2017 NFL Conference Championship Round ATS Picks

Posted by Peter Boysen on January 19, 2017 in

There are just four teams left in the NFL playoffs — which means that conference championship weekend is coming up. The NFC Championship pits the Green Bay Falcons against the Atlanta Falcons, with the Falcons favored by 4 ½ points at home. The AFC Championship features the Pittsburgh Steelers visiting the New England Patriots as 6-point underdogs. Take a look at our picks against the spread — as well as all of our NFL betting props for this round of the playoffs.

2017 NFL Conference Championship Round ATS Picks

Atlanta wins — but can they cover?

Last year, in the divisional playoff round at Arizona, Aaron Rodgers took a Packers team that had a Swiss- cheese (no pun intended) offensive line and almost beat a Cardinals team that had a better defense (on paper). He hurled not one but two Hail Mary passes to move the Packers from inside their own 10 into the end zone to force overtime, and it took a Cardinals drive in extra time to seal the win. Last week, against Dallas, Rodgers had the additional weapon of running back Ty Montgomery to bring balance to the offense. That was key in the Packers’ first half success on offense, leaving Rodgers to throw a couple of darts far down the field to move Green Bay into range for two key field goals to seal the win.

The Falcons have improved significantly on defense since the halfway point of the season, so there should be a pass rush — particularly if they dial up some blitzes. Also, the Falcons have an even more dangerous offense than Dallas — dangerous in terms of quick strike capability, while the Cowboys rely on long, sustained drives to grind down the opposition. So I like the Falcons to win, but I also see it turning into a real barnburner. I see this game coming down to a late touchdown or field goal sealing the win — which makes the Packers more likely to cover.

Can Pittsburgh overcome the pressure of playing at Gillette Stadium in the postseason?

The Patriots’ offense just keeps moving the ball. Never mind the loss of tight end Rob Gronkowski — the Pats move the ball, thanks to the emergence of tailback Dion Lewis, and thanks to the continued excellence of Julian Edelman. The Pittsburgh defense stops the run effectively but will need to amp up their pass rush to keep Tom Brady from sitting in the pocket and picking their secondary apart. Houston brought pressure with a five-man front featuring two 3-techniques (lineman on the guard’s outside shoulder), bringing an interior three- man rush that got Tom Brady on the run multiple times.

On the other side of the ball, Pittsburgh needs to keep giving Le’Veon Bell the ball — and letting him loosen up the opposing defense. If Ben Roethlisberger can avoid the crippling mistake — that key interception late that breaks the back of his team — then Pittsburgh has a real chance. The fact that they could not find the end zone against Kansas City is somewhat worrisome, but Pittsburgh needs to stick with what brought them there — a commitment to a balance of a bruising running game and an opportunistic passing game. Even so, I like the Patriots to cover in this one — thanks to that inability to get touchdowns against Kansas City.