Dallas Cowboys cornerback Brandon Carr has played nine NFL seasons, but none like the last one. His Cowboys vibrant year became smoke in the divisional playoffs thanks to the Green Bay Packers. Thanks to Aaron Rodgers.
"I’m still replaying the game in my head, things we could have done better, how we could have gotten off to a good start," Carr said in a telephone interview on Thursday night from Dallas. "It hurts. I can’t watch TV, because that’s all they’re still talking about here. But I’ll be watching the games on Sunday. I’ll always be a fan of the game."
Carr is one of the league’s most astute players.
Here are his analysis and picks for the conference championships.
NFC – Green Bay Packers (12-6) vs. Atlanta Falcons (12-5)
"This game is going to be a shootout. The secondary for the Packers has been patchwork all year. The Packers secondary is getting interceptions in bunches lately and when that happens, it builds confidence. There are going to be a lot of balls flying around for them. I expect (Falcons receiver) Julio Jones to get at least 10 targets. Whoever is covering him is going to get some chances.
“Julio, if he’s healthy, is a matchup problem. They move him around to the slot and out of the backfield. (Mohamed) Sanu is a big, athletic receiver. The wide receiver core for the Falcons is red-hot, lights out.”
The defensive edge
“The Falcons defense is playing good football at the right time of year. Don’t let the stats of the regular season jade your view of them now. As a whole, I say the Falcons have the better defense. Up front pressure from the front seven, the Packers have the edge. But when you look at the entire defense, the Falcons have the defensive edge, especially being at home.
“I will say at this time of year, whether you are home or on the road, whether it is hot or you’re playing in snow, you’re excited and you just go play. I do think the home field advantage, though, makes a difference for the Falcons defense. And the Packers receivers are sort of beat up.
“(Falcons quarterback) Matt Ryan is poised. He’s confident. He’s red-hot. Rodgers is an assassin. He plays with a lot of swag. He’s a gamer."
"Pittsburgh is balanced in all areas across the board. They are led by a veteran quarterback (Ben Roethlisberger). Their defense is physical. This is a team that feeds off its head coach (Mike Tomlin). He provides a swagger to that locker room. That leaked footage of the locker room by Antonio Brown, that’s what you want in your head coach. That’s what you want to hear. He talks the way we talk.
"Bill Belichick is a no-nonsense guy for the Patriots. My way or the highway. He has a system that is proven to work. He has produced great results. He runs a tight ship and it’s all about being a pro and controlling the things you can control and all about winning the next football game.”
Stopping Bell and Brown
“Antonio is a guy out there having big fun. He is a matchup problem as well. The eye-test says he is a small guy. But he is a receiver with home-run speed. He’s crafty at the line of scrimmage. He does little things in his routes that throw you off. I want to see his matchup with (cornerback Malcolm) Butler. Butler is a savage corner.
“When we played Pittsburgh this season, it was exciting to play against Le’Veon Bell. I had been watching some of his games on TV. Seeing him in person popping in and out of holes was something. He is a big back, he finds creases and he moves the pile forward. We’ve seen him out wide as a receiver. He can line up out there and do wide receiver moves. You almost have to cover him with a safety. If you do with a linebacker, it better be an agile linebacker.”
“Tom Brady’s record speaks for itself. No matter what receivers he has around him, he finds a way to win. You look at their offense and there is no major threat or big name except for (Julian) Edelman. Yet, Brady continues to find ways to spread the ball around.”
“I rate the quarterbacks 1 through 4 this way: 1 is Ryan. 2 is Rodgers. 3 is Brady. 4 is Roethlisberger. They are all elite passers.
“The key in both of these games is pressure on the quarterback. You can’t sit back and watch them. Who is going to be able to get the most pressure on the quarterback? Big Ben is tough to bring down. Brady does a great job of subtle moves. Ryan does a great job of getting rid of it quickly and finding hot receivers. Rodgers thrives outside of the pocket.
“The other key is stopping the running game. You cannot let these offenses run and pass it successfully. Stopping these passing attacks is hard enough. If they are able to run it and pass it, you’re in bigger trouble. You have to make them one-dimensional and pass it. And then you can focus all of your energy on a task that is already tough to accomplish regardless of any other circumstances.
“In the AFC, I’m going Pittsburgh 20, New England 17.
“In the NFC, it’s Atlanta 42, Green Bay 28.”