Four teams advanced to the Conference Championship Round this weekend after another great weekend of football. Just four teams and three games remain in what’s left of the 2016/17 NFL season. A conference championship game is all that remains between each of the remaining teams and a Super Bowl appearance.
This sets us up for a two-game slate on Sunday. First, the Green Bay Packers will visit the Atlanta Falcons at 3:05 PM ET to determine the NFC Conference Championship. Then, the Pittsburgh Steelers will play the New England Patriots at 6:40 PM ET for the AFC Conference Championship. Whoever wins this weekend will be going to Super Bowl LI.
Best Betting Sites for the NFL Conference Championship Games
Divisional Round Recap
The Atlanta Falcons punched their ticket to the 2017 NFC Conference Championship this weekend with victory over the Seahawks. They traded touchdowns in their opening drives and then the Seahawks took the lead with a field goal in their second offensive outing. The game started well enough for the Seahawks as they got off to a 10-7 lead, but things started to fall apart for them near the end of the first half.
First, an 80-yard punt return for the Seahawks that would have placed them at the Atlanta 7-yard line was called back on a penalty. It was a particularly costly penalty as it called them all the way back and the do-over resulted in Seattle starting at their own 7-yard line. Two plays later, Russell Wilson was tripped up by one of his own linesmen and fall back into his own end zone for a safety to make it 10-9.
Atlanta received the ball after that and drove it down the field for a field goal to take a lead they would keep for the rest of the game. Matt Ryan put up yet another world class performance as he went on to throw for 338 yards, three touchdowns and zero interceptions to give the Falcons the 36-20 victory.
Over in Massachusetts, the New England Patriots did what the oddsmakers expected them to, which was to dismantle the Houston Texans by at least 16 points. The Houston defense made a game of it through the first half, but stopping Tom Brady and the Patriots proved too tall an order even with two interceptions, a pair of sacks and eight quarterback hits.
The Patriots did not play a perfect game with Brady throwing two interceptions and Dion Lewis fumbling twice for one additional turnover. Even so, the Patriots covered the spread in a game that featured the biggest postseason spread in nearly 20 years. The Patriots pulled off big plays when needed to win the game 34-16.
Funnily enough, Dion Lewis called it his “worst game ever” immediately following a game in which he became the first player ever to score a touchdown via kick return, reception and running play all in the same game in a postseason game. Lewis may have been dismayed with his fumbles, but he played a big role in getting the Patriots this win and moving them on to their 11th Conference Championship game in 16 seasons.
The Green Bay Packers and Dallas Cowboys gave us one of the best games of the season in a contest that was close all the way down to the final seconds. After trailing for much of the game and entering the fourth quarter down by 15, the Cowboys surged as Dak Prescott threw for two touchdowns and one 2-point conversion to tie the game at 28-28.
Aaron Rodgers and Green Bay roared back to with another drive resulting in a Mason Crosby field goal to take the lead 31-28 with a minute-and-a-half remaining. Under pressure, Dak Prescott put together yet another drive to bring the Cowboys within field goal range. Dan Bailey kicked in a 52-yarder to tie the game with 35 seconds remaining.
Green Bay was given one more chance to score and it looked like we were going to get an overtime treat as the seconds ticked off with Green Bay in a third down situation, out of field goal range with 12 seconds on the clock. Then on the third down, Rodgers threw a 36-yard completion to Jared Cook who dragged his feet on the turf to pull it in on the Cowboys’ 33-yard line. The catch was so close that one official ruled it an incompletion before a second official came running in to overrule and call it a completion:
That catch left the Packers with 3 seconds left to kick the game-winning field goal. Mason Crosby’s first kick sailed right through the uprights, but he was forced to do kick it again with the Cowboys calling a timeout just in time. The second kick was good as well and the Packers came away with a 34-31 victory.
Sunday’s second game saw the Pittsburgh Steelers kick field goal after field goal to beat the Chiefs in Kansas City 18-16. The Chiefs were unable to stop the Big Ben, Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown trio from moving the ball down the field but did an admirable job in red zone situations as they prevented the Steelers from scoring a single touchdown the entire game.
Although the Steelers looked great against a very tough Chiefs defense, the Steelers’ defense won the game for Pittsburgh. They kept Kansas City to 227 yards with constant pressure on Alex Smith and neutralizing Tyreek Hill. With the Steelers unable to score touchdowns, the defense did its job to ensure that six field goals was all the offense they needed to win the game.
Conference Championships Betting Odds
With the Divisional Round all wrapped up, we move on to the Conference Championships to determine who will be playing in Super Bowl LI. Below, we’ll be discussing these two games and comparing the odds for each team across the best football betting sites.
Green Bay Packers vs. Atlanta Falcons
The NFC Championship game promises a quarterback duel of the highest order with a red-hot Aaron Rodgers squaring off against an MVP-worthy Matt Ryan at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta.
The Packers have now won eight in a row with Aaron Rodgers playing some of the best football of his career. Over his past eight games, Aaron Rodgers has thrown for 21 touchdowns and a single interception. That lone interception marring his eight-game record game just last week in the third quarter of that Dallas game after 318 consecutive pass attempts.
On the other side of the ball is MVP candidate, passing-leading Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan. Ryan already had 4,994 yards, 38 touchdowns and 7 interceptions before Sunday’s drubbing of the Seahawks.
Picking a better quarterback between Rodgers and Ryan isn’t something I’m particularly interested in doing right now, but we can look to the rest of the matchup to see why the oddsmakers are favouring the Falcons by 4.
First, the Falcons have the more dangerous offensive threat with their receivers. This will give the iffy Green Bay secondary all kinds of trouble. And as ESPN notes, even if the Packers are able to contain Julio Jones, they still have to figure out what to do about the other dozen players who have caught Matt Ryan touchdown passes this season.
On the other hand, the Packers can never be underestimated when they have Aaron Rodgers, Jared Cook and Mason Crosby all working together to move the ball down the field and score points via any means necessary.
Pittsburgh Steelers vs. New England Patriots
There’s no doubt that the Steelers have an uphill battle ahead of them as they pay a visit to the Patriots this weekend. Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers have played some hard, tough football to get to this point, but coming in to Gillette Stadium and beating the Patriots is not something the Steelers do often. In fact, the Steelers are 1-4 on the road against the Patriots in the 2000s.
The Patriots do have their soft spots, though. Tom Brady can be throw off his game by a strong pass rushing offense, and that is one key area in which the Steelers have improved over the season. Although they lost, the Texans showed last weekend that it is possible to get to Brady and throw him off. Against Houston, he had a sub-50% completion percentage and two interceptions (this after having two interceptions all season).
Between Ben Roethlisberger, Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown, the Steelers do have the offensive tools to put points on the board against the Patriots. The key will be to slow Brady down just enough to give the Steelers a chance to put points on the board. However, the Chiefs did just recently stop the Steelers from scoring a single touchdown for an entire game. The Steelers cannot rely on their kicker to get past a Tom Brady-driven offense.