NFC Championship Game Preview: Packers vs. Falcons
60.5…What's that number? That is the over/under of the NFC championship game and also the largest playoff over/under ever. Everyone expects this to be a shootout of epic proportions and I agree with them. If the week 8 game between these two teams is any indication, we might get the shootout we all expect.
The Falcons won 33-32 on a last second touchdown drive orchestrated by MVP candidate Matt Ryan. A touchdown pass from Ryan to WR Mohammed Sanu put the Falcons up to stay. A lot has changed from then to now. Clay Matthews and Jared Cook who both missed the first meeting are expected to play and Jordy Nelson isn't. Davante Adams seems to be a game-time decision and Ty Montgomery is now a full time RB though you wonder if he will see some time out wide due to lack of bodies. Also, Christine "This is the year he puts it all together" Michael is now in the Green Bay backfield mix. Desmond Trufant is out for the Falcons, which leaves them pretty thin; in an already thin secondary.
Julio Jones has a balky toe but apparently was good at practice and is ready to go. Dom Capers did everything short of suiting up himself to stop Jones in the week eight tilt. Jones had three catches for 29 yards as Ryan peppered the complimentary Falcons receivers and running backs to the tune of 288 yards and four touchdowns. If Jones balky toe acts up, there is some documented evidence that Ryan should be fine. It also helps that the Packers defense has given up 36 touchdowns in 18 games and a whopping 30 PPG on the road.
Rodgers has been sublime over his last eight games with a magnificent 24 touchdowns to one interception He has played at a nuclear level over the past eight games after losing four straight. While he will probably be without Jordy Nelson, we've seen what Rodgers can do without him as he's flourished for the last 7 playoff quarters. Rodgers tore apart two top five scoring defenses without Nelson and looks to continue his high level of play on Sunday with a trip to the SB on the line.
X-factor in this game for the Packers is Ty Montgomery for me. We know about Rodgers and his ridiculous assault on the league over the last two months but Montgomery has been a steadying force in the Packers backfield. He scored two touchdowns last week and also saw 77% of the snaps at RB. His pass blocking generally leaves a lot to be desired as he was responsible for two sacks last week. In a game where the Packers might be down two starting wide receivers or one of them might be compromised, Montgomery might play a bigger role than usual.
For the Falcons, I feel the x-factor is the Falcons running backs. Given how good we all know they are, it feels like they're a bit overqualified but I think they fit the bill. If Capers sells out to stop Julio again, the Packers leaky run defense and poor coverage linebackers are going to be left to deal with Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman. That could get ugly.
Also, watch for some trap coverage looks from the Packers defense. A trap defense is a coverage or scheme designed to fool the QB. The objective is sending the pressure, which in turn forces the ball to come out quickly, and then the defense tries to bait the QB into attacking the trap. On Atlanta's game winning drive in week 8, Ladarius Gunter nearly jumped a flat pass and took it to the house. He was a tick late as Green Bay's defense successfully baited Matt Ryan to throw to the flat.
Prediction: I've picked against the Packers each of the last two weeks. I don't even know how they're still here with that "defense". I don't feel great about this pick but I think Rodgers gets it done again
Packers 41 Falcons 38