, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

It’s that strange time of year when the excitement builds towards the Super Bowl and finding out who will be crowned champions, yet we are running out of games. Even sticking to my routine of watching coaching tape of the Super Bowl, there is still only one game left. For many their thoughts are turning to the offseason and the hope of training camp or the joy/worry of draft season. However, I will say goodbye to the two teams who fell just short of the Super Bowl in a pair of noncompetitive conference championship games.

The Green Bay Packers came into the conference championship on a scorching run of form, but sadly fell well short of the Atlanta Falcons, particularly when things fell apart for them in the first half. The Falcons game started the game strongly on offence, able to move the ball and scored on eight of their first nine drafts. However, things could have been different for the Packers if the usually reliable Mason Crosby hadn’t missed a field goal and Aaron Ripkowski hadn’t fumbled the ball as he rumbled towards the Falcons’ twenty yard down. Instead of tying the game, they Packers fell seventeen points behind and they simply were not able to stop falcons or get enough points to get themselves back in the game.

It was a tough way for the Packers to finish their season, which is how it goes for all but one team in the NFL, but this was your archetypal one game too far for them. Too many injuries and too much being asked of Aaron Rodgers. They will go into an offseason of discontent. I’m sure the questions around their defensive coordinator Dom Capers and GM Ted Thompson will resurface, and Rodgers himself has talked about the team needing more urgency next year. There are reasonable questions about whether the Packers are getting the most out of their super star quarterback with the team they are surrounding him with. It would not take a great defence to help get him to the Super Bowl, and improvements to the offensive scheme and the run game would also help. However, if it were not for the Patriots, the idea that a team could compete every year would not be so strong. The problem for the Packers whilst they focus on being a draft and develop team is that they will rarely get a high draft pick with their level of success. There are plenty of players to be found in the draft, but most teams need a high first round pick to acquire that top level of talent. I certainly would not advocate for a strong push in free agency either, but given the success of free agents like Julius Peppers and Jared Cook it would seem that Thompson could afford to add more players via this route if he is capable of finding them.

In the end you would expect the Packers to competitive next year, but there is plenty of work to be done in the offseason.

The Pittsburgh Steelers did what most teams do when the travel to Foxborough and lost to the New England Patriots. They never really got on terms with the Patriots with their offence hampered by the first quarter loss of Le’Veon Bell to a groin injury, whilst the defence played a zone scheme that Tom Brady picked apart as he threw for three hundred and eighty-four yards. There have been a lot of question about the game plan in the following days with players claiming they weren’t ready for the Patriots to play up-tempo or that the Pats hadn’t run a flea flicker this year when they did against Baltimore in week fourteen.

There are a lot of positives about the way the Steelers run their operation and they clearly have a talent for spotting receivers, but they have had more than their share of questionable character guys cause them problems recently. This season Martavis Bryant missed the year due to falling foul of the league’s drug policy, Le’Veon Bell missed three games at the start of the season due to missing drug tests, meanwhile the team had to answer question all week about Antonio Brown live streaming Mike Tomlin’s post game locker room speech. They go into the offseason with Ben Roethlisberger questioning if he will play next season, although most suspect the thirty-four year old quarterback will come back The Steelers will need to find Roethlisberger some more receivers to complement Brown, as there were too many dropped passes although if Bryant can get back on the field and stay there that would help. They also can’t allow them to be so reliant on Le’Veon Bell, as talented as he is if you look at the games missed through injury or suspension you cannot afford for him to account for such a large part of your offence. On defence you have to think that whilst James Harrison is coming back for another year, the Steelers will need a long term replacement for him to play on the other side to Bud Dupree.

It doesn’t feel like there is a huge overhaul needed, and the Steelers are one of the most stable franchises in the league, but I do wonder if at some point some of the questions around the locker room, and or coaching might lead to some kind of adjustment. It certainly won’t be anything spectacular, but it is worth keeping an eye on.