Packers 2017 schedule release: Game-by-game predictions
By Kenn Korb
Week 2: @ Atlanta Falcons
There are teams that Green Bay has multiple ways to beat, and teams where their style specifically suits them to taking down if the game manages to flow in their favor.
This is not one of them.
While the Packers can turn the table on practically any team in the league with their powerful passing barrage, Atlanta is one of the few that can take that style right back to them even better. In 2016, Green Bay was the #4 DVOA offense; Atlanta was #1 by a wide margin. Their passing attack was #7 in DVOA; Atlanta’s was again #1, this time even more drastically so.
Basically, the Falcons can take what Green Bay wants to do and go to a whole different world. They utilize every offensive skill player on their roster in a way we’ve almost never seen, and have the sort of speed which will blow apart even good defensive strategies, much less the mess the Packers and Dom Capers have been throwing at them.
Some of that was undoubtedly due to injuries (had Sam Shields been healthy, decisions like leaving LaDarius Gunter alone on Julio Jones one yard from the goal line would never happen), but even at full strength it is some form of a pipe dream to expect stops, especially when at their best the linebackers in the middle will never be more than average in coverage for the Packers defense.
Speaking of defense, these Falcons have the best sort of defense to neutralize what the Packers like to do. The speed of the group is incredible and spread throughout the unit, and it helps them in a bunch of facets. They can close in on players quicker than most teams; that let’s them not only cover more ground and give fewer attacking lanes, but allows them to overcome mistakes and undermine potential huge gains.
This is especially bad for Green Bay; this team is not a speed-based offense, with a lack of speed being a long-standing complaint from the fan base and the crux of many of the struggles plaguing the unit during their struggles the past couple seasons.
In all, it’s just about the worst matchup for this team there is right now… but that doesn’t mean a win is impossible. Green Bay’s hopes for victory against Atlanta these days rely on two main factors.
The first is that they have to end up with the ball at the end of a shootout. We saw this play out in the first matchup, with Green Bay holding a slight lead towards the end before Atlanta drove down for a pretty routine score on a pass from Matt Ryan to Mohamed Sanu.
The second is expecting a regression from the Falcons. That team ended the year as one of the best 10 offenses we’ve ever witnessed in NFL history based on multiple statistical measures, and they still have a wide array of those weapons on hand. Those sort of numbers rarely repeat however, and even if they all stay healthy their ability to complete plays at the same rate should likely dip at least slightly.
We also have to consider that they lost the architect of that offense with Kyle Shanahan leaving for San Francisco; without the originator of their gameplan in place, a dip in performance is all but certain. Also consider that teams which lose the Super Bowl all seem to have a hangover; of the 16 previous Super Bowl losers, only eight returned to the playoffs the following year, and 10 of them lost at least four more games than in their Super Bowl season.
Back to the health for a second. By Football Outsiders’ Adjusted Games Lost metric, Atlanta had a pretty healthy year. They lost the sixth-fewest games to injury across their roster, including the second-fewest to their offense. Though they were also pretty healthy in 2015 (second-fewest team AGL), this also tends to wildly and randomly fluctuate from year to year. For example, in 2014, they were the eighth most-injured team; in 2013, the sixth most-injured. If the injury bug hits them, even if it isn’t at their biggest contributors, it could have a devastating effect.
Even if this Falcons team faces the Packers with some of these factors not helping them, it may still take having the final possession to win it. Right now, I’m just not liking those odds all that much.
Falcons 40, Packers 34 (1-1)