NFL conference championships open thread

Ed: It’s coming down to final bragging rights, both in the NFL and right here at Hot Air. We’ve reached the final three games of the post-season, and today we may find out who will win it all … at least between Jazz and me. Last week we both took a whiff on the Green Bay-Dallas game, figuring the Cowboys would leverage the extra rest and home-field advantage for a big win, but Aaron Rodgers put on a clinic of clutch instead. However, I did pick the Steelers for a win in Kansas City, while Jazz took the Chiefs. That leaves me with a 7-1 record in the playoffs and a two-game lead with three to go.

Jazz: I have no idea what Ed’s talking about. I have no memory of any series of football threads. Then again, I was abducted by aliens some time ago. But in all seriousness, I decided to swing for the fences to see if I could tie it up and the Steelers pleasantly surprised me, though to the detriment of my contest chances here. That 0-2 showing took me to 5-3 in the post season and victory may be beyond my grasp. Still, hope springs eternal.

Ed: First up today, we have Green Bay traveling to Atlanta for the NFC championship game (3:05 pm ET, FOX), and this should be one heck of a matchup. Both teams have scored 36 points a game in the playoffs, and the defense on both teams gave up almost the same points per game in the regular season (25.4 for Atlanta, 24.3 for Green Bay). Rodgers is on a hot streak, too. I’d love to see Rodgers back in the Super Bowl, so I’m rooting for the Pack.

However, Atlanta is playing at home, and they have all their offensive weapons on hand, while the Packers are not just dinged up but dealing with a stomach-flu spread this week. Matt Ryan is just as hot as Rodgers, and Atlanta’s defense has only given up more than 20 points once in the past six weeks (to New Orleans in the season finale). Ryan has Julio Jones back, while it’s far from clear that Ryan will get Jordy Nelson, Davante Adams, or Geronimo Allison back this week. The Pack will no doubt deliver a gutsy performance, but this time they look overmatched. Falcons 31-23 over the Packers.

Jazz: This is another game that’s coming down to a coin toss for me, much like the Cowboys matchup. The Packers are definitely dealing with a bit more on the injury front (and intestinal distress questions) and the Falcons have the home field advantage. In fact, Atlanta’s defense is actually a pretty good match for the Pack even when they’re firing on all cylinders. There’s no question that Matt Ryan has a hot hand and is not going to be suffering from post-season butterflies. In a close contest like this, the smart play would indeed be to take Atlanta. Plus, the oddsmakers in Vegas give Falcons a 5.5 point edge. So it’s a mystery to me why I decided to go with the old Ghost of Lombardi magic spell and predict that Green Bay will find a way to win one more on the road, 24-20.

Ed: In the evening, we get the real Clash of the Titans in the AFC championship when Pittsburgh travels to New England (6:40 pm ET, CBS). Tom Brady and Ben Roethlisberger have nine Super Bowl appearances between them over the last sixteen years, and both want to be the man to take it to ten. Last week, the offenses for both teams struggled, with the Steelers being shut out of the end zone and the Patriots coughing up the ball repeatedly.

Statistically, New England has the edge, perhaps more so on defense, but the Steelers’ D has coalesced well in the second half and played formidably ever since. Expect another tough day for both QBs, but look for Pittsburgh’s momentum to carry them to Houston. Steelers 27-21 over the Patriots.

Jazz: This game is breaking my heart. While Ed is saying that the Patriots have “the edge” in this one, that’s probably being a bit generous. They’re a six point favorite with the oddsmakers and they’re not missing out on much in terms of their big weapons. This is the one game I want Ed to be right on more than any this season because I’ve been rooting for Anybody But The Patriots since they clinched the AFC East.

Still, Le’Veon Bell has been setting records for rushing in the post season and he’s a huge force. Yet we need to remember that when he went up against the Patriots earlier this season he was held to 81 yards (which is A LOT, but not a lot for Bell right now) and their defense was more banged up than it is now. Then there’s this:

I’m sorry, Ed, and I hope I’m totally wrong, but I have to hold my nose and take the Patriots in a higher scoring shootout, but with Bell not making it into the end zone as often, 33–26.