Packers vs. Falcons (-2.5) 43.5 o/u
The second game of the NFL’s Divisional playoff weekend has the wild card Green Bay Packers (10-6) heading into Atlanta to face the Falcons (13-3) in what is arguably the most intriguing game of the weekend.
Atlanta has been great all season, but I wonder if they are a case of a team peaking at the wrong time. It could be argued that the Falcons peaked after the Week 13 road win against the Buccaneers. The team had just completed a five game stretch where they had defeated Tampa Bay twice, Baltimore, St. Louis, and Green Bay. Atlanta would win 3 of their final 4 games, but those wins came against Seattle and Carolina (x2). The Falcons only loss was to the Saints at home. Even though this was a divisional rival match-up where anything goes, what concerned me most about Atlanta’s performance was their inability to effectively move the ball on offense. Michael Turner only had 48 yards rushing and Matt Ryan was unable to produce the big completion that would put the Saints away. Instead the Falcons offense kept stumbling and allowed a less than sharp Drew Brees lead offense to stay in the game and eventually pull out the win.
I doubt there is a hangover from this game, as Atlanta’s offense had a warm-up/feel good game the following week against Carolina. However, one should feel less than confident about the Falcons offense, especially as they are up against one of the better defenses in the league.
That said, Atlanta did have a fairly successful first game against Green Bay with Ryan completing over 85% of his passes, Turner rushing for 110 yards and one touchdown, and most importantly Tony Gonzalez with 51 yards receiving and a touchdown. I say most importantly, since Gonzalez should play a pivotal role in the Falcons offense game plan. One of the Packers defensive weaknesses is consistently covering the tight end position and with Hall of Famer Gonzalez on the roster, look for the Matt Ryan to target his tight end on key passing downs.
Gonzalez’s role may become that much more vital to Atlanta’s offense success since running back Michael Turner is coming off his worst 5 game stretch of the season averaging only 3.5 yards per carry. The Falcons pride themselves on having a balanced offensive attack. But if the Packer run defense can slow down Turner, Green Bay should be able to rely it’s 5th ranked passing defense to take advantage of some longer passing downs. Whether they can consistently cover Gonzalez remains to be seen.
The Packers offense comes into this game with the hottest quarterback in the NFL. Over the past eight weeks Aaron Rodgers has completed 70.8% of his passes, thrown for over 261 yards per game, with 16 touchdowns and only 2 interceptions. Rodgers was perhaps the sole reason that the Packer offense was effective in their first game against the Falcons. With no effective running back, Rodgers rushed for 51 yards and nearly Green Bay nearly pulled off the upset.
The emergence of James Starks rushing for 123 yards against Philadelphia last week, has given hope that the Packers have finally found a running game to complement their lethal passing attacking. I remain skeptical of whether or not Starks in the savior, especially since he will be up against a much stronger rushing defense this week. However, if the Packers can run the ball effectively then it is hard to imagine that the Falcons will be able to stop a balanced Green Bay offensive attack.
The first match-up between these two teams had a playoff like atmosphere and in most close playoff games one turnover can be the difference between winning and losing. Aaron Rodgers goal line fumble arguably cost the Packers the first game and Rodgers has thrown 11 interceptions this year. Danger does loom in the Falcons secondary as Brent Grimes and William Moore each have 5 interceptions and a combined 31 pass deflections on the season. Both have made big plays at critical moments and expect them to make their presence felt during the course of the game.
For all you gamblers out there, this is unfortunately another toss-up game. However, even though the Falcons have been nearly unbeatable at home with Matt Ryan at quarterback (a tremendous QB who displays patience in the pocket and makes few mistakes) Atlanta is a team who has only been tested once in there last 4 games and as I indicated above may have peaked too early.
The Packers are riding the hot hand on offense and defense. If Green Bay avoids turning the ball over and has anything resembling a running game, we might just witness a decisive Packers victory.
Packers win, take the Packers plus 2.5 and the over