After two straight weekends packed with four games apiece, the NFL season is officially petering out with just three games left, two of them this Sunday when the final four teams battle for the AFC and NFC conference titles. The Divisional round certainly delivered, with some games even featuring actual drama — especially the Cowboys/Packers classic — and we can only hope the Conference Championship brings more of the same.
It will be the QB play everyone is focused on as high-volume gunners Aaron Rodgers, Matt Ryan, Tom Brady and Ben Roethlisberger all suit up and take to the air this weekend, with both games expected to be high-scoring affairs. As with the past two weeks, we'll take a look at the matchups and see if we can pick out some bets that could prove profitable to give you an added reason to watch the big games.
Sunday, Jan. 22
Green Bay Packers at Atlanta Falcons (-5) — O/U 60
This game opened with one of the highest totals in recent NFL history, just below 60 in some spots and just above 60 in others. It's a rematch of a Week 8 barnburner in which the Falcons prevailed at home 33-32 after stopping Green Bay on a final, decisive drive.
Obviously, both QBs are expected to come out and crush the opposing defense. Matt Ryan is riding the wave of his likely MVP season, in which he captained the Falcons offense to historic heights. It's not a stretch to say this is one of the best offenses in recent memory. There are just so many weapons here — even backup RB Tevin Coleman is a guy opposing coaches must account for. Green Bay showed some moxie on defense last week in largely shutting down a Dallas offense that had rolled over almost everyone, but they fell apart a bit in the second half. Getting pressure with Clay Matthews and forcing Matt Ryan to target WRs other than Julio Jones are the big keys here.
Aaron Rodgers has been simply unstoppable in his two-month binge, shredding every defense he lines up against. He finally threw his first pick in what seems like a year against the Cowboys, but that was largely the fault of Davante Adams, who completely failed to play the ball. However, Rodgers seemed to have a tough time getting things going downfield in the second half, which was somewhat expected with the team missing top deep threat Jordy Nelson. Jared Cook was the most effective downfield receiver for the team, something that might not be sustainable on a week-to-week basis. It will be up to Adams to try to make some plays and stretch the Atlanta defense, and his effectiveness varies hugely from game to game.
The defenses, led by Matthews and Vic Beasley, do just enough to keep this one under.
Pick: Packers (+5)
Best Bet: Under 60
Pittsburgh Steelers at New England Patriots (-5.5) — O/U 50.5
Another rematch here, but the first meeting between these two featured Landry Jones quarterbacking the Steelers, so it's next to worthless as far getting a look at how these teams match up.
Ben Roethlisberger didn't look that great when the Steelers headed to Arrowhead last week, but the running game continued to churn out yards. The Steelers played fantastic up front, completely dominating the Chiefs on the line of scrimmage and paving the way for Le'Veon Bell to run for 170 on 30 attempts. That strategy isn't likely to work against the Pats, who sport the fourth-ranked run defense but a pass defense that's just 23rd and allowed even Brock Osweiler to pick up chunks at times early in the game. As long as Roethlisberger's foot is feeling better and the line keeps blocking well, the Steelers offense should have success moving the rock. Bill Belichick is usually adept at taking away the opposition's top option, so it will be interesting to see if he game plans more for Bell or Brown.
Pittsburgh's defense quietly finished in the top half of the league against both the pass and the run, and their pass rush in particular looked pretty good against the Chiefs. They harassed Alex Smith and forced him to take off and get outside the pocket a number of times, which won't be an option for Tom Brady. The battle in the trenches will likely determine whether the Steelers can slow down the Pats passing game, as KC was plenty able to get guys open — they just simply didn't catch the ball. That's not a formula for sustained success. Dion Lewis is a guy to watch after he had a big game against Houston, especially with Pitt ranking just 19th in defending RBs in the passing game.
Best Bet: Steelers +5.5
Have you ever wanted to write your own articles about poker? Maybe you've got some experiences or opinions about poker that you'd like to share. PokerNews is proud to launch The PN Blog where you can have a platform to make your voice heard. Learn more here.