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Conference Championships Preview

Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

It’s very possible that this is the first time where the conference championships include the four best quarterbacks in that season. All of these teams are on hot streaks. The four teams combine are on a 30 game winning streak. What should be expected Sunday and whose streak will end?

Green Bay Packers vs Atlanta Falcons

What a combination of storylines converging in a showdown to earn a trip to the Super Bowl. Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers have won eight straight games and are still trying to “run the table”. The Atlanta Falcons have Matt Ryan, the likely NFL MVP, and the NFL’s best offense will be playing in the last game ever at the Georgia Dome.

Shootout.

That is what most people are expecting this game to be. The Over/Under for total points scored in the game is currently 60, but that even seems low. It doesn’t seem crazy to think 80+ points could be scored in this game. The previous matchup between these teams in Week 8 points to this being a very high scoring game. The Falcons ended up winning 33-32. Despite scoring 32 points, the Packers offense was without Randall Cobb, Jared Cook, and Ty Montgomery. The Packers’ defense is also more beat up than it was then with Damarious Randall, Quinten Rollins, and Morgan Burnett hurt.

This might be a hyperbole, but whoever punts first might lose this game. That is how explosive these offenses are. However, the Packers offense may not be at full strength on Sunday. Jordy Nelson, Davante Adams, and Geronimo Allison are all questionable and it is uncertain whether any or all of those three will play. The Falcons, on the other hand, should have all of their players available. The only player that was limited in practice on Friday was Julio Jones who says he will be playing.

The Falcons should look to establish the run game early to force Green Bay to go into more man-to-man coverage in the secondary. Given how beat up the Packers’ secondary is, highly athletic players like Jones and Mohamed Sanu should have no trouble getting open.

The X-Factor for the Packers will be Montgomery. No team in the NFL has allowed more receptions or yards to running backs this season. Given that Montgomery transitioned from wide receiver to running back earlier this season, this should be a perfect matchup for him.

This should be a very high scoring game that goes back and forth. The health of Rodgers’ weapons may affect the outcome of the game. However, it’s hard to imagine Adams and Allison not being able to give it a go. If the Packers have Nelson as well, that could put them over the top.

Prediction: Packers 42-41

Pittsburgh Steelers vs New England Patriots

The only thing standing between Tom Brady and a record breaking seventh individual Super Bowl appearance are the Pittsburgh Steelers. And the Patriots are the only thing standing between the Steerers and a record-breaking ninth franchise Super Bowl appearance.

Unlike the Packers and Falcons who are very pass heavy, the Patriots and Steelers both have more balanced offenses. Brady and Ben Roethlisberger can beat teams in the air. Wide receiver Julian Edelman on the Patriots has 1106 receiving yards and Antonio Brown of the Steelers has 1284 receiving yards.

If the passing game isn’t working, both teams can demoralize a team with its ground games. Patriots’ running back LeGarrette Blount has 299 carries for 1161 yards and 18 touchdowns this season. Pittsburgh may have the best running back in all of football in Le’Veon Bell who ran 1268 yards and seven touchdowns on 261 carries.

The Patriots boasted the best defense in the NFL in not allowing points. New England led the NFL in only allowing 15.6 points per game. However, this is probably the hottest offense the Patriots have played all season.

These two teams faced each other in Week 7 with the Patriots reigning supreme, 27-16. Looking back at the game is mostly meaningless, however. The Steelers were without Roethlisberger and were forced to play backup Landry Jones at quarterback. Tight end Rob Gronkowski led New England is receiving with 93 yards and a touchdown, but will not be playing in this matchup on Sunday. What is encouraging for Pittsburgh iis Brown and Bell combined for 255 yards that game with Jones at quarterback.

The Steelers need to put pressure on Brady. Since Week 9, the Steelers have led the NFL with 33 sacks. Getting Brady to the ground will be crucial. Letting the greatest quarterback of all time have time in the pocket will be devastating to a Steelers defense who are in the bottom half of the NFL in allowing passing yards.

It’s very tough to predict against the Patriots when history says that's stupid. That being said, the Steelers have won nine straight games and will win their 10th in a row.

Prediction: Steelers 31-28

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