Did anyone ever tell you to not doubt Uncle Mo? When he is on your team’s side the end result almost feels like a formality. For years Uncle Mo has called the NFL playoffs home more than any other sport. When he is on a certain team–like the 2007 Giants or 2010 Packers –logic is thrown out the window. It doesn’t matter if a team has a fatal flaw or does not match up with their superior opponent. Uncle Mo cancels that out. How does one get Uncle Mo to join their squad? By winning and winning a lot. This year Mo has split time with a few old friends, the Packers and Steelers. He has helped both teams win a Super Bowl before and he is poised to lead them again.
If you are completely lost Uncle Mo is momentum. One of the unwritten understandings of betting on playoff football is riding with the team with most momentum. How else could you explain the Giants taking down an 18-0 Patriots team in 2007? How about the 2000 Ravens hoisting the Lombardi Trophy despite having Trent Dilfer as their quarterback? Momentum. A team can gain momentum from either a huge win late in the season or a winning streak to cap the season. Both the Steelers and Packers have managed to get Uncle Mo on their side by rattling off a perfect December record and a huge win for the division.
As a gambler it would not be wise to put blind faith in momentum, but it is important to acknowledge it is there. For instance I bet against the Packers the first two rounds of the playoffs. I knew Aaron Rodgers had created a tidal wave of momentum by fulfilling his guarantee yet I felt like it was only a matter of time before his inferior supporting cast came back down to earth. On the flip side I had no problem picking the Steelers to win their games because they were on a hotter streak than the Packers (nine straight wins and counting) with a more believable cast of characters. So as we head into the conference championship round it is important to recognize the momentum and take it into account before pulling the trigger on either team.Thus far Uncle Mo is a perfect 4-0 in the playoffs. Will the chance for a seventh Wild Card team to win a Super Bowl remain intact after this weekend? How big of a role will momentum play in these games? Let’s take a look. Home teams are in CAPS.
Packers (+5) over FALCONS
With the theme of the week being momentum what better start to the weekend than two of the hottest teams in the league. We already know about the Packers’ eight-game winning streak, but the Falcons are on a five-game win streak of their own. On paper the Falcons have the advantage in every category except quarterback and kicker. Lucky for them those are the two of the three most important things you need to be clicking during a Super Bowl run (with defense being the third). Mason Crosby has been every bit as hot as Aaron Rodgers during this win streak, connecting on his last 23 postseason field goal attempts. At the end of last week’s classic against the Cowboys he drilled the game-winning 51-yard field goal twice.
The Falcons have been more balanced. No one player has been hot for them, but virtually every player is playing well. Julio Jones was doing what he pleased against Richard Sherman so you can only imagine what the banged up Packers secondary is thinking right now. Even if Julio is taken out of the picture by receiving extra attention Mo Sanu and Taylor Gabriel are more than capable of making plays. The Packers defense has a good run defense so Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman will have to be patient and effective out of the backfield for the offense to remain on their uber efficient level of production.
A wide array of things can go down in the final game of the Georgia Dome, but the only guarantee is that this will be a shootout. The Falcons were able to edge out Rodgers and company 33-32 at home in Week 8. You can expect a similar scoring output (Vegas has the over/under at 61, the highest in betting history). Almost all of the Packers receivers have not practiced this week (Davante Adams is expected to play, but Jordy Nelson remains a long shot). Given the lack of health and talent the Packers should lose this game. Then again that has been the case in their previous two games.
Prediction: Packers 34, Falcons 35
PATRIOTS (-6) over Steelers
If the NFC title game is going to be a 60 minute sprint then the AFC title game will be a marathon. With no elite defenses to step in their way the Steelers and Patriots are free to do what they please on offense. Both had to scratch and claw for every point last week against two of the better defenses in the league, but this week should be an offensive clinic. On one side you have the best quarterback-running back-receiver group in the league and on the other you have the evil genius and his cerebral assassin. Bill Belichick and Tom Brady have had to deal with some monsters before, but few stack up to what the Steelers have to offer.
When the Steelers lost to the Pats at home during the season Ben Roethlisberger was not on the field. Landry Jones may be many things, but a NFL quarterback he is not. Despite Roethlisberger’s down year he is still a playmaker when it counts. Last week he sealed the game with a perfect throw on 3rd and 5 to a crossing Antonio Brown which was a tougher throw than it appeared to be. Even if he isn’t on the mark as long as he throws it in Brown’s vicinity chances are that’s good enough. Having Le’Veon Bell also helps. Bell was the first player in league history to average 100 rushing yards and 50 receiving yards per game and has carried that over to the postseason. Through two playoff games Bell has accounted for 337 rushing yards, but only 3 yards receiving. For the Steelers to have a chance Bell will have to look to add to that meager total as the Patriots defense does a solid job of stopping the run.
The Patriots don’t have the embarrassment of riches the Steelers have, but Tom Brady is the football equivalent to LeBron James. He makes due with whatever he has on hand. Rob Gronkowski may not be there, but Dion Lewis is. Last week Lewis notched a touchdown cycle scoring on a kick return, swing pass, and inside run. The Pats have yet to lose when he plays and for that streak to remain intact Lewis will have to be strong again. The Steelers defense has been strong during their nine-game winning streak (surrendering 16.5 points per game during that stretch) but have not faced anything close to Brady. The Steelers will put up a fight, but Brady is two wins away from completing one of the greatest fuck you seasons in sports history. Don’t think he doesn’t know that. Roll with Tom Wick on Sunday.
Prediction: Steelers 23, Patriots 31
Last Week: 2-2