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Hurley's Picks: Will NFL Get Coveted Brady-Rodgers Matchup For Super Bowl LI?

By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston

BOSTON (CBS) -- There should be no questioning what the NFL is fervently hoping for the Super Bowl matchup to be. While yes, it is true that 100 million people will tune in on Super Bowl Sunday regardless of the participants, the fact is that it's much easier to fill two weeks of hype and television programming and media days and everything else when there's a marquee matchup to promote.

And in that regard, it's Tom Brady vs. Aaron Rodgers. Hands down.

Of course, the quarterbacks don't play each other, and we know that. But we do all fall prey to the fun narrative, and we do like to remember these games for which quarterback finishes the game with a W.

In that regard, there's nothing better than Brady-Rodgers. You've got the 39-year-old Hall of Famer, near-undisputed greatest QB of all time, going up against the only active QB who has a chance to even think about one day owning that title. Yet at 33 years old himself, Rodgers is going to have to kick things into high gear late in his career to start racking up championships to get himself into the discussion.

Add to that the historic franchise that is Green Bay, and the lightning rod that is New England, and the dramatic buildup takes care of itself. All the NFL will need to do is sprinkle some water on the story and watch it bloom.

Now, if the league doesn't end up being gifted a Pats-Packers/Brady-Rodgers showdown, it won't be the end of the world. The Steelers do have some appeal, with Ben Roethlisberger going for his third ring, Le'Veon Bell changing the nature of the running back position on the fly, James Harrison potentially boycotting another White House trip, and whatnot. Plus, if you don't think non-sports media entities will have a field day with the Antonio Brown Facebook video situation, you're nuts.

And the NFL can hype the Falcons for two weeks by ... uhh ... err ... well ... Matt Ryan is a pretty nice guy ... and ... Julio Jones is very talented  .... and .... well ... OK, maybe there's not a ton there. Still, you know that everyone would be watching anyway.

But, if Roger Goodell and the NFL powers that be had their druthers, it would be Packers and Patriots duking it out for Super Bowl "Don't Call Me 51" LI. Will they actually get the matchup they covet? Why, let's find out.

(Thursday lines; home team in CAPS)

Green Bay (+4.5) over ATLANTA
Oh my goodness. There will be points. So many points.

This game features:

--Two of the quarterbacks who had the best seasons in the NFL. One (Ryan) will win the MVP, while the other (Rodgers) is on a ridiculous run of dominance dating back to late October.

--The team (Green Bay) that surrendered the third-most passing touchdowns this season going up against the team (Atlanta) that allowed the fifth-most passing touchdowns. They also finished 31st (Green Bay) and 28th (Atlanta) in passing yards allowed.

--A dome. A dang dome.

So. Many. Points.

As for the pick, I'll admit that I've been hard on the Packers. I've said they are a bad team. But in my defense, they are a bad team. They just so happen to employ a phenomenal quarterback who's covering a ton of holes and pulling rabbits out of hats on a semi-regular basis.

If you want to know where I found an edge in this matchup, I'll likewise admit that it's somewhat ridiculous: the Falcons' run defense stinks. Now, the flip side of that is that Green Bay can't run the ball, and certainly, their ranking 20th in rushing yards and 29th in rushing attempts this year would indicate that even the coaching staff would agree.

But check this out: in the two Green Bay playoff games, the trio of Ty Montgomery, Christine Michael and Aaron Ripkowski have rushed for 146 yards on 38 carries, for a not-great-but-not-completely useless 3.8 yards per carry.

The problem for the Falcons is this: they allowed 4.52 yards per carry all year. They allowed 4.8 yards per carry last week vs. the Seahawks, who ranked 24th in yards per carry this season. In fact, the Seahawks finished with 110 fewer rushing yards on the year than Green Bay despite 29 more attempts, and they still ran for 101 yards in Atlanta's building.

So while the quarterback play is going to largely determine the outcome of this game, I think the silent, hidden weapon can be found in a subtly effective ground game that helps give Green Bay enough of an edge to not only cover but to win the game.

But most importantly, all of us watching at home will win, because, again ... So. Many. Points.

FINAL SCORE: Packers 45, Falcons 38

Pittsburgh (+6) over NEW ENGLAND
For two teams that are closer to each other in terms of talent than some might believe, six points is quite a significant gap.

On the one hand, it makes sense. The Patriots are dominant at home in the playoffs, having only lost postseason games at Gillette to teams that genuinely hate them -- the Jets and the Ravens. And even when they play poorly -- like last week vs. Houston -- they manage to waltz away with 18-point victories. In fact, in their last eight home playoff victories dating back to 2011, the average score has been 37-19 in favor of the home team. They truly are a force. And when they win at home, they win.

Still, there are exceptions. They scraped by the Ravens in the 2011 AFC title game, and they again went down to the wire with the Ravens in the 2014 divisional round. Even last year's divisional round win over the Chiefs was no cakewalk, as it was decided by just seven points and very nearly flipped at the end when a Brady pass was deflected off the chest of Tamba Hali and could have easily gone for a pick-six if the wind was blowing a different direction.

And mixed in with all of those victories was a pretty bad loss to Baltimore in the 2012 AFC title game.

Essentially, it comes down to this: against opponents who are not on the Patriots' level, it's a bloodbath. But when the opponent is worthy, it's an old-fashioned donnybrook. And I think the Steelers are worthy.

They may not be great, per se. But they're competitive and they're tough and they're mad as hell and they're not gonna take it anymore!

OK, maybe that's extreme. But look: their defense is all right, and their one-two combo of Bell and Brown is dynamic. Roethlisberger is quite terrible on the road, but he's been OK at Gillette Stadium. He threw for 351 yards, a touchdown and a pick in the season opener last year, and that's despite the difficulty of Mike Tomlin getting Scott Zolak screaming in his headset. In 2013's trip to Foxboro, Roethlisberger threw for 400 yards with four touchdowns and two picks. It's true that the Steelers got shellacked that game to the tune of a 55-31 final score, but the point is this: Roethlisberger, who told all of his teammates that they were heading into a lion's den this week, knows what the challenge is and won't completely crumble the way some other quarterbacks might.

And taken together, I feel that at the very least, the Steelers will give the Patriots a game. And if the Patriots repeat their performance from last week, they will be left searching for answers instead of making their arrangements for Houston. If they play to their capabilities, they will emerge victorious. But it will far from easy.

FINAL SCORE: Patriots 31, Steelers 27

Last week: 1-3
Playoffs: 4-4

Regular season: 121-127-8

You can email Michael Hurley or find him on Twitter @michaelFhurley.

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