This week inside The Huddle, we discuss the upcoming NFC and AFC Conference championships, the favorites to wind up in Houston, and JAD “sililocates” about that really, really good Green Bay/Dallas matchup from last Sunday.
Sunday, January 22
NFC Conference Championship:
3:05 p.m. ET on FOX — Green Bay Packers at Atlanta Falcons
AFC Conference Championship:
6:40 p.m. ET on CBS — Pittsburgh Steelers at New England Patriots
J Arsenio D’Amato:
Green Bay at Dallas was an instant classic that made up for an otherwise lousy couple of rounds of playoff games. So many twists and turns in that game!
Of course, Aaron Rodgers is ridiculous and on another level of play, but Mason Crosby’s 56-yard field goal was fascinating on so many levels. Coach Mike McCarthy put Green Bay’s season on the foot of his kicker and [Crosby] knuckled it through.
[If Crosby misses that kick,] Dallas takes over at the 46-yard line and easily gets a couple of first downs and wins the game.
Jason Garrett leaving 35 seconds on the clock for Aaron Rodgers will keep Dallas fans awake at night during the whole offseason; Green Bay’s defense was cooked and he had Dak Prescott spike the ball on first down with a minute to go and a timeout.
Handing the ball to Zeke Elliott would have only taken a few more seconds and he might have broken through that defense for a game-winning touchdown.
1. Rank the four remaining teams in likelihood to win it all.
2. Hot take: Aaron Rodgers is the best QB left. Defend or debate!
3. The Steelers only scored on field goals in beating Kansas City. What are their chances against NE?
4. How do the conference title games this weekend go down?
1. NE, ATL, PIT, GB — I strongly feel that GB’s secondary isn’t good enough to beat any of these teams, let alone two of them.
2. Rodgers is certainly playing the best right now. He’s been on another level for the whole second half of the season. Historically speaking, I think Brady pretty clearly has the better résumé and you could argue Roethlisberger does as well.
3. I give the Steelers about a 25 percent chance of winning in NE. Gillette is a very difficult place to play and the Patriots are most likely not going to lay another egg like they did last week against Houston. Pittsburgh definitely has the personnel to outscore the Pats, but I don’t trust the version of Roethlisberger we’ve seen this year to not turn it over. It could happen, but I think you have to favor NE.
4. I like Atlanta by double digits over the Packers. Matt Ryan may throw for 500 yards in that game. Rodgers will keep the Pack in it but, ultimately, Atlanta’s offense in the Georgia Dome will prove unstoppable [for] Green Bay’s awful pass defense.
I like the Pats in a little bit of a lower-scoring game than everyone is expecting. Let’s say 30-24.
J Arsenio D’Amato:
1. ATL, NE, GB, PITT
2. Aaron Rodgers is on an all-time historical roll; not only the best right now. He’s just ridiculous, even minus Jordy Nelson.
3. The Steelers were surprisingly tough on defense, but that was against limited KC. There is no way they come close to shutting down NE.
4. Atlanta’s defense makes one more stop than a banged-up GB defense does and pulls out a high scoring affair. NE laid an egg already and still won handily. This week they fire on all cylinders and win going away.
I think a real interesting piece of all this is the Pats’ D. The only good QB they faced all year was Russell Wilson and they lost. To win the title, they have to face two great ones.
Luckily for them they can sling it around right with [anyone] and they only have to piece it together for two games, but that is definitely a key storyline for the weekend.
I think the very obvious thing you are leaving out is that Seattle’s D with Earl Thomas is considerably better than any that are left. Atlanta has beaten some “good” quarterbacks (45-32, 48-33, 33-32, 38-32). I don’t think that makes their defense better given the scores. With the four teams left, to win you probably need to break 30. There are no great [defenses] left, but of the four, if you asked me who I trusted the most to get one or two stops, it would be the Pats.
It is football and anything can happen, but I don’t think anyone expects the Pats to shut down the Steelers this weekend… just to be a little better on [defense] and just as good or better on [offense].
All four of these teams regularly torch good defenses is my point.
1. I really do not feel that there is that big of a difference between the four remaining teams. They are all flawed. However, I will give these rankings:
2. At this point I’d agree Rodgers is the best QB left. He’s been great in this playoffs and can also get out of the pocket and scramble if necessary.
3. The Steelers definitely have a chance to beat the Patriots. Earlier this year, they played [against each other] and Landry Jones was quarterbacking the Steelers. The Pats’ D has not been tested this season and trusting Kyle Van Noy and Elandon Roberts to cover the middle of the field and [Le’Veon] Bell is a frightening prospect.
4. I think the Falcons’ offense is too much for Green Bay’s anemic defense and that the Pats end up grinding out a win against the Steelers.