Jeff went 4-1 in the Divisional round as he had winners on the Patriots, Falcons, Steelers and over Dallas/GB. Jeff's only loss was with the Cowboys. Jeff finished the week plus 120 units. Jeremy finished the week at 3-2 as he nailed the Steelers, Packers and over ATL/SEA. Jeremy came up short with the Seahawks and Texans. Jeremy finished the week plus 40 units. Jeff currently has a 40 unit lead over Jeremy in our playoff-long contest as we head into Championship weekend. Let's get to the picks for this weekend's games.
Green Bay Packers at Atlanta Falcons (-4)
Jeff: The Falcons took care of business at home as they defeated the Seahawks 36-20. The Seahawks defense had no answer in slowing down the potent Falcons offense. The Packers pulled off the upset in Dallas as they upended the number one seed in the NFC 34-31. QB Aaron Rodgers continued his assault on opposing defenses as he carved up the Cowboys’ secondary. The Packers will now travel to Atlanta in what will be a rematch from Week 8 when the Falcons needed a late touchdown pass from QB Matt Ryan to WR Mohamed Sanu with 31 seconds remaining to win the game 33-32. There were some key players from both teams that didn't play in that game so it is tough to use that game as a gauge to forecast how the game will turn out this weekend. Even though the Packers offense has been decimated with injuries to WR Jordy Nelson and now WR Davante Adams, QB Aaron Rodgers doesn't skip a beat and has no problems putting up points regardless of who is on the field. WR Jordy Nelson has been back on the practice field this week in a limited capacity after suffering broken ribs versus the Giants. Nelson is questionable to suit up against the Falcons. If he does suit up, you have to wonder how effective he will be. WR Davante Adams suffered an ankle injury late in the game against the Cowboys. Adams will be held out of practice for a majority of the week, but all signs point to him playing on Sunday. Even with those injuries, the Packers still have enough offensive weapons to get the job done as WR Randall Cobb, TE Jared Cook, WR Geronimo Allison and RB Ty Montgomery will all be called on to make plays and put points on the board. Rodgers should have his way with this Falcons defense as they ranked toward the bottom of the league in passing yards allowed per game. The Packers defensively are banged up and clearly will have to come up with some stops and hold the Falcons to field goals in order for them to have to chance to win this game outright. The bottom line here is I'm getting four points with QB Aaron Rodgers up against a team with a lot of pressure on them to win. This Falcons team hasn't excelled in big spots like this in the past. The Falcons are 13-28 against the spread in home games after two or more consecutive wins. This game could come down to whoever has the ball last being victorious, similar to what we saw in Dallas last week. In what will be a high-scoring contest, look for this game to be decided by a field goal either way.
Pick: Packers +4, 75 units
Jeremy: The Green Bay Packers travel to Atlanta to take on the Falcons at the Georgia Dome in the NFC Championship Game. The Packers needed two 50+ yard field goals from Mason Crosby and a sensational throw from Aaron Rodgers to Jared Cook in the waning seconds to defeat the Cowboys 31-28. The Packers allowed the Cowboys to crawl back into the game and their secondary will have to have a better showing in this one to contain the Falcons offense. Atlanta is coming off a 36-20 victory over the Seahawks. Matt Ryan passed for 338 yards and three touchdowns and should be able to match those numbers against a Packers defense that has allowed 332 passing YPG and nine touchdowns over the last four games. Green Bay ranked 8th against the run during the regular season and will be facing one of the top running back tandems in the league. Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman combined for nearly 2,500 total yards and 30 touchdowns and will be heavily involved in the passing game. For all the struggles the Packers have had defensively, the Falcons have been just as bad if not worse. They allowed 267 passing yards and 25.4 PPG during the regular season and have little pass rush to speak of outside of Vic Beasley and a secondary ravaged by injuries. Rodgers has been the hottest quarterback in the league over the last eight games, passing for 21 touchdowns and only one interception and Green Bay has averaged 32 PPG over that stretch. It appears he will be without receiver Jordy Nelson again this week as Nelson recovers from broken ribs. Davante Adams suffered an ankle injury last week and won't practice before Saturday but is expected to play, at what level remains to be seen. Nelson's absence and Adam's injury will put even more pressure on Randall Cobb, Geronimo Allison and Jared Cook and force the Packers to have a more balanced game plan. This could work in Green Bay's favor as Atlanta has allowed 105 rushing YPG during the regular season and given up more than 100 yards on the ground in the last six games. Ty Montgomery has been impressive at times since taking over as the primary running back and is coming off an 81-yard two touchdown performance. He will be able to provide enough output to keep the Falcons’ front seven honest and give Rodgers plenty of time in the pocket. Rodgers and the Packers have found a way to win despite injuries to key players but this will be their most difficult task to date. I expect a high-scoring back and forth game with both defenses giving up plenty of yards and points. In the end, Rodgers will do enough to keep it close with a solid chance at the outright win.
Pick: Packers +4, 100 units
Pittsburgh Steelers at New England Patriots (-6)
Jeff: The Patriots played a very sloppy game in the Divisional round, but still were able to come away with a 34-16 victory. Turning the ball over and poor execution is something we are not accustomed to seeing when it comes to this team. The Steelers failed to get into the end zone versus the Chiefs, but K Chris Boswell's six field goals were still enough to propel this team to victory. The Steelers will now head to Gillette Stadium to take on the number one seed in the AFC. These two teams faced each other earlier in the season in Pittsburgh in Week 7 with the Patriots coming away with a 27-16 victory. In that game, QB Ben Roethlisberger didn't play due to an injury as QB Landry Jones got the start. Roethlisberger will obviously be behind center on Sunday as the Steelers will be looking for a different result this time around. The Steelers have now won nine straight games after defeating the Chiefs. This team is clearly hitting their peak on both sides of the ball. During their win streak, their offense has focused heavily on feeding the ball to RB Le'Veon Bell. Bell responded in a huge way as he rushed for 146.5 yards/game during that stretch (rested Week 17 vs CLE). Bell has also been a tremendous asset in the passing game as he creates mismatches for opposing defenses. The Steelers will need Bell to come up with a big effort yet again if the Steelers hope to pull off the upset. The Steelers will need to do a better job this week against the Patriots in the red zone as they'll need to score touchdowns and not settle for field goals. As for the passing game, QB Ben Roethlisberger will rely heavily on WR Antonio Brown to make plays down the field and move the chains. Brown had a solid outing earlier this season against the Patriots with Jones at quarterback as he finished with seven catches for 106 yards. The Steelers defense has played very well of late as they'll need to be at their best as they face QB Tom Brady who has had their number in recent matchups. They'll need to get pressure on Brady in order to disrupt their passing offense. This Patriots team showed some chinks in the armor last week against the Texans. This is a team that is beatable, but the Steelers will need to be at their best. I'm expecting a close game here as I expect the Steelers to give the Patriots all they can handle. Look for the margin of victory to be three or four points.
Pick: Steelers +6, 75 units
Jeremy: The Pittsburgh Steelers and New England Patriots square off at Gillette Stadium in their second playoff meeting in 12 years. Both teams are coming off underwhelming victories last week as the Patriots struggled early against the Texans before pulling away in the second half for a 35-16 win. Meanwhile the Steelers were held to six field goals in an 18-16 victory over the Chiefs. This will be a major test for a Patriots team that led the league in defensive scoring during the regular season. They allowed just 15.6 PPG, but Ben Roethlisberger will be the first legitimate quarterback they have faced since Week 10. Roethlisberger has two of the most explosive weapons in the league at his disposal in Antonio Brown and Le'Veon Bell. Both will be heavily involved, but the key to the Patriots earning a victory in this one is stopping Bell who rushed for 81 yards in their Week 7 matchup. He has been red-hot lately, rushing for more than 115 yards in seven of the last eight games and I expect him to clear the 100-yard mark again in this one. With the emphasis on stopping Bell in the running game, even more pressure will fall on Malcolm Butler and the Patriots’ secondary to cover Brown, who has scored three touchdowns and averaged 94 YPG in four games against New England. In their loss to Kansas City, Roethlisberger continued his inconsistent play away from Heinz Field. In his last 10 road games including the playoffs he's completed just 60% of his passes while throwing the same number of interceptions (11) as touchdowns. While the key to stopping the Steelers is to shut down Bell, the key to beating New England is to contain Tom Brady. Brady rolled through the regular season throwing 28 touchdown passes and two interceptions but was awful against the Texans completing 47% of his passes and throwing two interceptions. I'm expecting a bounce-back performance in this one. Brady is 7-2 lifetime against Pittsburgh with 27 touchdowns and three picks and while the Steelers defense has looked solid as of late they haven't faced a murderer's row of quarterbacks either. New England will try to establish the run early and take some pressure off Brady but the Steelers have been tough against the run. LeGarrette Blount rushed for 127 yards and two touchdowns in Week 7 but I don't see the same type of output here. Dion Lewis and James White will be more of a factor with their ability to make big plays out of the backfield in the passing game which will help keep Pittsburgh's pass rush at bay. New England is 23-9 in the playoffs with Brady under center and I see that record improving here with Pittsburgh keeping it close throughout.
Pick: Steelers +6, 60 units
Packers at Falcons (Total: 61 points)
Jeff: The Falcons will host the Packers in the NFC Championship which features the highest total in NFL playoff history set at 61. This is an enormous number for good reason. These two offenses can put up points better than anyone in the league. When these two teams faced each other back in Week 8 they combined for 65 points even with some key players sitting out for both offenses. QB Aaron Rodgers has been on fire during their win streak and it won't stop on Sunday. He faces a Falcons defense that is susceptible to pass and give up a ton of yards through the air. Rodgers will spread the ball around like he always does while moving this offense up and down the field. Even though the Packers have some injuries at the wide receiver position, it doesn't seem to slow down Rodgers as he is clearly playing the best football of his career. The Falcons possess a potent offense as well as they can beat you in so many ways. QB Matt Ryan has put up tremendous numbers all season as I expect that to continue facing a weak Packers’ secondary. WR Julio Jones is nursing a toe injury, but has insisted that he will be ready to go on Sunday. WRs Mohamed Sanu and Taylor Gabriel round out the top receiver corps as each of these players is capable of making a big play when called upon. The Falcons also possess an explosive running back combo in the backfield in RB Devonta Freeman and RB Tevin Coleman. Both Freeman and Coleman have shown all season their playmaking ability in both the running and passing game. I'm expecting both offenses to put plenty of points on the board for this game to go over the total. The last two games in this series have gone over the total. Look for more of the same this weekend.
Pick: Over 61 points, 75 units
Jeremy: The matchup between the Packers and the Falcons features two of the most talented quarterbacks and two of the most explosive offenses in the league. Atlanta picked up right where they left off at the end of the regular season scoring 36 points and getting 422 total yards of offense against the Seahawks. The Falcons have now scored 28 or more points in 10 of their last 11 games. The Packers have scored 30 or more points in their last six games and Aaron Rodgers has looked unstoppable despite a rash of injuries on the offensive side of the ball. Neither team has a very strong secondary and both rank in the bottom third of the league in points and passing yards allowed. This game will be played on the fast track of the Georgia Dome where the Falcons averaged 35 PPG. These two teams combined for 65 points in a Week 8 Falcons win and I see a similar number in this one. The total for this game has been posted at 61. The total has gone over the posted number in 15 of the Falcons’ 17 games this year while 12 of the Packers’ 18 games have also gone over. Despite a rash of injuries to his receiving corps, Aaron Rodgers will still be able to take advantage of the Falcons’ weak secondary while Matt Ryan will be able to use the plethora of weapons available to him to carve apart the Packers. This one goes over in a shootout.
Pick: Over 61 points, 75 units
Steelers at Patriots (Total: 51 points)
Jeff: After hanging on to defeat the Chiefs, the Steelers now travel to Foxboro to take on the Patriots with a Super Bowl berth at stake. The Steelers defense looks to continue their strong play as they face a Patriots offense that struggled last week protecting QB Tom Brady. The Patriots defense has been a solid group all season as they led the league in points allowed giving up only 15.6/game. A majority of the points they gave up to the Texans was a result of the Patriots turning the ball over and giving the Texans offense great field position. They have a tough challenge ahead of them though as I don't think they have faced a better complement of offensive weapons than what the Steelers possess. Nevertheless, I think both defenses will play well enough here to keep this game under the posted total. I can see a number of drives by both teams stalling, forcing field goals rather than touchdowns to be scored. From a Steelers perspective, I expect them to lean heavily on RB Le'Veon Bell in order to control the clock and keep QB Tom Brady off the field. I would also expect the Patriots to look to get their running game going after rushing for only 98 yards versus the Texans. RB LeGarrette Blount rushed for 127 yards and two touchdowns the last time these two teams met. Look for Blount to have more of a role this week alongside RB Dion Lewis after carrying the ball only eight times last week. The last two games in this series has resulted in the under. I expect that trend to continue as I don't see a shootout between these two teams given how well both defenses are playing.
Pick: Under 51 points, 75 units
Jeremy: Sunday's AFC Championship game will be played between two teams that have each won nine of their last 10 games with talented players on both sides of the ball. The Patriots averaged 27 PPG during the regular season while the Steelers averaged 25, ranking third and 10th in the league respectively during the regular season. Despite the impressive numbers, I don't expect this game to be a shootout. Pittsburgh has improved defensively over the second half of the season, allowing just 18 points PPG since their bye in Week 8. New England has allowed 13 PPG over the last 10, albeit against some mediocre competition. I don't expect the Patriots to keep the Steelers offense in check to that degree but given Roethlisberger's struggles on the road this year I do anticipate the Steelers scoring below their average. Pittsburgh has scored 22 PPG over their last six road games which is where I see them ending up in this one. Weather shouldn't be a factor as temps are expected to be in the mid-30s with no precipitation and very little wind expected. The total for this game has been set at 51. Seven of the Steelers’ last eight games have gone under the posted total and with a hard-fought game played between two evenly-matched teams I'm expecting this one to do the same and be played in the 46-48 point range.
Pick: Under 51 points, 50 units