NFC Championship Game
(4) Green Bay Packers at (2) Atlanta Falcons
Packers: Eight wins and counting. That’s the streak right now for the Green Bay Packers. Many were so fast to throw the towel in on them after their loss to the Redskins on a Sunday night in November and that’s very understandable. The one thing is they never gave up on the season and they never gave up on each other and that belief and mindset won them six games in a row, the NFC North title and they’re on a run in the playoffs. This maybe the best I’ve ever seen Aaron Rodgers look and that’s saying a lot considering this is a guy that’s won two league MVP awards. Even Tom Brady stated that what he does on the field is simply remarkable and he’ll even stay up late to watch him play. That’s a high compliment from a future hall of famer. These last few weeks, Aaron has been extremely locked in and he still managed to have a great game even without Jordy Nelson on the field. On Sunday in Dallas, the biggest thing I took away was how he established the tempo of the game to his advantage. He used a lot of no-huddle so the Cowboys defense couldn’t get back on track and he used his smarts and caught them vulnerable at times. Everything is clicking right now for their offense. Rodgers doesn’t have to throw the football too much as he was because of their success in balancing things out and the receiving core truly stepped up as a whole to replace Jordy. As far as the defense is concerned, they play well for a half, then struggle and that couldn’t have been any truer if you watched that game on Sunday. The lack of killer also hurt the Packers because when you are up by 10 or more points, you close out and they failed to do so but here they are and it’s another week. With a win on Sunday, the Packers will be in the Super Bowl for the first time since 2011 and they have a rematch with Atlanta in the dome on Sunday afternoon.
Falcons: What a year it’s been in Atlanta. I’ll be one of the first people to tell you that I didn’t expect this. In a conference where you have the Carolina Panthers, Seattle Seahawks, Green Bay Packers, Arizona Cardinals, and Dallas Cowboys, all those teams listed were considered to be much better than the Falcons. Let’s look at it this way: They beat Carolina twice this year, they eliminated the Seattle Seahawks from the playoffs last week, they held the Cardinals to 19 points and beat them and out of the two byes in the NFC, the Falcons are the only one remaining. It’s time to give them some respect and a bit more credit. Matt Ryan put the finishing touches on an MVP season on Saturday and helped his team put away the Seattle Seahawks on Saturday. He’s the anchor of that offense that ranked first in points per game averaging 33 points a game and what has really impressed me is how they have made it an effort to get everyone involved. Obviously, Julio Jones is outstanding and he will get his catches, somehow, someway. This two-headed monster of Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman has also caught my eye. Freeman can shake past you, run past you and he doesn’t mind lowering that shoulder to run through you either. He’s a violent runner with a tremendous amount of power for a guy of his size. Then, you have Tevin Coleman, the finesse guy that is excellent in third down situations. He can create those mismatches across the board with a linebacker or safety in space and that’s where he operates so well. The biggest improvement for the Falcons has been their defense and that was expected considering that Dan Quinn is a defensive minded guy. They have playmakers in Keanu Neal and up front, Vic Beasley has finally become the guy we were hoping he’d be. For years, the Falcons have lacked a consistent pass rush and often ranked at the bottom in sacks. On Sunday, they’ll play in the final game at the Georgia Dome and what better way to go out than to get to the Super Bowl and if they did indeed advance, this would be their first Super Bowl appearance since 1999.
Packers Player To Watch: Ty Montgomery– When they met in week eight, he was my player to watch then and this week, he’s my x-factor for them once again. The Falcons are terrible when it comes to stopping the run, they are ranked 29th overall to be exact. I see the Packers trying to establish the run early on to force the Falcons into loading the box which can allow Rodgers to do what he does best even more and that’s moving the pocket and making it happen with his feet to buy time. Montgomery is a former wide receiver that can still line up wide. He’s still a valuable asset in their passing game as well.
Falcons Player(s) To Watch: Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman– You worry about shutting Freeman down, then you have to also gameplan for shutting down Tevin as well. Just like their receivers and tight ends, these running backs are also big pieces of their passing game. On Saturday, both Freeman and Coleman combined for 102 yards receiving. As they showed against Seattle, if the running game isn’t as effective, they can still hurt your defense is some type of capacity.
Packers Keys To The Game: The Packers must get off the field on third down especially against this high-powered Falcons offense and not let their guards down because one open guy can hurt you. It’s also key that the Packers remain patient on offense. This is a much better defense they will be facing on Sunday in Atlanta compared to the one they say in Dallas last Sunday.
Falcons Keys To The Game: Matt Ryan just needs to be himself. I can’t stress it enough. Trying to match a guy like Aaron Rodgers point for point isn’t the best idea. Run Freeman, force Green Bay to load the box, use your play action and get the tight ends involved and create some mismatches with their safeties or linebackers. On defense, I’m rushing six guys and dropping five back and not allowing that quarterback to sit back there and pick and choose where he wants to throw the ball.
Prediction: When they met in week eight, this was the start to the Packers four-game losing streak. Many key guys such as Randall Cobb, Jared Cook, and Damarious Randall were all out with injuries. This time around, all three of those guys are back and ready to go. This was one of the Falcons signature wins this season. There’s a whole lot more on the line now to play for: A spot to play in the big game. I like the Green Bay Packers to win the NFC Championship and represent the conference in Super Bowl 51. Packers 38 Falcons 35