The Green Bay Packers are headed south to Atlanta this weekend in a game that may have season ending ramifications. As in home field implications. The Atlanta Falcons have the best record in the NFC at 8 -2 while the runner-ups all site a game behind. Philadelphia and Chicago will be watching this game closely as the winner will hold a key to the where playoff games may be played.
The Packers are in a solid position as they control most of their destiny. They beat the Eagles in week one therefore hold the head to head tie breaker there. They lost to Chicago, but have them on the schedule ahead and can even that series for the season. The New York Giants are still relevant and the Packers will play them as well. None of those games however mean anything without a win this weekend.
The Falcons are poised to make a stretch run with only New Orleans standing in the way of what should be a table run. That puts a little more pressure on the Packers to pull this one out and leave Georgia with eight wins. If the Packers can tip the scale towards themselves with this head to head tie breaker, they would stand to position themselves as the front runner for the NFC home field advantage. And we all know, no one but Green Bay likes playing in Green Bay in January.Aaron Rodgers and Clay Mathews will be the key once again this weekend. Rodgers will face a tough rushing defense that is ranked 6th in the NFL, but the Atlanta defense is ranked 24th in passing defense. With the return of Donald Driver and the reemergence of Greg Jennings last weekend, Rodgers may have a field day and possibly a career one at that.
The Packers won’t get much done on the ground but they can’t abandon the run for the pass or they will allow the Atlanta secondary to play back and not support the box up front. For this reason, Brandon Jackson will likely see limited carries. Of course, the Falcons may try and play to defend the pass and if that is the case, the Packers will know their intentions mid-way through the 1st quarter, then Jackson may see an increased role on the ground if Green Bay counters with a rushing game. I would bank on the long ball this weekend.
Defensively, the Packers need to stop Roddy White and Michael Turner. Turner is a bruising running back but he can also wear down. White on the other hand can exploit coverage errors quickly that puts him in position to get down field. Atari Bigby’s return will help in this area but the best way to stop Matt Ryan and the Atlanta offense is pressure. Upfield pressure.
That is where Clay Mathews comes in. Mathews is a staple at the LB spot and the Packers are still wondering how he fell into their laps. The other 31 teams are wondering how they let him fall into the Packers laps as well. Mathews is still leading the league in sacks but this week he needs to step it up. Ryan is mobile but not untouchable. Mathews may not get the sack total to increase but solid continual pressure will force the Falcons to move to a quick hit passing attack instead of allowing White to get down field. It will also force the offense to abandon the screen to Turner out of the back field.
This is going to be a grinding game that could be a high scoring affair. It will be close and the team that wins will have the inside track to play their games in January, at home.