Let’s take Aaron Rodgers out of the equation for a moment in analyzing Sunday’s game between Atlanta and Green Bay.
The Falcons are playing a team that has its top two receivers hurt and questionable. The opponent does not have a great running game. Plus, the big thing, Atlanta is playing a team with a secondary that was described this week as “awful.”
So, if the opponent might have trouble controlling the clock, which would make it tough for it to keep Atlanta’s offense off the field, and then seem to have difficulty containing Atlanta’s high-powered offense with a weak defensive backfield, you’d think the Falcons would be heavy favorites, right?
No doubt. But then you add Rodgers back into the discussion and you see why many believe this NFC championship game will be closer than it should be Sunday in the Georgia Dome’s finale.
Rodgers showed last week in Dallas to never, ever count him out. It may also be advised to not leave any time on the clock for Rodgers, who is a magician when under pressure.
The Packers have won eight games in a row. Green Bay is the proverbial “hot team” right now, and sometimes that momentum can lead a team that is hot at the right time to a championship. The Packers are likely not intimidated by anything, knowing they have Rodgers on their side.
But hold on, the Falcons have the probable NFL MVP on their side. Matt Ryan has been just as hot as Rodgers. In Ryan’s past five games, he has completed 73 percent of his passes, with 14 touchdowns and zero interceptions.
Both quarterbacks have a number of options. Both threw passes to 15 different receivers this season. But the injuries to Green Bay receivers Jordy Nelson and Davante Adams will be a story. Will they play, and if they do how effective can they be if not 100 percent?
The Falcons have Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman, who were described during the week by Andy Benoit of Sports Illustrated as the best running back duo in the NFL. They can both run well and catch passes from Ryan, and you can’t underestimate the importance of Coleman being healthy to complement Freeman.
Green Bay has Eddie Lacy and James Starks on the shelf with injuries, so it will turn to Ty Montgomery, who did not play when these two teams met in late-October. Of course, Rodgers’ ability to run will be something Atlanta’s defense will worry about all day.
The question will be how Green Bay can contain Atlanta’s passing game. The Packers’ secondary is a problem, with safety Morgan Burnett questionable with injury. Do they have anyone who can stop Julio Jones, even though Jones himself has battled his foot issue during this past week?
If this becomes a shootout, with Ryan and Rodgers going down the field with big passes, someone in Atlanta’s secondary must make a play. That’s what Sunday is all about. Someone on one of these two defenses must make a big play.
The Falcons’ secondary still scares some, but the improving group seems capable of stepping up against Rodgers. But after seeing what Rodgers did last week with that 36-yard miracle pass to tight end Jared Cook, it might not matter what the defensive backs do if Rodgers finds that magic.
Atlanta’s offensive line has protected Ryan all season, and if that happens Sunday he’s going to make big plays. Which quarterback makes mistakes? Figuring out a winner could simply come down to that.
The Falcons are going to win. I can’t get past that “Green Bay’s secondary is awful” comment made by a Packers reporter during this past week. It’s hard to believe this explosive Atlanta offense can be contained by a secondary that may be that weak.
But it’s the Falcons. Things happen to this franchise for some reason. They’re playing Rodgers. That will make Atlanta fans hold their breath all day. In the end, however, it should be a great day with a great game.
Listen to “The Bill Shanks Show” from 3-7 p.m. weekdays on “Middle Georgia’s ESPN” – 93.1 FM in Macon and 99.5 FM in Warner Robins. Follow Bill at twitter.com/BillShanks and email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.