Aaron Rodgers, Antonio Brown, Atlanta Falcons, Bud Dupree, Devin McCourty, Devonta Freeman, Green Bay Packers, James Harrison, Jordy Nelson, Lawrence Timmons, Le'Veon Bell, Matt Ryan, New England Patriots, NFL, Pittsburgh Steelers, Playoffs, Ryan Shazier, Tevin Coleman, Tom Brady, Vic Beasley
It is hardly surprising that the conference championship games look really good, but they have a lot to live up to after the game Dallas and Green Bay put on last week.
Green Bay Packers @ Atlanta Falcons
The Atlanta Falcons don’t just have a good offence, they have one that has produced numbers up there with some of the best there have been. You might not see Matt Ryan making the kind of amazingly athletic throws that Aaron Rodgers has made look routine over recent weeks, but he is in firm control of an offence that allows him to distribute the ball to a wide range of options in the passing game, whilst Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman have proved themselves to be a highly effective combination out of the back field. It is hardly a surprise to see the coordinator behind such a season be sought after as a head coach, but fans in Atlanta will be hoping that this hasn’t been too much of a distraction for Kyle Shanahan as he prepares for this game. The Falcons are going up against a Packers defence that has been injured for a lot of the season, and they will be hoping to do enough to allow their offence to keep up with the Falcons. The secondary will have to work really hard to keep up with the Falcons’ offence and this could be a game too far for them.
The Packers have ridden the red hot play of Aaron Rodgers over the back end of the season and into the playoffs. The injuries at running back have meant that Rodgers is carrying this team with his arm, but he has found the right balance of extending plays in the pocket and playing within the structure of the offence to keep the Packers winning. That said, he now has receivers injured and it is hard not to think that Jordy Nelson will be limited by his rib injuries even if he does make the field in this game. The Falcons defence has not been good this season, but they have had enough pass rush to take advantage of the leads they often play with to make life difficult for the opposition, even if the majority of their sacks are accounted for by Vic Beasley who led the league through the regular season.
This could very well be a spectacular shoot out, but I do wonder if the injuries that the Packers are accruing could just sink them despite Rodgers extraordinary play. I certainly wouldn’t count out the Falcons and I’m really looking forward to this game.
Pittsburgh Steelers @ New England Patriots
This is the sixth year in a row that the Patriots have made the conference championship game in a display of remarkable consistency. However, they are coming into this game off the back of a rocky performance that saw Tom Brady rattled a little and double his interception tally for the year with a pair of interceptions to go with the two he threw in the regular season. That said, it is hard not to expect continued excellent play from Brady who may not have ever made the spectacular kinds of plays that Rodgers is capable of, but runs his offence with complete mastery of the system. A system that changes week to week depending on how they choose to attack the defence they are facing. The Steelers defence will pose a serious test as they have enough experience not to be overawed by the situation and have been playing incredibly well over the back end of the season and into the playoffs. Their outside linebackers Bud Dupree and James Harrison have been getting pressure and causing problems, whilst inside backers Timmons and Shazier have looked good in the middle, and you can see the Steelers mimicking the up the central pressure the Texans used last week to get pressure on Brady.
If the defence of the Steelers have come together, then the offence has been a little off this season. The passing game has not been what we have come to expect over recent seasons despite Antonio Brown still being one of the premier receivers in the game. The Steelers have responded to this by handing the ball to Le’Veon Bell more in a tactic that has paid off big time. The patient runner can eat up the clock whilst racking up the yards, and this tactic not only makes the most sense for moving the ball for the Steelers in this game, but it also could limit the time Brady has on the field, which is no bad thing. The New England defence has not been spectacular by numbers, except they lead the league in scoring defence, which is one those key stats that really does help you win football games. They don’t really have a lot of big name players as far as the league is concerned, with Devin McCourty the only Pro Bowl selection, but they are schemed very well each week and you can see them planning to stop the run, bracket Antonio Brown, and daring the other Steelers to beat them.
The Steelers very definitely have a template that can beat the Patriots and will not be intimidated by going into New England. This may not be the offensive spectacle that the earlier game will likely be, but I see this as a very competitive game that could go either way. As football fans, what else could want from the conference championship games?