A First Look at NFL Championship Game Sunday
NFL CHAMPIONSHIP GAME SUNDAY IS SET - AND MANY OF THE "USUAL SUSPECTS" ARE BACK IN FOOTBALL'S FINAL FOUR
Hey, football fans, guess who's coming to dinner on NFL Championship Game Day this Sunday?
Aww, by now you know most of the characters:
For a sixth straight year, head coach Bill Belichick, QB Tom Brady and the New England Patriots are half of the AFC Championship Game dance card and it's not as if you're unfamiliar with Pittsburgh Steelers' head coach Mike Tomlin and his veteran QB Ben Roethlisberger as they'll be part of the conference championship for a third time since 2008.
Flip around to the NFC and there's the Green Bay Packers starring head coach Mike McCarthy and QB Aaron Rodgers appearing in a conference title game for a fourth time in 11 years.
The Atlanta Falcons?
Well, they were NFC Championship Game losers to San Francisco back in the 2012 season but the Falcs remain a major mystery year in the league where they play for pay - second-year head coach Dan Quinn and veteran QB Matt Ryan may be relative "newbies" to championship Sunday but they need not apologize for being here.
After all, the Falcons just handed the Seattle Seahawks (a regular in recent NFC Championship Games) by 16 points but it seemed an even bigger blowout than that, eh?
We'll offer up a Jim Sez "first look" at this Sunday's title tilts in just a moment but first this reminder:
After going 4-0 in the Divisional Round (Falcons, Packers & OVER, and Steelers) Get the Side & Totals of this Sunday's NFC and AFC Championship Games when you check with us here on game-day morning at Jim Hurley's Network. Cash in with winners on Green Bay at Atlanta and Pittsburgh at New England -- and, of course, make sure you're all aboard for the NBA and NCAA Basketball daily/nightly winners all this week either online or at our toll-free telephone # of 1-800-323-4453. Pile up the profits all winter long!
NFC CHAMPIONSHIP GAME
GREEN BAY (12-6) at ATLANTA (12-5) - 3:05 p.m. ET, Fox
Guess that Aaron Rodgers meant what he said a couple of months ago by "running the table".
The $64,000 question now is can the underdog Packers stay on this magic carpet ride - they've now won eight in a row and have not lost a game since Nov. 20th in Washington - and immediately the Las Vegas folks put Atlanta up there as a 6-point betting favorite last night for Sunday's championship game and it was bet down to Falcons minus 4 points faster than you can say Vince Lombardi!
Hey, the Packers were machine-like en route to that 21-3 lead in Dallas on Sunday before things got real sticky but Rodgers made an absolutely pinpoint sideline pass to sure-handed TE Jared Cook for a 35-yard completion and uber-clutch PK Mason Crosby won it 34-31 with a somewhat twisting/turning 51-yard field goal with no time left.
What to take from Green Bay's exuberant win? Well, the short-handed secondary does appear ripe to be beaten badly if the likes of Atlanta WRs Julio Jones, Mohammed Sanu and Taylor Gabriel draw single coverage here - they combined for 182 receiving yards in Saturday's 36-20 win against 6.5-point pup Seattle -- and no question Atlanta QB Ryan (338 yards passing with 3 TDs and 0 INTs) is playing with supreme confidence.
The Falcons have scored 33-or-more points in six of its last seven games and - let's say you start off the debate on who wins with the "given" that Atlanta will score in the low-to-mid 30s here - and it comes down to the improved Falcons' defense sacking Rodgers at least a handful of times and not allowing the likes of WRs Davante Adams and Randall Cobb getting 200-or-so receiving yards between 'em.
In the earlier meeting between these teams back in Week 8 play, Atlanta snagged the non-cover 33-32 win as 3-point home favorites and - just so you know - Rodgers threw four TDs in that tilt while Ryan chucked three scoring strikes.
Here's the last five years' worth of NFC Championship Game results. Note the home teams are in CAPS below:
|2014||SEATTLE||- 8.5||Green Bay||28-22 (OT)|
|2013||SEATTLE||- 4||San Francisco||23-17|
|2012||San Francisco||- 4||ATLANTA||28-24|
|2011||Ny Giants||+ 2||SAN FRAN||20-17 (OT)|
As you can see, the only outright winner the past five years was the New York Giants' rock-'em, sock-'em overtime win back in the 2011 season while overall NFC Championship Game Betting Favorites are 2-2-1 ATS (against the spread).
AFC CHAMPIONSHIP GAME
PITTSBURGH (13-5) at NEW ENGLAND (15-2) - 6:40 p.m. ET, CBS
Let's get y'all a little history lesson first:
The Pittsburgh Steelers did win three playoff games before getting to - and winning - a Super Bowl back in the 2005 season but that team was coached by current TV voice Bill Cowher. The 2008 team that won it all - and coached by current boss Mike Tomlin - only had to win two playoff games before getting to SB 43 and beating the Arizona Cardinals. Now, here's the AFC North champs looking to string together three consecutive post-season wins before a possible ninth Super Bowl appearance for this franchise but it is a bit of virgin territory, if you will.
Well, the been-there, done-that team of this modern era actually has lost three of its last five games in this round (see chart below) and there was all kinds of whispering the other night that Brady and Company didn't "look right" in that eventual 34-16 win/cover against 17-point dog Houston. Sure, Brady was sacked a couple of times -- and roughed up by DE Jadeveon Clowney -- and he aired a pair of picks too but when did it ever look as if the Texans were gonna pull a stunner there? Exactly!
Now, consider the Pats - like Atlanta - have the extra prep/rest day here, they get to stay home while the opponent's travelling for a second straight week and said opponent is playing a third consecutive post-season game with some older folks (see pass-rushing fiend James Harrison) truly key components for the road dogs here.
Hey, just how many FGs by PK Chris Boswell will be needed to dump the 5.5-point favored Patriots anyway?
In the earlier meeting between the Steelers and the Patriots (see Week 7), the 7.5-point favored Pats copped the 27-16 win/cover in a game the aforementioned Roethlisberger did not play while Brady threw for a modest 222 yards and two TDs.
Here's the last five years' worth of AFC Championship Game results. Again, note the home teams are in CAPS below:
|2015||DENVER||+ 3||New England||20-18|
|2014||NEW ENGLAND||- 7||Indianapolis||45-7|
|2013||DENVER||- 5||New England||26-16|
|2012||Baltimore||+ 8||NEW ENGLAND||28-13|
|2011||NEW ENGLAND||- 7||Baltimore||23-20|
First off, note the NE Patriots have failed to cover four of these last five AFC Championship Game battles including last year's two-point loss in Denver (remember that failed two-point conversion try late/very much like Kansas City's two-point loss to Pittsburgh last night in the AFC Divisional Playoff game). Overall, the past five AFC Championship Game Betting Favorites are 2-3 against the odds.
NOTE: NFL Championship Game Previews coming next in Jim Sez.
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