Atlanta Falcons vs. Green Bay Packers
Eight weeks ago, nobody would have though it would be these two team in the NFC sitting just a single game away from the Super Bowl. The Packers, behind Aaron Rodgers’ stellar performances, have reeled off eight straight victories to get here, but might not actually even be the hottest team in this game. Atlanta has won their last five games by a winning margin of almost 20 points per contest. Their high-flying offense is averaging nearly 40 points a game over that stretch. It is a battle of the NFC’s two hottest teams and it is sure to be a dandy.
Atlanta and Green Bay met up in week 8 of the regular season. Green Bay was riddled with injuries, and Atlanta was also missing some key pieces, but that did not stop the game from being one of the best of the entire season. The two teams went back-and-forth, ending with Rodgers marching down the field for a score to take the lead in the fourth, and Ryan answering with the winning touchdown late in the fourth. The Falcons conquered the Packers 33-32 in the Georgia Dome, but both teams have looked much different down the stretch season. The game might have some new faces this time around, but expect the same type of result.
Aaron Rodgers vs. The Atlanta defense
There has not been a time in recent memory that a quarterback has been this dominant with so little help around him. The Packers defense has struggled all season, all of their wide receivers have battled injuries, and have been forced to turn former wide receiver Ty Montgomery into their every-down running back. It has been a rocky season for the Packers, but one thing has remained steady, and that is Aaron Rodgers. His league leading 40 TD passes in the regular season will go up against a much improved Atlanta defense.
Rodgers shredded the Falcons for four touchdowns in the first matchup, but do not automatically assume he will have that same type of success this time around. The Packers will likely be without top wide-out Jordy Nelson for this game. The loss of Nelson is a huge one for the Packers as he scored in the first matchup. Aside from that, the Atlanta defense is young and has gotten progressively better each week the season has gone on. Last week, Atlanta’s defense looked more like Seattle’s defense. They put constant pressure on Russell Wilson and forced him into bad decisions. Aaron Rodgers is going to be a much tougher task, but Atlanta’s defense will be much more prepared this time around.
Packers secondary vs. Atlanta’s receivers
It has been well-documented how many weapons the Falcons have on offense. I mean seriously the number of guys Matt Ryan can target over the course of a game does not stop. Those receivers go up against a dreadful secondary that is riddled with injuries. Both Morgan Burnett and Quentin Rollins are questionable entering Sunday’s game. Ryan and the Atlanta offense made the Legion of Boom look irrelevant without Earl Thomas, just imagine what they might do to a banged up Packers secondary.
For Green Bay, it is critical that Burnett is back in the lineup. It is hard to see Green Bay winning this game without Burnett’s experience at the back end of the defense. Even with him on the field though, the task at hand is going to be a tough one for the Packers secondary. Handling Julio Jones is one thing, but when Ryan can look elsewhere and find Taylor Gabriel, Mohammed Sanu, and Devonta Freeman just to name a few, the Packers secondary is going to have to play their best game of the season to pull out a victory on the road.
Chase Irle: For the first time in my life, I really feel like this is it. After watching last week’s divisional matchups play out, I could not feel more confident heading into Sunday. That does not mean I think it will be easy for Atlanta or the game will not be close. I expect a hell of an effort for Aaron Rodgers. He is going to ball no matter who is catching the ball.
Both of these teams have gotten miles better since their week 8 matchup, but I think the key to this game lies in the health of Green Bay. Green Bay has a ton of players banged up or out for Sunday’s matchup. The Falcons have not remained injury free, but they are certainly not feeling the same effects as the Packers. The loss of Jordy Nelson will make Green Bay’s offense a little easier to handle, and the Atlanta defense will rise up to the occasion. They will find a way to hold Green Bay to under 30 points. On offense, Atlanta will shred Green Bay. Green Bay has no shot at stopping Matt Ryan and this Atlanta offense. Taylor Gabriel had a big game in the first matchup, and I expect him to have another big impact in this one. The Falcons will roll again 38-27.
Harrison Coburn: I hate having to choose one team or another here because it is so hard to favor one team in this situation. I saw the Rodgers-Ryan shootout in person week 8, and it was one of the best games I have ever watched. This will likely be the story once again at the Georgia Dome on Sunday. I have a hard time doubting Aaron Rodgers, but the Green Bay offense really lacked an identity on offense last season without Jordy Nelson. The injuries on the Green Bay side of the ball lead me to believe the Falcons may have the upper hand here, but I think the last team with the ball wins the game.