The NFL playoffs are in full swing, and while the first few games were boring even to the most hardcore of fans, the excitement level has really picked up as the teams get closer to the ultimate prize. The conference championship games are set with the New England Patriots facing the Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC and the Green Bay Packers taking on the Atlanta Falcons in the NFC. The two winners will meet in the Super Bowl on Feb. 5.
The Steelers and Packers, both playing on the road in their respective conference title games, traveled similar paths to arrive at this point in the season. Both division winners without bye weeks, each team handily won their home wild card matchup. Pittsburgh triumphed over the Miami Dolphins 30-12 and Green Bay defeated the New York Giants 38-13.
Both teams then had much more difficulty on the road in the divisional round, but still prevailed. In an instant classic, the Packers defeated the Dallas Cowboys 34-31, winning on a 51-yard Mason Crosby field goal made as time expired. Superstar quarterback Aaron Rodgers led the Packers on the game-winning drive, adding to his already impressive playoff resume. He completed a near-impossible pass to tight end Jared Cook with just three seconds left to set up Crosby’s heroics.
The Steelers, meanwhile, prevailed over the Kansas City Chiefs 18-16 and became the first team in 10 years to win a playoff game without scoring a touchdown. Chris Boswell kicked six field goals, and the Chiefs failed a two-point conversion with under three minutes to go to ensure a Pittsburgh victory.
The Patriots and Falcons had relatively easier paths to the conference title games. Both teams secured first round byes and played their second game at home. Though New England struggled early on in their game versus the Houston Texans, they still won handily 34-16. Atlanta defeated the Seattle Seahawks 36-20.
As for the conference championship games, both home teams are favored by oddsmakers by less than a touchdown.
The Falcons need to stop Rodgers, who has played extremely well during the Packers eight-game winning streak. Similarly the Packers must find ways to stop presumptive MVP Matt Ryan, the Atlanta quarterback. Though Green Bay has playoff experience (they won the Super Bowl just six years ago), Atlanta will be playing their final game ever in the Georgia Dome. The Falcons’ high-flying offense and raucous home-field advantage give them the slight edge despite Rodgers’ golden arm.
In the AFC, one lengthy winning streak will be snapped. The Steelers, winners of nine straight games, possess one of the most talented trios in the game on offense. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, running back Le’veon Bell and wide receiver Antonio Brown all present problems for any opposing defense. As the Chiefs showed, however, Pittsburgh’s offense can be stopped. The same can be said for the Patriots’ offense. Seemingly ageless quarterback Tom Brady threw two interceptions against the Texans, the same number he threw in 12 regular season games. New England, who looked unstoppable for most of the season, is favored at home in what should be a classic slugfest.
Only three games remain in the NFL season, with two of them occurring on Jan. 22. Football fans are hoping for excitement because, after the Super Bowl, there’s a six month long wait before games kick off again.