There was a lot of reason to be optimistic about what the Packers showed against the Bears last Thursday night. Green Bay took a different approach on offense than what they had been doing. That certainly sounds simple enough, but it’s really what Packers fans had been pining for almost a season’s worth of games.
The Packers and Aaron Rodgers spread the defense out with only two healthy running backs with exactly zero snaps as Packers under their belts available to them. Rodgers threw the ball 56 times, largely in a dink-and-dunk manner but still sported 326 yards and a 3:0 TD to INT ratio. It was Rodgers first 300+ yard game in a long, long time.
Green Bay eventually exerted their dominance over the Bears winning by two TDs and a field goal over a team that had spoiled Brett Favre’s return to Lambeau with a very similar roster just a season ago.
Do all those good things mean that the Packers shouldn’t be underdogs on the road against Atlanta? A Falcons team that started hot last season but faded to the point of finishing the season at 8-8? Probably not.
Green Bay still has to beat a good team. Not just a good team on the road, a good team. Yes, in non-Packers games the Lions are 4-2 this season but I don’t think a team that Green Bay had down 31-3 at one point this season is a good team. Jacksonville’s bad, Chicago’s bad and the Giants….. well the Giants might not be bad. There’s your ray of sunshine.
Why the Packers will win. If Aaron Rodgers plays a little better than he did against Chicago and gets to even 80% of where he was at during his 2014 MVP campaign Green Bay has the better team. Defensively it’s not really a question.
Atlanta is 27th in defensive DVOA, Green Bay is 7th. That’s a huge gap. Green Bay is on the fringes of an elite defensive unit, and Atlanta is on the fringes of being a disaster on that side of the ball.
The question will, of course, be if that poor Atlanta defense can continue the revival of the Packers offense that began in the second half of the Chicago game. Somehow the Packers, as frustrating as they have been, rank inside the top 10 in offensive DVOA, the Falcons are 2nd. Atlanta is a team built for a shootout. Green Bay at least pretends to play defense.
Atlanta’s offense is truly remarkable when it’s taken into account just how important one receiver is to it. Julio Jones is more than just the straw that stirs the drink in Atlanta, he’s the whole damn show. The running game works because Julio Jones is a threat on the outside. When Julio isn’t catching the ball other, (far) less talented receivers are getting big chunks of yardage because he’s drawing coverage.
If the Packers shut down Julio they’l win. Shoot in 2014 they didn’t shut them down at all and that game wasn’t competitve for 3 quarters and 10 minutes.
Why the Falcons will win. Because this game is in Atlanta. Because they probably need it more than Green Bay does. Because Green Bay is probably going to have to cover Julio Jones with one of the slowest corners in football, LaDarius Gunter.
There are plenty of reasons to believe that this game isn’t going to go Green Bay’s way and Matt Ryan and Julio Jones are chief among those. The Packers are going to have to be dominant in the front seven to have a chance. The rusher have to hit Ryan early and often to give their defensive backs a chance to cover Jones and the rest of Atlanta’s weapons.
I don’t expect Atlanta to run the ball or really rush the passer. I’m also not convinced it’s going to matter.
Bottom line: For me, this is a big litmus test game for the Packers. Green Bay really isn’t the underdog very often. Coming into the season they were going to be favorites in Vegas every game. This is a Falcons team that just lost at home to a Chargers team that probably isn’t as good as the Packers are top to bottom. With that said, until this team really proves something to me I can’t pick them to win in this spot. Packers 27 Falcons 30