Packers @ Falcons
Kickoff: Sunday January 22nd 2017, 3:05pm ET
- Winner: Falcons 4/9, Packers 7/4 – 32Red
The Atlanta Falcons showed last week that their offence, especially at home, is nothing to be messed with. They were able to move the ball almost effortlessly against one of the premier defences in the league in the shape of the Seattle Seahawks. Balanced effectively between the run and the pass, they were able to keep the defence “honest” and spread out, leaving stars like Julio Jones (although he did miss some time to an injury) in one on one matchups, and that is a pass you throw any time you can. Julio was able to make amends for Richard Sherman’s now infamous pass interference penalty earlier in the season by racking up nearly 70 yards and a TD, and that’s after missing most of the third quarter with some sort of undisclosed injury. With a stout defence to boot, the Falcons look near unstoppable. That is of course until you consider the giant killing Packers.
The Green Bay Packers managed to blow out to an early lead against the NFC no.1 seed Cowboys by being stout on defence and scoring a TD on each of their first three drives. However, that trend stalled just before the half and the Cowboys were able to work their way back into the game with a mixture of short and long passes. Due to being behind early, the Cowboys abandoned the run almost altogether, which is strange given that they had Ezikiel Elliot in the backfield.
What was apparent throughout was that the Packers defence has been able to rebound from its myriad injuries and was able to stay stride for stride with the Cowboys D, which is an underrated group of players. The X-factor in this game was clearly Aaron Rodgers and his unflappable ability to perform under pressure. The Packers will need to rely heavily on a similar performance if they are to be able to go into Atlanta and win against the Falcons. So far however, the Packers have been able to face a seemingly superior Giants team, and make them look average, as well as knock over the 13-3 no.1 seeds, so it seems with A-Rod at the helm, it’s possible. For the Falcons to win this one, they will need to play consistent lights-out football. If they give even a glimpse of hope to the Packers, you can rely on them to take it.
What this game will come down to is who is able to step up on defence. Both teams rely on their offence being productive, and they absolutely have been. However, if neither are able to perform on defence it could turn into a shoot-out reminiscent of the Packers matchup against the Cardinals in 2010, when 96 points were scored. Prepare for this one to go down to the wire unless one of the teams is able to do something effective on defence. However, if the Giants can’t slow the Packers, and the Seahawks can’t slow the Falcons, this one could go big.
Steelers @ Patriots
Kickoff: Sunday January 22nd 2017, 6:40pm ET
- Winner: Patriots 5/13, Steelers 11/5 – William Hill
The New England Patriots game against the Texans went about as well as the Texans could have hoped for. They were able to score on a few drives, and Osweiler didn’t look as bad as he has tended to this year. Although he had a few interceptions on the stats sheet, only one of them was actually his fault, and he was left in the precarious position anyway having to chase the Patriots. The Patriots did as the Patriots do, and looked solid throughout. Although they were forced to punt a few more times than they may have liked, that was mainly due to the Texans front seven being possibly the best in the league. They won’t have that problem this week against the Steelers. Harrison and the Steelers are a very sturdy defence, but they don’t measure up when compared to the Texans on that side of the ball.
The Pittsburgh Steelers, on the other hand, had a much tougher go of it when they faced the Chiefs. The Chiefs have again been one of the premier defences in the league all year round, and showed it against the Steelers. Big Ben and his combo of offensive weapons looked almost unstoppable against the Dolphins in the wild card round, but were reduced to looking positively pedestrian against the Chiefs. Unable to get in the endzone for the entire game, they were able to scrape by with six, count them, six field goals, (the most in NFL playoff history) and get the win. They didn’t need to do much on defence, as the Chiefs too looked middle of the road at best, despite a few flashes in the red zone to get a pair of touchdowns. Considering the Steelers are now going to face a defence that isn’t often talked about but is very competent, and a notoriously relentless and talented offence in the Patriots, they are going to need to play better to stand a chance.
For this one to go the Steelers’ way, they will need to be able to stop the short passes and the creative play calling of the Patriots. Which is something they were able to do well against the Chiefs. Alex Smith, QB for the Chiefs, has made a living off having a very quick release time and their short pass/run combo is what got them to the playoffs, so for the Steelers to be able to stop that attack so comprehensively does bode well for them in a matchup with the Pats.
What they may struggle with is the running attack of Lagarrette Blount and Dion Lewis, the change of pace and power running that they offer isn’t necessarily something the Steelers suffer against, but if it commands more men in the box, then Tom Brady will be able to feast in the passing game. The Steelers secondary is not anything to write home about, so look for the deeper threat guys like Chris Hogan of the Patriots to have a big day.
The biggest problem for the Patriots will be whether or not they are able to contain the offensive weapons of the Steelers. The Chiefs were able to contain them, but that is due to Marcus Peters and the rest of their secondary being able to cope with the big names. It remains to be seen whether or not Malcom Butler and the other stars on the Pats defence are able to cope against the best receivers in the league.
When these two teams met in the regular season, the Patriots were able to best the Steelers, even in Pittsburgh. The win came from being able to keep Antonio Brown and LeVeon Bell out of the endzone. Given the huge disparity in Ben Roethlisberger’s performance away compared to at home, the advantage certainly seems to be with the Patriots.