Since you’re here, I assume you enjoyed my rambling preview of the NFC title match between the Green Bay Packers and the Atlanta Falcons. Lucky you, it’s almost time for the payoff. I’ll say this much – bet the over, even if it moves to 70. But first, a quick look back at the week 8 game – one that featured a few key differences to Sunday’s match.
Looking Back at Week Eight
The winners came back at the end of the fourth quarter on October 30th to take the lead with just seconds left on the clock. Gee, where have we seen that script before? The difference here was it was Matt Ryan leading his team to a last-minute victory, not Aaron Rodgers. Both quarterbacks played exceptionally well, Rodgers tossing four touchdown passes and Ryan three.
The Packers contained Julio Jones, but as we’ve seen so often, Atlanta’s aerial attack is far more than Jones. In this game, Mohamed Sanu was the featured target. He caught five passes just on the game winning drive, finishing with nine catches in all, including that killer touchdown at the end.
Tevin Coleman missed this game, but Terron Ward chipped in 46 yards on just 6 carries, aiding Devonta Freeman in giving the Packers enough to think about to balance their attack.
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As for Green Bay, you know how Rodgers played. A key factor here was their running game, or more accurately, lack thereof. No Eddie Lacy, no James Starks, not even Ty Montgomery. Fullback Aaron Ripkowski ran the ball six times and tied for team lead in carries. That’s an issue, especially when the guy he tied is your quarterback. Rodgers ran the ball six times for a nifty 60 yards, which is good, but if you can’t get the defense to key on somebody other than the quarterback, it makes it hard to win. And Green Bay nearly did anyway.
In addition to the trainwreck of the Packers’ backfield, they were missing Randall Cobb in the receiving corps as well. Jordy Nelson and Davante Adams are the leading receivers for the Pack, of course, but cutting the options down to basically two guys and your quarterback’s legs are a tough way to win.
As already stated, several key players missed the regular season game. Tevin Coleman will be back slashing away, as he has for most of the season. Julio Jones is still feeling the effects of turf toe, and while there’s no doubt he’ll play, it remains to be seen just how effective he’ll be, or how many plays he may need to sit out. Even an injured Jones is more than any corner wants to face, so overall, the Falcons are in good shape for Sunday.
The same cannot be said for the Packers. Both Davante Adams and Jordy Nelson are listed as the dreaded game-time decisions. And just for kicks, rookie Geronimo Allison, who was targeted 13 times in the last two games of the regular season, is questionable as well. That’s right, kids, three of the four top wide receivers on the Green Bay depth chart are game-time decisions. In fact, Coach McCarthy said all three would be out if this were a regular season game. We may see two tight end sets out of sheer necessity. And let’s throw in safety Morgan Burnett in that wouldn’t-start-if-it-were-regular-season group. He may miss the game as well. I’ll say it now; if Burnett misses the game, that’s a bigger loss to the Pack for this matchup than Nelson and Adams.
I’ll go easy on you here. It’s a balanced attack – Freeman, Coleman, Jones, Sanu, Gabriel, and that Ryan guy – versus a mediocre defense. One the other side, you have the best quarterback alive – please, there can be no argument here – with quite likely less than half his weapons, against an equally mediocre defense. Remember, kids, mediocre mean moderate quality, not lousy., so don’t go crazy that I dissed your team. When your ranked in the bottom third and fourth in most defensive categories, as both these teams are, mediocre is generous. And as I wrote yesterday, the job for both defenses is to keep the opposition from scoring more than your offense, not to shut the other team down.
So here we are. If Nelson and Adams are even 80%, I think they will give Rodgers enough targets to win. Ty Montgomery’s running will be even more effective with legitimate downfield threats available to his quarterback. Again, no disrespect to Matt Ryan, but do you think for one moment this game would be in Atlanta if Freeman and Coleman were in the Packers’ backfield, and Ty Montgomery was the last man standing in Atlanta? Please.
That said, Atlanta does have that dynamic backfield, Matt Ryan is one of the best quarterbacks in the league, and their defense is good enough to win. If Jordy Nelson and/or Davante Adams miss significant time, the Falcons take this one. Yeah I know, hedging my bets. Fine. With family in both Wisconsin and Georgia, I’m in trouble either way. I’ll go Packers 41, Falcons 37. That’s 13 field goals and a safety for your NFC winner.