The Green Bay Packers have won eight games in a row, but they don't know what kind of chance they have against the Atlanta Falcons in the NFC Championship Game.
After beating the New York Giants and Dallas Cowboys in their two playoff games, the Packers should be flying high when they face a talented Falcons team at the Georgia Dome Sunday at 3:05 p.m. ET. However, it may be difficult for head coach Mike McCarthy to come up with a workable game plan, because injuries have taken their toll on the Green Bay receivers.
Jordy Nelson has fractured ribs and did not play against the Cowboys. He returned to practice in a limited fashion this week, but there is no guarantee he will play against the Falcons. Injuries have also slowed Davante Adams (ankle) and Geronimo Allison (hamstring).
If the Packers were preparing for a regular-season game, McCarthy would not be counting on any of them to be in the lineup.
"In the regular-season mindset, I would think none of them would play in this game," McCarthy told Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. "But obviously this is a different time, this is a different point where we are in the season. Everybody understands what's on the line here."
The Packers need to have a solid offensive game in order to have a chance against the explosive Falcons, and that still might not be good enough. They may need a spectacular game to have a chance to compete with Atlanta for 60 minutes.
|NFL Conference Championship Games|
|Game||Date||Time (ET)||TV||Point Spread/Total||Prediction|
|Green Bay at Atlanta||Jan. 22||3:05 p.m.||Fox||Atlanta (-5); 60||Green Bay; Over|
|Pittsburgh at New England||Jan. 22||6:40 p.m.||CBS||New England (-6); 50.5||Pittsburgh; Over|
|OddsShark; Silverman predictions|
Quarterback Aaron Rodgers has been sensational in recent weeks, but it will be hard for him to be productive if his receivers are banged up.
While Rodgers is hoping to get to the Super Bowl and win the second championship of his career, Matt Ryan is looking to qualify for and win his first.
The Super Bowl is the goal of each of the four teams and the four starting quarterbacks remaining, but Ryan is the only one of the foursome who has not been to or won the big game.
That will likely create extra pressure on the Atlanta quarterback, but he has thrived under the spotlight this season. A look back at Ryan's career shows that high-pressure games late in the season had not been kind to him, but he had never had the complete support of a powerful running game and an improved defense.
That's just what he has this year with running backs Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman. Plus, outside linebacker Vic Beasley has helped to upgrade the defense.
If the Packers are not healthy enough to compete, the Falcons will make the most of this opportunity. But look for the Green Bay receivers to make it to the field and play with a full effort.
According to OddsShark, the Falcons are five-point favorites, and the total remains at 60. Look for the Packers to cover the spread and keep their winning streak alive.
The New England Patriots are in a familiar position as they get set to play their sixth consecutive AFC title game.
While that speaks to their dominance and consistency and is a remarkable accomplishment in its own right, they will have to play a powerful game to get to the Super Bowl for the seventh time in the Tom Brady-Bill Belichick era.
They face a formidable Pittsburgh Steelers team; head coach Mike Tomlin's squad is playing remarkable football and has won nine games in a row.
All five of the starting offensive linemen are playing well, but center Maurkice Pouncey has been playing at a high level. Guards David DeCastro and Ramon Foster are also playing out of their minds.
Opponents have rarely brought any kind of pressure up the middle, and the interior blocking in the running game has been efficient and effective.
That puts a ton of pressure on New England defensive coordinator Matt Patricia, who has gotten an excellent effort from his unit this year.
New England had the No. 1 scoring defense in the league during the regular season, but the Steelers will provide a major test. The Patriots are going to need a huge game from defensive tackles Alan Branch and Malcom Brown, along with middle linebacker Dont'a Hightower.
Cornerback Logan Ryan said the Patriots are used to being doubted, so going up against a powerful offense will only make them play harder.
"This group defensively has been a group that's felt like we've had a chip on our shoulders," Ryan told Everett Cook of the Boston Globe. "We were doubted early in the year and called out by the media publicly, so we just felt like we were going to ignore the noise and keep doing our job and working hard."
The Steelers also need to come up with defensive answers to contain Brady, but if the Pats can't at least throw up a roadblock to slow down Pittsburgh's juggernaut offense, they could be in major trouble.
The Patriots are six-point favorites, and that's too much to give to the Steelers. This contest will come down to the final minutes, and Pittsburgh should be the team that scores last and wins the AFC Championship Game.