NFL Playoff Schedule 2017: Predictions, Coverage Guide for Championship Bracket

David McCracken@crackemcFeatured ColumnistJanuary 18, 2017

FOXBORO, MA - JANUARY 14: Dion Lewis #33 celebrates with Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots after scoring a touchdown in the fourth quarter during the AFC Divisional Playoff Game at Gillette Stadium on January 14, 2017 in Foxboro, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
Jim Rogash/Getty Images

Championship Game Weekend is the NFL's equivalent to the Final Four. Four teams will enter, but only two will advance for a chance to hoist the Lombardi Trophy.

In the AFC, two usual suspects emerged, as the New England Patriots, led by Tom Brady, host Ben Roethlisberger and the Pittsburgh Steelers. Playing the Patriots in New England is a tall task for any team, especially in the postseason. But the Steelers are one of the few teams in the league who have the right amount of fire power on offense to stay around in any game.

In the NFC, the Atlanta Falcons get one more chance to say farewell to their beloved Georgia Dome as they host the Green Bay Packers in the stadium's last game before the Falcons move to their new arena next season.

But looking to spoil Atlanta's day will be the Packers, who are anchored by arguably the best quarterback in football right now. Aaron Rodgers has been on fire since the second half of the regular season began, which is a main reason why the Packers have won eight straight games heading into Sunday's matchup against the Falcons.

After knocking out the No. 1 seeded Dallas Cowboys in the NFC Divisional Round, does Green Bay have what it takes to win another road game in a hostile environment?

Before we get into any predictions, let's take a look at all the information you'll need to know about these two games.

NFC/AFC Championship Game Info
DateTeamsLocationTime (ET)National TV
NFC
Sunday, Jan. 22Green Bay Packers vs. Atlanta FalconsGeorgia Dome, Atlanta, GA3:05 p.m.Fox
AFC
Sunday, Jan. 22Pittsburgh Steelers vs. New England PatriotsGillette Stadium, Foxborough, MA6:40 p.m.CBS
NFL.com

NFC Championship Game

The Falcons proved that they belong in the conversation of the NFL's elite, as did quarterback Matt Ryan, who put on another dazzling display last weekend against the Seattle Seahawks in a 36-20 win. Ryan threw for 338 yards and three touchdowns with zero interceptions.

Ryan had a field day against the Legion of Boom, proving to his critics that he can win in the playoffs and cementing his status as the front-runner for the league's MVP award.

But the Falcons are much more than just Ryan. With the likes of Julio Jones, Mohamed Sanu, Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman, Atlanta possesses a variety of options on offense that can stop any defense in its tracks.

And don't sleep on Atlanta's defense either. 

On the other side of the field, the Packers have been nursing some injuries for most of the season. Having lost Eddie Lacy during the regular season and Jordy Nelson against the New York Giants in the wild-card round, Green Bay has been relying on the ability of its signal-caller and playmakers to carry them through the playoffs.

And so far, it's worked.

After defeating the Giants, the Packers went into a very hostile AT&T Stadium to take on the Cowboys and were able to outlast Dallas in the dying seconds of the game thanks to a 51-yard field goal from Mason Crosby to win 34-31.

The Packers have made it this far, but do they have enough to beat Atlanta? I don't think so.

The Falcons just have too much firepower on offense, and its defense is very underrated, as the Seahawks found out this past weekend. The Falcons will be more motivated than ever to win their last game in their old stadium and make a Super Bowl appearance, and it's hard to imagine that the Packers have any more magic in them to pull off the upset.

Prediction: Falcons defeat the Packers, 30-27

                      

AFC Championship Game

After a convincing 34-16 victory over a frustratingly mediocre Houston Texans, the Patriots will face the complete opposite of the Texans as the dynamic Steelers offense comes into town.

Alongside Roethlisberger are the two most versatile playmakers in the NFL in Antonio Brown and Le'Veon Bell.

Bell, to no one's surprise, was the catalyst for the Steelers against the Kansas City Chiefs on a day that Pittsburgh was desperate for some big plays. While they didn't score a touchdown in their 18-16 victory in the AFC Divisional Round, the Steelers had just enough production from Bell to end Kansas City's Super Bowl hopes.

But a standout performance from Bell alone won't be enough this weekend against the Patriots, especially if Pittsburgh can't find the end zone.

The Patriots know how to neutralize a team's best players, and they did so against the Steelers back in Week 7 when they won 27-16. While Roethlisberger didn't suit up that week, the Patriots were still able to figure out a way to keep Bell and Brown out of the end zone, despite the fact that both players put up a combined 268 total yards from scrimmage (149 yards for Bell, 119 yards for Brown), according to ESPN.com

Brady had a good but not great performance overall against the Texans as he turned the ball over twice against a stout Houston defense. It was a good thing that the Texans offense wasn't capable of moving the ball down the field, because otherwise the Patriots would've regretted those turnovers. But against the Steelers? They'll make you pay for coughing up the football.

Having said that, I feel that Brady will make sure ball security is the No. 1 priority for his offense on Sunday, as they will be able to pick apart Pittsburgh's secondary and move the ball down the field thanks to the likes of Julian Edelman and Dion Lewis out of the backfield, who burst onto the scene against the Texans with three touchdowns.

The Steelers will be able to keep up with the Patriots until Brady gets the ball with the final possession of the game. It's difficult to imagine New England losing an AFC Championship Game at home, and it won't start this season.

Prediction: Patriots defeat the Steelers, 28-27

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