Aaron Rodgers celebrates the Packers’ win Sunday. (Matthew Emmons/USA Today Sports)
1. So the NFL’s Final Four is set, with the Packers meeting the Falcons in the Georgia Dome Sunday at 3:05 p.m., and the Patriots and Steelers squaring off at 6:40 in Foxboro. In the NFC, it’ll be a four seed (Green Bay) and a two seed (Atlanta), while the No. 1 seed in the AFC (New England) will host the third seed (Pittsburgh). But more importantly, it’s simply the latest reminder that in a quarterback-driven league, if you don’t have a signal-caller who stands head-and-shoulders above the rest of the field, you’re pretty much going to be out of luck. It’s hard to look at this group of quarterbacks — Tom Brady, Ben Roethlisbeger, Aaron Rodgers and Matt Ryan — and not include them in some sort of combination of the NFL’s top 5 QBs, at least at this point. (What does it say about the field that the guy who now appears to be the odds’ on favorite to win the MVP has the thinnest resume of the bunch?) Anyway, keep that in mind when the next round of team-building commences shortly after the end of the postseason. (Oh, and for what it’s worth, I’d still be shocked if Roger Goodell was in Foxboro this weekend. That dude is headed straight back to Atlanta.)
2. These quotes from Steelers defensive coordinator Keith Butler is going to be fun to revisit this week. Prior to the October game between the two teams in Pittsburgh, Butler was interviewed for the “Coordinators Corner” podcast on the Steelers’ team website, and was asked about Brady and Belichick and if they study harder than other teams, or if they’re doing something special? “I don’t think they’re doing anything special,” Butler said via MassLive.com. “I think they do things outside the box sometimes, you know, that might be on the edge of being legal or not legal. They’ve done a couple of things in the past — putting an offensive tackle out as ineligible but he’s not really. Sometimes the emphasis by the NFL in terms of what they call and what they don’t call, [the Patriots] use that a little bit. They’ve been accused of doing a lot of things. But the thing we’ve got to do is ignore that and play.” For what it’s worth, Brady has faced the Pittsburgh defense twice since Butler took over as defensive coordinator prior to the start of the 2015 season:
9/10/15 in Foxboro: 25-for-32 for 288 yards with four touchdowns, no picks and two sacks in a 28-21 win
10/23/16 in Pittsburgh: 19-for-26 for 222 yards with two touchdowns in a 27-16 win
3. Travis Kelce wants to be Rob Gronkowski the same way that Bon Jovi wants to be Bruce Springsteen. The Kansas City tight end was underwhelming on the big stage Sunday night against the Steelers, committing a dopey penalty while finishing with five catches for 77 yards in the loss. On a night where the Chiefs needed Kelce to be a difference-maker, he and the rest of the Kansas City offense came up short. Consider this NSFW locker room video of Kelce a fitting postscript to the season:
4. The Steelers are a far more appetizing opponent for the Patriots to consider than the Chiefs for multiple reasons, not the least of which is the fact that Pittsburgh does a better job stirring the emotion in the New England fan base than Kansas City. Who can get upset with Kansas City? It’s Andy Reid in a big red jacket. Meanwhile, the Steelers are still worthy of a spot among the Patriots’ chief rivals. There’s so much terrific history to consider between these two teams. The names and faces have changed along the way, but this week promises to be a lot more fun — at least from a hype-driven perspective — than last week against the Texans.
5. We covered our feelings about Rodgers and the Packers’ wild win over the Cowboys here, but it’s safe to say, the NFC title game should be a compelling contest in the Georgia Dome. Can Ryan rise to the challenge and advance to the Super Bowl for the first time in his career? Can Rodgers keep his remarkable streak rolling? From this viewpoint, we’re in completely uncharted waters when it comes to Rodgers and what he’s doing. Despite the fact that they’re on the road, our first inclination is to go with the Packers. No one else has been able to slow down Green Bay quarterback over the last month-plus. Why should Atlanta be any different?