WASHINGTON — We were blessed with a pair of close games (finally) last Sunday in the Divisional Round, but not necessarily two wildly entertaining ones.
The crazy, down-to-the-wire shootout in Dallas gave way to a grinding, bend-don’t-break defensive slog in Kansas City. But each result set up a matchup of high-octane offenses led by veteran, gun-slinging quarterbacks.
You’re never guaranteed a great pair of games on Championship Weekend, but it’s hard to have asked for a better setup for Sunday’s matchups. Let’s break them down.
Green Bay Packers at Atlanta Falcons
Georgia Dome, Sunday, 3:05 p.m.
Line: Atlanta -4.5
This time of year, every team is banged up. But the Packers’ injury list is getting a little out of hand.
Green Bay has four wide receivers on this week’s injury report — four — with only the oft-injured Randall Cobb not on the list. Jordy Nelson (who broke multiple ribs in the Wild Card round), Davante Adams (ankle injury last week) and Geronimo Allison (hamstring injury last week) are all nursing ailments that will keep their status up in the air until Saturday.
It seems unlikely that Green Bay will get all three back, but with a healthy offensive line, Aaron Rodgers has found a way to make things work against two of the league’s better defenses so far. Now he’ll face a Falcons team that allowed the fifth-most pass yards (267 per game) and fifth-most touchdowns (31) in the league this year.
Of course, the Packers have been even slightly worse against the pass. All signs point to a shootout, though the biggest injury concern on Atlanta’s side is a major one, with top target Julio Jones hobbled with a toe injury that kept him out of practice Wednesday and Thursday. That may push the Falcons to use their running backs in the passing game even more than usual.
The Cowboys got 138 yards rushing out of their ground game last weekend, but failed to involve their running backs in the passing game at all, with Zeke Elliott’s lone target resulting in a two-yard loss. Expect Atlanta to do better. With two teams that have each averaged 36 points per game in the postseason (and an over/under of 61), this shouldn’t be anything but a barnburner at the Georgia Dome.
Prediction: Packers 35, Falcons 34
Pittsburgh Steelers at New England Patriots
Gillette Stadium, Sunday, 6:40 p.m.
Line: New England -6
Both teams showed cracks in their offensive armor last week. Despite a fairly large final margin, the Patriots struggled to run the ball against Houston, with leading rusher Dion Lewis tallying just 41 yards on 13 carries. Tom Brady threw for nearly 300 yards and two scores, but he also threw a pair of interceptions, matching his number from the entire regular season. Pittsburgh, meanwhile, moved the ball well but struggled mightily to finish drives, failing to get in the end zone and sneaking through on the strength of six Chris Boswell field goals. That won’t be enough this week.
Pittsburgh’s defense isn’t really comparable to Houston’s in terms of the pass game — the Steelers ranked 16th while the Texans were second —but their scoring defenses were nearly identical at 20.4/20.5 points per game, respectively. But the Patriots rank as the best scoring defense in the league, allowing the third-fewest yards per game rushing. Le’Veon Bell tore up the Chiefs for 170 yards on 30 carries and Pittsburgh still couldn’t find the end zone. That should worry Steelers fans going up against a better defense this week.
Prediction: Patriots 27, Steelers 20