There are just two more games remaining before Super Bowl 51. In the first game, the Green Bay Packers travel to take on the Atlanta Falcons. The night game sees the New England Patriots hosting the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Three of our writers pick who will win each game and why.
Green Bay Packers - Atlanta Falcons
Christopher Jeter: After beating the Seattle Seahawks in impressive fashion, the Falcons meet Aaron Rodgers and the Packers as a reward. These teams met in late October, with Atlanta edging out the Packers in a 33-32 shootout. I expect more of the same here. Despite all of the statistical success, Matt Ryan still has the stigma of falling short in the playoffs hanging over him. He may well be the league MVP at season’s end, but Ryan and the Falcons are in the wrong place at the wrong time.
There is no quarterback playing better than Rodgers right now. His stellar play is why Green Bay is in the playoffs to begin with. Running back Ty Montgomery should help out Rodgers running through the holes that should be there (Atlanta ranked 29th in run defense DVOA during the regular season). I expect a shootout in the Georgia Dome. In a shootout between Rodgers and Ryan, I will take the former.
Norman Tall: This game has the potential to be an offensive shootout. With two MVP candidates leading both offenses in Aaron Rodgers and Matt Ryan, this game has the potential to be a great game offensively. Despite Rodgers playing at a historically elite level I see the Falcons winning this one and closing out the Georgia Dome in style.
With weapons like Julio Jones, Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman the Falcons should be able to put up points in bunches and score enough to take down a depleted Packers defense. While Rodgers came close to “running the table”, his season will end at the hands of the Falcons and Matt Ryan in a close contest.
Aidan Thomas: This is a rather tough one, as I didn't pick either of these teams to advance last week. However, Atlanta's defense proved stronger than I thought, their offense showed more firepower, and the Falcons defeated my personal NFC champion pick, the Seahawks. Meanwhile, the Packers used some late-game heroics from Aaron Rodgers, Jared Cook, and Mason Crosby to push them to a road victory.
So who to pick? I'm going with the Falcons here for one particular reason. The Packers, despite two impressive victories, have been rather inconsistent in January. They have struggled to put together a full 60 minutes. Against the New York Giants, their first half was pretty terrible offensively, and, had it not been for a spark in the form of a Hail Mary, I'm not sure they would have gotten it going. Against the Dallas Cowboys, the Pack blew a 15-point lead late in the game against a pair of rookies. That's the portion of the game where their experience should have shined through. Instead, they folded until the last 3 minutes of the game. So, impressive though the victories were, I don't think such inconsistencies will be forgiven against Atlanta. Atlanta looked like a very complete team in a 36-20 thumping of the Seahawks. Matt Ryan is only 3-4 in the playoffs, but I'm going to take his present performance over his past history, especially because that didn't seem to matter when the Packers played the Cowboys. I'm not confident about the Packers winning in the Georgia Dome, and I think the #runthetable stops here.
Pittsburgh Steelers - New England Patriots
Jeter: These two teams met in week seven at Heinz field. The Patriots won that game with little difficulty 27-16. However, Pittsburgh did not have Ben Roethlisberger available and still totaled 281 yards passing. That number is a bit deceptive since the Steelers passed it 47 times since they trailed the entire game. With Big Ben in the lineup on Sunday, the game could go either way.
Both teams have stellar offenses with surprisingly decent defenses. Pittsburgh has a great chance of pulling off the upset here. Le’Veon Bell, who tallied 81 yards rushing in the regular season meeting, should find holes in the Pats run stop unit. New England did rank fourth in run defense DVOA, but gave up 105 yards and 4.5 yards per carry last week against the Houston Texans. Antonio Brown totaled 106 yards receiving against the Pats without Big Ben and could do the same here. Ultimately, I think the Patriots win here. Tom Brady and Bill Belichick seldom lose in Foxborough. I think New England starts out strong and wins a close one.
Tall: Tom Brady will be making his 11 th AFC Championship game appearance while the Steelers will look to advance and win their 7 th Lombardi Trophy. The Patriots stingy defense will try to slow down the explosive offense of the Steelers led by Big Ben, Antonio Brown an Le’Veon Bell. Last week the Steelers offense was slowed down to a great extent. Held to just six field goals they managed to escape KC with a 18-16 win.
That won’t happen this game. The Steelers offense is just too explosive to be shut down in consecutive games. Despite the Patriots strong defense and an offense led by Brady, LeGarrette Blount and Julian Edelman, the Steelers mix of young and veteran players on defense will do enough to slow down Brady and the Pats. The Steelers will win in a narrow, hard-fought game.
Thomas: This one is really close, but I like the Patriots in this one for a few reasons. The Pats can effectively counter the Steelers' 'Killer Bs" with their diverse offense. Personally, I like Tom Brady over Ben Roethlisberger anyways, especially at Gillette, where Big Ben has never defeated Brady; the Steelers are just 1-5 there all time. As for Bell, the Pats counter with Blount, who ran for 130 yards at Heinz field earlier this year. Not to mention, the Patriots have a viable second option in Dion Lewis, a very elusive back who had a big game against Houston. This second threat is something the Steelers lack.
Finally, on the receiving end, the Steelers have Antonio Brown. I would say Brown will be the best receiver on the field on Sunday, but I think the number of options New England has in their receiving corps more than makes up for not having the most dynamic playmaker. Julian Edelman, Martellus Bennett, Danny Amendola, Malcolm Mitchell, Chris Hogan, and Michael Floyd are all capable receivers that Brady can utilize, not to mention Lewis and James White out of the backfield. This all adds up to an overall Patriots edge on offense, especially when considering the two defenses. Both defenses are solid, but the Patriots are also the top scoring defense in the league. So they have a dominant offensive attack, and their defense can put up points too. Plus, Antonio Brown was a near non-factor in the earlier meeting at Heinz Field with Malcolm Butler in coverage. Granted, Big Ben wasn't playing, but it still goes to show that the New England secondary has the ability to deal with Pittsburgh's elite receiver, while their diverse receiving corps poses too many problems for Pittsburgh, especially in a hostile environment.