If people still used the word “boffo” — an old-timey designation for something very successful, as in, “The movie did boffo box-office” — then I might say I had a boffo week in the Divisional Round. Went a perfect 4-0 against the spread, including Patriots and Falcons covering, an outright upset call on Steelers winning and also underdog Packers with the points. Let’s keep it boffo in the AFC and NFC championship games, shall we?
NFC CHAMPIONSHIP GAME
PACKERS (12-6, No. 4 seed) AT FALCONS (12-5, No. 2)
Line: ATL by 5.
Cote’s pick: GB 37-31.
TV: 3:05 p.m. Sunday, Fox.
Sunday’s NFC title game matinee has an extremely high betting over/under in the 60-62 range for total points scored, and 75 percent of early action played the “over,” according to Bovada. Why? No mystery. Packers have won eight in a row and topped 30 points in past six. Falcons led NFL in scoring and have averaged 38 in their current five-game win streak. Aaron Rodgers and Matt Ryan are really good and really hot. They were 1-2 this season with 40 and 38 touchdown passes, and have 35 TDs vs. one interception in their teams’ combined 13 wins in a row. And neither defense is anything special, with Green Bay ranked 31st (next to last) against the pass and Atlanta ranked 26th. All of that means the punters can pretty much take Sunday off. So who raises the George Halas Trophy and sails to the Super Bowl? I like Rodgers’ Gee Bees in an upset, a bit anxiously I’d admit, and more on hunch than logic, I’d also admit. Rodgers is more postseason-proven and most of the pressure is on Ryan to win at home. Falcs edged Pack 33-32 on Oct. 30, but GB had won previous four meetings. This, too: Rodgers has a higher career passer rating against Atlanta (118.0) than vs. any team he’s faced at least five times, and he has an even better rating in domed stadiums (111.1) than he does at Lambeau Field. Bottom line? In Aaron I trust.
AFC CHAMPIONSHIP GAME
STEELERS (13-5, No. 3) AT PATRIOTS (15-2, No. 1)
Line: NE by 6.
Cote’s pick: NE 24-17.
TV: 6:40 p.m. Sunday, CBS.
Taking the Lamar Hunt Trophy from Bill Belichick and Tom Brady in Foxborough has to be maybe the most daunting challenge in all of sports. As Ben Roethlisberger put it, rather dramatically: “You’re going to the dragon’s lair and trying to slay the dragon.” The Dragons, I mean Patriots are 5-1 at home playing for the AFC crown and, as much as I respect Mike Tomlin and Big Ben, I do not see them overcoming that and fashioning an upset here. Patriots beat Steelers 27-16 in Week 7. Granted, Roethlisberger sat that one out with a knee injury and NE still had Rob Gronkowski then; still, the result hardly was a fluke. Brady is 9-2 all-time vs. Pittsburgh, with a 26-3 TD/pick differential. Also, count on Belichick to construct a game plan that will limit Le’Veon Bell a heck of a lot more successfully than the Dolphins and Chiefs did this postseason, when Bell battered Miami and KC for 337 yards rushing. That’s the Gray Hoodie’s trademark, after all: taking away what the opponent does best. Belichick and Brady have won 23 postseason games together, and no other coach/QB combo has even played in that many. These two great franchises and Brady and Big Ben last faced each other for the AFC title and a Super Bowl berth in 2004. Twelve seasons later, the result will be the same. The dragon wins once again.