By Mike DeVito
Packers @ Cowboys
The Dallas Cowboys, lead by two All-Pro rookies, proved to be one of the best teams in the NFL during the regular season finishing 13–3. Of those 3 losses two were to annual foe the New York Giants and the third was a meaningless exhibition game against Philly in week 17. Dak Prescott took over for an injured Tony Romo and the team never looked back with Prescott amassing 23 touchdowns with only 4 interceptions. Running back Ezekiel Elliott, also had one of the best rookie seasons we have seen in a while, rushing for over 1,600 yards with 15 TDs behind the best offensive line in NFL. On defense they have been explosive, using line stunts and exotic defensive schemes to confuse opponents and maximize their talent. And they have done it really well finishing 5th in points allowed and 1st at stopping the run, both very important strengths to have in the playoffs.
Aaron Rodgers has taken the Green Bay Packers from a team that most people had written off half way through the season, to the hottest team in the NFC by winning the last 6 games of the season and beating the Giants in the Wildcard round. Not only did they beat the Giants but they turned a close contest into a statement game with Rodgers throwing for over 360 yards and 4 TDs against arguably the best defense in the NFL. Don’t forget, this Giants team is the only one that served the Cowboys with their only two legitimate losses in the regular season. One of the biggest reasons for Rodgers success is his protection with the Packers offensive line, which has rated as the best at pass protection in the league.
As well as the Cowboys have played all year and as impressive as their two young rookies have played, I’m taking Aaron Rodgers and the Packers in this game. Rodgers is on fire and has played in 14 post-season games. That is 14 more games then the young men leading the Cowboys and experience in the playoffs is important. Now it isn’t going to be easy for the Pack whose injury ward is overflowing with key members of their secondary, the 47 running backs they’re put on IR this year and more importantly Rodgers number one target Jordy Nelson joined that group last week with a rib injury. Ultimately, I still see Rodgers finding a way to win this one for Green Bay and advance to the NFC Championship game in Atlanta.
Steelers @ Chiefs
I got off the bus a year too early! Kansas City is picking up right where they left off last year getting back to the playoffs but this time they went 6-0 in the division, 12-4 overall, winning the AFC West and enjoyed a first round bye. Bob Sutton’s defense has been stellar yet again and despite some key injuries they finished 7th in the NFL allowing only 19 points per game. On offense the Chiefs are explosive, led by Alex Smith throwing and handing off to weapons like Tyreek Hill, Travis Kelce, and Jeremy Maclin. Hill has 12 all-purpose TDs, made the Pro Bowl as a rookie and is probably the fastest player I have ever seen. Kelce has also had another Pro Bowl season leading the team in receiving yards with 1,125 and 4 touchdowns. Coach Andy Reid and GM John Dorsey have done it again putting together one of the most complete rosters in the NFL.
The Steelers are lead by the “Three B’s” – Ben, Brown and Bell. These three players are the reason the team finished the season 11-5 and handled the Dolphins easily in the first round of the playoffs. LeVeon Bell has a style of running that I have never seen before, as it is both patient, explosive and punishing. Big Ben has a ton of experience in the playoffs playing in 17 post-season games and winning two Super Bowls. Antonio Brown finished the season with 12 TDs and almost 1,300 yards receiving adding an explosive target to Big Ben’s offense. As these three go, so goes the Pittsburgh Steelers.
With the Chiefs being at home in Arrowhead Stadium with the greatest (and loudest) fans in the NFL cheering them on I see them winning this game. The key to beating Pittsburgh is going to be stopping the run and owning the time of possession. Keeping the ball out of the hands of the 3 B’s means more time for Alex Smith and his explosive playmakers to take advantage of the outmatched Steelers defense. KC advances to play the Patriots in the AFC championship. And I argue with everyone in New England for the next 7 days.
Mike DeVito (@MikeDeVito70) is a 9-year NFL veteran, playing with the New York Jets and Kansas City Chiefs. He is an alum of the University of Maine, color analyst for Black Bears football on TV and is a co-host on The Drive, weekdays 4pm-6pm on 92.9fm The Ticket and streaming live at DriveShowMaine.com. Follow us on Twitter, @DriveShowmaine and “Like Us” on Facebook, Drive Show Maine.