By BARRY WILNER, AP Pro Football Writer
This should be fun.
The conference championship teams feature big-time offenses — yes, we know, the Steelers didn’t look like one in the red zone last weekend — that could turn the scoreboards into tote machines.
And while Pro Picks has always preferred the bruising defensive battles, there’s no denying how entertaining Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Ben Roethlisberger and Matt Ryan can be when flinging the ball around the field.
Add in some terrific runners, led by Pittsburgh’s Le’Veon Bell and New England’s LeGarrette Blount, and such All-Pro targets as Antonio Brown and Julio Jones, and bettors will be in love with the over (60 for the NFC, 50½ for the AFC) this week.
Indeed, it’s difficult to make an argument that any of the defenses will be the deciding factor in Foxborough or Atlanta.
Yes, the Patriots yielded the fewest points in the NFL this season, but the three best offenses they played were Arizona, Buffalo and Pittsburgh.
The Cardinals matchup was in the season opener, when Arizona’s offense was not tuned-up. New England beat the Steelers without Roethlisberger, who was injured, and no one would mistake the Bills for a juggernaut with the ball.
Then again, the Patriots are a juggernaut with the ball. Look at how they beat Houston, the top-ranked defense in the league, in the divisional round even though Brady was not at his best. And think about what they are capable of.
“I think we’ve just got to learn from it,” he said. “It was a lot of things, and then when you add our poor execution on top of that, then you add our turnovers on top of that, it doesn’t feel great because we worked pretty hard to play a lot better than we played.”
One thing the Steelers won’t be on Sunday is intimidated by Brady and New England’s resume. The only way to win at Gillette Stadium is to be aggressive from the opening kickoff, and Mike Tomlin’s team will be that.
Oddly, Roethlisberger has never faced the Patriots in a postseason game at New England. He’s 0-1, that defeat coming in Pittsburgh during his 2004 Offensive Rookie of the Year season.
New England is a 5-point favorite to make its seventh Super Bowl with Brady at the helm; the Patriots are 4-2 in their previous trips.
Pittsburgh, which has been to three Super Bowls with Roethlisberger, going 2-1, is the one AFC team capable of pulling off the upset. But it won’t.
Green Bay (plus 5) at Atlanta
As we marvel at the talents of Rodgers, not to mention his prognosticating, and enjoy how much excitement he brings to the field, there’s one thing we can’t ignore. The Packers are too undermanned in the secondary.
Dak Prescott tore up Green Bay’s struggling and tiring D in the second half last Sunday. Cowboys receivers were so open that Jerry Jones probably could have completed some passes.
That’s a recipe for failure against Ryan and all the weapons he has. Julio Jones could be a bit hobbled, which would even things up a bit. And if Rodgers gets back a somewhat effective Jordy Nelson from his rib injury …
Sorry, Cheeseheads, can’t persuade ourselves to believe. Pro Picks thinks this comes down to one unit being too banged-up and deficient.
Last Week: Against spread (3-1). Straight up: (4-0)
Season Totals: Against spread (128-125-8). Straight up: (163-99-2)
Best Bet: 12-7 against spread, 14-5 straight up.
Upset special: 7-11-1 against spread, 7-12 straight up
For more NFL coverage: http://www.pro32.ap.org and http://www.twitter.com/AP_NFL
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