Next weekend, the Patriots and Steelers will face off in Foxborough, while the Packers and Falcons will play in Atlanta. The main reason as to how these teams find themselves playing in the NFC and AFC championship games is due to their talented quarterbacks. Three of the four quarterbacks are likely to finish within the top 5 in the MVP voting. While offense has gotten them this far, it may be their defenses that determine who will be in Super Bowl LI.
Aaron Rodgers is playing the best football of his career right now. As far as I’m concerned, he is the MVP of the league. What makes him even more dangerous than the other quarterbacks still playing meaningful games at this point is that he spreads out his passing targets. It’s hard for opposing defenses to double-cover a favorite target when every wide receiver and tight end can be considered a favorite target. Rodgers has many options that he likes to throw to, including wide receivers Davante Adams, Randall Cobb, Jeff Janis, and Geronimo Allison, as well as tight ends Richard Rodgers and Jared Cook. Additionally, Rodgers is very dangerous with his legs. He isn’t afraid to run the ball, and has shown the ability to run the ball very well if nobody’s open. Whether it’s providing extra time for receivers to get open or scrambling for the first down, Rodgers is almost as dangerous with his legs as he is with his arm. The Falcons defense faces a very tough task ahead of them in trying to contain Aaron Rodgers this weekend. The Packers defense needs to look more like they did in the first half against the Cowboys than they did in the first half last week. It will definitely be difficult for the depleted Packers secondary to contain the Falcons receivers. The defense may have to resort to blitzing on just about every third down. The Packers key to success if the defense fails to get the job done against Matt Ryan may be for Aaron Rodgers and the offense to simply outscore the Falcons.
The offensive duo of Matt Ryan and Julio Jones is one of the most dangerous quarterback-wide receiver tandems in the NFL. Matt Ryan has also had probably his best season in 2016-17. He has played like an elite QB. He has also shown the ability to put together long drives, including a 99-yard touchdown drive last week against the Seahawks strong defense, dubbed the “Legion of Boom.” Putting together long scoring drives may be the key for Matt Ryan and the Falcons to beat the Packers. The Falcons need to keep Aaron Rodgers and the Packers scorching hot offense on the sidelines for as long as possible.
Tom Brady seems to be playing with vengeance on his mind. Since returning from the controversial 4 game suspension handed to him by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell as a result of “Deflategate,” he has been nothing short of just absolutely dominant. To show just how good he has been this season, his 2 interceptions last weekend against the Texans and their top defense in the league matched the amount he threw in the entire regular season. Despite missing the first 4 games of the regular season, he still ended up throwing for 3,554 yards and 28 touchdowns. He is as dangerous as ever. While his primary targets are usually wide receivers Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola and tight end Rob Gronkowski, he is willing to throw to other targets if he sees a mismatch. Wide receiver Michael Floyd may prove to be an x-factor in the game against the Steelers. Another x-factor for the Pats may be running back Dion Lewis, who score three touchdowns last weekend against the Texans, a 13-yard pass, a 1-yard run, and a 98-yard kick return. Despite the fact that Brady wasn’t exactly dominant in the win over the Texans, he still has the weapons around him to back him up. As usual, Brady and the Pats are a very dangerous and powerful team.
Ben Roethlisberger, despite his sheer dominance this season, may be the most overlooked QB left standing at this point. This may be because he has other players to thank for his success this season. While Roethlisberger threw for 3,819 yards and 29 touchdowns this season, wide receiver Antonio Brown is responsible for 1,284 of those yards and 12 of those touchdowns. Just as Matt Ryan is very dangerous with Julio Jones, so too is Ben Roethlisberger with Antonio Brown. Another huge offensive weapon for the Steelers offense is running back Le’Veon Bell. Whether it’s through a handoff or a pass, Bell represents a huge threat to the Patriots defense. Bell finished the regular season rushing for 1,268 yards with 7 touchdowns, while also getting 616 yards and 2 more touchdowns as a receiver. On the defensive side, linebacker James Harrison continues to play strong despite the fact that he will be 39 years old in May. This regular season, he posted 5 sacks, with 2 forced fumbles, an interception, and 5 stuffs for a total of 15 yards. He has continued his strong play in the playoffs, posting 2.5 sacks, a forced fumble, and 3 stuffs for a total of 7 yards. He, along with the rest of the Steelers defense, poses yet another challenge for Tom Brady, who wasn’t that sharp against the Texans’ defense.
As far as my predictions, I feel that Aaron Rodgers will continue to get the job done in Atlanta, outscoring Matt Ryan and the Falcons and leading his team to the Super Bowl. Rodgers has continued to find new ways to beat opposing teams. He looks hotter than the center of the Earth at this point. While I think it will be close, I don’t see the Falcons offense keeping up with Rodgers and the Packers offense. As for the match-up between the Steelers and Patriots, I feel that the combination of Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell will prove too much for a Patriots offense that hasn’t been tested much this year. I believe that the Steelers defense will be able to stop Brady enough to allow Big Ben and the offense to take advantage of a defense that hasn’t been tested for awhile. I predict that we’ll see the Packers face off against the Steelers in Super Bowl LI.