Jan 21 2017

NFL 2016 Conference Championships Gameplan

The good news for me: No matter what, I will come away with a winning record for all of you for the 2016 postseason.

The bad news for me: I’m getting hella skressed about what Super Bowl LI is going to look like.

I only get around to discussing teams I generally don’t like during this weekend it seems. Last year, I made it quite clear that I wasn’t a fan of the Denver Broncos – but I respected them once it got to this point because of their defense and their ability to win despite awful Peyton Manning play. 1

This year! Oh lord. I’m staring a Super Bowl XLV rematch between the eyes. The Pittsburgh Steelers, arguably my least favorite NFL team since January 2006 (my freshman year at California PA), are still alive in the AFC Championship game picture, while the Green Bay Packers, a team I have really never liked since Brett Favre and John Madden went on multiple voyages to Atlantis, are still alive in the NFC Championship game picture.

And you know what? I had both teams in their respective Conference Championship games in September! Blame me. I only missed one game from last week’s Divisional Round, but wouldn’t you know it, it involved my Super Bowl champion pick Seattle Seahawks, who lost meekly in Atlanta. Damn it! I guess I can’t be too mad, though, because the Dallas Cowboys are out. That was great. What wasn’t great was Houston QB Brock Osweiler, who failed to break 200 passing yards with at least 40 pass attempts for the 4th time this season and the 2nd time in New England this season:

Yikes! Let’s review the rest of Divisional weekend:

– The Falcons pass offense led them past the Seahawks, with Atlanta WR Julio Jones gaining 67 receiving yards and a TD as part of a 36-20 win. The Seahawks failed to intercept a single pass since placing FS Earl Thomas on injured reserve ahead of Week 14, a franchise record 6-game drought, while Falcons QB Matt Ryan has now thrown 14 TDs without an INT since Week 14.

– The Patriots got TD receptions from RBs Dion Lewis and James White in a 34-16 win over the Texans.

– Packers K Mason Crosby made go-ahead FGs of 56 and 51 yards inside of 100 seconds in regulation to give Green Bay a 34-31 win in Dallas.

– Steelers K Chris Boswell provided all of Pittsburgh’s points in Kansas City, making an NFL postseason record 6 FGs in an 18-16 win.

Man, that Seahawks loss has me swole. But I won’t let the pettiness distract me – you all will have to wait for new Super Bowl picks. But I’m going to be courageous here. I don’t want to see the Steelers or Packers anywhere near Houston, but I said one of those teams would win their Conference Championship and the other would lose. With that said, I expect the Atlanta Falcons and Pittsburgh Steelers to square off in Super Bowl LI. Go Falcons, and go Patriots:

NFC Championship:
Before we begin, can we appreciate the Georgia Dome one last time?!?!

I have no business trusting the Atlanta Falcons. Back in 2010, Atlanta had a home playoff game against the Packers after beating them in the regular season, and all Green Bay QB Aaron Rodgers did then was light those fools up for 366 yards and 3 TDs in a 48-21 massacre. As you all are probably well aware, Rodgers has been getting his toasty on, throwing 24 TD passes and only 1 INT in his last 9 games. He’s going to do mean things to the Falcons threw the air, and probably on the ground too as the only starting passer left with a hint of mobility.

But I believe that the Falcons are going to do work on Green Bay’s defense too. After all, Ryan only targeted Julio Jones 5 times and didn’t have RB Tevin Coleman in the 33-32 win vs the Packers in October, and Ryan still gave those dudes 288 yards, 3 TDs, and 0 INT. The X-Factor here may be Falcons K Matt Bryant, the Pro Bowler in the NFC this season.

Ryan has a full complement of weapons and is at home, and if he can put the Packers in an early hole, then maybe Falcons head coach Dan Quinn’s defense can force multiple turnovers and extend his winning streak against Rodgers’ Packers to 4 games. Do it for the Seahawks, Dan.

AFC Championship:
I said the Patriots wouldn’t advance to their 6th straight AFC Championship game this season, but here we are. And they get to host the Steelers, a team that QB Tom Brady lights up like no other. Since Mike Tomlin joined the Steelers in 2007, Brady has put 19 TDs without an INT on his defense in 6 games.

That’s cool and all, but I don’t like the way this is trending. For one, Pittsburgh has terrible road QB Ben Roethlisberger2, opportunistic RB Le’Veon Bell 3, and livestreaming WR Antonio Brown in the same game for the first time vs the Patriots since Week 9, 2013. New England put up 55 points that day, but Pittsburgh scored 31 points and gained 479 yards of offense on a defense that had DE Chandler Jones available. Jones isn’t a Patriot anymore, while the Steelers offensive line will have C Maurkice Pouncey and RG David DeCastro – two players who weren’t available in 2013.

And then there’s New England’s offense. Brady won’t have TE Rob Gronkowski or WR Randy Moss for the first time against Tomlin’s Steelers. And if last week was any indication, TE Martellus Bennett (1 reception on 4 targets for only 4 yards) and WR Michael Floyd (1 reception on 3 targets for only 9 yards) won’t be up to the task. I expect Brady to still play well, but not well enough to overcome what will probably be a dominant time of possession against the Steelers, who will get an unexpected big play on special teams (perhaps from Brown) to pull off a maddening upset at Foxborough.

Before Patriots QB Tom Brady started lighting up Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin’s defense, he led New England to a win in the 2004 AFC Championship over the Steelers. He’ll need to avoid a letdown Sunday if he wants to move to 3-0 vs. Pittsburgh in AFC Championship games. (Lake Fong/Post-Gazette)

Show 3 footnotes

  1. I don’t miss Peyton Manning at all. Happy retirement!
  2. 9 TD passes, 9 INT, 77.8 passer rating in 9 road games this season, including playoffs
  3. Bell ate up the Dolphins and Chiefs so far this postseason, but both of those teams are bottom-10 in rushing yards per play allowed; the Patriots ranked 8th this season

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