AFC/NFC Championship Predictions

Updated: July 16th 2017

Overall, a great weekend of games last week. As many analysts and writers have commented, the cream of the QB crop rose to the top last weekend with Matt Ryan, Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers and Ben Roethlisberger all advancing.  The Dallas/Green Bay playoff game was as entertaining a playoff football game as you can imagine, and I have no doubt that this week’s game will be equally as thrilling. Aaron Rodgers and Matt Ryan were 1-2 in QB fantasy scoring this season, so it may come down to the defense that is able to cause a couple turnovers or for more red zone field goals this week. As for the Steelers and the Patriots, this is certainly not new territory for either team, as it will mark the Steelers 15th trip to this game since it started in 1970, the Patriots 12th trip overall and 11th in the Brady era (6 in a row), and it will be the third time that Big Ben and Brady have squared off with the Super Bowl on the line (Brady has won both previous meetings). As with the prior two weeks, the RSO Writers have dissected both games, and in case you are tracking at home, here are the results of each writer’s picks from last week and through the playoffs:

  1. Stephen Wendell: Last Week 3-1 ML & 3-1 ATS; Playoffs 6-2 ML & 6-2 ATS
  2. Matt Papson: Last Week 2-2 ML & 3-1 ATS; Playoffs 5-3 ML & 5-3 ATS
  3. Kyle English: Last Week 3-1 ML & 3-1 ATS; Playoffs 6-2 ML & 4-4 ATS
  4. Robert Cowper: Last Week 3-1 ML & 3-1 ATS; Playoffs 5-3 ML & 4-4 ATS
  5. Matt Goodwin: Last Week 3-1 ML & 3-1 ATS; Playoffs 7-1 ML & 5-2-1
  6. Nick Andrews: Last Week 2-2 ML & 2-2 ATS; Playoffs 5-3 ML & 5-3 ATS
  7. Dave Sanders: Last Week 2-2 ML & 2-2 ATS; Playoffs 5-3 ML & 5-3 ATS
  8. Bernard Faller: Last Week 4-0 ML & 1-2-1 ATS; Playoffs 7-1 ML & 4-3-1 ATS
  9. Luke O’Connell: Last Week 4-0 ML & 2-2 ATS; Playoffs 7-1 ML & 5-3 ATS

And a quick summary of the picks for this week in case you don’t want to read each writer’s analysis:

  1. Green Bay Packers @ Atlanta Falcons (Line ATL -5.5): ML – 6 GB & 3 ATL // ATS – 7 GB & 2 ATL
  2. Pittsburgh Steelers @ New England Patriots (Line NE -5.5): ML – 2 PIT & 7 NE // ATS – 4 PIT & 3 NE & 2 PUSH

Green Bay Packers @ Atlanta Falcons [Line: Atlanta -5]

Stephen Wendell: I have been on Rodgers and the Packers since I witnessed their beatdown of the Eagles on MNF which started the streak. I said last week Packers-Patriots in the Super Bowl, so I will stick with that prediction this week. The Packers in a shootout. Projected Score: Packers 34 – Falcons 31.

Matt Papson: Aaron Rodgers. Projected Score: Packers 34 – Falcons 27.

Kyle English: Packers come in as probably the hottest team in the NFL and meet the Falcons who have rather quietly won 5 in a row.  The Packers are dealing with all sorts of injuries to their WR corps but with Rodgers at the helm they can still put up plenty of points.  The Packers though are vulnerable against the pass as Prescott showed last week posting over 300 yards (which he only did twice all season) and 3 TDs.  Matt Ryan and the Falcons excel through the air so I expect a lot of offense in this one.  Think the Falcons win a close one. Projected Score: Falcons 34 – Packers 31.

Robert Cowper: I’m having trouble getting into this game if I’m being honest.  It should prove to be a high scoring affair, which will be exciting, but the Falcons just don’t do it for me.  I picked against them last week because I don’t trust Matt Ryan and I will do so again this week.  It’s a shame for Aaron Rodgers that the MVP award voting is held before the playoffs begin because I bet if voting were held today that he would win in a landslide.  His streak without throwing an interception has now ended (after 8 games) but the numbers are still astounding.  In two playoff games against the Giants and Cowboys, Rodgers has 717 yards, 6 TDs and 1 INT.  I will continue to pick Rodgers and the Packers until they prove me otherwise. Projected Score: Packers 41 – Falcons 24. 

Matt Goodwin: By reading my articles, you know that I love hip-hop. This game is a lot like one of my favorites-“Scenario” by A Tribe Called Quest. The first scenario is a red-hot Aaron Rodgers carrying his team in a shootout to the Super Bowl in spite of a lackluster Packers defense and receivers who aren’t 100%. This scenario includes at least one of Davante Adams or Jordy Nelson playing in the game and Ty Montgomery having success against the Falcons who give up lots of receptions to running backs. I do expect Matt Ryan, Devonta Freeman, and Taylor Gabriel to have big games and the big-play ability of Tevin Coleman could come into play in this game too. The Packers are a few years from Julio Jones torching them for over 200 yards, but Jones is clearly not 100%, so I’m not expecting a go-off game to that magnitude. The second scenario (let’s call it the remix) involves a game similar to last season’s loss at the Arizona Cardinals where Jeff Janis pulled a Hail Mary down to send the game to overtime, but Rodgers’ incredible effort fell just short because Matt Ryan is equally hot and at home. Projected Score: Packers 38 – Falcons 33 (if Adams and/or Nelson play) & Falcons 33 – Packers 24 (without Adams and Nelson).

Nick Andrews: Two weeks in a row I bet against Aaron Rodgers; two weeks in a row I have been wrong. But like any good gambler knows you should never chase the results. Where people saw brilliance by Rodgers I saw a glaring weakness from the Packers’ defense. At 21-3 and 28-13 they should have been able to salt the game away. Instead, their defense allowed scoring drive after scoring drive to bring Dallas back, twice! Atlanta put a clinic on Seattle right from the start and they did not take their foot off the gas. Forget third down conversions this game will likely come down to scoring drive conversions. In the end though I see Atlanta’s OC Kyle Shannahan being aggressive and sticking to their game plan which is where Scott Linehan failed. Projected Score: Falcons 44 – Packers 34.

Dave Sanders: Another week – another remarkable performance by Aaron Rodgers.  Though I don’t have a rooting interest in any of the four remaining teams, I hope that GB runs the table so that the “Jared Cook Catch” becomes a part of history.   Moments like that, and much of the fourth quarter for that matter, remind us of how great football is at its very best.  Atlanta also did not disappoint last week, beating Seattle 36-20 in a game that wasn’t as close as the score might indicate.  Matt Ryan continued his impressive play, even without Julio Jones for much of the game.  Julio’s expected to play this weekend and should have plenty of success if he’s anywhere near 100%.  There’s less certainty with Packers WR Jordy Nelson, who called his broken ribs the worst pain he’s ever felt.  Nelson is hopeful to play, but it will likely come down to a game-time decision.  Unaffected by wintry weather conditions in the dome, expect this game to be a shootout. Projected Score: Packers 37 – Falcons 34.  

Bernard Faller: Who needs defense? You will not see many scoreless drives in this game. The Packers have not scored less than 30 points in a game since the beginning of December. The biggest unit mis-match of the entire playoffs occurs in this contest with the vaunted Falcon passing attack, averaging an NFL-best 9.2 Yards Per Attempt, taking on a decimated Green Bay secondary giving up an NFL-worst 8.1 YPA. With most Packer receivers on the injury report, Green Bay is just too beat up to compete with Atlanta this week. Projected Score: Atlanta 38 – Green Bay 28.

Luke O’Connell: Why have the gods of the gridiron opened an absurdly large salt shaker into the wounds of Vikings fanatics?   Aaron Rodgers seemingly won’t be denied in this playoff run.   No father, no brother, no mercy, it is like the opening of cheese-laden post-apocalyptic Western.  Jordy is stepping into the breach with brittle ribs, and joins the Green Bay gang of Montgomery, Adams (who must feel the white-hot glare of the pressure of rising expectations), Cobb, Cook, and a man named Geronimo.  As much as it pains me to admit, the Packers just seem to get the gravitas of the moment, and have the hardened constitution of a Midwesterners who know how to endure.  Matty Ice and Devonta strike this analyst as players who have reached the heights that their talent and temperament can take them.    Julio Jones may be the final Falcon wild card, the game’s truly transcendent talent beyond Aaron Rodgers, but when gambling on QB vs. WR, the smart money follows the man with the ball.   RSO Angle:  Freeman might lay to rest the 1 vs 1a talk in the Falcon backfield, and all the receivers in the game not named Julio are prone to massive differences in valuation, making them key offseason pieces in trades. Projected Score: Packers 20 – Falcons 17. 

Pittsburgh Steelers @ New England Patriots [Line: New England -6]

Stephen Wendell: This is super tough for me. I have been on the Steelers since the start of the playoffs, but too much is working against them this week (shorter week, AB video, many players are stick, Foxborough, Belichick, Brady). I think they are able to keep it close, but the Patriots score a late TD to ice it and win by 10. Projected Score: Patriots 31 – Steelers 21.

Matt Papson: Tom Brady. Projected Score: Patriots 27 – Steelers 24. 

Kyle English: The Steelers were able to pull out the road upset against the Chiefs last week while the Pats needed some 4th quarter scores to pull away from the Texans.  The Steelers kept their home regular season matchup against the Pats close despite not having Big Ben on the field.  The Pats showed that they have some holes in their win last week and I think the Steelers have the talent to pull off the upset.  Projected Score: Steelers 27 – Patriots 24.

Robert Cowper: I had a buddy in Vegas last weekend and about an hour before kickoff I asked him to place a parlay on the Pats against the spread with the over.  Both hit but sadly he didn’t stumble to the sportsbook in time.  I would not place the same bet this week.  There’s been a lot of talk this week about the Antonio Brown Facebook Live drama and not too much about the game itself which I think is a mistake because this could be an all-time great game.  We know the offenses are good but let’s look at the defenses.  Even though the Pats were #1 in scoring defense, I don’t buy that they have an elite defense; the Steelers were #10 in scoring.  By total yards they were #8 and #12 respectively.  The Pats rushing defense is #4 but I think that is more a factor of opponents playing from behind than a stout front seven, Bell should have success.  Keep an eye on Steelers LB Ryan Shazier, one of my favorite players, who has a string of four consecutive games with an INT.  He had 3.5 sacks and 87 tackles in just 13 games during the regular season.  With the Pats passing attack focused on dink-and-dunk to the RBs and Julian Edelman, I expect Shazier to be involved a lot and to be a difference maker.  Steelers win it with a late FG after a key defensive stop.  Projected Score: Steelers 23 – Patriots 21.

Matt Goodwin:While it wouldn’t surprise me to see a Steelers win, the Patriots have not allowed 90 yards rushing to an opposing running back for 24 straight games. With Le’Veon Bell likely neutralized on the ground to some degree and Ben Roethlisberger’s road splits being well documented, the Steelers will have to come up with a lock-down defensive performance to win at Gillette Stadium. I think the Patriots ground game with Dion Lewis and LeGarrette Blount will be heavy utilized here and that Tom Brady and Julian Edelman will connect several times. The Patriots way is to take away your biggest strength and I see that as the Steelers ground game. For those reasons in a game where field goal kicking may come in big with two phenomenal kickers and based on the Patriots track record in home AFC Championship games, give me the Patriots. Projected Score: Patriots 27 – Steelers 20.

Nick Andrews: Sometimes it’s just better to be lucky than good. The Patriots easily played their worst game of the season last week and still managed to win their divisional round game. A game that they won by 18 points felt like a lost to many of the players. Bill Belichick likely is none too pleased with how his players and staff performed so don’t expect a second egg to be laid this week. The Steelers showed that they can be contained in last week’s game scoring all 18 points on field goals and provided some easy bulletin board material for the Patriots from AB’s NSFW locker room video. Le’veon Bell says this is a statement game to avenge their early season loss but I think this is a bigger statement game for the Patriots to prove that last week was a fluke. Projected Score: Patriots 27 – Steelers 23.

Dave Sanders: Had the Texans had better quarterback play, they may have had a real shot to beat the Patriots last weekend.  Brock Osweiler was dreadful again, throwing 3 interceptions and passing for less than 200 yards on 40 attempts.  The Patriots survived a game in which Brady threw as many INTs (2) as he did for the entire regular season.  Brady will need play better this weekend as the Steelers travel to Foxboro and I expect he will.  This feels like the right spot for the weekly reminder of Ben’s home/road splits.  There are too many stats to list here, but simply put: he’s elite at home and well below-average on the road.  Credit to JJ Zachariason @LateRoundQB on Twitter for the following stat: Bell has averaged 146.5 rushing yards per game in his last 8 games vs. 72 per game in his first 6 games of the season.  The Steelers will continue to ride Bell, but I don’t think it will be enough.  Projected Score: Patriots 27 – Steelers 21.

Bernard Faller: Pittsburgh owns all the tools to win with Roethlisberger, Brown, Bell, one of the better offensive lines in the NFL, and an improving defense.  None of that matters.  The only relevant point is the Steelers facing Brady and Belichick in Foxboro.  No need to over think this one.  Projected Score:  New England 30 – Pittsburgh 24.

Luke O’Connell: Fun fact apropros of…something.   Boston is not the sole city that can claim to a history-making anti-tax tantrum.   While Bostonians were up in arms about tea, Pittsburghers, or rather villagers and farmers over Fort Pitt threw down over some Federal overreach in possibly the best named fight short of Star Wars-the Whiskey rebellion.   This prediction need not be overly complicated.  When sifting through potential matchups, and tension between offensive predictors vs. the Steelers defensive base sets, it grew increasingly evident that the question in this contest has more to do with an age old adage about the size of dogs and fights.  Big Ben, Antonio Brown, and Le’Veon Bell are formidable, but Belichick is going to take one of those two men away from the love triangle, leaving Big Ben and one buddy to fend off Brady and his island of misfit toys.  This one seems historic, and so we turn to history.  Bostonians eventually won their rebellion, at least Pittsburghers still have their whiskey. RSO angle: Who will get a bigger per-season contract next year: Dion Lewis or LeGarrette Blount? Projected Score: Patriots 24 – Steelers 17.

 

ENJOY THE GAMES EVERYONE!