Well that was certainly a lot of fun. I had a great time this week reveling in the biggest regular season victory since the 2010 win over the Bears to get into the playoffs (a game I also saw from the Lambeau Field stands). I understand that the Green Bay Packers and the New England Patriots are not in the same conference. I understand that winning this game did absolutely nothing for the Packers as far as potential tiebreakers are considered. I understand that these two teams may never play against with these two quarterbacks at the helm. After all, Rodgers has only ever faced Manning and Brady once apiece and he just turned 31 this week.
What that game did do though, is answer a lot of questions. Can the Packers win a game against an elite team? Can the Packers beat an elite quarterback? (By the way quick tangent: against Brady, Rivers, Brees and Manning, the Packers are 5-2 under Rodgers, so that narrative was extra dumb) Can the defense hold up in a big spot? All of these questions are fine, and I’m glad they got answered but it appears that none of them are key.
The big question is whether or not the Packers are going to have to avenge one of their losses this season to win the division. It appears that the NFC North and the NFC East are going to have the representatives for the 1 and 2 seed. The NFC West is beating up on one another too much. The Cardinals are in first place, but have to play the feisty Kansas City Chiefs and all 3 of their division rivals with an increasingly battered squad and without Carson Palmer. The NFC South is atrocious.
Green Bay holds the tiebreaker over the Eagles and Dallas is going to have at least 5 losses this season (because they’re going to lose to the Eagles again), so the key to home field advantage throughout the playoffs is more than likely going to come down to the week 17 game against Detroit. The only chance that Green Bay had to avoid that fate was to beat New England.
To make the week 17 game against the Lions meaningless the Packers have to beat Atlanta, Buffalo and Tampa. The combined records of those teams is 14-22 so it would seem likely that they’ll be able to take care of business. The more difficult thing will be what has to happen to Detroit. The Lions have to drop a game to Tampa, Minnesota or Chicago. None of those teams are very good, though recently, neither are the Lions. However unlikely, beating the Falcons is the first step to making a stress free week 17 a possibility.
Why the Packers Will Win: they are the better team, top to bottom. Green Bay has enjoyed a good deal of success aganst Atlanta in the two teams’ most recent eras of success. Packers fans will chiefly remember the playoff game in 2010 in which Aaron Rodgers went into the Georgia Dome and absolutely set the place ablaze. A lot of things have changed since that game, and none of them good for the Falcons. The team got older, but it certainly didn’t get any better. Steven Jackson, after a brief flirtation with the Packers signed with the Falcons and the teams ability to run the ball hasn’t gotten any better. The offensive line is a true disaster and if teams can cover Roddy White and Julio Jones for just long enough, it seems like Atlanta can’t get much done offensively.
Defensively is really where Atlanta has issues. Desmond Trufant is the one bright spot on the team. I fully anticipate him to follow Jordy Nelson wherever he may go. He’s not quite to the “shutdown” level but he’s a pretty good player and the dropoff to the rest of the replacement level talent is large. The team generates no pass rush whatsoever. According to Pro Football Focus the Falcons rank 30th out of the 32 teams as it pertains to getting after the quarterback. Their top sack artist this season, Kroy Biermann, has 2.5 sacks. The Packers offense doesn’t really allow pressure to groups that don’t have elite talent, and these Falcons are far from it. If Green Bay decides to throw the ball, expect 4 and 5 man route combinations because they won’t need to keep anyone in to keep Rodgers clean.
Why the Falcons Will Win: there is no reason as it pertains to talent level that Atlanta would win this game. The only reason that I could possibly see it happening is a let down game after the New England win. The Falcons only real threat to the Packers in a big way is Julio Jones, an SEC kid that has played his entire career south of Kansas. I can’t imagine his effectiveness on a December Green Bay Monday night is going to be at an all time high.
Bottom Line- it would be easy to call this a let down game and expect the Falcons to pull the upset after the emotional high the team and the fans got from beating Tom Brady and the New England Patriots. The reason that it’s not going to happen is because the team is still in the thick of a playoff race. The team is mature and focused, as Rodgers put it on his weekly radio show. Green Bay can’t drop one to Atlanta because they need to stay at #1 in the NFC. If both teams are fully prepared and play 20 games, the Packers win 19. The other reason I don’t see this being close is that the Packers haven’t thrashed anyone in almost a month. The games against Minnesota and New England were not only uncomfortably close, but no one’s stats got padded either. Great teams blow out bad teams. Packers 41 Falcons 17