Black Quarterback: Conference Championship Preview/Picks
By Brandon Simmons
Green Bay Packers vs. Atlanta Falcons
In a rematch from earlier this season, the Packers will pull up on the Falcons for the NFC championship. Essentially, this game will be nothing short of a shootout as Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers and Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan lead two of the NFL’s powerful offenses. Atlanta enjoyed a nice, convincing win over the Seattle Seahawks last week while Green Bay had to fight at the end of their close victory with the Dallas Cowboys.
In the first matchup between the two the rosters were completely different for the Packers. The team was without wide receiver Randall Cobb and linebacker Clay Matthews. In addition to that, their running back situation was out of whack. Eddie Lacy was ruled out for the year for a few games prior, James Starks was out with a concussion and Tye Montgomery wasn’t in the fold yet for RB committee. In that game, the running backs were rookie Don Jackson and former Kansas City Chief Knile Davis, neither of whom will be active for this weekend’s game, since Davis was waived and Jackson is on IR. The Falcons were at full strength for the most part but without the services of running back Tevin Coleman, a key cog in their ground attack. However, the injuries could not minimize each team’s fight.
It was an ultimate display of offensive football between 2 quarterbacks who are not afraid to light it up. Rodgers finished 28 for 38 with 246 yards and 4 touchdowns while Ryan went 28 for 35 with 288 yards and 3 touchdowns. The difference really comes down to as to how these touchdowns were scored. Between these squads, 7 touchdowns were scored in the red zone and 6 of them happened less than 10 yards to the end zone. Now it should be noted that the running back deficiency of both teams was just that…deficient. While both teams’ pass defenses were sloppy at best, the run defense excelled on both sides. For the Packers, Rodgers led the team in rushing with 60 yards while the Davis and Jackson combined for 14 yards.
This time, it looks like both teams could be fully stacked but obviously only one will stack the playoff win. The Falcons have an aerial attack of Julio Jones and Mohamed Sanu. Not to mention running backs Devonate Freeman and Tevin Coleman are the 1-2 punch that will wear down any defense. The Packers are coming in this game hot right now and off an emotional win over the Cowboys and they have Aaron Rodgers. Rodgers has proven that he can utilize his offense to his maximum, no matter who is missing. But he does not play defense, especially on a squad that will have to defend a variety of weapons. The Falcons will be flying past the Packers in this game.
Pittsburgh Steelers vs. New England Patriots
This game could have been the game of the weekend but it will be more of a redemption match for both teams. While both squads are coming off convincing victories, they have taken criticism for their performances in each of these games. Patriots’ quarterback Tom Brady appeared to be shook in the first half against the Houston Texans’ defense while the Pittsburgh Steelers struggled to score anything but touchdowns against the Kansas City Chiefs’ defense. It was certainly uncharacteristic for two teams known for being keen on offense.
These teams also met earlier this season under completely different circumstances. Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger missed the game because of injury and the team had to rely on Landry Jones to be their signal caller. The Patriots had their usual suspects of running back LeGarette Blount and tight end Rob Gronkowski. Blount ran for 127 yards while Gronk led the New England receivers with 4 catches and 93 yards. However, this game will not have the playmaking tight end as he was placed on injured reserve late in the season; but the Steelers will have Roethlisberger on tap.
The main advantage that the Patriots will have in this game, is the fact that they can actually score touchdowns. The Steelers winning off of just 6 field goals will only work on a few playoff teams; neither of those teams are the New England Patriots. Brady and head coach Bill Belichick have the home crowd on their side once again and are focused on eliminating any mistakes they might have committed. Also, even without Gronk, Brady has found targets in wide receivers Julian Edelman and Chris Hogan, while Blount will still become a force for the Pittsburgh defense that has not necessarily been THE Pittsburgh defense everyone has known. Expect the Patriots to punch their ticket a record 9th Super Bowl.
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