The games were not particularly close, but the football world finally has a Super Bowl matchup to break down as the Atlanta Falcons and New England Patriots rolled to easy conference championships and will meet in Super Bowl LI on February 5th. Both Atlanta and New England thoroughly thrashed their championship game opponents and will square off in a Super Bowl matchup that should be extremely entertaining, as neither team has scored less than 34 points in a game on their way to Houston. Let’s check in on a few notable storylines from championship Sunday.
Bell Goes Down
The Pittsburgh Steelers needed impactful performances from their top weapons on Sunday to knock off the New England Patriots, and the odds of an upset took a major hit when Le’Veon Bell suffered a groin injury, limiting the studly running back to just 11 snaps. Bell ran six times for 20 yards before leaving the game, handing the Pittsburgh rushing duties to DeAngelo Williams, who ran for just 34 yards and a score on 14 carries, but chipped-in with 51 receiving yards. The Pittsburgh offense can never seem to stay at full strength for long, and the departure of Bell was a serious gut punch to the Pittsburgh offense that ultimately fell behind 36-9 before adding a late fourth quarter score. Bell’s contract status will be a hot topic over the offseason, as a franchise tag could be headed his way in coming months.
Green Bay Receivers Suit Up
The Packers were dealing with a pile of injured wide receivers this week, as Jordy Nelson (ribs), Davante Adams (ankle), and Geronimo Allison (hamstring) were all in danger of missing Sunday’s matchup with Atlanta. In the end, all three receivers were active, and Jordy Nelson managed to catch six passes for 67 yards and a score just two weeks after getting his ribcage crunched against the New York Giants. Adams saw just three targets but did find the end zone while Allison caught his only target of the day for 11 yards. It was a gutsy performance from the Green Bay receiving group, but even with all of Aaron Rodgers’ weapons at full strength, the Packers would have had trouble challenging the red-hot Falcons.
New England Backfield Update
Just as Dion Lewis had seemingly taken control of the New England backfield, the Patriots were in need of a clock-killing bruiser on Sunday night, which meant that the Pittsburgh Steelers were fed a heaping helping of LeGarrette Blount. Blount handled 16 carries on the night, which he rolled into 47 yards and a touchdown. Lewis tallied just 19 total yards on eight touches, while James White saw four targets out of the backfield and little else. With the Atlanta offense pumping out points at a ridiculous clip, the Patriots will likely lean toward Lewis/White in the Super Bowl but fantasy owners should remain aware that game flow plays a leading role in how Bill Belichick utilizes his trio of backs.
Matt Ryan Shreds Packers
The Atlanta Falcons gave their fan base a relaxing Sunday afternoon, as Matt Ryan led the team to a blistering first half and a 31-0 lead early in the third quarter. All-Universe wide receiver Julio Jones led the way for the Falcons, catching nine of 12 targets for 180 yards and two touchdowns. Jones is playing through foot injuries but looked like the baddest man on the planet at times on Sunday as he sliced up the Green Bay secondary with ease. Matt Ryan’s final stat line was stuffed with fantasy goodness, as the Atlanta quarterback threw for 392 yards and a four-pack of touchdowns in the win. Six Falcons caught multiple passes as Atlanta locked up a Super Bowl bid, and Matt Ryan will need to keep rolling in order to come out on top against Tom Brady in Super Bowl LI.
In Other News
Kirk Cousins is staring at a second-straight franchise tag this offseason if the Washington Redskins fail to lock up the quarterback on a long-term deal. Another potential wrench was thrown into this situation over the weekend when ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported that the San Francisco 49ers would pursue Cousins “hard” if the Redskins feel like shopping his services to other teams. With Atlanta OC Kyle Shanahan likely to take over as head coach of the 49ers, a pairing with Cousins would make some sense as Shanahan was the Washington OC for the first two years of Cousins’ NFL career. There is a ton to shake out in this situation, but it will certainly be entertaining over the offseason.
In other Washington news, running back Rob Kelley reportedly underwent knee surgery after the conclusion of the regular season. Apparently Kelley was injured in Week 16, but grinded out a Week 17 performance with the help of a knee brace. Kelley should be back in shape well before the start of the 2017, when he will likely battle to retain early-down privileges in the Washington offense.
Chris Hogan was not targeted more than seven times in a single game this season, so naturally Tom Brady chucked 12 passes in his direction in the AFC Championship Game. Hogan responded with a monstrous effort, hauling in nine catches for 180 yards and two touchdowns. Hogan now has 275 receiving yards this postseason in two games, and is averaging a beefy 21.2 yards per reception. … Ty Montgomery saw 15.5 touches per game in Green Bay’s first two playoff games, only to handle the ball just four times on Sunday before being forced from the game with a rib injury. The Packers were forced to use Aaron Ripkowski and Christine Michael in what was left of their running game after Atlanta sped out to a huge lead. … Martellus Bennett has reportedly been dealing with a cracked bone and bone chips in his ankle this season, issues that will require offseason surgery. Bennett still managed to snare five of five targets for 32 yards on Sunday and will be safe to start against Atlanta. … Eli Rogers had a successful game on Sunday while the Patriots put the clamps on Antonio Brown. Rogers saw a team-high 10 targets and snagged seven passes for 66 yards. … Malcolm Mitchell (knee) hadn’t played since Week 16 but was back in action on Sunday. Mitchell caught just one of four targets for five yards, but should be ready to suit up again in two weeks. … Michael Floyd was a healthy scratch with Malcolm Mitchell back in the fold for New England. Floyd will likely be on the backburner in Super Bowl LI as well before hitting the free agent market. … Ladarius Green (concussion) last played in Week 15 and finished his season on the sideline after being declared inactive against New England. Hopefully Green heals up quickly over the offseason.