Baltimore Sun staff make NFL conference championship predictions
Baltimore Sun Staff|
Jan 20, 2017 | 8:35 PM
Baltimore Ravens linebacker Zachary Orr, 24, retires because of a spinal condition he has had since birth. (Baltimore Sun video)
Jen Badie (7-1)
Packers 35, Falcons 31: This game will likely be all offense: Both teams ranked in the top 10 in the league for total offense and passing yards during the regular season and similarly ranked in the 20s for defensive yards allowed. Though they are evenly matched, Aaron Rodgers has been playing like a man possessed, even without Jordy Nelson, and there seems to be a chance Nelson will be back.
Patriots 30, Steelers 24: The Patriots have been the best team all season. Bill Belichick found ways to win even without Tom Brady. They aren't going to lose to a team that barely squeaked by with a win last week.
Falcons 33, Packers 27: The Packers' winning streak comes to a close as Matt Ryan out-duels Aaron Rodgers and re-asserts himself as the favorite to be named the Most Valuable Player.
Patriots 28, Steelers 24: Ben Roethlisberger isn't nearly as prolific away from Heinz Field, and the Patriots are 14-0 in games in which Dion Lewis is active over the last two seasons.
Peter Schmuck (7-1)
Falcons 31, Packers 27: Matt Ryan and Aaron Rodgers are both having MVP-caliber seasons, but the Falcons and their balanced offense combined with the home-field advantage will give them the edge in a high-scoring game.
Patriots 24, Steelers 20: The Patriots have been the dominant team in the AFC since Tom Brady returned from his Deflategate suspension, and the Steelers barely got through the AFC North. Advantage, Patriots.
Mike Preston (6-2)
Falcons 34, Packers 31: This will be a shoot-out, but the Falcons play a little bit of defense, which will make the difference.
Patriots 28, Steelers 17: The Patriots had their bad half last week against Houston. They will win because they are most balanced team in the NFL.
Falcons 38, Packers 31: MacGyver always found a way, but this is real life and Aaron Rodgers' resourceful feats have to end some time. The Falcons defense, while far from elite, has the speed to keep the Packers in check. Patriots-Packers was my Super Bowl prediction in the preseason, but the Falcons and their loaded offense have provided enough evidence in the weeks since to change my mind.
Patriots 31, Steelers 27: The Steelers didn't get into the end zone last week at Kansas City; that won't fly in New England, where they'll probably have to score in the high-20s to even have a chance. The Patriots are experts in taking away what a team does best, and beyond giving the ball to Le'Veon Bell, there's not a whole lot the Steelers offense has done consistently well this year.
Falcons 38, Packers 31: This could be one of the most fun playoff games in recent memory. Aaron Rodgers will be the best player on the field, but Matt Ryan has more game breakers around him and will put to rest any lingering doubts about his big-game aptitude.
Patriots 27, Steelers 23: Pittsburgh actually goes in with more marquee stars and certainly has a puncher's chance. But it's awfully hard to pick against Tom Brady and Bill Belichick at home.
Jeff Zrebiec (6-2)
Falcons 34, Packers 24: There's little debate that the Falcons have the better all-around team. For all of Aaron Rodgers' brilliance, it's hard to foresee the Packers' porous defense slowing down Matt Ryan and company.
Patriots 31, Steelers 27: The Patriots looked uncharacteristically sloppy in last week's victory over the Houston Texans, which probably means they're primed to play their best game of the season. Pittsburgh's defense is much improved, but I trust the Patriots' defense more in a big spot.