The Green Bay Packers head to the Georgia Dome for the final time in the stadium’s long, illustrious history to battle the Atlanta Falcons for the chance to represent the NFC in Super Bowl LI. The stories behind how each team got here are completely different, and they are two stories that will have different endings. The last time these two teams met (Week 8), the Packers were a drastically different team. Here is how Green Bay can write the perfect ending to their 2016-2017 season:
STOP MATT RYAN
This week, with the Green Bay Packers’ secondary still in shambles and facing the NFL’s top scoring offense, pressuring Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan will be even more critical than usual.
The Packers’ top two pass-rushers (Peppers & Perry) have combined for 20.5 sacks this season (including the playoffs), and each has a sack since the postseason began.
Atlanta led the NFL in scoring at 33.8 points per game and was second in the NFL in offense at 422 yards per game. Ryan is an MVP candidate, leading the NFL in passer rating at 117.1. He completed 69.9 percent of his passes for 4,944 yards and 38 touchdowns with 7 interceptions.
Like Rodgers in Green Bay, Ryan is crucial to the success of this team. There is no way to completely remove him from the game. Instead, the Packers can harass him, hit him, and harass him some more. Make every attempt to throw him off his game.
WIN TURNOVER MARGIN
In the first half of the season, the Packers struggled with keeping control of the ball. More importantly, they struggled even more with taking it away. Green Bay ended the regular season with a +8 turnover differential. “Not bad,” you might say, until you realize that in the last 6 games of the regular season, the Packers had 15 takeaways and just 1 turnover. A dramatic shift from the -6 turnover differential in the first 10 games.
When asked about the biggest contributor to the regular season six-game winning streak outside of Aaron Rodgers, Mike McCarthy pointed to turnovers as the difference. Currently, the Packers sit at +2 in the postseason with 2 takeaways against the New York Giants and one against the Dallas Cowboys. Continuing to maintain control of the ball will be crucial in this offensive match-up.
Both teams are playing at a level beyond the norm. It will be the team to make a mistake that will hand the game over. It will be the team to take that mistake that will pack their bags for Houston.
KEEP RODGERS UPRIGHT
You can say we will win by keeping Matt Ryan in check. You can even say we will win by winning the turnover battle. But let’s be real: the real reason we will win this game is on the shoulders of the extraordinary Aaron Rodgers. And if you want to go deeper than that you can look at the 5 guys up front who keep his jersey clean.
This group – LT David Bakhtiari, LG Lane Taylor, C Corey Linsley, RG T.J. Lang, and RT Bryan Bulaga – are a group of gritty, tough, injury-battled, warriors. Throughout the season, each and everyone have them have been faced with an injury. Some of them even had to miss a game or two. But when it was on the line, the injuries took a back seat until the pads were hung up at the end of the day.
“Those guys are tough up front. They’ve all dealt with different things throughout the year,” said quarterback Aaron Rodgers, adding that even in games when they’re a little slow to get up, the linemen will be waving off position coach James Campen as he’s trying to run a substitute into the game for them.
But for all the praise they receive for handling the twists and stunts of a defensive front seamlessly, and for protecting Rodgers for up to 8 or 10 seconds on extended plays, the linemen take as much if not more pride in simply going to battle for their teammates; almost regardless of circumstance and certainly without complaint.
Matt Ryan may have won the MVP for the league, but these 5 MVPs will be crucial in keeping the G.O.A.T. on his feet. And when he is on his feet, the Green Bay Packers will be tough to beat.
I’ll be totally honest. Atlanta is no joke. It’s clear as day. They have been a record-setting offense all year, and when they line up against the Packers and their suspect secondary, it doesn’t look pretty for the Packers. But in football, it’s not always what’s on the paper, or what happened 6 weeks ago. Football is built on emotion, confidence and momentum. No team in the NFL has more confidence right now than the Green Bay Packers. No team in the NFL has more emotional wins than the Green Bay Packers. And no team in the NFL has more momentum in the NFL than the Green Bay Packers. Mix that in with a QB like Aaron Rodgers and I am sold. Matt Ryan and the Falcons are good – damn good. They will put up a fight, but the Packers behind Aaron Rodgers will once again reign supreme and head back to the Super Bowl.
Green Bay – 38
Atlanta – 30