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NFL picks 2017: Experts expect Patriots vs. Falcons Super Bowl

SB Nation’s writers are torn with a pair of compelling conference title games in store for Sunday.

The Patriots will play the Falcons in the Super Bowl — if the majority of SB Nation’s experts are right.

SB Nation’s panel is slightly torn for Sunday’s AFC and NFC title games, and the league’s four hottest teams will put lengthy winning streaks on the line with a bid in the biggest game as the reward. Our experts gave the edge to New England and Atlanta to hold serve in rematches of midseason showdowns, no matter how much Pittsburgh and Green Bay have grown in the interim.

The Patriots dispatched the Steelers at Heinz Field in Week 7, but that was without two-time NFL champion Ben Roethlisberger behind center. While Landry Jones was able to throw for 281 yards against New England’s secondary, he needed 47 passes to get there in a game Pittsburgh never led. Without an efficient passing attack, Le’Veon Bell was held to a relatively unimpressive 81 yards.

Roethlisberger will be healthy Sunday, and his return has helped spark a nine-game unbeaten streak in the Iron City. Bell may have been an even more important piece of that puzzle — he’s run for 1,172 yards and eight touchdowns in his last eight games. The pair, coupled with All-Pro receiver Antonio Brown, will put New England’s defense to the test.

While the Patriots held Houston to a single touchdown in last week’s playoff game — thanks to a fumbled kickoff that gave the Texans the ball at the New England 12-yard line — stopping Roethlisberger will be a much tougher test than Brock Osweiler. New England’s secondary has been one of the team’s strongest assets, but a limited pass rush could give a savvy veteran quarterback all the time he needs to lead an upset bid.

The Falcons will have to deal with a hard-charging, streak-aided, savvy veteran quarterback of their own Sunday. Aaron Rodgers is undefeated since telling reporters his Packers would have to “run the table” to crash the 2017 playoffs. His eight straight wins include victories over some of the NFC’s top teams, including the Seahawks, Lions, and, most recently, the Cowboys.

That win over Dallas may prove to be the best game of the year. Green Bay appeared consigned for overtime after blowing a 21-3 lead. The two teams were tied at 31-all with just 12 seconds on the clock when the Pack faced a dire third-and-20 situation from their own 32-yard line. Instead of taking a knee, Rodgers drew up his own play and hit Jared Cook with a scrambling 36-yard completion to set up a game-winning 51-yard field goal on the game’s final play.

He’ll try to use that momentum to reverse the outcome of the last time these teams met. Green Bay lost a Week 8 squeaker to the Falcons when Mohamed Sanu hauled in an 11-yard touchdown pass with 31 seconds remaining to lock down a 33-32 victory in the Georgia Dome. Rodgers and probable MVP Matt Ryan combined to sling seven touchdown passes that day, and it’s not silly to think they could easily eclipse that number Sunday.

A lack of drama has shifted the spotlight away from Ryan in recent weeks, but his breakthrough 2016 season shines through. regardless. He roasted the Seahawks for 336 yards and three touchdowns in a Divisional playoff rout, extending a season where he threw for nearly 5,000 yards and led the league in passer rating. He can put a bow on the best year of his career by pushing Atlanta to the Super Bowl for only the second time in franchise history.

According to SB Nation’s experts, he’s got a pretty good chance to do just that.

SB Nation expert picks, Conference Championships

Game RVB Stephen White Thomas George Jeanna Thomas Adam Stites Louis Bien Joel Thorman Fooch OddsShark Computer
Game RVB Stephen White Thomas George Jeanna Thomas Adam Stites Louis Bien Joel Thorman Fooch OddsShark Computer
Last week 3-1 2-2 3-1 3-1 4-0 3-1 2-2 2-2 2-2
Season total 162-100-2 167-95-2 166-96-2 164-98-2 161-101-2 154-108-2 167-95-2 156-106-2 173-89-2