Shawn (11-6, 8-8-1 ATS): Apparently, the sports world has finally bought into Matt Ryan and the Atlanta Falcons. That appears self-evident as the Falcons sit as 5.5-point favorites to beat the Green Bay Packers and be NFC Champions.
That line is surprising to me. Evidently, all Ryan and the Falcons had to do to be legit was to beat a Seattle Seahawks team that had largely played uninspired ball since Earl Thomas hit injured reserve. People appear to have forgotten that the Seahawks were even more soundly thrashed by the Packers when they rolled into Lambeau Field.
Obviously the Falcons are an explosive team with the firepower to overwhelm the Packers as they did in week 8. The other half of Atlanta’s dangerous running back tandem — Tevin Coleman — did not play in that game due to injury. So, this is an even more explosive Falcons’ offense than the one that put up 33 on the Packers in that game.
However, the Packers are nowhere close to being the same team on either side of the ball. Neither Clay Matthews nor Damarious Randall played on defense in that game, for one. On offense, the Packers were especially decimated, with Randall Cobb, Ty Montgomery and Jared Cook all out with injuries.
Ironically, all those guys are looking to play this week while the guys who started in that game — Davante Adams and Jordy Nelson — may both be out with injury.
Last week, those injuries were largely the reason why I picked the Packers to not have enough against the Dallas Cowboys. I was wrong. Aaron Rodgers and the Packers overcame their injuries rather effortlessly. Facing a softer defense this week in Atlanta, I don’t see why they can’t do that again.
Virtually everyone is predicting a shootout, and with the over in the 60s, the bettors agree. Perhaps fueled by that, I suspect the Packers may play better defense in this game than people are predicting. Do I think they will shut the Falcons’ offense down or hold them to less than 20 points? No, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they play a bigger role than they did in Dallas.
I just don’t feel like Clay Matthews, Julius Peppers and Mike Daniels, among others, are going to be shutout in two straight games. I also don’t see Ha Ha Clinton-Dix being a non-factor again. Who knows? Maybe playmaking Damarious Randall will show up and cover the Falcons’ second receiver, unlike Demetri Goodson was able to do in week 8.
The key for the Packers’ defense will be stopping running back Devonta Freeman. If the Packers can keep Freeman below 100 total yards, they will probably win this game. With both Freeman and Coleman coming out of the backfield, the Packers’ inside linebackers — Joe Thomas and Jake Ryan — might be the most important players for the Packers on defense.
And even if the Packers’ defense fails, keep in mind that in that week 8 matchup, the Falcons scored to take the lead at 33-32 with 31 seconds remaining. Aaron Rodgers had 31 seconds and two timeouts to get the Packers in position for a game-winning field goal. On that occasion, he failed.
The Falcons don’t want to see that scenario again.
The Packers need to do on offense what they normally do against the Falcons. Stay in rhythm with short passes and mix in the running game. Keep Aaron Rodgers rolling.
I like the Packers’ chances. Let’s take this all the way, boys!
Packers 31, Falcons 23
Monty (11-7, 7-9-2 ATS): Just like the last two weeks making this prediction, I am anxious as hell. Well, the Green Bay Packers won the last two weeks and those are the two constants, so…
Before I get to the call, here’s what’s running through my head.
A lot of people are drinking the Atlanta Falcons’ Kool-Aid. Their offense is stellar. Much like the Packers, their defense isn’t. Yes, quarterback Matt Ryan is playing well and, more importantly, he’s playing well in the playoffs, something that was rarely the case early in his career.
Still, Ryan is only 2-4 in the playoffs. Both of those wins came at home against the Seattle Seahawks. Obviously, the Falcons aren’t playing the Seahawks this week, are they?
I’m not going to put too much stock in past playoff performance, but it is there.
Speaking of Ryan, he’s most likely going to win the MVP. You can bet your ass Aaron Rodgers is well aware of this. You can also bet your ass that Aaron Rodgers will use that as a reason to come out and try to blow Matt Ryan off the damn field.
“Let’s see who the real MVP is, pal,” is the narrative I completely expect is running through Rodgers’ mind right now.
Then there’s that first game between these two teams, this season.
Let’s give a clear picture of just who was and wasn’t playing in that contest. As Shawn mentioned, the Falcons were without Tevin Coleman. They still had their starting back, Devonta Freeman, who the Packers held to just 58 total yards.
They also had Julius Jones, who everyone seems frightened of. The Packers held Jones to just three catches for 29 yards.
Meanwhile, the Packers were without Eddie Lacy, Ty Montgomery, Randall Cobb, Jared Cook, James Starks, Clay Matthews, Damarious Randall and Quinten Rollins.
Obviously, Lacy and Starks aren’t coming back, but the Packers were then trying to cobble together a running game with Don Jackson and Knile Davis, neither of whom are on the active roster at this point.
They were trying to pass the ball without their No. 1 tight end, top slot receiver and whatever Montgomery was at that time. Now the Packers have the running game solved with Montgomery. They’re still beat up at receiver, but it appears they will have the majority of their players active there.
Even when they didn’t in the first contest, Rodgers still threw for 246 yards and four touchdowns. Three of those touchdowns went to guys who barely saw the field before or after. One each to Trevor Davis and Jeff Janis, their only receiving touchdowns of the season, and one to Geronimo Allison, who had just come up off the practice squad that week.
Defensively, no Matthews and, at that time, neither of the team’s top two cornerbacks. The Packers started LaDarius Gunter, who has since established himself as the team’s No. 1, and Demetri Goodson, who was then at the bottom of the Packers’ cornerback depth chart.
Lastly, the Packers — and Rodgers — were still in their early-season malaise.
And they only lost that game by one frickin’ point.
It thought that needed to be pointed out, but again, I’m not going to put a ton of stock in the first meeting.
This week, I don’t think there’s really a way the Packers’ defense can play worse than it did last week. Pretty simply, none of the defensive playmakers bothered to show up and the Packers still won. I mean, if just two of them show up from time to time this week, the Packers should be fine.
That, of course, would mean that Aaron Rodgers will need to continue his roll. I’m not betting against the guy, but let’s just say this. He needs to clean up some of the mental mistakes we saw him make last week. There were two sacks that were completely his fault. On one, all he had to do was throw the ball away. Instead, he ate it and forced Mason Crosby to make a field goal from 56. On the other, there was a clear safety blitz coming from his left side. He should have moved Ty Montgomery over to that side pre-play, but didn’t for whatever reason.
Plus, there were some inaccurate throws, one of which led to his lone interception.
Rodgers needs to play a clean game. He needs to lead this team, show them the way. And he needs to dominate.
These aren’t the Seattle Seahawks. This is a defense Rodgers should be able to toy with.
Packers 41, Falcons 33