The Starting Five – NFL Playoffs

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Carter Landis, Sports Editor

The Divisional round of the 2016-17 NFL playoffs has concluded, and the championship games are set. Aaron Rodgers and the hot streak Packers head to Atlanta to play MVP front runner Matt Ryan and the explosive Falcons. The Steelers’ three headed offensive monster takes a trip to New England to face Tom Brady and the Patriots. These games will be highly intense and very competitive, with a trip to Super Bowl 51 on the line.

NFC Championship Game: Packers vs. Falcons

Ever since Aaron Rodgers’ ‘Run the table’ comments, regarding his team’s struggles and his belief they would improve their performance, the Packers look like a completely different team from the one that was 6-6 just a few weeks ago. Since then, they’ve ridden a 6 game winning streak, and Rodgers has been untouchable. He’s thrown for 23 touchdowns and just three interceptions over that span. For an Atlanta defense that has struggled against the pass all season (27th in passing defense), this spells trouble for sure.

Luckily for the Falcons, the offense has been unstoppable. Matt Ryan has had a not just a resurgent season, but an MVP caliber one. Ryan has thrown for 41 touchdowns to just seven interceptions, while connecting with thirteen different receivers for touchdown passes, the most in a single season in NFL history. Offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan’s intelligent play calling has led the Falcons to becoming the 8th highest scoring team in history. If Ryan can make one more throw than Rodgers, and the Atlanta defense can make one more stop than the Packers, the Falcons should see their first super bowl since 1998. But if the defense struggles to defend Rodgers, the Packers should head to Houston with ease.

AFC Championship Game: Steelers vs. Patriots

When Tom Brady returned from his suspension, he picked up right where he left off, finishing with 3,554 yards, 28 touchdowns, only two interceptions, and a 112.2 quarterback rating, all without superstar tight end Rob Gronkowski. Brady has earned MVP acknowledgement with this play for sure. The Patriots are right back in the hunt for a championship, like they are every year.

For the Steelers, Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown, and Le’Veon Bell have headlined the Steelers’ offense that can score on any defense. The defense, however, has struggled to defend anything this season. That doesn’t bode well for a team with Tom Brady, Julian Edelman, and LeGarrette Blount. If the Steelers can score early and often against the Patriots defense, they’ve got a chance to reach the Super Bowl. But if they let Brady get on his game, the Steel Curtain will fall and Brady will reach his eighth Super Bowl in his career.

Score predictions:

Packers 41, Falcons 38

Patriots 27, Steelers 13