The Patriots won their ninth AFC Championship

NFL Championship Weekend Recap: Patriots, Falcons

The Patriots won their ninth AFC Championship

The Super Bowl LI matchup is set as the Atlanta Falcons will take on the New England Patriots for the Vince Lombardi trophy in Houston.

Matt Ryan and company put on an offensive clinic to overcome the Green Bay Packers to win the NFC Championship and advance to the title game for the first time since the 1998 season.

The Patriots dismantled the Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC Championship game, winning at a canter, becoming the first team in NFL history to compete in nine Super Bowls.

Bill Belichick’s men are the early favourites with Bovada sportsbook, as the Falcons are +3 against the spread at +105 , which could be an enticing bet to take 12 days ahead of the contest.

Falcons Power Past Packers

The Falcons cruised past the Packers

The Packers were no match for the dominant Falcons offense in the NFC Championship game. Dan Quinn’s men ensured that they sent the Georgia Dome off in style with a commanding performance from start to finish as Ryan continued his outstanding form.

The 31-year-old was on song from the off as he made a number of crucial throws before finding Mohamed Sanu in the endzone, while the visitors played into their hands as Mason Crosby missed an early field goal.

A field goal from Matt Bryant and a running score from Ryan put the home side in control aided by a fumble from Packers full-back Aaron Ripkowski in the redzone.

All-Pro wideout Julio Jones iced the game with two touchdowns either side of the interval, allowing Atlanta to ease off the gas late in the contest and revel in their victory.

It was no surprise to see the Falcons carve apart the Green Bay defense, given the problems Mike McCarthy’s men have had all season in their secondary along with Ryan and his receivers’ outstanding play throughout

However, the pressure the Falcons defense put on Aaron Rodgers was a huge factor in the game as they did enough to keep the Packers off the pace, putting further on the quarterback to produce brilliance.

That is an encouraging sign for the NFC South outfit, although the Patriots may ask harder questions of their secondary and defensive line that Green Bay could not. Quinn and his coaching staff face an important two weeks readying for Tom Brady and company.

Patriots On The March Again

New England cruised past the Steelers in their clash at Gillette Stadium.  Brady has been dominant against the Steelers with Mike Tomlin as head coach and once again the 44-year-old failed to provide a response to the quarterback’s excellence.

The 39-year-old diced up the Pittsburgh secondary, finding his wideouts in the open field with ease. Chris Hogan broke the Patriots’ post-season record for receiving yards in a single game, racking up 180 yards and two touchdowns, while Julian Edelman continued to shine with his third 100-yard match on the bounce along with one strike.

The better news for the Patriots was the performance of their defense, which held the Steelers to nine points for the majority of the match.

They were aided by Le’Veon Bell’s decision to check out of the game with a groin injury, reminiscent of LaDainian Tomlinson’s struggles in the 2007 AFC Championship match.

However, his replacement DeAngelo Williams caused New England problems in the past, but their defense limited the back’s impact, including a crucial hold on the goalline just before half-time.

Belichick’s secondary also held Antonio Brown to under 100 yards and only seven catches as he was not able to influence the contest. As a result, Ben Roethlisberger was forced to live-and-die by the plays of Sammie Coates and Cobi Hamilton, both of whom failed to make the grade.

Brady has always left his side in strong positions to win Super Bowls in their previous six trips, but the defense will carry the fortunes of the team. If they can have the same impact as they did on the Steelers against the Falcons – it may be enough to carry the team to their fifth crown.

Where Now For The Packers?

Green Bay were running on fumes by the end of the fourth quarter in the NFC Championship game. They performed extremely well just to reach the title contest after sitting at 4-6 in week 11 of the campaign.

McCarthy’s men won eight matches on the bounce before being hammered by the Falcons. Not even Rodgers’ brilliance could bail them out on this occasion as he failed to fire for the first time since early in the campaign.

The 33-year-old was solid enough, but with injuries to Jordy Nelson and Davante Adams heading into the match, and Ty Montgomery leaving the game in the early stages there was too many obstacles for him to overcome.

Green Bay were a shambles on defense this season and further puts Dom Capers’ future with the team under the spotlight. The defensive coordinator has come under fire previously for their premature playoff exits and the performances this term will draw scrutiny, especially in the secondary, perhaps forcing a change in the coaching staff.

The Packers do not usually make splashes during free agency, but with a dearth of talent on their defense they may be forced into action as Rodgers begins to edge towards the end of his career.

Where Now For The Steelers?

Bell suffered an early injury

Pittsburgh’s season came to an end in an all-too familiar way, with Bell off the field, forcing Roethlisberger to win the game without the All-Pro. With Brown double-covered by the Patriots, the Steelers did simply not have the talent to keep pace with Brady and company.

Tomlin’s side were woeful on defense, playing into the hands of the Patriots by allowing their receivers the freedom of Gillette Stadium. Brady has destroyed the Steelers’ defense since the 44-year-old took charge and now boasts a 22-0 touchdown-to-interception ratio against Tomlin’s men.

Pittsburgh failed to adapt or put pressure on the 39-year-old, putting huge pressure on Roethlisberger to go score-for-score with Brady. Without Bell that was not possible and now the club must go back to the drawing board to configure a way to get back to the Super Bowl.

Defensively they made strides forward and have a decent core emerging with Ryan Shazier, Bud Dupree, Javon Hargrave, Artie Burns and Sean Davis. Cameron Heyward was a huge miss in the middle of the defensive line, but he should return to full health in time for next season.

Martavis Bryant missed the entire campaign due suspension, but is in line for a comeback, which would bolster their passing offense giving Roethlisberger another option.

Bolstering their receiving corps would be a good idea in the draft, giving Ladarius Green’s concussion issues, while Markus Wheaton has struggled with injuries throughout his career. Should they make additions there’s no reason why the club should not be competing once again.

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