight times and forced him to throw two interceptions (he had thrown only 2 INT all season). The Steelers have one of the most disruptive linebacking crews with James Harrison, Ryan Shazier, and Bud Dupree, all of them fast, vicious hitters who will keep Brady on his heels throughout. But the FACKIN' PATSIES always seem to find a way.
Predicted Score: Patriots 37, Steelers 27.