Just how far can the Green Bay Packers take this run?
The Packers looked like anything but a team that was capable of competing in the NFC Championship Game when they dropped a Week 11 game at Washington against the Redskins. While Aaron Rodgers and the offense was playing a competitive game, the defense was simply atrocious, and the Packers were sent home after they absorbed a 42-24 defeat.
It seemed that nobody thought the Packers had a chance to make a legitimate run at the playoffs as they had just dropped their fourth game in a row and fallen to 4-6. Nobody except Rodgers.
The Green Bay quarterback matter-of-factly stated that he thought the Packers could "run the table" and reel off six straight wins to close the regular season, and that could get them the NFC North title (via Rob Demovsky of ESPN.com).
The Packers not only won their last six regular-season games, but they also have won two playoff games. Now they are one game away from the Super Bowl, and if they can beat the Atlanta Falcons at the Georgia Dome on Sunday, the Packers will be headed to Houston and Super Bowl LI.
The Falcons are a formidable team themselves, and they may be the most explosive offensive team in the league. Not only do they have MVP candidate Matt Ryan at quarterback, but they also have wideout Julio Jones and a two-pronged running attack featuring Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman.
The Falcons have had a strong offensive team for years, but the big difference for the Falcons is on the defensive side. Atlanta has long been a fast and athletic team on defense but one that has struggled at the point of attack.
|NFL Conference Championship Games|
|Green Bay at Atlanta||Jan. 22||3:05 p.m.||Fox|
|Pittsburgh at New England||Jan. 22||6:40 p.m.||CBS|
The Falcons have gotten somewhat stronger in that area, and they have added a game-changing pass-rusher in Vic Beasley. He has 15.5 sacks this season and is capable of wrecking any offensive game plan, because he comes around the corner with blazing speed.
Green Bay's defense is certainly playing better than it was during the four-game losing streak, but the Packers ranked 22nd in yardage allowed and 30th against the pass.
Both of these teams have dominant offensive sides, but the defense that can stand up to the pressure and come up with perhaps two or three stops at key moments should have the best chance to win this game.
The Packers and Falcons will kick off at 3:05 p.m. ET and will be televised by Fox.
The AFC matchup between the Pittsburgh Steelers and New England Patriots appears to be even more compelling than the Green Bay-Atlanta game.
The Steelers are also streaking, having won nine consecutive games, including two in the postseason.
The Patriots have a much-improved defense this year and allowed the fewest points of any team in the league. However, trying to slow down quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, running back Le'Veon Bell and wide receiver Antonio Brown may be too much for them.
Bell ran for 167 yards in the Steelers' wild-card win over the Miami Dolphins, and he followed that up with a 170-yard effort against the Kansas City Chiefs. Brown appears to be the most dangerous receiver in the league.
The reason the Steelers made the playoffs and won the AFC North title was because Brown lunged with the ball across the goal line in Week 16 against the Baltimore Ravens. If Brown did not score on that play, the AFC North would have been there for the Ravens, and the Steelers might not have even made the playoffs.
The Patriots had the best record in the league with a 14-2 mark, and they beat the Steelers earlier in the year when the two teams met in Week 7 in Pittsburgh. Roethlisberger did not play in that game, but that will not be the case here.
Tom Brady and LeGarrette Blount have both had sensational years for the Patriots, and Julian Edelman is going to catch anything he gets his hands on. If former Arizona Cardinal Michael Floyd can make a couple of key catches, that could turn the game in New England's favor.
Brady has tremendous confidence in Edelman's ability to make important catches.
"Jules did a great job. He always does," Brady told Alex Speier of the Boston Globe. "He's a huge playmaker for us and his ability to create separation and make plays down the field."
The two teams will kick off at Gillette Stadium at 6:40 p.m. ET, and CBS has this broadcast.