NFC Championship Game
(4) Green Bay Packers at (2) Atlanta Falcons
Packers: Eight wins and counting. That’s the streak right now for the Green Bay Packers. Many were so fast to throw the towel in on them after their loss to the Redskins on a Sunday night in November and that’s very understandable. The one thing is they never gave up on the season and they never gave up on each other and that belief and mindset won them six games in a row, the NFC North title and they’re on a run in the playoffs. This maybe the best I’ve ever seen Aaron Rodgers look and that’s saying a lot considering this is a guy that’s won two league MVP awards. Even Tom Brady stated that what he does on the field is simply remarkable and he’ll even stay up late to watch him play. That’s a high compliment from a future hall of famer. These last few weeks, Aaron has been extremely locked in and he still managed to have a great game even without Jordy Nelson on the field. On Sunday in Dallas, the biggest thing I took away was how he established the tempo of the game to his advantage. He used a lot of no-huddle so the Cowboys defense couldn’t get back on track and he used his smarts and caught them vulnerable at times. Everything is clicking right now for their offense. Rodgers doesn’t have to throw the football too much as he was because of their success in balancing things out and the receiving core truly stepped up as a whole to replace Jordy. As far as the defense is concerned, they play well for a half, then struggle and that couldn’t have been any truer if you watched that game on Sunday. The lack of killer also hurt the Packers because when you are up by 10 or more points, you close out and they failed to do so but here they are and it’s another week. With a win on Sunday, the Packers will be in the Super Bowl for the first time since 2011 and they have a rematch with Atlanta in the dome on Sunday afternoon.
Falcons: What a year it’s been in Atlanta. I’ll be one of the first people to tell you that I didn’t expect this. In a conference where you have the Carolina Panthers, Seattle Seahawks, Green Bay Packers, Arizona Cardinals, and Dallas Cowboys, all those teams listed were considered to be much better than the Falcons. Let’s look at it this way: They beat Carolina twice this year, they eliminated the Seattle Seahawks from the playoffs last week, they held the Cardinals to 19 points and beat them and out of the two byes in the NFC, the Falcons are the only one remaining. It’s time to give them some respect and a bit more credit. Matt Ryan put the finishing touches on an MVP season on Saturday and helped his team put away the Seattle Seahawks on Saturday. He’s the anchor of that offense that ranked first in points per game averaging 33 points a game and what has really impressed me is how they have made it an effort to get everyone involved. Obviously, Julio Jones is outstanding and he will get his catches, somehow, someway. This two-headed monster of Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman has also caught my eye. Freeman can shake past you, run past you and he doesn’t mind lowering that shoulder to run through you either. He’s a violent runner with a tremendous amount of power for a guy of his size. Then, you have Tevin Coleman, the finesse guy that is excellent in third down situations. He can create those mismatches across the board with a linebacker or safety in space and that’s where he operates so well. The biggest improvement for the Falcons has been their defense and that was expected considering that Dan Quinn is a defensive minded guy. They have playmakers in Keanu Neal and up front, Vic Beasley has finally become the guy we were hoping he’d be. For years, the Falcons have lacked a consistent pass rush and often ranked at the bottom in sacks. On Sunday, they’ll play in the final game at the Georgia Dome and what better way to go out than to get to the Super Bowl and if they did indeed advance, this would be their first Super Bowl appearance since 1999.
Packers Player To Watch: Ty Montgomery– When they met in week eight, he was my player to watch then and this week, he’s my x-factor for them once again. The Falcons are terrible when it comes to stopping the run, they are ranked 29th overall to be exact. I see the Packers trying to establish the run early on to force the Falcons into loading the box which can allow Rodgers to do what he does best even more and that’s moving the pocket and making it happen with his feet to buy time. Montgomery is a former wide receiver that can still line up wide. He’s still a valuable asset in their passing game as well.
Falcons Player(s) To Watch: Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman– You worry about shutting Freeman down, then you have to also gameplan for shutting down Tevin as well. Just like their receivers and tight ends, these running backs are also big pieces of their passing game. On Saturday, both Freeman and Coleman combined for 102 yards receiving. As they showed against Seattle, if the running game isn’t as effective, they can still hurt your defense is some type of capacity.
Packers Keys To The Game: The Packers must get off the field on third down especially against this high-powered Falcons offense and not let their guards down because one open guy can hurt you. It’s also key that the Packers remain patient on offense. This is a much better defense they will be facing on Sunday in Atlanta compared to the one they say in Dallas last Sunday.
Falcons Keys To The Game: Matt Ryan just needs to be himself. I can’t stress it enough. Trying to match a guy like Aaron Rodgers point for point isn’t the best idea. Run Freeman, force Green Bay to load the box, use your play action and get the tight ends involved and create some mismatches with their safeties or linebackers. On defense, I’m rushing six guys and dropping five back and not allowing that quarterback to sit back there and pick and choose where he wants to throw the ball.
Prediction: When they met in week eight, this was the start to the Packers four-game losing streak. Many key guys such as Randall Cobb, Jared Cook, and Damarious Randall were all out with injuries. This time around, all three of those guys are back and ready to go. This was one of the Falcons signature wins this season. There’s a whole lot more on the line now to play for: A spot to play in the big game. I like the Green Bay Packers to win the NFC Championship and represent the conference in Super Bowl 51. Packers 38 Falcons 35
Usually around this time, we have a solid idea and guess on who’s going to win the league MVP. In 2013, Peyton Manning had it pretty much sealed up after throwing seven touchdowns in the first game of the season, in 2014, Aaron Rodgers went on a tear and finished that season without throwing an interception at home and last season, Cam Newton finally figured it out and tore defenses apart and led the Panthers to a 15-1 record (a 14-0 start), the NFC South division title, the top seed in the playoffs and he had the best season of his career without his top target in Kelvin Benjamin. So here’s the million dollar question: Who will win the league MVP this year? Let’s meet the candidates.
1. Tom Brady– 16 games, 12 games or however many games, before he made his season debut this year, we all stated he’d be on a tear after being suspended for the first four games and we couldn’t have been any more accurate with that statement. He only played in 12 games but threw a total of 28 touchdown passes and he’s shown no sign of slowing down as he approaches the age of 40. He was locked in and still put up impressive numbers even without his top playmaker in Rob Gronkowski. In those 12 games, the Patriots went 11-1 and finished the regular season with a 14-2 mark. I know I’ve been on record and I’ve stated that Tom isn’t as valuable as you think because they did win three of the four games they played without him but let’s also flip the coin to the other side. Without Tom Brady, the Patriots don’t have a first-round bye almost every January. They’d simply be a Wild Card team.
2. Aaron Rodgers– He’s won this award two times in his career already and he’s always considered to be a candidate year in and year out and we see simply how valuable of an asset he is to his football team. With Aaron Rodgers under center, you’re a lock to win at least 10 or 11 games. Without him, the Green Bay Packers are probably a five-win football team at best and we’ve seen what the Packers have looked like when he’s on the sideline. In 2013, Rodgers broke his collarbone and the Packers were a completely different team without him. He comes back in the final week of the season and in just one game, he gets the Packers to the playoffs and helps them clinch the division title. This season looked to be going down the drain as the Packers at one time were losers of six in a row. He said they could run the table and they did just that. He put the team on his back and finished the season with 40 touchdown passes.
3. Matt Ryan– He’s been questioned a lot over the years about his decision making, his leadership and holding onto the football and at the beginning of the year, not many would’ve considered him to be a candidate, especially coming off the season he did in 2015 and let’s not also forget this is the same guy that also got intercepted in practice a month before the season started (That’s where you laugh). This year, he put together arguably the best season of his NFL career. He threw 38 touchdown passes and only seven interceptions. Here’s more of the stats: He was second in passing yards per game with 309, third in completion percentage at 69.9 percent and he’s been the anchor of this Falcons offense that’s ranked number this year.
4. Derek Carr– What a year this guy had for the Oakland Raiders. He was my frontrunner throughout the year for the award then he got hurt, unfortunately. The case can even be made to still award him after we saw how poorly they played without him in the playoffs game against the Texans. He’s the main reason why the Raiders were in the hunt and in first place for a majority of the season. His numbers weren’t bad either. 28 touchdown passes and only six interceptions. He also completed 63 percent of his passes this year. The future is extremely bright for this guy.
My Winner: Matt Ryan will be awarded his first league MVP. He’s been the most consistent all season long, he averaged 7.9 yards per pass attempt, a new record set and he ranked first in basically every stat for a quarterback across the board. After a bad loss to Tampa Bay in week one, the Falcons reeled off four victories in a row including two over Carolina and Denver, the previous Super Bowl representatives. They hit a rough patch in the road, but finished the season with four straight wins to win the NFC South and clinch the two seed in the NFC playoffs. He also sealed the deal with his game on Saturday against the Seahawks.
We’ve seen some good football as of late. There was the thriller in Tampa Bay last Monday with Clemson and Alabama to determine a champion, the Packers and Cowboys yesterday was by far the best game of the NFL playoffs and maybe the best game of the season and the Steelers and Chiefs was a low scoring battle that saw the Steelers score all 18 of their points on field goals. Round two is over and four remain. Here’s what’s upcoming then we’re onto Houston, Texas to crown a champion.
NFC Championship: Green Bay Packers at Atlanta Falcons– The Packers are the hottest team in the NFL right now. Eight straight wins and counting and during this stretch, Aaron Rodgers has played some of the best football of his career. Since the month of November, he’s thrown a total of 24 touchdown passes and a single interception. He said they would run the table and so far, they’ve been on a roll. The Atlanta Falcons, how impressive have they’ve been? Matt Ryan put the finishing touches on his MVP season against the Seahawks on Saturday. Let’s give Kyle Shanahan a lot of credit for being the blueprint behind this offense. They’re spreading the football around to everyone within the offense and if you’re open, you are getting the football. This will be the final game ever at the Georgia Dome. This could be another classic.
AFC Championship: Pittsburgh Steelers at New England Patriots– The Steelers at one point lost four games in a row after their 4-1 start and that also includes a loss to these same New England Patriots. They won out and here they are a game away from the Super Bowl. I took away some positives and negatives from yesterday. The positive was their defense because they have been up and down throughout the year. Their offense just couldn’t get anything going. Le’Veon had another great game, but they scored all 18 points on field goals. I can sit here and say I was not impressed with the Patriots on Saturday. The offensive line was bad all around, the running game was absent and the defense had their lapses here and there, but made plays when they had too. These two teams know each other so well.
With that being said, see you on Sunday. Send me your questions throughout the week. Follow us on Twitter @dailyblitz_61 and like our Facebook fan page: facebook.com/thedailyblitz.
NFC Divisional Playoff
(4) Green Bay Packers at (1) Dallas Cowboys
Packers: Last week against the Giants was probably the best they’ve looked all year long from a complete game standpoint. The offense did what they’ll always do even with Jordy Nelson leaving with that rib injury. Other guys stepped it up when they had too. Randall Cobb had the game of his life and Devante Adams was also a reliable target over the middle. This team is hot and they are clicking right now and in typical Aaron Rodgers fashion, they look r-e-l-a-x-e-d. When Rodgers said they would run the table, it happened and once again, he’s a favorite to win the MVP for the third time in his career and the stats don’t lie. During this seven-game winning streak, Aaron Rodgers has thrown a total of 22 touchdown passes and zero interceptions. As some of you know, I refer to Aaron as “Like That” because he simply makes plays, like that. I’m still very worried about their defense because they are extremely erratic. Yes, they held the Giants offense to 13 points, but let’s be real about things: One, the Giants offense was as up and down as the stock exchange and secondly, the Giants beat themselves by dropping the football in open space. The Packers have a nice front seven that can rush the passer, tackle and attack the line of scrimmage, it’s the secondary that’s the shakiest part of their unit. They handled business against one NFC East team last week and this Sunday, they’ll look to do the same against the top-seeded Cowboys.
Cowboys: So let’s rewind it some and go back to 2015. The Dallas Cowboys win their first two games. Dez Bryant goes down with a foot injury and the following week, Tony Romo breaks his collarbone and without those two, they lost seven in a row. This preseason, Tony goes down again with a back injury and the reigns of the starting quarterback were Dak Prescott’s, a fourth-round draft pick out of Mississippi State. This guy is going to be good for years and years to come. He and Zeke have led them to the top record in the NFC at 13-3 including 11 wins in a row. They got back to the basic fundamentals and that’s running the football and anybody can run it for them, especially when you have the best offensive line in football opening the holes up for you. Dak and Zeke have been the engines to this entire Cowboys team all season long and who would’ve thought two rookies would lead them to the top seed in the NFC Playoffs? Their offense ranked fifth in total offense and fifth in scoring as they averaged 26 points per game. When I look at their defense, it’s average at best. Sean Lee is by far their best player and he’s also the tone setter. He roams all around the field and wherever you see the football, number 50 is in on the action and he’s in the pile of tacklers. The secondary has also given up a lot of big plays down the field and they also struggle to stop drag routes over the middle of the field which can result in a touchdown. They’ve proved themselves in the regular season, now, it’s time to see what they’re really made of in January.
Packers Player To Watch: Mike Daniels– Whenever I talk about underrated football players, in my opinion, this guy comes up all the time. He’s a 6’0, 291-pound defensive end that people don’t really discuss. He’s phenomenal when it comes to shutting down the run and they’ll need him to be that guy along with everyone in the front seven to stop Zeke and pressure Prescott.
Cowboys Player To Watch: Terrance Williams– This maybe hard for you to believe once you read this, but he’s the only guy on the Cowboys roster that’s scored a touchdown in the playoffs? Not even Jason Witten has scored one. When these two last played, Cole Beasley had the game of his life against Green Bay and Dez was inactive. I see Green Bay really putting a lot of attention on Dez and Beasley which could open the field up for Williams.
Packers Keys To The Game: It starts with containing the Cowboys running game. I can’t say it enough and it will take a lot of discipline to do so, something the Packers defense has lacked in the second half of the season. Remember the week six battle when the Cowboys top rated running game battled the Packers number one rush defense? Dallas won that battle convincingly. The Packers need to also get Jared Cook involved a lot. With Jordy out with fractured ribs, he can give Rodgers a nice trio of receivers in Cobb, Adams, and cook.
Cowboys Keys To The Game: Feed Zeke the football and let him get his carries early and often. Running the ball and winning those time of possession battles has been the reason behind their success, so why get away from that? He’s been your best offensive player all year long, give the ball to your playmaker. As a defense, man to man coverage is necessary across the board. Playing that zone scheme all around is asking for Aaron Rodgers to destroy you any way he can and lastly, don’t allow Rodgers to buy too much time.
Prediction: This is by far the game of the weekend. If we get the type of battle we got two years ago when they met in the playoffs, we should be in for a treat. How could we forget what decided the game basically? Dez’s catch (which was a catch by the way). The Packers are hot right now and are looking to keep it rolling. I like Green Bay in this one. Packers 35 Cowboys 27
AFC Divisional Playoffs
(3) Pittsburgh Steelers at (2) Kansas City Chiefs
Steelers: Eight wins in a row and counting. When they last lost a game, it was to the streaking Dallas Cowboys at the time and since then, they haven’t missed a beat. Being healthy truly does make a difference. I’d rather have a fully 100 percent Ben Roethlisberger than to see him force himself back on the field and he’s not fully healed. But, you can’t knock the guy for wanting to be under center leading his team to victory and with him, he gives them the best to win games. Without him, they struggle. Last week against Miami, we finally saw the “three B’s” healthy and on the field together for the first time in a postseason game as the last two postseason appearances we didn’t see Le’Veon Bell because he was sidelined with knee injuries. This is by far the best trio of offensive players in the league. Having Bell made all the difference and when a wide receiver of Antonio Brown’s caliber demands so much attention, teams tend to forget about the threat that Bell is in the backfield and they don’t load the box which allows him to roam around. I mentioned this the other day and said that Le’Veon Bell is a mix of Marshall Faulk and Barry Sanders. He displays the patience that Marshall displayed and allows the hole to open up and then bursts through and he shows the elusiveness to make people miss in the open field like Barry. Their defense got a boost with Tuitt back on the field to bolster their run defense. They did a great job against Miami in not letting Jay Ajayi get loose and I’m curious to see if they can keep that consistent play going. They already won the first rematch last weekend, now, it’s onto Kansas City for Mike Tomlin and the black and yellow.
Chiefs: I’ll always give credit when and where it’s due. When I previewed the AFC West during the summer, I wasn’t sure what to expect from the Kansas City Chiefs, especially without Justin Houston who missed a large amount of time with a knee injury and he’s the motor to that defense because he generates a pass rush and is extremely fast to the football. He comes back and doesn’t miss a beat and for the first time since 2010, the Kansas City Chiefs won the AFC West and here they are hosting a playoff game at Arrowhead. I’ve been on the radio and I’ve stated this is the only team that I feel can challenge the New England Patriots in the AFC because of their ground game and how they can control the clock and win the time of possession battle and defensively, they have the game-plan to neutralize the Patriots offense. Lots of pressure up the middle and they have a secondary that can keep up with their receivers. Let’s not also forget that they played New England pretty tough last year in the playoffs but did fall short. I’ve always been concerned about their offense but ever since Tyreek Hill was used more, I can take them a bit more seriously now. Every team has that “Mr. Everything” type of player and as of late, he’s been their’s. He’s that guy that no matter where you place him, he’s effective. The Chiefs are an old-school football. There’s nothing fancy or flashy about them at all as they are simply a team with an opportunistic defense and a grinding, ball-controlling offense with a quarterback that takes very good care of the football and doesn’t turn it over. They’ll look to now avenge the embarrassing loss from week four with the Steelers now coming to their house.
Steelers Player To Watch: Ryan Shazier– He’s the key to limiting a consistent ground attack of the Kansas City Chiefs. He can single-handedly destroy their ground game and he’s not too bad in pass coverage either and he’ll be counted on to shadow Travis Kelce. He does his best work when he’s crashing the gaps and keeping runners in the backfield.
Chiefs Player To Watch: Tyreek Hill– He’s became a big spark plug for them and he’s able to score at anytime. He wasn’t a factor in the first meeting but since then, he’s scored a total of 12 touchdowns. When he touches the ball, defenses need to be aware.
Steelers Keys To The Game: Unleash the Bell. After the win last Sunday, Ben was seen in a walking boot (we’ve seen this before). You have the most dynamic player in the game today. If Big Ben isn’t healthy enough and can’t get the ball to Antonio Brown, you’ll have to play the Chiefs style of football. Grind it out and if that’s the case, you’re turning to the best running back in the NFL. Don’t buy into Hill. He’s still an inexperienced receiver that doesn’t touch the ball too much. He’s used as a decoy and the weapon they need to be worried about is Travis Kelce.
Chiefs Keys To The Game: Discover what Ben Roethlisberger is on the field. As a defensive player when you face a guy that isn’t fully healthy, you test him early and make him work. I’d make him run early on to see if he’s 100 percent. One injury, even the slightest can have a big impact on the game. Make room for Kelce to run. This is where the Tyreek Hill factor plays in. The more space he opens up down the field, the more the opportunities will be available for Kelce over the middle.
Prediction: Another rematch in this round of the playoffs and when they first met, the Steelers destroyed Kansas City. All these months later, they meet again but this time, a trip to the AFC title game is on the line. I like the Steelers to win this game. Steelers 27 Chiefs 24
NFC Divisional Playoffs
(3) Seattle Seahawks at (2) Atlanta Falcons
Seahawks: There’s just something that’s different about them this year. When I look at their offense, their passing attack is lethal and Russell Wilson is more than capable of throwing the football from the pocket but has no problem running it and scrambling when possible. They’ve shifted their offense to a pass first scheme compared to other years where they had such a solid running game. This year, it was a challenge for the Seahawks to run the football and we’ve seen just how vital of a piece Marshawn Lynch was to their offense. After he decided to retire, nobody knew who the replacement would be. Thomas Rawls hasn’t been as strong as expected but last week, he got it going against the Lions in the Wild Card round. Their defense is still amongst one of the best in the league today and they’ve still handled business without Earl Thomas who broke his leg during a game in December. Michael Bennett is by far their best defensive player and I say that because when he missed time with a knee injury, they weren’t as feared. He comes back and wrecks havoc and always puts a consistent pass rush on the quarterback. With a win on Saturday, they will be in their third NFC title game in four seasons. They kick off the second round of the playoffs with a showdown in the ATL.
Falcons: This NFC South division was the Carolina Panthers once again, right? Especially with the reigning MVP having his top receiver back on the field, right? It didn’t quite work out that way. The Atlanta Falcons finally looked like the team we’ve expected them to be all these years and here they are as division champions for the first time in four seasons and the two seed in the NFC playoffs. What’s been the turnaround for them this year? I look at their four-headed monster on offensive. They have two solid running backs in Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman, Julio Jones of course and the glue that holds this all together in Matt Ryan who’s put together the best year of his career and could win his first career MVP award. He’s taken care of the ball and that’s been an issue with him over the years. He’s a veteran guy that’s made some careless throws and it’s made me question his decision making. Let’s also give Kyle Shanahan some credit too for orchestrating this offense and he’s allowed others to get the ball as well, it’s just not Julio but it also helps when you play with a guy like Julio because he demands so much attention. Another reason why the Falcons were so successful was because of their improvement on defense. Keanu Neal has given them a big time spark all around and Vic Beasley is who we all thought he would be. In four of their last six games, they’ve allowed 19 points or less. They get Seattle again and let’s see what they can do in this meeting.
Seahawks Player To Watch: Paul Richardson– We were all introduced to him after he made a spectacular catch on Saturday against Detroit. With Tyler Lockett gone, he’ll need to bring that versatility to the field that Tyler would bring. He’s a six-foot-tall receiver that can line up outside but does the most damage in the slot.
Falcons Player To Watch: Ryan Schraeder– We all know the Seahawks have a great defensive line. They get to the quarterback effortlessly. When they met in week six, they got to Matt Ryan a total of four times. Ryan will be lined up on Cliff Avril and must hold his own or it can be a long day.
Seahawks Keys To The Game– I’d be attacking the offensive line and not allow Ryan to buy anytime from the pocket. The Falcons offensive line can be very vulnerable at times in their pass protection. Making sure Freeman is brought down is also another major priority. He does most of his damage by land so holding him down with containment will be a major point of emphasis.
Falcons Keys To The Game– The first key is to limit Jimmy Graham over the middle. The Falcons as most teams do have really struggled to stop the tight ends and Jimmy is no stranger to the Falcons. He’s always had big games against them. Getting Russell to the opposite side of the pocket is another big thing. With mobile quarterbacks, you want to flush them to their weak side. Lastly, use Taylor Gabriel as the Seahawks have always had some trouble with slot receivers.
Prediction: They had quite the battle in week six. The Falcons could’ve easily won that game. I’m expecting more of a shootout in this one than the first meeting. I like the Falcons to get to the NFC title game. Falcons 31 Seahawks 24