Conference Championship Previews

Green Bay @ Atlanta

The Georgia Dome gets one more Falcons game before the team moves to Mercedes Benz Stadium next season. The scoreboard operator better be ready as two of the top-scoring teams in the NFL will meet in what should be an exciting offensive showdown. Atlanta and offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan have the league’s best offense (averaged 33.8 points per game during the regular season) and quarterback Matt Ryan (4,944 yards, 38 TDs) is an MVP candidate. But, the Falcons will play one of the hottest teams in football right now.

Green Bay, 34-31 winners of top-seeded Dallas last week, have won eight games in a row. Prior to beating Dallas, they took care of the New York Giants, 38-13, in the Wild Card playoffs. Packers QB Aaron Rodgers is also an MVP candidate. He has been masterful in guiding Green Bay to the postseason. He finished the regular season with 4,428 passing yards and 40 touchdowns. In two playoff games, Rodgers is 52-for-83 for 718 yards and six touchdowns.

Atlanta beat Green Bay, 33-32, earlier in the season. The loss was the first of four straight for Green Bay. Rodgers threw for four touchdowns in that game, but the Packers defense couldn’t stop the Falcons on a late 75-yard touchdown drive. Expect more of the same offensive fireworks this time around. Atlanta’s Tevin Coleman and Devontae Freeman, who combined for 102 yards rushing and 102 more receiving and two total touchdowns in a win over Seattle, will be a handful for the Green Bay defense. One plus for the Packers is that WR Julio Jones has been slowed by a turf toe injury. Jones caught six passes for 67 yards and a touchdown in the win over the Seahawks.

It is highly likely that the last team with the ball on Sunday will have the opportunity to win the game. Just as Green Bay did last week in its win over Dallas, if Aaron Rodgers gets the ball last Green Bay could pull off one of the greatest efforts in recent memory and make it to Super Bowl 51.

Bing and Cortana’s Match Pick – Falcons to win – 63% chance

Pittsburgh @ New England

The Pittsburgh Steelers are probably the hottest team in the NFL right now having won nine straight football games dating back to mid-November. For their efforts, they get to travel to Foxborough to face the Patriots in the AFC Championship game. The two teams have met in the postseason four times and New England has won three, including the last two both of which were also AFC title games. The Steelers and Patriots met in 2002 and 2005 at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh and New England won both times. The two teams have met three times in the past four seasons and, yes, New England has won all three.

No, the Steelers don’t have much luck against the Patriots and they will have to play much better than they did in their divisional round win over Kansas City if they have any hope of playing for a Super Bowl championship. Last week, Pittsburgh moved the ball up and down the field on the Chiefs but couldn’t score a touchdown. Kicker Chris Boswell hit a postseason record six field goals in an 18-16 win. The Steelers defense limited Kansas City to just 227 yards of total offense. They will have a hard time matching that against a very good New England offense.

The Patriots racked up 377 yards against Houston in their divisional round win. Quarterback Tom Brady did throw two interceptions though. Brady’s performance against Pittsburgh in the last two games has been outstanding. He has completed nearly 76 percent of his passes for 510 yards, six touchdowns, and zero interceptions. The Steelers will have to come up with a way to stop WR Julian Edelman who has become the go-to receiver without TE Rob Gronkowski in the lineup. In the same two games against Pittsburgh, Edelman has 20 receptions for 157 yards.

For New England, it’s a matter of slowing down Pittsburgh QB Ben Roethlisberger, RB Le’Veon Bell, and WR Antonio Brown. When the Big Three is on, Pittsburgh is hard to stop, though Roethlisberger has not played well on the road this year. He showed that again in the Kansas City game. Away from home, Big Ben completes less than 60 percent of his passes and has just nine touchdowns, and eight interceptions. If Roethlisberger does not play well, New England could have a shot at becoming the third team to win five Super Bowls, tying Dallas and San Francisco.

Cortana and Bing’s Match prediction – Patriots to win – 70% chance