Question of the Day: Who will be playing in the AFC and NFC Championship games next weekend?
Writers from around the Tribune Co. weigh in on the topic. Check back throughout the day for more responses and feel free to leave a comment of your own.
Nick Fierro, Allentown Morning Call
New England will host Baltimore for the AFC championship and Atlanta Falcons will host Chicago for the NFC crown next weekend.
I say this because the Patriots are, well, the Patriots, and the Ravens know how to win in Pittsburgh, where they’ve already won this season. That said, the Patriots have exited the playoffs as heavy favorites the last two times they qualified, including the 2007-08 Super Bowl.
In the NFC, it’s hard to believe Seattle is still alive, but it won’t be after this weekend, when the Bears punish the Seahawks for the right to advance to the conference title game against ... the Falcons, who will find a way to win in their dome against Green Bay. The Packers may have more talent, but they still do too many things to beat themselves. The Falcons, on the other hand, do not. And they’re just about impossible to beat in their building.
[Updated at 9:10 a.m.
Dan Pompei, Chicago Tribune
The weekend for wild upsets has passed, and the NFL should return to form this weekend. The championship game participants, then, should be the Patriots and Steelers in the AFC, and the Falcons and Bears in the NFC. The two teams with the best chances of pulling off upsets and landing in the championship games are the Ravens and Packers. The Ravens beat the Steelers once before this season in Pittsburgh, so they know it can be done. But the Steelers are a better team now, having won six of their last seven. The Packers nearly beat the Falcons in Atlanta, and are capable of doing it Saturday if they hit on all cylinders. One thing they know, however, is the Falcons are not likely to beat themselves.]
[Updated at 1:46 p.m.
Sam Farmer, Los Angeles Times
Chicago, Green Bay, New England and Pittsburgh will advance to the conference championship games. In the AFC, it will be the Steelers at the Patriots, franchises that have combined to win half the Super Bowls in the past decade. In the NFC, it will be the Packers at the Bears, a matchup that dates to 1921 and is the longest consecutive-games rivalry in NFL history. Not surprisingly, the championship round will feature four elite quarterbacks, two of which (Tom Brady and Ben Roethlisberger) have combined for five rings. Most of the divisional games figure to be very close, and it’s entirely possible that Baltimore, Atlanta and even Seattle could prevail. The mismatch in this round is the New York Jets at New England. The Patriots should be able to put that one on ice pretty early.]
Photo: Baltimore Ravens tight end Todd Heap, left, takes a hit from New England Patriots safety Brandon Meriweather on Dec. 8. Credit: Winslow Townson / Associated Press.