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VOL. 41 | NO. 3 | Friday, January 20, 2017

Conference championship predictions

By Terry McCormick

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After going 4-0 on predictions last weekend, it’s on to the conference championship games to determine which teams will play in Super Bowl LI.

And after several blowouts in the wild-card round – and even the first couple of divisional games – things finally got closer on Sunday with two great teams – the Packers and Steelers – came winning close road games to set up this week's matchups.

NFC Championship: Green Bay (12-6) at Atlanta (12-5), 2:05 p.m. CST, FOX

It’s hard to believe that the Packers were 4-6 at one time and being written off after being dismantled by the Titans in early November. They have not lost since.

Aaron Rodgers has entered another realm with his play, and the Packers defense managed to hang on against Dallas in the divisional round. Now comes a whole new challenge in the Falcons’ offense, which seems to be able to move the ball at will.

And the Atlanta defense came up big after taking a couple of early punches from the Seahawks last Saturday.

But the Packers are much more potent offensively than the Seahawks. It’s a tough prediction, but the safest bet is to go with the experience of Rodgers, though Sunday could very well be Matt Ryan’s time to be recognized as an elite QB. Packers 38, Falcons 35.

AFC Championship: Pittsburgh (13-5) at New England (14-3), 5:40 p.m. CST, CBS

The Patriots struggled a bit longer with the Texans than one might have thought. The Steelers withstood a challenge in Kansas City after rolling over Miami in the wild-card round.

In Tom Brady and Ben Roethlisberger, the two most prolific QBs remaining in the AFC (with Peyton Manning now retired) will do battle with the winner headed to the Super Bowl.

Brady was unusually flat against the Texans defense and was intercepted twice after throwing just two picks in his 12 regular season games. As one of the commentators said afterward, it probably won’t happen again.

The Steelers feature a potent offense led by Big Ben, Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell, but you can bet that Bill Belichick will find some way to slow it down. It should be a good game, but it’s hard to go against the Pats in Foxboro. Patriots 30, Steelers 24

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