Thursday, January 13, 2011

Packers At Falcons AKA The "NFC Championship Game"

Seahawks at Bears Preview

Lets be straight.  This is really the NFC Title game.  The two best teams to make the playoffs from the NFC ended up meeting each other a round early because of seedings... But they're still the best two teams in the NFC.  The winner of this game is guaranteed to be favored next round (Okay... If the Packers played the Bears it would likely be Bears -2.5 but that means the Packers would be favored on a neutral field.) Hell you could definitely make the case for either team beating anyone from the AFC in the Super Bowl too.  But the question that still needs to be answered is who will win and get to move on?

These two teams already played this year in the Georgia Dome and it played out exactly as you would expect.  Aaron Rodgers led a game tying touchdown drive in the 4th quarter that left just 56 seconds on the clock.  However, after a solid return helped by a facemask penalty, Matt Ryan went into Matty Ice mode and led the team to the Packer 29 at which point Matt Bryant kicked the game winning field goal.... and then kicked it again after everyone realized Mike McCarthy had iced him with a time out. 20 - 17 Falcons win. Home team by 3 just like you would expect out of two evenly matched teams.  So should we expect anything different this time?  Yes and No...

On one hand... This is still a large hill to climb for the Packers.  They still have to go into the Georgia Dome and beat Matty Ice where he's 20-2.  Matt Ryan plays almost impossibly better at home.  His completion percentage at home this year was 66.4 percent... That fell to just 58.7 on the road.  He also had a 5-1 TD to INT ratio at home. On the road it was just 2.2-1.  Hes also the rare quarterback who doesn't seem to have a problem with throwing in the red zone.  He threw just 1 of this 9 picks inside the opponents 20 yard line.  That's huge.  The one thing you can't do inside the red zone is turn the ball over so while his completion percentage and yards per attempt both drop in the red zone his team almost always scores inside the red zone. (I spent 45 minutes looking for a site that offered red zone efficiency with field goals included to back this claim up but couldn't... You'll just have to trust me on this one)   That care for the ball starts from snap one too.  Ryan hasn't thrown an INT in his first 10 attempts of a game all year long.  He is careful not to force anything and doesn't do anything stupid to lose his team games early. 

On the other hand... This Packers team looks way more scary after last weeks coming out party for James Starks. 23 carries for 123 yards against the Eagles defense is mighty impressive.  It was only the third time all year that a running back eclipsed 100 yards against the Eagles (The prior two were guys named Forte and Peterson.) and it was the most yardage a back ran for against them all year.  And I don't think it was a one time thing.  Here's a guy who ran for 3140 yards at the University of Buffalo... in just three years.  He missed his whole senior season with a shoulder injury and ended up falling to the 193rd pick of this years draft.  The Packers took him but then he got hurt in training camp and missed half this year.  The reason he only just worked his way into the lineup is the Packers weren't happy with the way he practiced. I don't expect him to hit the same 5.3 yards per carry average this week against the run stout Falcons but I do expect McCarthy to feed him the ball at least 15 times and if the Falcons aren't ready for it they could have some problems.

So why do I still have the Falcons to win?  Both teams have very good offenses and defense  But the Falcons are built better to win football games.  If they get a lead they can pound successfully you with Michael Turner even if you know it's coming which allows them to milk out the clock at the end of a game.  If they fall behind they can stop your rushing attack with their stalwart front seven lead by DT Jonathan Babineaux (who you've never heard of but led all Defensive Tackles in sacks last year and who according to many scouts has been playing at an even higher level this year.)  You score points in today's NFL with the passing attack but you win games with your ability to run the ball successfully.  Also it needs to be noted that Mike McCarthy is a horrible game manager.  These teams are too closely matched up to have McCarthy butcher the clock management at the end of the half or the game and the Packers still win.

How The Packers Can Win - Multiple big play touchdowns (the Falcons defense's only real weakness) and another solid game from James Starks.

How The Falcons Will Win - Matt Ryan (having already seen the Packer D) does a good job at the line of identifying what Green Bay is doing and attacking the defense appropriately.  28 points are more than enough.

Pick - Falcons -2.5

Final Score Prediction - Falcons 28 Packers 24

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