It’s down to the final four, and Sunday these four teans will be vying for a trip to Super Bowl LI in Houston. Here’s my preview of this Sunday’s games.
Green Bay Packers (10-6) at Atlanta Falcons (11-5) 3:05PM ET (FOX)
In week eight, the Falcons edged the Packers 33-32 in a high-scoring affair. No reason to believe that it will not be the case this time around. In fact, this will be the first match-up (regular or postseason) since the merger where both teams have scored at least 30 points in their last 5+ games.
The Packers defeated the Dallas Cowboys 34-31 in an instant classic. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers and tight end Jared Cook’s terrific throw and catch, set up kicker Mason Crosby’s game-winning 51-yard field goal in the divisional round. The Packers are going for their sixth Super Bowl appearance. Rodgers is leading the postseason in passing yards and touchdown passes. We’ll see if receiver Jordy Nelson will be a go, but it could be a long shot with the bruised ribs. Fellow receiver Randall Cobb and fellow receiver Davante Adams, who has a bum ankle, made big catches in Sunday’s game, will have to make even more big catches as no doubt Rodgers will be slinging it. The versatile Ty Montgomery and fullback Aaron Ripkowski may be called a bit more upon to keep the chains moving.
For the all the praise, the offenses get, and deservedly so, it will be both teams’ defense that could be the X-Factors.
For the Packers, safety Morgan Burnett pulled a quad and missed the rest of Sunday’s game, and cornerback Quentin Rollins left with a concussion. Packers are already thin at secondary, and they need at least one of those guys if they want to slow down the Falcons’ offense. While linebackers Julius Peppers and Clay Matthews need to put pressure on Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan.
Speaking of Ryan, he’s hoping to lead the Falcons to their second Super Bowl appearance. Ryan threw for 338 yards and three touchdowns in their win over the Seattle Seahawks 36-20 in the divisional round. Something to watch, Ryan’s top target, receiver Julio Jones has a foot injury and will be limited all week, but will be good to go Sunday. If that foot injury lingers, remember running backs Devonta’ Freeman and Tevin Coleman can play wide receiver as well. Receiver Mohammed Sanu has proved, that he too can make big catches. The Falcons will also mix it up with Freeman and Coleman on the ground.
The Falcons caught two interceptions in their win over Seattle. Can they repeat that performance and put pressure on Rodgers? They’ve got the players to do it. Linebackers Vic Beasley and Deion Jones as well as veterans defensive end Dwight Freeney and tackle Jonathan Babineaux will try to rush Rodgers. While safety Keanu Neal will have the task of slowing the Packers’ receivers.
Pittsburgh Steelers (11-5) at New England Patriots (14-2) 6:40PM ET (CBS)
These two met in week seven with the Patriots defeating the Steelers 27-16, something to keep in mind though Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was hurt that week.
Also this will be the third time that these two will meet for a trip to the Super Bowl, the Pats won both meetings in ’01 and ’04. Both will be vying for their ninth Super Bowl appearance.
The Steelers defeated the Kansas City Chiefs 18-16 in the divisional round behind six field goals from kicker Chris Boswell. If the Steelers want to go back to the Super Bowl, they can’t settle for field goals against the Patriots. Whenever the Steelers getting into the red zone, Roethlisberger must make sure his top target receiver Antonio Brown gets the ball as Big Ben will be trying to go to his third Super Bowl. Fellow receivers Demarcus Ayres, Eli Rogers, and tight end Jesse James could get targets. Running back Le’Veon Bell will be asked to rush for big yards and keep the Patriots’ offense on the sidelines.
Linebacker James Harrison, who had the team’s lone sack in the divisional round, leads the way up front. He and fellow linebackers Ryan Shazier, who caught an interception in Sunday’s game, Bud Dupree and defensive end Stephon Tuitt need to slow down Patriots running back LaGarrette Blount and rush quarterback Tom Brady. Safety Mike Mitchell and cornerback William Gay will have the task of guarding the Patriots’ receivers.
The Pats defeated the Houston Texans 34-16 in the divisional round. Quarterback Tom Brady threw two interceptions and had 20 incompletions, no doubt an anomaly. He’ll still have to do better than that against the Steelers and make sure his playmakers: wide receivers Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola as well as tight end Martellus Bennett catch the ball. Running back Dion Lewis had a touchdown catch, punt return for a touchdown, and a rushing touchdown last Saturday. The Steelers have to slow down him and Blount.
The defense caught three interceptions in the divisional round. They’ll face a tougher test against the Steelers offense. They have not allowed a rushing touchdown since Halloween. Linebacker Dont’a Hightower and defensive end Chris Long will try to rush Roethlisberger and limit Bell. Cornerbacks Malcolm Butler and Logan Ryan, safeties Devin McCourty and Patrick Chung will probably take turns in trying to handle Brown.
Should be an entertaining championship Sunday, enjoy everyone!!