NFL Hash Marks: Conference championship party crashers - - The News for South Mississippi

NFL Hash Marks: Conference championship party crashers

The Pittsburgh Steelers meet the New England Patriots in Foxborough, MA, on Sunday to decide who will represent the AFC in Super Bowl LI. (Source: AP/Ed Zurga/Steven Senne) The Pittsburgh Steelers meet the New England Patriots in Foxborough, MA, on Sunday to decide who will represent the AFC in Super Bowl LI. (Source: AP/Ed Zurga/Steven Senne)
The Green Bay Packers head to Atlanta to face the Falcons Sunday in the NFC Championship game. (Source: AP/Ron Jenkins/John Bazemore) The Green Bay Packers head to Atlanta to face the Falcons Sunday in the NFC Championship game. (Source: AP/Ron Jenkins/John Bazemore)

(RNN) - The conference championship games feature teams that are among the NFL's elite. And the Falcons.

#LetsInaugurate - Matt Ryan and Dan Quinn are the only QB-coach combo remaining who haven't placed their right hand on a Lombardi Trophy and said the oath - "I'm going to Disney World!" They represent Atlanta, the lone franchise still playing that hasn't won a Super Bowl.

The other three teams, the Packers, Patriots and Steelers; are three of the top-six most experienced winners in the league.

The Falcons have use their boisterous ways to ascend from the rest of the pack to the NFC title game. They always are going on offense, and they always respond to any attack from an opponent.

They like to use Twitter to brag about their accomplishments.

They're even proud their coordinator was found most "offensive." These guys are not PC.

So is this the year that the outsider takes the top spot? Sure, they're inexperienced. Sure, they're cocky. Sure, they have some questionable real estate deals and a connection to a powerful Russian (Russian-American, but still...).

But the Falcons do have a certain charisma; even their detractors can't argue that. Just don’t mention Aaron Rodgers' big hands around Atlanta. Some folks are sensitive about that kind of thing.

#IWantMyBabyBackBabyBackBabyBack - Rodgers may be missing his No. 1 receiver Sunday, as Jordy Nelson is still battling a rib injury. In honor of Nelson, Rib Lake Elementary in Wisconsin gave up their "rib," referring to themselves as "Lake Elementary" this week.

Nice sentiment, adorable kids. But the school's nickname is "Redmen," so maybe they could make a change there, too?

#Vegas Baby - The Raiders filed to move the team from Oakland to Las Vegas this week, mainly to get owner Mark Davis away from his barber.

NFC Championship: Green Bay Packers at Atlanta Falcons, 3:05 p.m. ET Sunday

Packers Super Bowls (4-1): I (W), II (W), XXXI (W), XXXII (L), XLV (W).

The two favorites for MVP face off in an NFC Championship game with a high probability for lots of points and deep passes. Ryan and Rodgers torched defenses in the final weeks of the season and in the playoffs – Ryan with his quick decision making and release, Rodgers with his ability to avoid the pass rush long enough for receivers to get open.

The Week 8 game between the two was won on a Ryan TD pass in the final minute to give Atlanta a one-point victory.

The Packers (10-6) QB has thrown 24 TDs to one interception in his last nine games, but he still needs someone on the other end to catch it. Three of his top receivers, Nelson, Davante Adams and Geronimo Allison, were limited or didn’t participate in practice Thursday. Tight end Jared Cook has become a bigger part of the offense and can make spectacular plays, like the catch that set up the game-winning field goal Sunday.

If you listen closely, you can hear the sound of Dallas' collective heart breaking all over again. Or maybe that was Romo's clavicle.

Falcons Super Bowl (0-1): XXXII (L).

The Falcons’ (11-5) Ryan is 2-4 career in the playoffs, but he’s never played better than he has this season. He continued it last week by beating up a Seahawks team whose specialty has been making good QBs look bad for the last five years. He led the league in yards per attempt, and he set an NFL record by completing passes for scores to 13 different receivers.

Dwight Freeney was brought in to Atlanta as much for what he could teach his younger teammates as what he could do on the field, and the 15-year veterans’ tutelage helped Vic Beasley win the sack title. Freeney found a bit of his old form in the playoffs, too, and he could make it even harder for Green Bay to protect their signal caller.

Left tackle David Bakhtiari has kept pass rushers off Rodgers in 2016, so it was a concern for Green Bay when he went down last game. He returned later and did not appear on this week’s injury report, so he should be set to start. Pro Bowl guard T.J. Lang is questionable but likely to play.

Julio Jones is nursing a toe injury, but he should be lined up at receiver for Atlanta. He and his friends are poised for a big day against a Packers secondary that was lit up in the second half by Dallas.

AFC Championship: Pittsburgh Steelers at New England Patriots, 6:40 p.m. Sunday

Patriots Super Bowls (4-4): XX (L), XXXI (L), XXXVI (W), XXXVIII (W), XXXIX (W), XLII (L), XLVI (L), XLIX (W).

The Patriots (14-2) have gotten away with several injuries to their receiving corps by using a pair of pass-catching specialists out of the backfield in James White and Dion Lewis. Both caught one for scores in the Divisional round, and Lewis became the first player in postseason history to score by run, catch and kickoff return in a game.

He also put the ball on the ground twice, something that will get him yanked off the field against a team like Pittsburgh (11-5). The Steelers’ Antonio Brown had his own mishap, but it came after the game – he was streaming on Facebook Live during coach Mike Tomlin’s postgame speech.

Steelers Super Bowls (6-2): IX (W), X (W), XIII (W), XIV (W), XXX (L), XL (W), XLIII (W), XLV (L).

It gave the 24-hour channel loudmouths something to mouth loudly for a couple of days, but it shouldn’t have any effect on his playing time. His matchup with New England's top cornerback, Malcolm Butler, was excellent in Week 7, with Brown winning the 1-on-1 but the Pats taking the game 27-16.

Ben Roethlisberger’s offense, which averaged nearly 25 points per game, skated by with six field goals on an anemic Chiefs offense to make it this far. That won’t be good enough against Tom Brady, whose team racked up a 27.6 points per game average in 2016.

The Steelers will need the ageless James Harrison and his fellow pass rushers to disturb Brady in the pocket enough to get him on the sidelines. On the other side, the offensive line must hold their blocks to give Le'Veon Bell time to find a seam. Center Markice Pouncey is among the best at the position, and he'll contend with a Pats defensive front that uses a lot of pre-snap movement to confuse blockers.

This will be the third time the two teams have faced in the AFC Championship since 2001, with the Patriots winning the previous two. It will be the 10th time one of them will represent the conference in the Super Bowl in that span, and the winner will also have the new record for Super Bowl appearances, with nine.

With all that history on the line, Commissioner Roger Goodell decided to attend … the NFC game? Someone must have put a lock on the DeflateGate, preventing his entrance to Gillette Stadium.

Happy trails, Georgia Dome. Be on the lookout for creepy clown sightings.

Hash Marks, formerly NFL of the Week, is a preview/analysis of games and a satirical look at the entire NFL Universe - the players, coaches, owners, fans and media. For more sports and other news, follow @MattQuillenRNN on Twitter.

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