Green Bay Packers vs Atlanta Falcons
Georgia Dome – Atlanta, GA
Monday 23 January at 7:05am on ESPN and 7mate
The Atlanta Falcons host the Green Bay Packers in what will be the final game at the Georgia Dome before the Falcons move into their new digs next season. And what a final game it is.
This is going to be very high-scoring – the Falcons are twenty-seventh in points allowed and first in points per game, while the Packers are twenty-first in points against and fourth in points per game.
Atlanta’s offence has proved to be lethal on the back of quarterback Matt Ryan’s MVP-level play this season. The Falcons are second in the league in total offensive yards and third in passing yards with Ryan leading the league in QBR, yards per attempt and ranking second in yards and TDs.
Wideout Julio Jones has been Ryan’s favourite receiver, shredding secondaries all season on his way to 1,409 yards, good for second in the league and a league-best 100.6 yards, including most receiving a single fixture. Atlanta will want use the combination of Ryan and Jones to exploit the worst pass defence in the league via Green Bay, who rank a poor thirty-first in passing yards allowed.
One of the scarier aspects about the Falcons is that they don’t just beat you through the air. They’re fifth in rushing yards behind running back Devonta Freeman’s ninth ranked 1,079 yards.
Green Bay on the other hand have been on a roll ever since quarterback Aaron Rodgers declared in Week 11 that the-then 4-6 Packers would “run the table” and win their next eight to put themselves one away from a place in Super Bowl LI. In Week 11, this didn’t seem possible but that was before Aaron Rodgers started to do Aaron Rodgers things.
While their offence isn’t as prolific on paper as Atlanta’s, they keep coming up with huge plays that allow them to win games of football. Rodgers broke the Giants spirit with a Hail Mary in the Wild Card Round, then a clutch catch from WR Jared Cook on the sidelines last week put the Packers in field goal range to send the Cowboys packing.
One key defensive advantage the Falcons maintain over the visiting Packers is with the rush. The franchise is just twentieth in rushing yards and their best in this department is Ty Montgomery, who tallied a mere 457 across the entire campaign.
On paper, Atlanta looks like the team that will cause the most damage and they’ll have the emotion of the final game at the Georgia Dome to provide even more motivation, not that it’s even necessary in a Conference Championship game.
That being said, the Packers have just been too clutch to look past and will almost certainly make some huge plays to keep themselves alive.
Tip: Atlanta by 3
Pittsburgh Steelers vs New England Patriots
Gillette Stadium – Foxborough, MA
Monday 23 January at 10:40am on ESPN and 7mate
This will be a battle of veteran QBs with Ben Roethlisberger’s Steelers travelling to Foxborough to face Tom Brady’s Patriots for the AFC Championship and a place in Super Bowl LI.
New England enjoyed another excellent season and despite missing Brady for the first four games, still finished with a 14-2 record. The Patriots’ 27.4 points average is third in the league and they’re also fourth in passing yards, with WR Julian Edelman being Brady’s preferred target, going for 1,106 in 2016.
The loss of tight end Rob Gronkowski hurt the Pats but Martellus Bennett stepped up in his absence. The Boston outfit like to run the ball, ranking seventh in rushing yards behind RB LaGarrette Blount, whose 1,161 yards was eighth in the league for the regular season.
But the offence hasn’t been the whole story for the Pats, with the defence being one of the stingiest in the league, allowing a league-best 15.6 points per game. Bill Belichick’s team have the third best rush defence, so Le’Veon Bell might have some problems despite coming off a 170-yard game last week.
Although they led the league in points conceded, they rank twelfth in passing yards allowed. Cornerback Malcolm Butler will be essential to the Patriots stopping Steelers WR Antonio Brown, with Butler’s 17 passes defended and four interceptions putting him in the elite bracket.
Pittsburgh come into Gillette Stadium following a tough 18-16 road win over Kansas City in which they didn’t score a single touchdown, requiring six field goals to get past the Chiefs. On paper, the Steelers aren’t as high-powered offensively as the Patriots, yet have a core of star players that can make big plays and get the job done.
Antonio Brown has been tremendous for the Steelers this season, his 1,284 yards is good for fifth in the league, on top of securing the second most receptions with 106. Meanwhile, Le’Veon Bell has been one of the best running backs his season – his 105.7 yards per game was only second to Ezekiel Elliott but almost 20 yards better than the next-best RB.
His 1,268 yards was fifth in the league despite playing just 12 games. Bell’s also Pittsburgh’s second best receiver, leading the league in yards after catch with 685. They’re aren’t especially stout defensively, so will need all the firepower they can muster to get past the Patriots.
Brady is 9-2 in his career against the Steelers and the Patriots are a much fresher team. It won’t be easy, but New England should prevail to set up a clash with the Falcons in Houston.
Tip: Patriots by 10