If the NFL has learned anything about the Packers this year, it should be that they are a much different team then they were halfway through the season.
Last week at this time, there was talk about Green Bay’s loss to Dallas earlier in the season which would likely result in them losing in the playoffs. Now, the Packers head to the Georgia Dome again for a second shot at taking down the Falcons.
In Week 8 of the NFL regular season, Atlanta defeated Green Bay 33-32 on a last second touchdown catch by Mohammed Sanu. Both Aaron Rodgers and Matt Ryan performed at an MVP level, as Rodgers threw for four touchdowns and Ryan had three of his own.
While Atlanta has been praised for its tandem of running backs and its top tier rush defense, Matt Ryan’s performance has lead the Falcons this far, and there is no doubt that they will rely on him to defeat the Packers once again.
Ryan has thrown for 4944 yards and 38 touchdowns on the season, countered with just seven interceptions. This high-powered offense has put up 30 or more points in all but five games this season, and have only lost one game when they managed to score over 30 points.
Ryan’s top receiver, Julio Jones, was targeted 48 times more than any other receiver on the team. Jones was second in the league in yards with 1,409, and also was second in catches of 20 yards or more with 27. While Jones is questionable to play this week with a foot injury, his big-play ability is what threatens the Packers’ defense, whose secondary has gotten burned on deep passes all season long.
Atlanta’s run offense was fifth in the league behind Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman, who combined for 19 touchdowns and over 1,500 yards. This compared to the Packers, who were 20th in the league in rushing, and whose leading running back, Ty Montgomery, had just 457 yards on the season.
This Falcons offense clearly has multiple ways to score the ball, but the bright side for the Packers is the Falcons’ defense is extremely susceptible. Atlanta was the sixth-worst team in the league in terms of points allowed per game, and also was 24th in yards allowed per game. While their pass rush has been proclaimed as dominant, the Packers had six more sacks than Atlanta on the season, and Green Bay also has one of the best pass-blocking offensive lines in the league.
Even though the Packers defense, especially their secondary, has statistically been at the bottom of the league all season, their turnover ratio has helped them get the ball back to Aaron Rodgers. Inevitably, the Falcons receivers likely come up with a few big plays down the field, but don’t be surprised if Green Bay comes up with a few turnovers this time around. The Packers didn’t force a single turnover in their first encounter with Atlanta, but have forced 16 turnovers since Week 14, which comes out to about 2.6 turnovers forced per game.
For the Packers to upset the Falcons they must hold them to under 30 points, but most importantly, Aaron Rodgers will need to out-duel Matt Ryan. Neither of these teams’ defenses are good enough to stop the other teams’ quarterback, and Atlanta easily has the upper hand in running the ball, so it is vital that the Packers make this game a shootout similar to last week and hope that Rodgers can continue to make plays down the stretch.