Dave Hackenberg's playoff picks
Atlanta (13-5) at Philadelphia (14-3) Game data: Lincoln Financial Field, 3 p.m. TV/radio: Ch. 36/1470 Favorite: Philadelphia by 5. Series: Eagles lead 12-10-1. Playoff records: Falcons 6-7, Eagles 15-15. Regular season: Did not meet. Last meeting: Eagles won 23-16 in Atlanta on Nov. 2, 2003. Falcons stat leaders: QB Michael Vick (181-of-321, 2,313 yds, 14 TDs, 12 INTs); RB Warrick Dunn (265 carries, 1,106 yds., 9 TDs); TE Alge Crumpler (48 recs., 774 yds., 6 TDs); DE Patrick Kerney (13 sacks); PR Allen Rossum (12.4 yds); KOR Rossum (21.6 yds); P Chris Mohr (40.6 yds); PK Jay Feely (18/23 FGs). Eagles stat leaders: QB Donovan McNabb (300-of-469, 3,875 yds, 31 TDs, 8 INTs); RB Brian Westbrook (177 carries, 812 yds., 3 TDs); RB Westbrook (73 recs., 703 yds., 6 TDs); DE Jevon Kearse (7.5 sacks); PR Reno Mahe (5.7 yds); KOR J.R. Reed (23.1 yds); P Dirk Johnson (42.1 yds); PK David Akers (27/32 FGs). Comparisons: Falcons offense (317.8 yards per game) vs. Eagles defense (319.7). Eagles offense (351.1) vs. Falcons defense (325.4). Injury report: Falcons: QUESTIONABLE: DE Travis Hall (chest); CB Kevin Mathis (ankle); T Todd Weiner (ankle). PROBABLE WR Brian Finneran (wrist). Eagles: OUT: WR Terrell Owens (ankle). QUESTIONABLE: LB Mark Simoneau (ankle). PROBABLE: LB Dhani Jones (shoulder); TE Chad Lewis (tricep); G Jermane Mayberry (tricep); T Jon Runyan (knee); TE L.J. Smith (back). Inside story: The most-asked question as these teams meet for the first time in an NFC Championship game may be, Paper or plastic? These are the two sack-happiest defenses in the league. Atlanta led the NFL with 48 sacks (DE Kerney and DT Rod Coleman were the league s most productive tandem with 24 ) and the Eagles defense had 47. Today, those defenses will be chasing two of the more elusive quarterbacks in the league. Falcons notes: Club makes second appearance in NFC Championship game after earning 30-27 OT win over Vikings in 1998. Advanced to title game with 47-17 romp over St. Louis at home last weekend. Falcons aim to become the third consecutive NFC South club to earn trip to Super Bowl, joining Carolina Panthers (2004) and Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2003). PR Rossum had NFL-playoff record 152 punt-return yards on three attempts last week vs. Rams, with 68-yard TD. He finished the regular season No. 2 in NFL with 12.4-yard average on punt returns. QB Vick has won 15 of his last 20 starts. He rushed for 902 yards, third-highest single-season total by QB in NFL history, averaging 7.5 yards per carry, third-highest all-time. Vick rushed for 119 yards on eight carries last week, the most rushing yards by a QB in NFL playoff history. Falcons led NFL in rushing (167 ypg) during regular season, then ran for franchise-playoff record 327 yards vs. Rams, which was the fourth-highest playoff total all-time. RB Dunn rushed for 1,106 yards this season with career-highs of 265 carries and nine rushing TDs. He ran for team-playoff record 142 yards vs. Rams, adding his first career playoff TDs on runs of 62 and 19 yards. Peerless Price led club WRs with 45 catches for 575 yards, but TE Crumpler clinched second Pro Bowl appearance with 48 receptions for 774 yards. He led all NFL tight ends with 16.1-yard average and had 17 receptions of 20 or more yards. Eagles notes: They are the first team in NFL history to play host to three consecutive conference title games, but are seeking first trip to Super Bowl since dropping 27-10 decision to Oakland in Super Bowl XV (1/25/81). Club has won playoff game in five consecutive seasons, tied with Oakland (1973-77) and Green Bay (1993-97) for second-longest streak all-time, trailing only Dallas (six, 1991-96). Coach Andy Reid last week became first coach in club annals to reach 70 wins, improving career record to 70-36 (.660). Reid has 9-0 record including playoffs after bye. QB McNabb had career-high 31 TD passes, second-most in club annals. He has thrown TD passes in eight of 10 career playoff games and posted career playoff high 111.4 passer rating last week in 27-14 win over Minnesota. RB Westbrook finished regular season as only NFL player with 700-plus yards rushing (812) and receiving (703). He rushed for 70 yards and added five catches for 47 yards vs. Vikings. Eagles allowed 260 points, tied with New England for second fewest in NFL. DE Kearse had a sack last week in first playoff game with club; LB Jeremiah Trotter led club with seven tackles and added an interception. S Brian Dawkins needs an interception to have at least one in each of last four postseasons. Hack s pick: Falcons 24, Eagles 20.
New England (15-2) at Pittsburgh (16-1) Game data: Heinz Field, 6:30 p.m. TV/radio: Ch. 11/1470 Favorite: New England by 3. Series: Steelers lead 12-5. Playoff records: Patriots 14-10, Steelers 24-17. Regular season: Steelers won 34-20 on Oct. 31 in Pittsburgh. Patriots stat leaders: QB Tom Brady (288-of-474, 3,692 yds., 28 TDs, 14 INTs); RB Corey Dillon (345 carries, 1,635 yds., 12 TDs); WR David Givens (56 recs., 874 yds., 3 TDs); LB Willie McGinest (9 sacks); PR Troy Brown (6.9 yds); KOR Bethel Johnson (24.8 yds); P Josh Miller (42 yds), PK Adam Vinatieri (31/33 FGs).
t Steelers stat leaders: QB Ben Roethlisberger (196-of-295, 2,621 yds, 17 TDs, 11 INTs); RB Jerome Bettis (250 carries, 941 yds., 13 TDs); WR Hines Ward (80 recs., 1,004 yds., 4 TDs); DE Aaron Smith (8 sacks); PR Antwaan Randle El (8.3 yds); KOR Randle El (25.1 yds); P Chris Gardocki (43.0 yds); PK Jeff Reed (28/33 FGs). Comparisons: Patriots offense (357.6 yards per game) vs. Steelers defense (258.4). Steelers offense (324) vs. Patriots defense (310.8). Injury report: Patriots: QUESTIONABLE: RB Patrick Pass (ankle); DE Richard Seymour (knee). PROBABLE: LB Ted Johnson (flu). Steelers: PROBABLE: LB Kendrell Bell (groin); LB Clark Haggans (groin); RB Verron Haynes (knee); WR Antwaan Randle El (toe); CB Deshea Townsend (hand). Inside story: Who you gonna call? Streak-busters. The Steelers halted New England s NFL-record 21-game winning streak on Halloween. Now, the Steelers have won 15 straight. Pittsburgh QB Roethlisberger is 14-0 as a starter. Pats QB Brady is 7-0 as a playoff starter. And New England coach Bill Belichick is 13-0 since 2001 when facing a team for the second time in a season. Meanwhile, the 31 combined wins by Pittsburgh (16) and New England (15) are the most-ever by teams in an AFC Championship game. Since 1970 this is the 12th title game for Steelers (5-6 in previous 11) and fifth for Patriots (4-0 in previous four). This game is a rematch of 2001 AFC championship game at Heinz Field, won 24-17 by New England. Patriots notes: Pats are 7-0 in playoff games under Belichick, who is 8-1 overall in nine career playoff games (1-1 with Cleveland). With a victory Belichick ties Vince Lombardi (9-1, .900) for best career playoff record winning percentage all-time (minimum 10 games). The three points allowed by Patriots last week in 20-3 win over Indianapolis tied team playoff low achieved two previous times. QB Brady has won all seven of his career playoff starts, tying Dallas Troy Aikman for most playoff wins by QB to begin career. Last week vs. Colts, Brady completed 18 of 27 for 144 yards with one TD and no interceptions for 92.2 passer rating. In playoff career Brady has completed 153 of 250 (61.2 percent) for 1,508 yards with 7 TDs vs. 3 interceptions for rating of 82.6. With next TD pass, Brady becomes club s all-time postseason leader in that category, passing Tony Eason s seven. In first career playoff game last week, RB Dillon rushed for 144 yards (23 carries), the second-highest single-game rushing total in Patriots playoff history. DE McGinest will extend his club-record for most playoff games as a Patriot (15 today). WR Givens caught four passes for 26 yards and a TD last week, giving him three career receiving playoff TDs. In regular-season game vs. Steelers, Givens had eight receptions for 101 yards and two TDs. Steelers notes: Team plays host to record ninth championship game. Next since AFL-NFL merger in 1970 is San Francisco with eight. Steelers have won franchise-record 15 games in row. Club looking to become 10th team in NFL history to go 10-0 at home in single season, including playoffs. Each of previous nine reached Super Bowl, while seven of them won Super Bowl. Under coach Bill Cowher, team is 8-4 in playoffs at home and has won at least one playoff game in seven consecutive postseasons. QB Roethlisberger, from Findlay, is aiming to become the first rookie QB to lead his team to Super Bowl. Roethlisberger is just the ninth QB since 1970 to lead team to conference championship game in year of his first NFL start, and is first since New England s Brady in 2001 season. Roethlisberger is second Steeler to accomplish the feat, joining Kordell Stewart (1997). RB Duce Staley is participating in his fourth consecutive conference championship game, having played with Eagles in NFC from 2001-03. In regular-season meeting vs. Pats, Staley carried 25 times for 125 yards. Today will mark the ninth career playoff game for RB Bettis. That s the most for any active Steeler. Bettis has reached 100-yard rushing mark 52 times with Steelers. Pittsburgh is 43-9 in those games, including a string of 15 wins in row dating back to 2001 season. Hack s pick: Steelers 16, Patriots 13.
A look at today's AFC and NFC championship games.