Green Bay Packers @ Atlanta Falcons – Total 60.5 points, Falcons 5.5 point favourites.
Now I don’t usually go with this sort of format but bear with me. Below are the basic stats from the NFL website when you click on the individual teams. I wanted to just highlight how damn similar these two teams are in 2016. They are constructed slightly differently and I will go into more detail about that later but the basic premise is that these two teams are top 10 offenses and sub par mid to late 20’s defences.
Green Bay Offense Atlanta Defence
Scoring 27 per game (4th) Points allowed 25.4 per game (27th)
Yards 368 per game (8th) Yards allowed 371.2 per game (25th)
Passing 268 (8th) Rushing 106 (20th) Passing 266 (28th) Rushing 104 (17th)
Atlanta Offense Green Bay Defence
Scoring 34 per game (1st) Points allowed 24 per game (21st)
Yards 415 per game (2nd) Yards allowed 364 per game (22nd)
Passing yards – 295 (3rd) Rushing yards 121 (5th) Passing 269 (31st) Rushing 95 (8th)
The old adage that defense wins championships bears no resemblance to the remaining four teams. All 4 are powered by high octane offenses that have all pummelled ‘number 1’ defenses at some point in the season. The styles differ massively, from the Patriots next man up mantra to the Steelers Three B’s. To the wizardry of Aaron Rodgers to the depth of Atlanta. Either way you look at it, expect points this weekend.
Everyone knows that Aaron Rodgers is on a tear right now so I won’t go in to much more detail that I already have (see last weeks review) However to give it some context, this year Tom Brady set the TD:INT ratio record for a season at 28:2. In the last 8 games played Aaron Rodgers has a 25:1 TD/INT ratio. That is at an historical/ridiculous/godly level. Whats more, he does it dancing and improvising so he is making these throws and producing these numbers and making it up as he goes along. Brady may have the historical advantage as the G.O.A.T. discussions with more Superbowl victories but Rodgers is THAT guy which our generation will say we watched him and just said ‘wow’ every time we watched him play. He is the Joe Montana or the Johnny Unitas of this generation, our children will just not be able to fathom how much of a unparalleled joy it was to watch him play.
Rodgers may not have the plethora of players as he has had through most of this season. Jordy Nelson has 2 fractured ribs and both Devante Adams and Randall Cobb are currently listed as ‘questionable’. I wouldn’t be too concerned as Adams and Cobb will definitely play, if Jordy can run out, that would be an added bonus for the Packers. Between those three players, including these playoffs they account for 232 catches, 3200 yards and 34 TDs. Thankfully for Packers fans they seemed to make up for the loss of Jordy Nelson and against this relatively weak Falcons D, I don’t think they will have much of a problem moving the ball. The not-so-secret weapon of Jared Cook, whose incredible catch last week set up the game winning field goal in Dallas will again be key. Adams and Cobb are your smaller type of wide receiver, so although Rodgers often throws them open, they are not your prototypical wide range, big bodied receivers so Cook will need to have a big game and help fill the void that Jordy Nelson has left on the field. The Falcons don’t have a lock down secondary so any of the wide receivers on this roster have a shot to have a big game which makes it very difficult to predict who will score. Their running game has been a well known issue this year which has mostly led to Rodgers requirement to carry the team and drag it along with him most of the season. Ty Montgomery has well out performed his expectation in my mind as a wide receiver converted to a running back. The skill set is very different and the biggest difference is having to block speeding linebackers rushing to the QB. He almost lost the game for the Packers last week on a few occasions with busted blocking assignments. I would hope that the game plan this week would be to establish a more balanced game using Montgomery between the numbers and using FB Aaron Ripkowski in short yardage situations. Ripkowski will more than likely get the passing down duties now as he is better in pass protection so if Montgomery wants to make a difference, he will have limited touches to do so. If he does go off though, like he did against the Bears (who were actually a very good defense) then the Packers will have a much better chance to win.
Their defense is what controls the future for them this week in my opinion. Going through their schedule, against good to great offenses, they have not fared well. I list Washington, Tennessee, Atlanta and to an extent Indianapolis as those teams who all scored 30 plus points on them and all of them resulted in Green Bay losses. The closest team they played with a dominant offense similar to the Falcons is the Cowboys and they got trounced at home but obviously got their revenge last week in the dying seconds. For all the Falcons weapons, one player to look for on D is safety Micah Hyde. He has allowed just a 45 QB rating on passes thrown his way in the postseason. I don’t know if this will translate to anything on the field as he won’t be covering wide receivers at all but it will help cover those crossing routes and running back dump off passes that the Falcons use to great success. Whereas their run defense has been a huge strength, their secondary has been downright terrible and kept opposing teams in games. Hyde and Ha-Ha Clinton-Dix (yes, Ha-Ha is his first name) are actually a very good safety tandem so watch out for catches outside the numbers on their depleted cornerback group because if anyone can exploit that weakness, it will be the Falcons. Matt Ryan has the best passer rating in the league (136) with passes over 20 yards in the air and Green Bay has allowed the most touchdowns over 20 yards with 15 on the season. One bright spot, of sorts, is that in week 8 when the teams met CB LaDarius Gunter held Julio Jones to 3 catches for 29 yards. With a mere 1.6 yards of separation which was his second lowest game average of the year. Gunter was exposed last week against Dez Bryant so it is difficult to gauge if that game was a one off or could be part of their game plan this week to take out Jones. The run game will be tested by the Falcons rush attack so the final guy to look out for is superstar Clay Matthews. Over the past few years, injuries to teammates has forced Matthews in to the inside linebacker spot where although he played well, he was not able to play to his strengths. He made his name by rushing the passer on the outside like a blond haired whirlwind but this year he has massively underperformed. He has just 5 sacks on the year after amassing double digit sacks in 4 of 5 seasons playing on the outside, and he got thoroughly embarrassed by Zeke last week. Nick Perry leads the team in sacks with 11 and I think both will have to be in Ryan’s face all game, or at least on third downs in order to try and contain this offense.
This brings me to probable MVP Matt Ryan and the Atlanta Falcons. For many years as ‘Matty Ice’ he has been known as an extremely talented guy with the potential to be a game changing player at his position. However, years of underperforming and bone head turnovers had doused that talent with most people writing him off before this season as a bust. This year, not so much! He has by far been the most consistent and high performing QB of the season to the tune of an awesome 117 QB passer rating with 4900 yards and 38 TDs. Unlike Rodgers, who dances around like a ballerina, Ryan does not need improvisation or escaping skills that mirror Houdini. He is clinical, surgical and quite honestly, great fun to watch. How he is playing is how the position really should be played. Accuracy, decisiveness and efficiency are the keys to this passing attack. So much so that Atlanta were just 26th in passing attempts, but 3rd in passing yards. That is insane!! It is not just the precision, it is the speed in which he is running through his reads. QB’s have mere seconds to decide where to throw the ball and when you match that up with precise route running, talented skill players and masterful play calling, you tear through teams with a reckless abandon we haven’t seen since the record breaking Denver Broncos in 2014.
This brings me onto Ryan’s supporting cast. In my head at least, I am not sure what the stats would say, but this group of players is better than the 2014 Broncos. The pairing of Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman amass 171 scrimmage yards per game, the most between running backs in the league. This dynamic duo has also scored 26 touchdowns this season and are the engine that powers this offense. Worth noting that Coleman actually missed three games due to injury so those figures would have probably been much better. As equally dangerous receiving as they are running, they will create mismatches all over the field and Ryan will exploit the weakness, wherever it is. The next man I am about to discuss, is the Atlanta equivalent of Jordy Nelson. That man, is Mr Julio Jones. Depending on your preference, he and Antonio Brown are considered the two best receivers in the game. Although his targets have dropped from 12 per game to 9, he still led the Falcons with 83 catches and over 1400 yards. His 17 yards per catch only trails Rob Gronkowski, Chris Hogan, DeSean Jackson and Kenny Stills on the season and he had 27 more catches than the nearest of those 4. Although there were games where his numbers were lower than you would expect, they weren’t due to under-performance, they were due to requirement. Jones, a model player, wants to win. If you watch him in games, you will see him run blocking up field, tirelessly working to free up his teammates, doing whatever he can to help the team win. I am sure he would rather zero catches and a Falcons win than 300 yards and a Falcons loss. You don’t get that kind of attitude with the other top tier wideouts (Odell Beckham Jr and Dez Bryant immediately spring to mind) so it is clear he is a leader within that locker room and everyone plays to match that standard. As I have previously written, the rest of the Falcons players are a pick your poison scenario. Sanu, Gabriel, Hooper all get their touches where the situation calls for it and a match up is exploited. With the big play ability, I think Taylor Gabriel has a great shot to be a playoff hero for Atlanta. His catch and run ability should be utilized as much as possible as I don’t think anyone on the Packers D would be able to catch him in a foot race. In the red-zone, the Falcons can use any of their weapons but Austin Hooper will get a few looks should Jones be double teamed. Add in role players such as Aldrick Robinson, Justin Hardy and Levine Toilolo, there are just too many weapons to cover. 13 players caught touchdowns passes from Matt Ryan this year highlighting the incredible depth that this team has.
As detailed earlier, the Falcons D are not great. If you look at recent games you can see the numbers improving each week but don’t let Coach Dan Quinn fool you, they have been up against some very average offenses so the numbers are skewed. Yes you get better as a unit as the season goes on but let’s be honest, playing against the Rams, 49ers and Panthers in 3 of the last 4 games is hardly a suitable marker for improvement. Tampa Bay, New Orleans (twice), Carolina, San Diego, Green Bay have all dropped 30 or more points on them this year and although Atlanta won 4 of those games, they had to use the full extent of their offense to outscore them. Green Bay have one of the better offensive lines in football so containing a meager pass rush, Vic Beasley being the only real threat, should be relatively easy. Barring a great defensive scheme, the Falcons might want to look at the tape in the second half of last weeks’ game as I don’t think they will trouble Aaron Rodgers too much. In their week 8 game, all of Rodgers TD’s came when he had more than 2.5 seconds to throw. Which in the NFL is a lifetime. Bearing in mind that Rodgers can extend plays to 5 or 6 seconds, seemingly at will, the D will bend and break eventually. The Falcons do have some young intriguing pieces but I just don’t see them being able to cause Rodgers the same problems that Seattle and Dallas could.
Keys to the game
Mistakes – both teams have scored over 30 points in 5 straight games, first time ever two teams have done that and then face off against each other. This tells me that whoever can force a turnover, and take away a possession and a chance to score, immediately gets the advantage. Both these offenses have the ability to run away with games and if you drop more than one score behind, it becomes more and more difficult to catch up. Talking of turnovers, the Falcons has manufactured 17 in their last 6 games.
Offensive line play – Rodgers can extend plays with his feet, as is well documented. Matt Ryan doesn’t need that same amount of time but the principle is the same. Keep your QB upright and give your running backs holes to run through, you have a better chance to be successful. Given the strength of both offensive lines, injury will probably be the only thing to effect this part of the game.
Kickers – Both Mason Crosby and Matt Bryant are clutch. They are playing in a dome. No excuses to miss any kicks. Missed kicks for whatever reason are as bad as a turnover. There hasn’t been a kick missed by any of the kickers in the playoffs so far.
3rd down conversions – Green Bay and Atlanta are both great when it comes to converting third downs. Green Bay 47% (2nd) and Atlanta 42% (11th) are able to extend drives and keep series going. Atlanta does have the advantage in that they usually don’t need to convert 3rd downs and they get up and down the field with on 1st and 2nd downs alone. Green Bay and Atlanta are both equally bad on the other side of the ball ranking 24th and 26th respectively in shutting down drives. For me, it just highlights that the next key, will ultimately decide the game….
Time of possession – Both these offenses score. They score a lot. How do you stop a great offense with a bad defense? You keep them off the field. By using long, extended drives and by scoring at the end of them. The perfect model of this style is/was the Dallas Cowboys. Hiding an average defense, they dominated time of possession with clinical efficiency and back breaking drives that wore teams down. Don’t get me wrong, having Zeke Elliott massively helped this style but I think either set of running backs could do this against the other. I think we will still see the explosive plays that have made both these teams successful, but I would think that they would slow down their play and take a slightly more systematic approach to control the game. Whoever wins the time of possession and doesn’t make mistakes, will win this game.
Finally, as equal as these teams are, my heart wants the Packers to win. The superstars of any sport always rise to the occasion and there is literally no one better than Aaron Rodgers right now. Each win though seems to come with a struggle or a fight. I don’t want to say they are relying on luck because the Packers literally train each week on what you see on the field. They practise and thrive on Rodger’s ability to improvise and make plays. On the opposite side, everything the Falcons do seems so easy. So effortless. There seems to be no adversity or struggle at all no matter who they play against. They face a problem and find an answer. This ruthless efficiency should surely beat out wild improvisation? So my head says the Falcons at home is the smart choice.
That being said, rooting against greatness, against heavy odds seems foolish and I am not going to be THAT guy that goes against number 12. If Rodgers has the ball at the end of the game with a chance to win, he will.
So… some picks for tonights first game, this game seems ripe for some both players to score bets, but unfortunately as it’s only Sky who offer that market, you’re severely restricted, and they’re not taking any risk at all on the odds, they’re all very low and not really worth the bet given the relative difficulty in them landing –
- Jared Cook o50.5 rec. yards – 4/5 (365) – 3pts (1/2 on aDouble with Lev Bell o23.5 rush attempts)
- Aaron Ripkowski 019.5 combined yards – 4/5 (365) – 3pts
- Tevin Coleman anytime – 5/4 (WillHill) – 2pts – 2 or more – 8/1 (365) – 2pts
- Green Bay team TDs – o2.5 – 8/15 (365) – 8pts – NAP
18 points suggested here
I’ve had to have that last one as the NAP, two reasons, they score a lot of TDs, this game is predicted to be over 7 TDs, it’s not hard to think that the Pack will get 3 of them, other reason is the best I could find on oddschecker was 4/7 on over 3.5 TDs for the Packers, so it seems well priced. You can get o3.5 at 11/8 on 365 if you wanted.
I’ve also had a bit of a flyer on All teams to score points in every quarter on Skybet at 50/1, not an official recommendation, but it is possible given the offenses on show.
Also, seeing as i’ve mentioned I liked GB v PIT for the Superbowl at the start of the season at 33/1, I feel i’ve got to mention that it’s available at 7/1 on PP for those two to make it.