After ousting the Dallas Cowboys last week in the divisional round, the Green Bay Packers face a familiar foe and perhaps their toughest challenge yet, in the Atlanta Falcons (3.05pm ET Sunday on FOX at the Georgia Dome).
The two teams, who met earlier this season in a game won by the Falcons, 33-32, will be playing for a spot in Super Bowl LI, and with it a chance either to cement a legacy or begin one. Here we preview this NFC Championship game, finishing with our betting predictions and best picks of the odds.
The Last Time We Met
It was late October, just the eighth week of the NFL season, when the Packers traveled to the Georgia Dome, as they will on Sunday, to take on the Falcons. Riding high, Atlanta came into this game in the midst of a strong regular season start. Unlike in previous years, the Falcons were determined to hold onto that, even in an always-tough matchup against the NFC North’s best.
Green Bay played well but Atlanta played better, thanks in large part to the efforts of receiver Mohamed Sanu (pictured). The first year Falcon caught nine balls for 84 yards and managed the game-winning touchdown on a decisive late game drive. This was one of three touchdowns Atlanta QB Matt Ryan threw on the day, bested only slightly by his counterpart Aaron Rodgers, who had four.
The loss was the first of what would be four consecutive for the Packers but after finally ending that streak in week 12 against the Philadelphia Eagles, Green Bay never looked back. They needed to win out to reach the playoffs and they did and have been riding an eight-game winning streak, including the postseason, since.
Matt Ryan is Elite but is He Aaron Rodgers Elite?
Over the past few years, Matt Ryan has gone from a promising rookie to one of the best young players in the game. Now a seasoned vet practically, Ryan is a favorite to win the NFL MVP after the career year he had and is just one win away from making his first Super Bowl appearance. Ryan is on the doorstep of greatness and a win against the Packers would get him one step closer to having his name considered amongst the other remaining Super Bowl quarterbacks: Ben Roethlisberger, Tom Brady and of course Aaron Rodgers.
Rodgers is the hottest player in football right now and his stats during the eight game winning streak have been nothing short of incredible. Rodgers has thrown 24 touchdown passes and just the one interception since November 20 and has been blemish free during the winning streak. Most recently he saved the Packers from needing overtime against the Cowboys with a brilliant, almost out of nowhere drive that ended in a game winning field goal. He executed perfectly in that situation and drove the Packers to victory in a little over 30 seconds.
There is no doubt Ryan is good but he’s probably not on Rodgers’ level. But to be fair, no one is. When Rodgers is playing like this, you’d be hard-pressed to find any quarterback today and most from yesterday, that can match his production, his vision and his ability to make plays from almost out of anywhere. In fact, he’s so good at these late game, seemingly impossible situations, that he’s earned the title of being the best Hail Mary guy in the NFL.
Since week 12, which is when the Packers started winning every game, Ryan has been just as accurate, just as impressive and just as successful. In that span, Ryan actually ranks first in yards per attempt and total QBR while falling second behind Rodgers with an absolute monster 72.4 completion percentage.
There is no denying that both of these quarterbacks are hot at the right time and both will be ready to go on Sunday, with their season and a trip to Super Bowl LI on the line.
Numbers to Know
Looking around the league at the teams and quarterbacks remaining, one thing is clear: Defense is not going to win the championship this year.
This goes almost doubly so in the NFC Championship which features an incredible duel between two of the best QBs under 35 in the game. For Rodgers, this is old hat. He’s been here before, he’s won a Super Bowl before. He is absolutely no stranger to this stage or playing well on it. That story is a little different for Ryan but the NFC Championship rookie has yet to show any signs that this is too big for him or that he is not prepared.
Impressively, in their last six games, the Packers have scored at least 30 points each time. The Falcons have done it in their last five. Another thing to note for Atlanta is that they have scored at least 40 points five times this season, more than any other team in the league.
Both of these teams are offensive juggernauts. Both are playing so well. Both have secret weapons. But Julio Jones was injured last week for Atlanta and that’s a huge blow receiver wise. Meanwhile, the Packers are expecting their top gun, Jordy Nelson, back in time for Sunday’s championship despite missing the past few weeks with a rib injury.
Atlanta once again has the home field advantage but if Nelson goes and Jones doesn’t, that’s a big blow to the Falcons’ chances. One that perhaps even Sanu and running back Devonta Freeman won’t be able to make up for.
Our Preview’s Green Bay Packers at Atlanta Falcons Betting Predictions & Picks
Whether it comes down to those two players or not, what is certain is that this is going to be a high scoring affair, evidenced by the massive 60-point total that the main U.S. serving sportsbooks have set for this contest. These are this preview’s predictions & betting picks for this NFC Championship game:
- Overall, these two are combining to average close to 70 points in their playoff games, so I’d recommend the over 60pts @ -110 with BetOnline. It is over 61.5pts for the same odds with Bovada and over 60.5pts @ -101 with 5Dimes.
- Now for the spread. The Falcons are favored by between four and five and a half points and I like them to cover that in victory. The Packers very well could run the table but Atlanta is being overlooked. The Falcons are a good team and potentially a great team. So take Atlanta Falcons -4pts @ -120 with Bovada Sportsbook. It is -5pts at -120 with BetOnline and -5.5pts @ -103 with 5Dimes.
Marilee writes on NFL, MLB, NBA & tennis for USA Betting. Another area of her sporting journalistic expertise is pro wrestling. A native of Philadelphia and a big Eagles fan, she has been a sports writer for many major websites including Bleacher Report and Rant Sports. She started her journalistic career early, as sports editor for her college newspaper.