Notebook: NFL Championship Weekend

(2014 Marco Scola Media)

(2014 Marco Scola Media)

Ahhhhhh. General Manager Scola is back. My alter ego just won a Super Bowl with the Oakland Raiders, an NBA Championship with the Chicago Bulls, and back-to-back National Championships with the Northwestern Wildcats. Of course, these were all virtual championships but rings are rings. Now I’m ready to tackle this week’s sports topics.

Recapping the Divisional Round games:

Before I get into picking the two teams I believe we’ll see play in Super Bowl 51, we have to address the elephant in the room. For years I’ve hated on Aaron Rodgers. It’s personal. I’ve watched Rodgers torch my Bears every season for the past decade and Brett Favre do the same in the decade prior. The Packers are so damn lucky. They also happen to be one of only two NFL franchises that have struck QB gold TWICE in back-to-back eras – the other being Indianapolis with Peyton Manning and Andrew Luck. I despise their fortune (or great scouting, whatever). Now that I’ve cleared my throat, DID YOU SEE WHAT RODGERS DID?! That dude is incredible. It wasn’t so much the 33-yard strike down the sideline, but hanging onto the ball with one hand while being completely destroyed the play before was a thing of beauty. The football purist in me was beaming. The Packer hater in me was on fire.

Also, it was good to see Dallas lose. Actually, it was great to see Dallas lose. I can have all the Packer hate in me but I can’t deny the fact that Packer fans are typically very nice people. I hear Lambeau is welcoming. And most of my Packer fan friends are just good ‘ole Wisconsinites who love beer, snow, and Bubba Franks. But Dallas fans. My God are they the worse. We, the United Fans of Everyone But Dallas, had to put up with their shit talking since October when Dak and Zeke became the “face of the league.” Cowboys fans wouldn’t shut up all season long. So when the Packers pulled off the last second win on Sunday, it was a beautiful site to behold all of the Cowboy fans shrivel up into raisins on social media. The best is yet to come, by the way. Because we all know Dak will hit the sophomore slump, and all of Cowboy Nation is going to cry their eyes out with Romo goes to Houston or Kansas City and gets a playoff win. We get it, Cowboy fans. You guys were good for a while. But you’ve sucked as long as I’ve been an adult and you haven’t been America’s Team since roughly 1977. Calm down.

Falcons-Seahawks: I think it’s time we put to bed the Legion of Boom. It was fun while it lasted, but the Seahawks just weren’t that great this year. They messed up last year when they traded OL Max Unger for Jimmy Graham – a weapon they didn’t quite need. The absence of a Pro Bowl offensive lineman almost cost QB Russell Wilson his career on several occasions this season, and it ultimately cost them a playoff game. Also, can we applaud the fact that the Falcons have flown under the radar all season long as one of the best offensive units we’ve ever seen? They’re the 9th best offense in the history of football and Matt Ryan might win the MVP. Keep calm, Atlanta, but in the final year of the Georgia Dome you might actually have your first Super Bowl.

Chiefs-Steelers: This game was painful to watch. The Steelers beat the Chiefs without scoring a single TD. How? How does this happen in 2017? I’ll tell you how. It’s time to blow the whistle on Alex Smith. That whole “Game Manager” label isn’t BS. The dude can just manage games. He won’t win you a damn thing. It’s hard to watch a team dink and dunk their way down the field for 3.5 quarters for 17 games – but that’s exactly what the Chiefs are. Piece of advice; let Smith go, trade for Romo or an equivalent explosive QB, or surrender one of those defensive backs you have with high value for a great draft pick and go get yourself another offensive weapon.

Patriots-Texans: Brock Osweiler sucks. I’ve already over-analyzed that game.

Who ya got in the AFC/NFC Championship games?

Packers at Falcons (-4)

For all the love Aaron Rodgers is getting this week, I find it fascinating that Vegas has him as a four-point dog against Atlanta. No, that’s not a typo. The Falcons are favored on Sunday -4, and they’re -115 moneyline. What Vegas is essentially saying is Rodgers is going to have to beat the Falcons alone in order to get to the Super Bowl. Which is an obvious statement because that’s what Rodgers has been having to do for two months straight. He’s without almost all of his weapons he had last year, and his defense is constantly overrated. Atlanta has a two-headed monster at RB in Tevin Coleman and Devonta Freeman, and they spread the ball around to six, sometimes eight receivers per game. The secret ingredient to their success this year has deceptively been going away from Julio Jones. Jones has had significantly less targets this year but has actually had one of his best seasons, statistically speaking.

Plus, Atlanta has the “intangibles.” Now, I’m never one to make an investment on a team based on the “intangibles” but allow me to make an intangibles case for Atlanta:

Intangible 1: They’ve had to listen to every pundit for a week straight how amazing Aaron Rodgers is and how he’s going to torch Atlanta’s defense.

Intangible 2: Matt Ryan has gained serious momentum in the MVP discussion. Winning this game, defeating Rodgers, and going to the Super Bowl would probably lock up the award for him.

Intangible 3: Since August, not one “analyst” picked the Falcons as a Super Bowl contender, and very few had them even making the playoffs. Now, surprise! They’re one win away from Super Bowl 51. Meanwhile, Green Bay has been on everyone’s radar since roughly 2009.

Intangible 4: I don’t think it has truly sunk in for half the league yet that the NFC Championship game not only includes the Atlanta Falcons, but it will be played in Atlanta. That’s seriously how under-the-radar they have been this year.

Intangible 5, and the biggest one: This is the final game in the Georgia Dome. And the Falcons do not have a single “goosebumps” moment in the Georgia Dome. In fact, I would put it at #1 in my list of “NFL Stadiums Over The Age of 25 That Do Not Have A Goosebumps Moment.” Think about my list: Oakland and Kansas City have had playoff moments in Arrowhead and whatever the name is of the dump Oakland plays in, the Bills’ stadium has hosted four AFC Championship games and the Bills won them all, New Orleans’ Superdome has the blocked punt, Miami has had multiple playoff games and a guy named Dan Marino, and even the former (now destroyed) Metrodome in Minnesota had multiple NFC Championship games. What does the Georgia Dome have? Misery. They lost the 2012 NFC Championship to the 49ers there, and the 2010 divisional round there to Green Bay. And that’s it. Those are the two biggest Falcon games ever played at the Georgia Dome. The biggest moment in franchise history – their trip to the 1998 Super Bowl – occurred inMinnesota when they narrowly defeated the Vikings in one of the most memorable moments in NFL history (Gary Anderson’s missed kick). What better way to close out the Georgia Dome than to get to the Super Bowl on home turf?

I can envision a plethora of scenarios where Atlanta controls the whole game, and even has the lead with a minute or so left, but Rodgers performs another miracle. These are the Atlanta Falcons, after all. They’re accustomed to this. This is the main reason why I picked them to lose to Seattle last week. The playoff choke has to be coming, right? Or doesn’t it? 2016 was the year the Cubs put away all of their mystery. Is it Atlanta’s turn?

THE PICK: For gambling purposes I like Green Bay and the points. But something tells me Atlanta wins the football game.

Gambling: Green Bay +4

Moneyline: Falcons

Steelers at Patriots (-6)

I’ll spend far less time on this game because it’s a bit less interesting than Falcons-Packers. This game has all the inklings of a classic. You have bulletin board material thanks to Steelers WR Antonio Brown taping coach Mike Tomlin’s speech on Facebook Live. You have Bill Belichick not even acknowledging it at the presser (and then clearly playing it on a loop back at the Patriots’ facility all week). You have a pissed off Tom Brady whose only goal this entire season is to make Roger Gooddell hand him the Vince Lombardi Trophy in 2.5 weeks. And, of course, you have the Patriots going for their 7th Super Bowl appearance in the Brady era (and this is their 6th-straight AFC Championship game appearance), and the Steelers going for their 3rd Super Bowl appearance in the Mike Tomlin era.

Needless to say, this is the Two Teams Half The Country Hates Because They’re Here Every Single Year Bowl. You’re going to hate whoever wins this game.

Logically, I can see a scenario in which Pittsburgh covers but loses (six points is a tall order), but this feels like a classic Vegas trap. +6 is the perfect line to get the betting public to go all-in on Pittsburgh (what?! I get Steelers AND points?! Derp.). Vegas wants you to take Pittsburgh.

I’m not buying it. Give me the pissed-off Brady’s coming off of their worst win on the season last week with bulletin board material.

Gambling: Patriots -6.

Moneyline: Patriots.

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