We’re halfway through the 2016 postseason and I currently sit at 6-2 with my predictions, missing one game each week. In both cases, they involved either the Packers or the Seahawks (my football team and my brother’s) and I blame emotional bias for my picks. Being extra critical of the Packers and extra hopeful for my Seahawks led to my two misses, but in both cases, it was feasible for the outcome to be different.
The Packers had a history of flopping at home against the Giants and they had to overcome that to pick up the victory in the Wild Card Round–they did that.
In the Divisional Round, Seattle had to be the same team that they were against the Lions and they were–for two quarters.
In a league that has been more and more about quarterback play in recent years, we are left this weekend with arguably the four best quarterbacks in the league: Tom Brady, Ben Roethlisberger, Aaron Rodgers and Matt Ryan.
Only two of the eight match-ups in the playoffs so far have come down to the wire and with Steelers vs. Patriots and Packers vs. Falcons on the slate for this coming Sunday, we can expect two more exciting games.
In May of 2016, I put a short post on the now defunct ADuelGet! forums in which I predicted that Super Bowl LI would feature the Packers vs. the Steelers in a rematch of Super Bowl XLV. Now that we are coming up on Conference Championship weekend and both of my teams are still alive, will I stick to my picks or abandon them?
Pittsburgh Steelers @ New England Patriots
In a game that marked the first time that a postseason rematch from the regular season didn’t go the opposite way this year, the Patriots defeated the Texans 34-16 to the surprise of no one. What was surprising however was how close the game was–Houston with all of it’s quarterback issues were only down 8 points heading into the 4th quarter. Did New England show signs of vulnerability or was it just the case of a team on a week’s rest being a little rusty going up against the number defense? I’d have to venture to guess that it was the latter.
As stated in last week’s predictions article, the New England Patriots are in Super Saiyan mode this year–they are on fire and out for revenge after being punished over the Deflategate controversy of 2015. This isn’t the first time that they have come out with fire after a controversy as they went 16-0 during the regular season in 2007 after being accused of stealing opposing teams’s signals.
Although the Patriots have proven that they can win big under the most tumultuous of seasons, they are just 1-2 in Super Bowls since Spygate in 2007, only winning Super Bowl XLIX on a last second interception on the goal line–that’s just one Super Bowl victory in 9 years after winning 3 in the previous 6 years. While looking tremendous in the regular season, the Patriots haven’t been the same team in the playoffs since Spygate.
Believe it or not, the Tom Brady and Ben Roethlisberger have only met in the playoffs one other time–in 2004 when the rookie Ben Roethlisberger lost to the future Hall of Famer in the AFC Championship 41-27. This Sunday will be the first time that we have seen Brady and Roethlisberger with experience face off in a game with major stakes.
All-time, Tom Brady is 5-2 against Ben Roethliberger (the Steelers lost 27-16 to the Patriots in Week 7 this season without Roethlisberger) with both losses coming in Pittsburgh. The Patriots have typically been unstoppable at home in the playoffs, only losing two games in the last seven years. However, not all hope is lost for the Steelers as both of those games were against their division rival, Baltimore Ravens, who typically share a lot of similarities with Pittsburgh.
When it comes to scoring offense, the Patriots rank third in the league, while the Steelers share the number ten spot with Buffalo. However, the difference is less than 3 points, with New England averaging 27.6 and Pittsburgh averaging 24.9. Tom Brady’s lowest point total at home this season was 24 in a Week 10 loss to the Seahawks–his only loss of the season. Roethlisberger on the other hand, has had a few bad games on the road this season, including last weekend’s 18-16 victory over the Chiefs where Roethlisberger played well, but all of Pittsburgh’s points were on Chris Boswell field goals.
The Patriots lead the league in scoring defense, only giving up 15.6 per game, while Pittsburgh ranks number 10 once again, giving up 20.4 per game. New England has given up 23 points or more at home a couple of times this season with the most recent being a 30-23 victory over the Ravens in Week 14. Besides a 34-3 beatdown to the Eagles in Week 3, the Steelers have not given up more than 20 points on the road all season. Against the Chiefs, the Steelers only gave up 16 in Arrowhead Stadium last Sunday and will need a repeat performance against the Patriots to stand a chance.
Both teams haven’t lost a game since Week 10 and it will be interesting to see which teams show up this Sunday for the AFC Championship game. While the Steelers played well against the second scoring defense in the NFL when they defeated the Giants at home in Week 13, it’s going to be hard to repeat that performance in Foxboro.
My gut tells me that the Patriots will find a way to win, but I really do think that the Steelers can pull off a narrow victory. I stand by my thoughts that Pittsburgh was the only threat to New England in the playoffs and for the sake of sticking to my Super Bowl pick from May, I am going with the Steelers to pull it off and get back to the Super Bowl for the first time in six years.
Green Bay Packers @ Atlanta Falcons
Early on in last week’s game, it looked as if the Seahawks were going to pull off the upset before Seattle’s inconsistency reared it’s ugly head once again. The NFL’s number one offense however remained could not be stopped as Atlanta took over the game in the second quarter and never looked back, defeating Seattle 36-20.
The Falcons have only been held to less than 23 points once this season, averaging almost 34 points per game during the regular season. It continues to look as the only way a team is going to beat Atlanta is by winning the quarterback duel. At 4th in points per game this season, the Packers only averaged 27.6 on the year, but are averaging 32.1 points per game during the recent 8 game win streak (including playoffs).
We have seen a lot of regular season rematches in the playoffs this year, and Packers vs. Falcons is another one. These two teams first met back in Week 8, with Atlanta winning 33-32. This loss was the second in a mid-season stretch for Green Bay went 1-5. Just like when Green Bay faced Dallas in Week 6, this Packers team won’t be the same team that the Falcons face the second time around.
This weekend will also mark the second time that Aaron Rodgers and Matt Ryan have met in the playoffs–the Packers shredded the Falcons 48-21 in 2011 on their way to becoming Super Bowl XLV Champions. Since that incredible 2010 season, the Packers have suffered one heartbreaking loss after another, losing in overtime to the Seahawks and Cardinals respectively in the last two seasons. Is this the year that Mike McCarthy finally gets back over that hump?
Seven of the eight playoff matches this year have been rematches from the regular season, with only Patriots vs. Texans and Steelers vs. Chiefs having the same result. Can the Packers earn redemption against a regular season opponent two weeks in a row?
Expect a LOT of points in this game. With two of the Top 5 scoring offenses in the league, we have them going against the 28th and 31st passing defenses respectively. With the Packers having a better run defense and the Falcons having a better running game, both teams are evenly matched in the regard as well. The Falcons spread the ball around well, but so does Green Bay and they should have Jordy Nelson back for the NFC Championship.
In the end, my gut tells me that Aaron Rodgers will work his magic yet again, leading the Packers to a last minute victory over Atlanta, which would prove my Super Bowl prediction from back in May to be correct.
It’s hard to pin the score for this game, so I just went with the points that each team scored on my Seattle Seahawks.
Please comment below with your picks for who will face off in Super Bowl LI.