The 2017 NFL season is just getting started. Teams are enjoying the end of training camp, and can now coast through the meaningless early season games.
Unlike college football, where every game is important, the early NFL season is more of a honeymoon period, where coaches and players develop friendships and do entertaining team-building exercises.
Who could forget the magical 2016 season, when the undefeated Broncos and Vikings rolled through their early season games and clashed in a Super Bowl for the ages?
LOLOL JK (laughing through tears emoji).
The Packers and the Falcons met in the NFC Championship, thoroughly dominated by Atlanta, after a one-point victory over Atlanta in the regular season.
Both teams have the Super Bowl on the agenda this year. One quarterback has won the Lombardi Trophy, and the other was close enough to leave Chick-Fil-A grease on it after it slipped from his grasp.
Rodgers had a workmanlike performance against the Seahawks in Week One: 311 passing yards, one touchdown, one interception. The Packers are hoping to avoid the slow-starting offense that has plagued them in recent seasons.
While Rodgers still excels at taking advantage of free plays on penalties, as the Seahawks’ 12th Man can attest, the Falcons defense presents a test every bit as stern as Seattle. Atlanta may even have the edge on linebacking talent and speed, whereas the Seahawks linebackers specialize in big hits.
Free agent signee Martellus Bennett may have a real effect on this game. He presents a big target in the red zone, and more crucially, he protects Aaron Rodgers on pass plays.
He also does after the play is over, even at the risk of a penalty.
Ty Montgomery will be asked to carry the offense in the running game, occasionally splitting out wide or making the screen and play-action catches needed to move the chains. His stats against the Seahawks were not stellar. The biggest concern in the backfield is that Rodgers was sacked four times last week.
Can Mike Daniels and Nick Perry build on last week’s success? The Falcons offensive line is a strength, unlike the Seahawks. Ryan’s quick release will prevent sacks and tackles for loss, while the multitalented running backs provide pass protection and receiving targets.
The offensive line is banged up already, with David Bakhtiari’s eye injury on a dirty hit, and Bryan Bulaga recovering from flu-like symptoms, after missing the Seattle game with an ankle injury.
Special teams need to be consistent. Mason Crosby remains a kicking machine in domes. The addition of Josh Jones as a gunner on returns opposite Jeff Janis has been overlooked. The Packers are forcing double teams on returns, and that has improved return coverage significantly.
Atlanta has historically been fueled by big returns: “Prime Time” Deion Sanders, Tim Dwight ( first punt return TD in a Super Bowl), Eric Metcalf, and former Packer Allen “Awesome” Rossum all have provided a spark in the old Georgia Dome.
All three phases of the game present serious challenges for Coach Mike McCarthy and company. The reward for the first victory in Mercedes-Benz stadium could easily be home-field advantage in the playoffs.
Packers fantasy picks: Kicker Mason Crosby and TE Martellus Bennett.