Shawn (1-0, 1-0 ATS): The rematch of the NFC Championship is here. Similar to that game, though probably not of the same magnitude considering what that game meant, I feel the excitement building for what should be a fun game. Hopefully, this game will have all the fun that game lacked.
After beating the top seed in the NFC in their house — the fact that it was the Dallas Cowboys making it even sweeter — the Green Bay Packers prepared for what was sure to be another high-scoring and high-skilled matchup against the Atlanta Falcons in the NFC Championship game. Unfortunately, the scoring and the skill, as it turned out, was all on one side, as the Falcons pummeled the Packers in a cheerless game.
It might be natural for teams to look at their final game of the year and take that as a measuring stick for where they currently are. In other words, the Packers are this far behind the Falcons, a figurative distance that they have to make up if they want to win the NFC and get to the Super Bowl. However, whether it was the Falcons last season, or the Seahawks two years before that, or the 49ers before that, you would never hear a coach like Mike McCarthy refer to a final game in those terms, and he’d be right.
The banality of “every team is different” is of course an overstatement though true in the way that my house is different because I put a new basement bathroom toilet in. But McCarthy would still be right to treat it as such. The who and the where may change a little, but what changes without question is the WHEN. Just as it is pointed out about the schedule every year, it isn’t just the who and where you play people, it is the when you play them that can make the difference.
The Atlanta Falcons, and especially their offense, was the hottest team in football at the end of last season. Even though it is the beatdown of the Packers that concerns us most, the Falcons laid similar beatdowns to the Seattle Seahawks and to the New England Patriots through three quarters of the Super Bowl. In short, I don’t think there was anything stopping the Falcons at that particular moment in time. They were the 2011 Packers’ offense fully in rhythm. As it turns out, the only thing that could stop them was themselves when given a big lead.
So, even if all the players were exactly the same, I don’t think the results would be this time around. Week 1 suggests the Falcons are not in rhythm yet. They also have a new offensive coordinator. They also have a Super Bowl hangover big enough to make Sean Payton blanche.
Plus, it wasn’t just the Falcons. The Packers had nothing left. Sheer adrenaline can take you through the first quarter, but once Mason Crosby missed that kick, Aaron Ripkowski fumbled, and the quarter ended with zero points on the scoreboard, the Packers were done.
Are the Falcons the top contender in the NFC this year? Are they even the top team in their own division? We don’t know. That’s another reason not to set another team as your goal post; you’ll find the posts moving all the time.
The Falcons still have the pieces to score bunches of points, virtually the exact same pieces they had last year. In shutting down the Seattle Seahawks last week, the Packers’ defense proved it was capable of doing no more than what they did last year. For both units, it is a new year with something to prove.
I wouldn’t be surprised if more defense is played in this game than people are expecting. The key for the Packers will be containing the Falcons’ running backs, both on the ground and through the air. With the Nitro package on defense, the Packers are better prepared for that task than they’ve ever been. Julio Jones will get his. You double him when you have to and don’t let him take over the game.
The pass rush for both teams is huge, but it always is. We are curious, of course, to see if the Packers can supply near the rush they did last week against the Falcons’ much better, supposedly, offensive line. If Matt Ryan is allowed to relax in the pocket, there WILL be a lot of points scored.
For the Packers offensively, I look to see if Ty Montgomery can get off against a run defense that is not the Seattle Seahawks. If he can, or if he can be effective catching the ball, then the Packers’ offense will be difficult to stop. In that sense, the key for both defenses is likely stopping the backs of the opposing team. For Aaron Rodgers, it is all about rhythm.
I have zero concerns about the Falcons opening their new stadium. In my mind, that puts more pressure on them and is a distraction. However, the Vikings handled that well last year.
An NFC Championship game whooping aside, I still don’t believe the Falcons are the better team. Maybe they’ll stake their claim more emphatically this time. We will see. Until then, I will take the Packers in a close game with periods of stout defense and periods of offense.
Packers 27, Falcons 24
Monty (1-0, 1-0 ATS): I almost completely agree with Shawn here.
My keys to the game for both teams are pretty simple. Pass rush and running game.
I still don’t believe the Packers’ secondary is any good. Their deficiencies were covered up by a stout pass rush in week 1. Simply, someone was always in Russell Wilson’s face, which made him inaccurate or not able to make his full progression of reads. It certainly wasn’t as if receivers weren’t open. They were. Some of them were very open.
So, the biggest key for the Packers is if the pass rush can get off. If it can, then I think the Packers will be fine. Matt Ryan, unlike Aaron Rodgers, isn’t known for his ability to avoid the rush and extend plays.
So let’s say both pass rushes are putting pressure on. That’s advantage Packers.
As for the running game, I expect plenty of involvement from Ty Montgomery, both on the ground and through the air. That will open up the rest of the offense for the Packers. It will keep the Falcons’ front seven honest.
On the other side, Julio Jones is likely to go off. Containing Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman is key. Shawn is right again. The Packers have never been better equipped to do that than with their Nitro package, which features Morgan Burnett at inside linebacker.
If it’s just Julio Jones who has a big day for Atlanta, the Packers will be fine.
There are, of course, two intangibles here.
First, opening the new stadium, which looks like a butthole. The fans will surely be fired up. The team will surely be fired up. However, once the game starts, that means nothing. Well, it means nothing other than — don’t let us down, guys!
Second, the Super Bowl hangover. I don’t know if Atlanta has it, but the way they lost that game… seems like it would be hard to recover from. What we saw in week 1 against the Bears didn’t make me think such a thing could be an impossibility.
We won’t really know anything about either of those things, though. What I think is really affecting the Falcons right now is their new offensive coordinator, Steve Sarkisian. As an L.A. resident, I can tell you he sucked as coach of USC. It’s also possible he just might be drunk today.
And what I can certainly tell you is he’s no Kyle Shanahan. The Falcons are certainly still adjusting. For that reason, primarily, I take the Packers.
Packers 27, Falcons 23
Line: Falcons by 3