NFL picks: In offensively focused discussion championships, that defenses will step up?

The silliest thing to come out of a Antonio Brown Facebook Live debate this past week—and there were several options—was a idea that Mike Tomlin job a Patriots “a******s” somehow would offer as proclivity for New England. It’s protected to contend a Patriots, and everybody else personification this weekend, is amply encouraged already.


This is a final stop before Super Bowl LI in Houston. The winners Sunday will accommodate on Feb. 5, as a NFL crowns a subsequent champion. Who takes home a discussion titles and packs their bags for Texas?

Four-Man Front

A party of players who could be pivotal to Sunday’s matchups:

1. Jake Ryan, LB, Packers: The Packers now change from a Cowboys’ powerhouse run diversion to a Falcons’ bomb style. The Atlanta intrigue army defenses to pierce sideline-to-sideline, putting an importance on clearing linemen to a second turn so they can transparent linebackers. In short: a Green Bay front has to be good, though their linebackers have to be even better, stuffing those gaps. Ryan, Joe Thomas and Blake Martinez all will get their chances (in further to Clay Matthews), though Ryan was a many effective tackler and run defender of that organisation during a unchanging season.

2. Grady Jarrett, DT, Falcons: The pretence to violence Aaron Rodgers isn’t indispensably customarily hemming him inside a container or formulating a small lift from a edges. It’s in formulating massacre from a interior of a line, so he can’t lay on his mark or simply escape. Jarrett had customarily 3 sacks in a unchanging season, though he’s rising as a Falcons’ best pocket-pushing participation inside. Can he broach a widespread opening Sunday, opposite guards Lane Taylor and T.J. Lang and core Corey Linsley?

3. Jesse James, TE, Steelers: A season-high 83 yards receiving for James final week, who regularly found large gaps in a Chiefs’ coverage—in front of a delegate disturbed about Antonio Brown deep, behind a front 7 with a eyes on Le’Veon Bell. The Patriots were miserly opposite parsimonious ends this season, permitting customarily 708 yards receiving, fifth-lowest in a NFL. James tends to fly underneath a radar for a Pittsburgh offense, though he has good hands and knows when to lay down a track in space. Roethlisberger will find him if he has a chance.

4. David Andrews, C, Patriots: The Texans caused difficulty for New England’s offense final week, in part, by aggressive a A-gap (between a ensure and center). Andrews was overmatched during times, as Houston sacked Tom Brady twice and forced him into mixed rushed throws. The Steelers could take a page from a Texans’ playbook, even changeable a Bud Dupree or James Harrison inside, as a Texans did with a likes of Whitney Mercilus. Andrews has to reason adult improved this Sunday than he did in a local round.

Last outing to Atlanta, on Oct. 30, Aaron Rodgers threw for 246 yards and 4 touchdowns. The Packers did not have possibly TE Jared Cook or WR Randall Cobb that day due to injury, nor did Ty Montgomery fit up, as Green Bay rolled with a backfield tandem of Don Jackson and Knile Davis.

So, while a Packers’ damage news headed into Sunday’s NFC pretension diversion looks extremely rough—Jordy Nelson, Geronimo Allison and Davante Adams all are in doubt—no one in Atlanta will be awaiting QB Aaron Rodgers to stumble, even with a potentially depleted receiving corps.

Those same Atlanta folks competence also offer adult a pointer of their team’s 33–32 feat in Week 8, interjection to a late Matt Ryan-to-Mohamed Sanu touchdown. Ryan dismissed 3 TD passes of his own, all while a Packers singular Julio Jones to 3 catches and 29 yards. Games like that one have been maybe a best denote of how widespread this Falcons’ offense is, given Ryan has thrived no matter Jones’s numbers. Philadelphia is a customarily invulnerability to reason a Falcons to fewer than 20 points. Ryan’s offense has scored 30 or some-more 12 times, including any of their final 4 regular-season games and a playoff win over Seattle. And a Packers have surfaced 30 points in 6 uninterrupted outings, dating behind to Week 14.

If there is an certain approach to stop possibly of those offenses, a antithesis has not figured it out of late.

“They’ve been on an implausible roll,” Packers manager Mike McCarthy pronounced of Atlanta’s attack, around ajc.com. “You demeanour during a march of a season—not customarily a prolongation they have had, they are No. 1 in a joining for points so a prolongation speaks for itself—the thing that jumps out on film is a consistency. They’ve been doing it during this high turn a whole year.”

The Falcons were a bit shorthanded in that initial meeting, too, as RB Tevin Coleman was out of a lineup. His participation shifts what a Falcons are able of, given of how energetic he is as a pass-catching threat. This year, Coleman rushed for 520 yards and averaged 13.6 yards on 31 receptions. Be it out of a backfield or a slot, a Falcons lift Coleman into auspicious matchups vs. linebackers—the hostile delegate customarily bustling fortifying Jones and Atlanta’s other receivers.

It’s a identical regulation that has done Taylor Gabriel such a weapon. He sees cornerbacks in coverage, though his speed is lethal. With Atlanta swelling a field, Gabriel tends to find room for large catch-and-run plays.

And afterwards there’s a Falcons’ run game—a wide-zone intrigue that banks on Coleman and Devonta Freeman’s ability to cut and accelerate. The Packers will have Clay Matthews Jr. this time around (he also missed Week 7), and they’ll need him as Atlanta tests a sideline-to-sideline operation of their linebacking corps.

Speed isn’t a doubt for Atlanta’s linebackers, so many as it is experience. Athletic rookies Deion Jones and De’Vondre Campbell played 97 of a probable 100 sum snaps final week. While Rodgers apparently is a biggest focus, RB Ty Montgomery is a cryptic piece, too. The Packers will use identical section looks to Atlanta in springing Montgomery outside; FB Aaron Ripkowski tends to be their inside hammer.

Corralling Rodgers is a same problem as always. Namely, is it adequate to keep him contained in a container or do we have to come after him aggressively? Rodgers smoked a Giants and Cowboys’ pacifist approaches, nonetheless both drummed adult a small success with blitzes.

“He creates a unfit plays,” pronounced Falcons reserve Keanu Neal of Rodgers. “He’s scrambling, throwing opposite his physique and throws it on a dime. Being disciplined, relying on your fortify and afterwards personification dual plays—the initial play is a tangible once, afterwards once he scrambles … that’s a second play.

We might not know what Rodgers’s receiving corps will demeanour like until diversion time. At slightest a latter dual of Nelson (ribs), Allison (hamstring) and Adams (hamstring) figure to play, though how effective will they be? Atlanta’s secondary, led by Robert Alford, ranked a somewhat dubious 28th in yards allowed—opposing QBs threw 655 times vs. a Falcons, many of any team.

The Packers won in Dallas by this same score last week. Anything reduction than a identical turn of offense opposite a house would be startling Sunday. Rodgers’s biggest pretence is that he can surpass no matter a WRs during his disposal, so Atlanta’s shot opposite him comes around Vic Beasley and a pass rush. It’s some-more expected that Ryan will have to win a shootout. The Atlanta offense is built to do customarily that.

Between them, Ben Roethlisberger and Tom Brady have a sum 418 regular-season starts and another 51 in a postseason. They have met customarily once in a playoffs, during Roethlisberger’s rookie deteriorate of 2004, when a Patriots won in Pittsburgh en track to a Vince Lombardi Trophy. The Steelers trailed by 21 before halftime of that game, after New England’s Rodney Harrison pick-sixed Roethlisberger. Sunday’s long-coming rematch stands to be some-more competitive.

Exactly how rival will count a lot on Roethlisberger—more privately on either or not his offense can money in prolonged drives with touchdowns. The Steelers unsuccessful to do so in Kansas City final week, instead settling for 6 margin goals (plus a Roethlisberger end-zone interception) and afterwards unresolved on for an 18–16 win.

“The reason we unsuccessful to measure was mixed things,” Steelers manager Mike Tomlin pronounced after his group transient a local round. “Lack of execution and unwell to take advantage of event during times by us, and unequivocally peculiarity play by them. … we don’t ready for failure. we don’t expect us being 0 for 7 [in a red zone] in New England.

Per TeamRankings.com, Pittsburgh was one of a least-effective teams in a red section in highway games this year, converting those security into touchdowns customarily 37% of a time. Roethlisberger, a 64% passer overall, dipped to a 46% execution rate inside a opponents’ 20.

It should come as no warn that a Steelers’ heading scorers this deteriorate were Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell. Each arguably a tip actor in a joining during his particular position, Brown and Bell overwhelmed a round on a sum 445 plays this season; counting rushing attempts and finished passes, a Steelers totaled 790 as a team. So, Brown and Bell had their hands on a football 59% of a time for Pittsburgh.

Both were rarely active progressing this season, during a New England win in Pittsburgh. Bell topsy-turvy out 149 yards on 31 touches (21 rushes, 10 receptions), while Brown hold 7 passes for 106 yards. Of course, Roethlisberger did not play that afternoon, as he dealt with a knee injury.

The Steelers are a opposite animal with their elusive, hard-to-tackle quarterback in a lineup.

“Ben is an implausible player,” Tom Brady said, via Patriots.com, “and he’s been that approach given 2004 when he came into a league. I’ve always desired a approach he plays, unequivocally tough, hard-nosed. He’s good for a city of Pittsburgh – a unequivocally tough, hard-nosed city. we have a lot of friends from there. He’s customarily been a good player. we consider a honour is unequivocally mutual. To play during his turn for as prolonged as he has and with his character of play has been remarkable.”

Roethlisberger, in a pointer of a aforementioned mutual respect, lauded a Patriots this week as a league’s “gold standard” and pronounced that he’s “not during [Brady’s] turn … with all a Super Bowls he has.”

Standing in a approach of Brady’s seventh outing to a large dance is a Steelers’ invulnerability that has upped a diversion as a deteriorate has progressed. In dual playoff wins that D has authorised a sum of 28 points and forced 5 turnovers.

The success starts adult front, where 38-year-old maestro James Harrison and 23-year-old rising star Bud Dupree form a dangerous pass rush off a edge. Rookies like DT Javon Hargrave, CB Artie Burns and S Sean Davis have played irreplaceable roles for a Steelers.

Sunday, they’ll face a Patriots offense that has averaged 36.7 points in a final 3 games (including a 34-16 divisional-round win over Houston), all notwithstanding TE Rob Gronkowski’s continued absence. Familiar face Julian Edelman stays Brady’s favorite target—he hold a team-high 98 passes during a unchanging season—but a backfield combo of LeGarrette Blount, Dion Lewis and James White is unequivocally a straw that stirs a New England drink.

In Blount, a Patriots have an old-school, downhill runner. In Lewis and White, they can come during a invulnerability with slashing, multi-purpose options out of a backfield. But if Brady doesn’t like any of a matchups those backs provide, he still can atmosphere it downfield opposite Pittsburgh’s immature secondary. Chris Hogan is a low hazard there (17.9 yards per catch), though parsimonious finish Martellus Bennett, Edelman and even visitor Michael Floyd are able of stretching a defense.

“We know he’s not unequivocally a mobile guy, though he’s customarily so smart, man,” pronounced Davis of Brady, around ESPN.com. “He’s clever with a ball. He’s got dual picks over a season. So we’ve customarily got to be wakeful of what we’re doing.”

Deion Branch says he and Tom Brady were like brothers right from a start.

The Patriots rushed for 140 yards in their Oct feat over a Steelers, and they scored 19 TDs on a belligerent during a unchanging season. For as many as Brady is a centerpiece of their offense, a rushing conflict is an effective chip. Blount and Lewis yield a indispensable balance.

The Steelers ask for many some-more out of Bell than customarily lightening Roethlisberger’s workload. Bell averaged a whopping 157 yards from struggle per diversion in a unchanging season, and he forged adult Miami and Kansas City’s defenses in a playoffs to a balance of 5.7 yards per carry.

There’s going to be a lot of descent star energy on a margin Sunday, including a singular Roethlisberger-Brady playoff showdown.

OK, that was a lot of gibberish about a offenses. The defenses in this diversion are good, New England’s in particular—the Patriots ranked initial in points authorised this deteriorate during customarily 15.6 per game. They also hold hostile backs to 3.9 yards per lift on a year, so they during slightest have a shot during doing a ever-patient Bell.

A outrageous matchup to watch is Malcolm Brown vs. Antonio Brown. The Patriots might not opt to have their Brown follow a Steelers’ Brown all day, though that’s a premier showdown when it occurs.

And, eventually, New England’s invulnerability will get a play it needs to lift this one off.


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