By Clark Judge
Talk of Fame Network
GOLD JACKET GAMES OF THE WEEK
GREEN BAY @ ATLANTA, 3:05 p.m. (EST)
The weather: Dome
The story: Green Bay GM Ted Thompson calls the Packers’ turnaround “an astronomical feat,” and he’s right. They won their last eight after going on life support. But now what? Well, now all they must do is beat Atlanta … in Atlanta … where the Falcons downed Green Bay earlier this season and where they averaged 35.1 points per game. But that doesn’t mean the Packers can’t pull the upset. Atlanta was only 5-3 at home this season (excluding the playoffs), and the Packers have Aaron Rodgers. But unless Rodgers can play cornerback Green Bay is in deep kimchi, and it could take, yes, “an astronomical feat” to overcome the odds. But remember: The Packers beat Dallas in Dallas last week, stuffed their last four road opponents (including the Cowboys), topped 30 points in their last six starts … and have Aaron Rodgers. But they might not have their top two receivers. Their defense leaks like the Andrea Doria. And while Matt Ryan isn’t Aaron Rodgers, he could be the league MVP. Plus, he has weapons galore in Julio Jones, Mohamed Sanu, Taylor Gabriel, Devanta Freeman and Tevin Coleman. I know, Green Bay has momentum. But so do the Falcons. They won nine of their last 10, and they have Vic Beasley to chase Rodgers. Plus, Ryan has something to prove – namely, that he’s more than just a quarterback who can get you to the playoffs (he’s 2-4 there); that he’s a quarterback who can get you to the Super Bowl.
Hall-of-Fame worthy: Matt Ryan had more completions (28) vs. Green Bay than any opponent this season.
(Aaron Rodgers photo courtesy of the Green Bay Packers)
PITTSBURGH @ NEW ENGLAND, 6:40 p.m. (EST)
The line: Patriots by 6
The weather:Cloudy, high of 45
The story: This isn’t about Antonio Brown and the impact of a stupid locker-room video. Nope, this is about Tom Brady and Ben Roethlisberger, two of the best quarterbacks of our generation. Roethlisberger has Brown and Le’Veon Bell on his side; Brady has history and a lot of rings. The edge? It’s all with Brady. He’s 14-1 at home in the playoffs vs. everyone but Baltimore and 9-2 lifetime against the Steelers, with 26 touchdown passes, three interceptions and six straight passer ratings of 100 or better. Plus, he’s 2-0 vs. Pittsburgh in conference playoff games. No, Brady didn’t look all that good last week, and neither did his teammates. But the Patriots historically stumble coming out of byes, and they almost never put up two stinkers back to back. Pittsburgh’s hope? Turnovers, which New England normally doesn’t make but which it made last weekend, with three vs. Houston. Getting to Brady, too. As James Harrison said, any quarterback can get rattled if you put enough hits on him. And let’s not forget Bell. In two playoff games he has 337 yards rushing, and keeping him on the field means keeping Brady off of it. OK, so Bell missed Thursday’s practice, but big deal. It was for personal reasons. The bigger deal is that he’s up against the league’s stingiest defense, and you can look it up. Nobody gave up fewer points than New England this season. Then, of course, there’s Brady. Check, please.
Hall-of-Fame worthy: The Steelers haven’t intercepted Brady since 2005.
(LeVeon Bell photo courtesy of the Pittsburgh Steelers)
OUR BEST BETS
Clark Judge – Falcons (-5). One side can play defense, and it’s not the Packers.
Ron Borges – Falcons (-5). Aaron Rodgers can’t make up for all the sins of his defense this time.
Rick Gosselin – Falcons (-5). They’re the one team that can win a shootout with Aaron Rodgers.
THE WATCH LIST
TOM BRADY/BILL BELICHICK. With a victory Sunday, they advance to their seventh Super Bowl, an NFL record for a head coach/quarterback combination.
BELICHICK. With a win, he moves past Don Shula for most Super Bowl appearances (7). He and Shula are tied at 6 each.
GREEN BAY PK MASON CROSBY. He’s hit an NFL-record 23 straight field goals in the playoffs.
PITTSBURGH PK CHRIS BOSWELL. He’s hit his last 14 field-goal attempts.
(Matt Ryan photo courtesy of the Atlanta Falcons)
SUNDAY’S HALL OF FAMOUS
GREEN BAY QB AARON RODGERS. In six career games vs. Atlanta, he has 16 touchdown passes and one interception and averages 332 yards passing per start.
ATLANTA QB MATT RYAN. In his last two starts vs. Green Bay he has seven touchdown passes and one interception.
NEW ENGLAND QB TOM BRADY. He has 19 touchdowns and 0 interceptions in six games vs. Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin and is 5-1 in those starts.
PITTSBURGH LB JAMES HARRISON. He aims for his fifth straight playoff game with a sack. He has 13 tackles for losses and 8.5 sacks in his last 10 playoff games.
NEW ENGLAND WR JULIAN EDELMAN. In his last eight playoff games he has 67 catches for 744 yards and two TDs.
ATLANTA LB VIC BEASLEY. In his last seven starts at home he has six sacks and two forced fumbles.
HALL OF NOTES-WORTHY
Either Pittsburgh or New England will become the first team to appear in nine Super Bowls. The two are tied with Dallas and Denver at eight each.
The seven combined Super Bowl rings of Tom Brady (4), Ben Roethlisberger (2) and Aaron Rodgers (1) are the most by the quarterbacks in any year of conference championship games.
Matt Ryan, Ryan and Rodgers combined for a 107.0 passer rating this season, the highest of any three quarterbacks in one year of conference championship play.
Brady led the league in third-down passing with a rating of 127.7. Rodgers was second at 116.2, but his 16 third-down TDs led everyone.
Green Bay is 5-4 in road playoff games under Mike McCarthy.
Dating back to 1970, Aaron Rodgers’ 19 touchdown passes in road playoff games are an NFL best.
Tom Brady will set an NFL record by appearing in his 11th conference championship game. Gene Upshaw and George Blanda each played in 10.
Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is 13-6 in the playoffs and 3-1 in conference championship games.
Dating back to 2010, no No.-1 ranked offense has won a Super Bowl.