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Submitted by Jim Hurley on Saturday, January 21, 2017 at 1:37 PM

IT'S FINALLY HERE - THE NFC & AFC CHAMPIONSHIP GAMES TAKE CENTER STAGE ON SUNDAY

Okay, so if this was one of those old Sesame Street shows where they asked you "which one didn't belong" you'd go straight to QB Matt Ryan and the Atlanta Falcons, right?
After all, here we are on the brink of NFL Championship Games Sunday and the other teams - the Pittsburgh Steelers and New England Patriots on the AFC side, the Green Bay Packers on the NFC side - all are "regulars" when it comes to playing for a Super Bowl berth.

In fact, go back the past decade and the Steelers (2008), Patriots (2014) and Packers (2010) each have snagged a Super Bowl crown and yet we haven't seen the Falcons at a Super Bowl game since the 1998 season - and that didn't work out so well (see Denver 34, Atlanta 19).

So, will this be Atlanta's coming-out party on Sunday? Or will many of the "experts" out there - and we've been watching you! - be correct while picking a Green Bay vs. Pittsburgh showdown two weeks from now in Super Bowl LI?

In a moment, we'll get you our NFC and AFC Championship Game previews posted here earlier this week right here at Jim Sez but first this reminder …

Get the Side & Totals of this Sunday's NFC and AFC Championship Games when you check with us here on game-day morning at Jim Hurley's Network. Cash in with winners on Green Bay at Atlanta and Pittsburgh at New England -- and, of course, make sure you're all aboard for the NBA and NCAA Basketball daily/nightly winners all this week either online or at our toll-free telephone # of 1-800-323-4453. Pile up the profits all winter long!


NFC CHAMPIONSHIP GAME: GREEN BAY (12-6) at ATLANTA (12-5) - 3:05 p.m. ET, Fox

First things first: Much is being made of the fact that the totals price for this NFC title tilt is sitting there at 61 points and may we remind you that the first time these clubs met some 2.5 months ago the over/under number was … 51 points. And it flew over with no problem at all.

Okay, so the folks in Vegas and the all-knowing TV chatterbox guys/gals have stated their case: This is supposed to be a really high-scoring game that'll decide what NFC team represents the conference in next month's Super Bowl.

It's not that we disagree what with not one but two league MVP candidates - see Green Bay QB Aaron Rodgers (355 yards passing with 2 TDs last weekend in 34-31 win at Dallas) and Atlanta QB Ryan (338 passing yards with 3 scores last Saturday versus Seattle in 36-20 triumph) - on board here but do these type scenarios "always" work out or perhaps might we see a 27-21 type game when all's said and done?

Consider that the Packers held seven consecutive opponents to a per-game average of 17.9 ppg prior to last Sunday's wildly entertaining Green Bay win at 5-point favorite Dallas in an NFC Divisional Playoff game; and that the Falcons have held eight of their last nine foes to under 30 points with the lone exception to the rule coming in a Week 17 game in which the Falcons owned a monster lead before allowing New Orleans a major backdoor cover in a 38-31 ATL victory.

In other words, just 'cause everyone and his brother is calling for a 38-35 type game here, don't mean it's gotta happen!

The reality of the situation here is the Falcons - a 5-point favorite at this very moment - have more weapons at Ryan's disposal although there is some growing concern with the injured foot of WR Julio Jones and do not discount the value of second-year RB Devonta Freeman who snagged four passes worth 80 yards in the 16-point triumph over the Seahawks in last weekend's playoff game. If Freeman can move the chains as a runner/receiver here, the Packers are in mucho trouble because their short-handed secondary figures to have plenty of problems covering the likes of WRs, Jones, Sanu and speedy Taylor Gabriel (a trio that combined for 14 receptions worth 182 yards and two TDs versus Seattle).

On the flip side, folks are now expecting Green Bay slinger Rodgers to play nearly mistake-free ball - hey, remember the Packers actually did not score a single point on their first five possessions against the New York Giants two weeks ago before exploding in a 38-13 home win/cover - and that may be sheer madness considering pass-rush fiend DE/OLB Vic Beasley will be bearing down at all times but we see the game's real "X-factor" being what Green Bay's ground game can do. Against the Cowboys last Sunday, the Pack rushed for 87 yards on 17 carries (that's 5.1 yards per pop) and anything near that while rushing 25-or-so times will take major heat off Rodgers here.

The Pack believes WR Jordy Nelson (ribs) will be a "go" for this clash - but stay tuned 'cause he could still be scratched.

Spread Notes - Atlanta is 11-6 ATS (against the spread) overall this year and the Falcons are a composite 11-21 vig-wise as chalk sides while dating back to the start of 2013. Did you know Atlanta's 1-4-1 spreadwise in playoff games the past nine years? Green Bay, meanwhile, is 11-6-1 against the Las Vegas prices this season and note the Packers have covered four-of-five games this year when in the dog role. One last thing: Green Bay's 9-3-1 ATS in post-season games since the start of 2010.

Here's the last three head-to-head meetings between the Packers and the Falcons (note all home teams are in CAPS):

YEARWINNER SPREADLOSERSCORE
2016ATLANTA- 3Green Bay33-32
2014GREEN BAY- 13.5Atlanta43-37
2013GREEN BAY- 3.5Atlanta22-21

Hmmm, note all three of these recent head-to-head meetings between Green Bay and Atlanta have been won - but not covered - by the betting favorites with the Packers slipping under the FG price earlier this season after the Falcons nabbed road covers at Lambeau Field in both 2013 and '14. Might that again be the case here come Sunday?

Here's the team-by-team charts for both the Packers and the Falcons this year (note all home teams are in CAPS below and spread listed is according to the winner):

GREEN BAY (12-6)

WK WINNERSPREADLOSERSCORE
1Green Bay- 3.5J'VILLE27-23
2MINNESOTA+ 2Green Bay17-14
3GREEN BAY- 6Detroit34-27
4BYE   
5GREEN BAY- 7NY Giants23-16
6Dallas+ 4.5GREEN BAY30-16
7GREEN BAY- 7.5Chicago26-10
8ATLANTA- 3Green Bay33-32
9Indianapolis+ 7.5GREEN BAY31-26
10TENNESSEE+ 3Green Bay47-25
11WASHINGTON- 3Green Bay42-24
12Green Bay+ 4PHILADEL'A27-13
13GREEN BAY- 7Houston21-13
14GREEN BAY+ 3Seattle38-10
15Green Bay- 4.5CHICAGO30-27
16GREEN BAY- 6Minnesota38-25
17Green Bay- 3.5DETROIT31-24
WCGREEN BAY- 5.5NY Giants38-13
DivGreen Bay+ 5DALLAS34-31

WC = Wild Card
Div = Divisional Playoff

 

ATLANTA (12-5)

WK

WINNER

SPREAD

LOSER

SCORE

1

Tampa Bay

+ 2.5

ATLANTA

31-24

2

Atlanta

+ 4

OAKLAND

35-28

3

Atlanta

+ 3

NEW ORL'NS

45-32

4

ATLANTA

+ 3

Carolina

48-33

5

Atlanta

+ 4

DENVER

23-16

6

SEATTLE

- 7

Atlanta

26-24

7

San Diego

+ 4.5

ATLANTA 

33-30 (OT)

8

ATLANTA

- 3

Green Bay

33-32

9

Atlanta

- 4.5

TAMPA BAY

43-28

10

PHILADELPHIA

- 1.5

Atlanta

24-15

11

BYE

 

 

 

12

ATLANTA

- 4

Arizona

38-19

13

Kansas City

+ 5

ATLANTA

29-28

14

Atlanta

- 4.5

LOS ANGELES

42-14

15

ATLANTA

- 13.5

San Francisco

41-13

16

Atlanta

- 3

CAROLINA

33-16

17

ATLANTA

- 7.5

New Orleans

38-32

Div

ATLANTA

- 6.5

Seattle

36-20

Div = Divisional Playoff

 

AFC CHAMPIONSHIP GAME
PITTSBURGH (13-5) at NEW ENGLAND (15-2) - 6:40 p.m. ET, CBS

Go back to NFL 2001 - yes, dial it back some 15 seasons - and you'll see that either the New England Patriots or the Pittsburgh Steelers have played in a combined nine AFC Championship Games. Okay, so you gotta go back to 2004 to find the one-and-only time during the past decade-and-a-half that they played one another (see above) but just consider that in a possible 32 berths in this title game, these two powers have combined to be part of things some 15 times!

In fact, the last time an AFC Championship Game was played without either the Pats or the Steelers, you've gotta go back to 2009 when the Indianapolis Colts bested the New York Jets 30-17 … remember when!

Now, here's Brady and Company in search of a fifth Super Bowl crown in this era and standing in the way is a high-powered - and rather mouthy - Pittsburgh team that hasn't beaten the Patriots since 2011. Sure, the Steelers have been "cooling it" on social media this week after the whole firestorm following last Sunday's 18-16 hang-on-for-dear-life win at Kansas City and there's little doubt that the likes of WR Brown - who has exceeded 100 receiving yards in both playoff wins against Miami and KC - and RB Le'Veon Bell (fresh off nearly 340 rushing yards in those two post-season victories) are major handfuls for any NFL defense but even playoff veteran QB Ben Roethlisberger (29 TDs in the regular season but none last week at Arrowhead Stadium) knows this is a daunting task even though the Las Vegas oddsmakers currently have N'England "only" a 6-point home favorite. The Pats' defense - somehow still underrated after all these years - generally "takes away" at least one team strength and so the question here is can Pittsburgh snag the upset if either Bell or Brown are silenced?

In a word or two, not likely.

On the other side of the coin, the Pats last week had some blips on the screen offensively as Brady was intercepted twice, sacked twice and hurried a bunch in the 34-16 win/cover versus 17-point pup Houston. But amidst the "panic" that set in on Patriots Nation because Brady appeared human and RB LeGarrette Blount was ill, came the realization that do-it-all RB Dion Lewis is a major-league threat - he's the first player in league history to score a TD rushing, receiving and on a return in the same playoff game - plus WR Julian Edelman remains a star with his eight receptions worth 137 yards against Houston a real high note for Bill Belichick's team.

It says here that Brady must connect on a few "chunk plays" with the fiery Edelman plus WR Chris Hogan and TE Martellus Bennett - both banged up last week - must make some move-the-chains plays too.

Can the Steelers win on a bunch of PK Chris Boswell field goals as was the case last Sunday night? In a word or two, not likely.

These championship game regulars will be sparring for a berth in Super Bowl LI - click the phone to "off" and enjoy.

Spread Notes - New England is an electrifying 14-3 ATS (against the spread) this season and that includes a 7-2 spread mark when in the role of home betting favorites. The Pats, however, have covered only seven of their last 10 post-season games dating back to the 2006 campaign. On the flip side, Pittsburgh's a heady 11-7 versus the vig overall this season and note the Steelers have compiled a 24-16-4 ATS log as underdogs since the arrival of coach Tomlin back in 2007.

Here's the last three head-to-head meetings between the Steelers and the Patriots (note all home teams are in CAPS):

YEARWINNER SPREADLOSERSCORE
2016New England- 7.5PITTSBURGH 27-16
2015NEW ENGLAND- 7Pittsburgh  28-21
2013NEW ENGLAND- 5.5Pittsburgh  55-31

Interesting to note that not only did Pittsburgh QB Roethlisberger miss the regular-season game played between these teams back on Oct. 23rd, but the Steelers were haunted by failed trips into the red zone along with 10 penalties for 85 yards. Note that the 2015 meeting was the NFL Kickoff Game after the Pats had won Super Bowl 49 versus Seattle.

Here's the team-by-team charts for both the Steelers and the Patriots this year (note all home teams are in CAPS below and spread listed is according to the winner):


PITTSBURGH (13-5)

WK WINNERSPREADLOSERSCORE
1Pittsburgh- 2.5WASHINGTON38-16
2PITTSBURGH- 3Cincinnati24-16
3PHILADELPHIA+ 4Pittsburgh3-34
4PITTSBURGH- 3.5Kansas City43-14
5PITTSBURGH- 9.5NY Jets31-13
6MIAMI+ 7.5Pittsburgh30-15
7New England- 7.5PITTSBURGH 27-16
8BYE   
9BALTIMORE+ 3Pittsburgh21-14
10Dallas+ 3PITTSBURGH35-30
11Pittsburgh- 8CLEVELAND24-9
12Pittsburgh- 8.5INDIANAPOLIS   28-7
13PITTSBURGH- 6.5NY Giants24-14
14Pittsburgh- 1BUFFALO27-20
15Pittsburgh- 3CINCINNATI24-20
16PITTSBURGH- 5.5Baltimore31-27
17PITTSBURGH- 3.5Cleveland 27-24(ot)  
WCPITTSBURGH- 11.5Miami30-12
DivPittsburgh+ 2KANSAS CITY18-16

WC = Wild Card
Div = Divisional Playoff

 

NEW ENGLAND (15-2)

WK WINNERSPREADLOSERSCORE
1New England+ 8ARIZONA23-21
2NEW ENGLAND- 5Miami31-24
3NEW ENGLAND- 1Houston27-0
4Buffalo+ 3.5NEW ENGL'D16-0
5New England- 10CLEVELAND33-13
6NEW ENGLAND- 7.5Cincinnati35-17
7New England- 7.5PITTSBURGH27-16
8New England- 6BUFFALO41-25
9BYE   
10Seattle+ 7.5NEW ENGL'D31-24
11New England- 11SAN FRAN30-17
12New England- 9.5NY JETS22-17
13NEW ENGLAND- 13Los Angeles26-10
14NEW ENGLAND- 6Baltimore30-23
15New England- 3DENVER16-3
16NEW ENGLAND- 17NY Jets41-3
17New England- 8MIAMI35-14
DivNEW ENGLAND- 17Houston34-16

Div = Divisional Playoff

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