Super Bowl 2017: AFC, NFC Conference Championship Predictions and Vegas Odds

Michelle Bruton@@michelle_nflFeatured ColumnistJanuary 18, 2017

PITTSBURGH, PA - OCTOBER 23: Quarterback Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots passes as he is pursued by linebacker Arthur Moats #55 of the Pittsburgh Steelers during a game at Heinz Field on October 23, 2016 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The Patriots defeated the Steelers 27-16. (Photo by George Gojkovich/Getty Images)
George Gojkovich/Getty Images

Super Bowl LI is right around the corner, but before we can crown the champion of the 2016 NFL season, we need to determine the victor of each respective conference. 

In the AFC, the New England Patriots will host the Pittsburgh Steelers at Gillette Stadium, while the NFC's Atlanta Falcons will be duking it out with the Green Bay Packers.

Three of the four teams have made it to the NFL's biggest stage at some point in the last six years, but the Falcons haven't participated in a Super Bowl since 1999 and have never won the title. 

Everybody likes an underdog, but can the Falcons get past Aaron Rodgers and the Packers? Take a look at the latest point spreads and predictions for both championship games this weekend, as well as all the information on when and where to watch the games.

AFC, NFC Championship Preview, Predictions & Odds
NFCCDateTimeTVAwayHomePoint SpreadPrediction
January 223:05 p.m.FoxGBATLATL -5.5Packers
AFCCDateTimeTVAwayHomePoint SpreadPrediction
January 226:40 p.m.CBSPITNENE -4.5Patriots
NFL.com; odds via OddsShark

AFC: Pittsburgh Steelers at New England Patriots

Regular-Season Recap 

Pittsburgh ended the regular season with an 11-5 record, good for first place in the AFC North. Only three other teams in the AFC—the 12-4 Kansas City Chiefs and Oakland Raiders, and, of course, the 14-2 Patriots—finished with more wins. 

Including their wins in the wild-card round and the divisional round, the Steelers have won nine straight games, stretching back to Week 11.

Those victories followed a four-game losing slump that included Pittsburgh's regular-season clash with New England, which the Steelers lost 27-16. However, Roethlisberger sat that game out after tearing his meniscus the week before, so this will be the first time this year he will face Brady. 

Since then, however, Pittsburgh's offense has become nearly impossible to slow down. Top weapons Antonio Brown and Le'Veon Bell have shattered records; in his first career playoff game, Bell set a new Steelers postseason rushing record...and then proceeded to break it in the divisional round. 

The Steelers would much rather forget their Week 3 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles, an anomaly that they lost 34-3. But any weaknesses Pittsburgh showed early in the year were corrected in their seven wins to close out the regular season. 

Meanwhile, the Patriots went 3-1 without Tom Brady as he served his four-game suspension to open the year. However, after Brady's return in Week 5, New England only lost one more game, in Week 10 against the Seattle Seahawks. 

Though the Patriots had to grapple with losing top weapon Rob Gronkowski for most of the season, they enjoyed unprecedented success at the running back position with the explosion of LeGarrette Blount. The hard-nosed runner doubled any previous season touchdown total, with 18 on the regular season.

Like Pittsburgh, New England won its final seven games of the regular season. 

     

Key Matchup 

Not to take anything away from Blount, but this game could come down to whether Pittsburgh's defense is able to find an answer for versatile Patriots weapon Dion Lewis. The running back has been so much more than that for New England, becoming the first player in NFL playoff history to score on a kick return, a reception and a run.

Pittsburgh will have trouble committing enough defensive firepower to stopping Lewis while also containing Blount and fellow running back James White, not to mention Julian Edelman, Chris Hogan and Martellus Bennett. 

     

Prediction 

The Steelers have put together a convincing bid for the Super Bowl during the regular season and postseason, but Pittsburgh has to be wishing that it were matching up with anyone but the potseason-veteran Patriots. 

Pittsburgh's offense, behind Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown and Le'Veon Bell, will put up an incredible effort, but can anyone bet against the Patriots on this stage?

     

NFC: Green Bay Packers at Atlanta Falcons

Regular-Season Recap

The Packers almost didn't make it here.

When they were sitting at 4-6 after suffering four straight lossesincluding one to the Falcons—it was hard to imagine them taking the field for the NFC Championship Game on January 22, but here we are.  

Now, since Rodgers called his shot and proclaimed that his team would "run the table," the Pack have won eight in a row including the postseason on their quest for a second Super Bowl appearance in the Ted Thompson, Mike McCarthy and Aaron Rodgers era. 

Atlanta, meanwhile, had a much steadier season. At 11-5, they tied with the New York Giants for the second-most wins in the NFC behind the 13-3 Dallas Cowboys, who were ousted from the playoff race by Green Bay on Sunday. 

The Falcons didn't lose more than two consecutive games at any point in the season, and of their five losses, three came against teams with winning records.

Oh, and don't expect much punting from either side. 

Matt Ryan has put together an MVP-caliber season, passing for 4,944 yards and 38 touchdowns to seven interceptions in the regular season. He is possibly the only quarterback in the league this season who could outscore Rodgers.  

     

Key Matchup

This game boils down to whether Green Bay's front seven can get enough pressure on Ryan to minimize the damage he can do with Julio Jones and Mohamed Sanu. There's no question that these teams have similar strengths—their passing offenses—and weaknesses—their secondaries.

If Rodgers is going to have a win in a shootout against Ryan, his front seven is going to need to make Ryan less of a lethal opponent. 

     

Prediction

The Falcons may be favored by 5.5 points, but it's hard to imagine Atlanta's secondary being able to stop Aaron Rodgers, who is playing out of his mind.

This game won't be a blowout, but it will be a shootout. Expect Rodgers to just barely sneak his team past Atlanta for a shot to the big game. 

     

Odds via OddsShark and current as of January 17.

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