NFL: Championship Round
Jan. 15, 2017
by Chase Gage
One day full of blowouts and the next full of excitement, Divisional Weekend did not disappoint. Only four teams remain in the hunt for the Lombardi Trophy.
After going 4-0 with my picks in the Wild Card round, I managed to go just 2-2 in the Divisional Round. Both of my NFC picks blew it, though I got the AFC Championship perfect. I will right my wrongs this weekend and get back on track…I hope.
NFC Championship: 4 Packers at 2 Falcons, Jan. 22 2:05 p.m. CT
The Atlanta offense proved to be truly unstoppable, even against the stout Seattle defense. The Falcons produced 422 total yards and 36 points against the Seahawks and the “Legion of Boom”. Matt Ryan threw for 323 yards and three touchdowns without throwing an interception. Seattle had trouble producing much offense, as they could not get the run game going the way they have in the past. Russell Wilson threw two touchdowns paired with two interceptions. Wilson also led the team with 49 rushing yards, which is not a sign of success. Atlanta pulled out a huge win at home in style, winning 36-20.
Aaron Rodgers proved once again that he is the best player in all of football right now. I knew better than to pick against him. I knew better than to pick a couple of rookies over a Super Bowl MVP. I knew better than to pick against my gut feeling (the gut feeling that the Packers will win the Super Bowl). But I did it anyway. The Cowboys put up a solid fight after going down 21-3. They looked dead in the water for much of the first half before Dak Prescott breathed some life into their offense with a 40-yard touchdown pass to Dez Bryant with just over six minutes left in the first half to cut the lead to 21-10. The duo linked up for another touchdown with 4:08 left in the game to tie it up 28-28. The Packers then regained the lead thanks to a 56-yard field goal from Mason Crosby with a minute and a half left. Dan Bailey then responded with a 52-yard field goal of his own to tie the game at 31 with 35 seconds left. However, if there is anyone in the league that can score with that little of time, it is the Green Bay quarterback. Thanks to an amazing catch by Jared Cook, the Packers were able to kick the game-winning field goal as time expired from 51 yards out. The Packers held on to win 34-31 in Dallas.
Atlanta has a ton of offensive weapons. They have several players that can score in several different ways. Julio Jones may be the best receiver in the game right now and the running back duo of Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman is deadly, to say the least. The Atlanta offense may truly be matchup-proof. The Packers, however, have a secret weapon. Well, a “not-so-secret” weapon that is. Their quarterback. Rodgers ended his streak of 24 touchdowns without an interception, but still managed 356 yards and two touchdowns to go along with a game winning drive. Green Bay’s leading receiver, Jordy Nelson, may be back in the picture for the NFC Championship, which would make this team even more dangerous. Their receiving core is already solid with Randall Cobb and Davante Adams but proved to be even better thanks to the emergence of Cook as a playmaker. Nelson coming back might be the icing on the cake.
I learned my lesson last week. Do NOT pick against Aaron Rodgers while he is hot (warning: he’s hot). The Packers win another tough road game and advance to the Super Bowl.
AFC Championship: 3 Steelers at 1 Patriots, Jan. 22 5:40 p.m. CT
The Patriots had little trouble handling the Texans in the Divisional Round. Despite Tom Brady matching his regular-season interception total (2) in a single contest, this game was never really that close. Dion Lewis proved to be all the Patriots needed to win, as he scored on a 13-yard reception, a 98-yard kickoff return, and a one-yard run, totaling three touchdowns, two more than the Houston offense produced. In fact, Lewis had the same number of touchdowns as Brock Osweiler had interceptions (3). The Patriots were 16-point favorites coming into this game. They won by 18 and covered the spread, 34-16.
The other game was a little bit closer. After a two-point conversion attempt was successful, called back due to holding, and then unsuccessful, the Steelers escaped Kansas City with an 18-16 win. Despite not reaching the end zone, the Steelers will advance to the AFC Championship game thanks to Chris Boswell’s NFL-record setting performance with six field goals in a playoff game. The Steelers are the first team since the 2006 Colts to win a playoff game without scoring a touchdown. That Colts team eventually won the Super Bowl. LeVeon Bell broke his own franchise postseason single-game rushing record that he set last week (167 yards in his playoff debut) by rushing for 170 yards on 30 carries. Antonio Brown added 108 yards through the air on six receptions.
The Patriots beat the Steelers in the regular season, though that game was played without quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. The Pittsburgh offense has been one of the best in the NFL lately, but the fact that they failed to score a touchdown against Kansas City is a bit alarming. For the Steelers to have a chance in Foxborough, the high-powered offensive trio of Roethlisberger, Brown and Bell need to show up. Brady has only lost one game this season and does not plan to lose another. The Patriots are playing at home in the playoffs in January. They have this up-and-coming quarterback that’s pretty good (number 12, look out for him) as well as a coach that’s not too shabby. Expect a great championship effort from both sides, but expect Tom Brady to be in the Super Bowl for the seventh (and maybe final?) time.
AFC CHAMPIONSHIP FUN FACTS:
Here is a list of the quarterbacks that Tom Brady has faced this season and whether he won or lost. Tell me if you are impressed:
Cody Kessler, Browns: Win
Andy Dalton, Bengals: Win
Landry Jones, Steelers: Win
Tyrod Taylor, Bills: Win
Russell Wilson, Seahawks: Loss
Colin Kaepernick, 49ers: Win
Ryan Fitzpatrick, Jets: Win
Jared Goff, Rams: Win
Joe Flacco, Ravens: Win
Trevor Siemian, Broncos: Win
Bryce Petty, Jets: Win
Matt Moore, Dolphins: Win
Brock Osweiler, Texans: Win
Interesting, right? Brady faced one (arguably) top quarterback in the league and lost. Against average/subpar competition, he was undefeated.
Also, this will be the 14th time in 15 years that either Tom Brady, Peyton Manning or Ben Roethlisberger will represent the AFC in the Super Bowl:
2003: Tom Brady, Patriots
2004: Tom Brady, Patriots
2005: Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers
2006: Peyton Manning, Colts
2007: Tom Brady, Patriots (L)
2008: Ben Roethlisberger
2009: Peyton Manning, Colts (L)
2010: Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers (L)
2011: Tom Brady, Patriots (L)
2012: Joe Flacco, Ravens
2013: Peyton Manning, Broncos (L)
2014: Tom Brady, Patriots
2015: Peyton Manning, Broncos
2016: Tom Brady/Ben Roethlisberger (?)
Official Super Bowl Prediction:
Patriots vs. Packers
Check back Monday, Jan. 23 for proof that I was right.