Prisco's NFC-AFC title game picks: Defense will carry Falcons, Patriots to Super Bowl
In two games with some of the NFL's best quarterbacks, these two games will come down to defense
With two NFL championship games that feature four of the game's best quarterbacks, the focus can naturally shift away from the defenses.
But to determine the teams that will advance to the Super Bowl, I think it will come down to the defenses.
What team can get a late sack to stop a potential game-tying or game-winning drive?
The No. 1 scoring defense during the regular season was the New England Patriots, which is why I think they will beat the Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC Championship Game. In the NFC, it will come down to the NFL's leading sacker in Vic Beasley (15.5 sacks in the regular season), who is the best pass rusher for the Atlanta Falcons. His ability to pressure Aaron Rodgers will be key.
So as much as I want to focus on the four quarterbacks this weekend, I have a feeling it will come down to two of the defenses stepping up. Those two defenses will be the Patriots and the Falcons.
Now for the picks:
NFC Championship Game
Green Bay (12-6) at Atlanta (12-5)
Jan. 22: 3:05 p.m. ET, (Fox)
This shapes up as an offensive fan's delight. Both teams can score a lot of points, and neither defense is great. The Falcons rolled past Seattle last week behind the play of Matt Ryan and the offense, while the Packers won at Dallas behind Aaron Rodgers and the passing game. The game will be played on a fast track, which is why I still think the offenses will rule. These two quarterbacks are playing as well as at any point in their careers -- and that's saying something with Rodgers.
The Falcons beat the Packers 33-32 on Oct. 30, but that was a different Green Bay team. They have ripped off eight consecutive victories behind Rodgers' torrid play. This will come down to which one of the defenses can get a stop late. That will be the Falcons. I think a sack late by Beasley to stop a Green Bay drive will be the difference here. Falcons take a tight one to get to the Super Bowl.
Pick: Falcons 38, Packers 31
AFC Championship Game
Pittsburgh (13-5) at New England (15-2)
Jan. 22: 6:40 p.m. ET, (CBS)
The Patriots beat the Steelers 27-16 in October, but that was a Steelers team without Ben Roethlisberger. The Steelers have also made big strides on defense. Running back Le'Veon Bell is on a tear right now, rushing for 330 yards in two playoff games. He has to be controlled here. The Patriots do a great job of taking away your best offensive options, but who is that in this one? Is it Bell or receiver Antonio Brown? I think the focus will be on Bell. That will put a lot of pressure on the passing game.
Tom Brady has 26 touchdown passes and three interceptions in his 11 games against the Steelers. That will put a premium on the Steelers secondary and pass rush. If they can hit Brady, they have a chance. But with two rookie starters in the secondary, that's asking a lot. I think this will be close for a while, but in the end the Patriots will pull away and advance to another Super Bowl.
Pick: Patriots 27, Steelers 20
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