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I served in the US Navy from 2002-08; four of those years were as a Nuclear Propulsion Operator aboard an aircraft carrier. I engage in political activism in various Democratic circles when I am able to. I have a cat, and I am an uncle.

All opinions that I express are my own and do not reflect the views of any organization that I represent.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

2016 NFL SEASON: CONFERENCE CHAMPIONSHIP SUNDAY



Well… our new Trump overlord was sworn in as the nation’s 45th president on Friday.

Wanna bet that he will tweet something about the teams that will lose today?

Hey! I got an idea!

Someone should ask Trump how those New Jersey Generals are doing

I guess we will get on with the business of picking games for Conference Championship Sunday.

My 2-2 record last week brings my record for the playoffs to 5-3.

Remember the kickoff times are MOUNTAIN time so adjust the clocks accordingly.


NFC CHAMPIONSHIP, 1PM FOX
PACKERS AT FALCONS
This is the fourth playoff matchup between these two teams and the second to involve Matt Ryan and Aaron Rodgers. When they last faced each other in the playoffs, the Packers upset the Falcons in the 2010 divisional playoffs in Atlanta en route to their fourth Super Bowl championship. These two last played each other in Atlanta back in October when the Falcons came away with a 1-point victory.

Green Bay’s victory over Dallas was an instant classic. Though it was not the result I was expecting, it was without a doubt one of the better games I saw of the playoffs. I expect that game to be part of the NFL Network’s rotation of classic games for years to come.

Meanwhile the Falcons in the Matt Ryan era recorded their second playoff win by defeating the Seahawks and advancing to the franchise’s fourth NFC Championship game. The Falcons have only won 1 NFC Title, their 30-27 overtime win at Minnesota in January 1999. Matt Ryan is 2-0 vs. the Seahawks in the playoffs. He has yet to record a playoff win against a team not called the Seahawks.

Both teams appear to be peaking at the right time. Green Bay’s win streak continues and is currently at 8. The Falcons have won 5 straight. One of these teams has to lose.

I don’t think wide receiver Jordy Nelson’s status will affect the outcome of the game too much. The injury report has him listed questionable due to two fractured ribs and an illness.

The Packers have been able to patch up their roster by placing wide receiver Ty Montgomery at running back who led the team during the regular season in rushing with 457 yards, most of those yards coming in the Packers 6-game winning streak that closed out the regular season. Even though he rushed for 47 yards in the win at Dallas last week, he scored 2 touchdowns inside the 5-yard line.

The Falcons were able to contain the Seahawks rushing attack and get after Russell Wilson last weekend. A turning point in that game was when the Falcons punted in the second quarter down 10-7. Devin Hester returned the ball 80 yards that set the Seahawks in goal-to-goal. That return was negated by a holding penalty that even though says 6-yard penalty it was really an 86-yard penalty. Instead of a goal-to-go situation that would have increased their lead, the Seahawks were backed up in the shadow of their own goal posts.

A running play that lost 3 yards followed by Wilson getting sacked in the end zone for a safety contributed to the Falcons 19-point second quarter that buried the Seahawks. Following the safety, the Falcons scored a field goal, forced a three-and-out, and scored a touchdown to close out the half. From there on the rout was on and Atlanta’s lead was never seriously threatened.

Now they have a challenge in trying to get after Rodgers and his ability to roll out so that his receivers have more time to get open as evidenced during the game at Dallas weekend.

I see this game as a likely shootout between the two MVP contenders. Whichever quarterback wins the game will likely be the league MVP.

FALCONS 43, PACKERS 38


AFC CHAMPIONSHIP, 4:30PM CBS
STEELERS AT PATRIOTS
This is fourth time these two met in the playoffs. The first two occurrences took place in the 1990s with the teams winning on their respective homefields – the Patriots at home in a 1996 divisional round win, and the Steelers at home the following season.

Though what is most memorable between these two teams are their championship game matchups. In 2001, the Steelers were 10-point favorites at home over the upstart Patriots. New England, despite losing quarterback Tom Brady to an ankle injury early in the game, leapt out to a 21-3 third quarter lead due to Patriots special teams and veteran quarterback Drew Bledsoe, who had been relegated to backup due to Brady’s ascension to the starting role during the season, throwing a touchdown pass before the half.

The Steelers made it a game with two rushing touchdowns to cut the Patriots’ lead to 4, but this game is remembered for quarterback Kordell Stewart’s 4 turnovers – 3 interceptions and 1 fumble – and linebacker Joey Porter’s dropped interception in the fourth quarter that likely would have tied the game.

The second championship game was the first playoff matchup between Brady and Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger who was in his rookie season. The Steelers were in the midst of a 15-game winning streak that included back-to-back victories over that season’s Super Bowl participants.

New England never trailed in that game. At one point, the Patriots led by 21, but the Steelers were able to cut the lead to 11 in the fourth quarter. That was the closest the Steelers would get as the Patriots would win 41-27 and advance to their third Super Bowl in four seasons.

In both instances, the Patriots ended up winning the Super Bowl.

The Steelers became the most recent team to win a playoff game without scoring a touchdown in their 18-16 win at Kansas City on Sunday night. Prior to that game was the Peyton Manning-led Colts beating the Baltimore Ravens 15-6 in the 2006 divisional round. In the four other instances as noted by NFL.com, the team that won a playoff game without scoring a touchdown eventually went on to play in the Super Bowl or – as it was with the 1950 Cleveland Browns (yes, the Browns were once good) – play for the NFL Championship.

It should be noted that the 2006 Colts defeated the Patriots in that season’s AFC Title Game and then won the Super Bowl.

The Patriots are going to have their hands full in trying to combat the Steelers’ 3 Bs. In their last matchup, a Patriots 27-16 win at Pittsburgh in Week 7, the Steelers were without Ben Roethlisberger. Again, the Steelers have their 3 Bs and the Patriots will have to pick which one they will try to contain. When cornerback Malcolm Butler was matched with wide receiver Antonio Brown in the last two games between these teams, Butler allowed 16 receptions on 21 targets for 239 receiving yards.

New England certainly cannot afford to have the same turnover problems that plagued them in their win over Houston last weekend. The conventional wisdom is if these two teams played last weekend and the Patriots had their turnover problems, Pittsburgh would have won.

New England’s defense is good having allowed 15.6 points per game which is 2.2 points better than the second-best Giants. But… the critique against the Patriots defense is that it has been against less-than-stellar quarterback competition.

Carson Palmer, Ryan Tannehill, Brock Osweiler, Tyrod Taylor, Cody Kessler, Charlie Whitehurst, Andy Dalton, Landry Jones, Russell Wilson, Colin Kaepernick, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Jared Goff, Joe Flacco, Trevor Siemian, Bryce Petty, Matt Moore

The only name that stands out is Russell Wilson who put up 31 points on the Patriots in Foxborough and won. Tannehill ranked in the top 15 of passer rating. And they got Brock Osweiler – who was near the bottom for those that qualified for a ranked passer rating – for the second time in the divisional round.

The Steelers are probably the best team the Patriots have seen so far in a while. What will be their strategy? If you stop Bell, then Brown can you beat you. If you are able to contain Brown, then you have to worry about the patience Bell exhibits when he carries the ball. And then there is Roethlisberger who has a deep playoff resume that includes a 2-1 record in Super Bowls.

While the NFC Championship game will determine the NFL MVP, I think whoever wins this game will go on to win the Super Bowl.

PATRIOTS 28, STEELERS 24


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