The top squads from the AFC and NFC square off this Sunday. Metro tells you where to place your bets.
Green Bay Packers at Atlanta Falcons (-4.5)
Green Bay will be looking to avenge a 33-32 defeat at the Georgia Dome from Oct. 30 when the NFC Championship game kicks off on Sunday (3:05 p.m., FOX).
The Packers have won their last eight contests (7-1 against the spread) and Aaron Rodgers has been unstoppable, amassing at least 30 points in his last six tilts. That includes Green Bay’s dramatic 34-31 win over Dallas last week in which Jordy Nelson didn’t play (he’s considered doubtful this week). The Falcons held the Seahawks’ offense in check last week but Seattle had only averaged 15 points per game on the road this season. Rodgers and company present a far sterner challenge for the league’s 25th-ranked defense.
Atlanta’s offense has been firing on all cylinders lately, topping 33 points in each of their last five contests. And while they did score plenty of points when they beat Green Bay in October, it has to be concerning that the Packers held Julio Jones to just 29 yards on three catches (five targets) that day. That takes away some of the big play potential of the Falcons’ point producers. Matt Ryan’s frustration could be compounded when the Packers’ sixth-rated QB attackers (40 sacks in the regular season) get through an O-line that’s allowed Ryan to be dropped 37 times this season (22nd in the league). The intimidation that matchup could cause may also lead Ryan to make costly mistakes; the Packers were fourth-best in the league in interceptions this year (17).
The Packers have the inside lane in this track meet; take the points with confidence.
The pick: Packers +4.5
Pittsburgh Steelers at New England Patriots (-6)
New England goes from incredibly big to suspiciously low favorites as they host the Steelers in the AFC Championship game Sunday (6:40 p.m., CBS), one week after dispatching the Texans.
The Patriots piled 34 points on Houston’s top-rated defense last week while allowing just 16. Tom Brady’s ability and playoff poise is beyond question, and he draws a very favorable matchup against the NFL’s 12th-rated defense (16th in passing). It took an incredible effort by the Broncos’ pass rushers to stymie Brady in last year’s AFC Championship game, and a similar performance will be required from Pittsburgh. And while the Steelers brought the QB down 38 times this season (ninth in the league), they managed just one sack against the Chiefs last week and the Patriots’ O-line has excelled at keeping their QB upright this year (24 sacks allowed, fifth-best in the league).
Ben Roethlisberger would need to have a career day against New England’s eighth-rated defense to win. He and the other two “Killer Bs,” Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell, can ill-afford to make mistakes or give up yardage on foolish penalties against this polished Patriots squad. And considering they couldn’t score a single touchdown against the Chiefs’ 24th-ranked defense last week, it’s hard to believe the Steelers will even keep this game close.
The pick: Patriots -6