The reality is that the 2013 NFL regular season has been cruel to Atlanta (3-9) and Green Bay (5-6-1) as both teams have been impacted by injuries and an inability to make key plays down the stretch in close games.
While questions about Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers' status have kept the game somewhat relevant with the national media, a contest that was once scheduled to appear on NBC's Sunday Night Football will now be shown as part of Fox's normal 1 p.m. regional slate.
Today we'll break down Sunday's Falcons-Packers matchup by briefly discussing the state of the Packers before examining three key matchups on each side of the ball for Atlanta and forecasting the Falcons' outlook for Week 14.
State of the Packers
The Packers were 5-2 and appeared to be headed back to the playoffs when Aaron Rodgers fractured his collarbone early on in the first quarter of a game against the Chicago Bears in Week 9.
Since then, the team has used three quarterbacks en route to going 0-4-1 over the past five weeks. At 5-6-1, Green Bay isn't out of the playoff race, but the Packers will probably have to win the NFC North to reach the postseason because the 49ers and whichever team finishes second in the NFC South (Saints and Panthers are both 9-3) look like strong wild-card contenders.
Aaron Rodgers participated in Green Bay's Wednesday practice session on a limited basis, but he still hasn't been cleared to play. Rodgers told reporters that he hopes to know whether he will play by Friday or Saturday, per ESPNWisconsin's Jason Wilde:
Rodgers: "I don’t think [gametime decision] is fair to Matt if we do that. I think by Friday/Saturday at the latest there'll be a decision."— Jason Wilde (@jasonjwilde) December 4, 2013
If Rodgers can't go, Atlanta can expect to see Matt Flynn under center again for the Packers.
Regardless of who plays quarterback, Atlanta's defense will have its hands full because rookie running back Eddie Lacy is a Rookie of the Year candidate who's proven to be the kind of weapon that Packers fans hoped he'd be when the team took him in the second round of the draft back in April.
The weather could be a factor anytime you have a dome team like Atlanta going up to Lambeau Field in December. Per Weather.com, the Falcons can expect cloudy skies and a temperature of around 21 degrees with a 10 percent chance of snow on Sunday.
When Atlanta Has the Ball: Falcons Offense vs. Packers Defense
1. Ryan Schraeder and Jeremy Trueblood vs. B.J. Raji
The right side of the Falcons line had trouble with Saints defensive end Akiem Hicks a couple of weeks ago, and Packers defensive lineman B.J. Raji presents a similar challenge. Rookie right tackle Ryan Schraeder got some playing time against Buffalo and could get an opportunity to show more of what he can do against Raji.
Whether it's Schraeder or Jeremy Trueblood who draws the task, controlling B.J. Raji will go a long way toward keeping Matt Ryan upright and getting Atlanta's run game going on Sunday.
Matt Ryan is certainly aware of what Raji can do from their time as college teammates. "He is as physical and athletic for a big guy as anybody in this league, in my opinion," Ryan said of Raji via ESPN.com's Vaughn McClure. "I know it from having played basketball with him at B.C. He's incredibly athletic for as big as he is. He was a great teammate during my time at Boston College. So, it's great to see him doing well."
2. Lamar Holmes vs. Clay Matthews
The matchup between Falcons left tackle Lamar Holmes and Green Bay pass-rush specialist Clay Matthews will likely be as important as the matchup between Atlanta's right tackles and B.J. Raji on Sunday.
"I think Clay Matthews is one of the premier rushers in the NFL," Ryan said when speaking about Matthews via ESPN.com's Vaughn McClure. "He does it with different moves that he has. But he does it with unbelievable effort, too. His plays to the whistle every snap. And I think he's probably as healthy now as he's been all year."
Holmes had been doing a solid job since taking over as Atlanta's full-time left tackle, but he's had some lapses in the past couple of weeks.
Matthews is as good of a 3-4 rusher as Atlanta's seen off the edge this year, and the team needs a strong outing from Holmes if the offense is going to score more than 30 points for the second consecutive week.
3. Roddy White vs. Tramon Williams
Falcons fans may still have nightmares about Packers cornerback Tramon Williams because of his back-breaking pick-six from the NFC divisional playoff game back in early 2011. However, Williams has had his struggles this season.
On the flip side, Roddy White played his best game of the season last week against Buffalo and figures to get more work this week against a Green Bay secondary that ranks 22nd in the league in passing yards allowed. Williams could end up drawing the coverage assignment against White.
If the Falcons are going to win this game, they'll probably need a big play or two in the passing game. Roddy White could be a big part of making that happen.
When Green Bay Has the Ball: Packers Offense vs. Falcons Defense
1. Atlanta's Front Seven vs. Eddie Lacy
Eddie Lacy has given the Packers offense the running threat that the team has lacked for the past few seasons. Through 12 games, Lacy has rushed for 822 yards and six touchdowns on a team-high 207 carries.
Atlanta's rush defense ranks 29th in the league, and it has allowed an opposing running back to run for over 100 yards in five of its last six games.
Even if Aaron Rodgers plays, expect Green Bay to feed Eddie Lacy to help keep Rodgers out of too many situations where he could get hit. The Falcons will have to be physical up front if they're going to stop Lacy and control Green Bay's rushing attack.
2. Osi Umenyiora vs. David Bakhtiari
Detroit was able to rack up seven sacks against Green Bay's offensive line in the Lions' 40-10 win over the Packers on Thanksgiving.
Rookie left tackle David Bakhtiari has been a pleasant surprise for the Packers, but he had a rough outing against Detroit. Atlanta will need to take a lesson from Detroit's book and turn up the heat up front in passing situations in order to win in Green Bay.
If Osi Umenyiora can get the best of Bakhtiari, Atlanta's defense may be able to disrupt Green Bay's offense and create a turnover or two.
3. Desmond Trufant vs. Jordy Nelson
Green Bay's passing attack hasn't been nearly as lethal without Aaron Rodgers, but Jordy Nelson is still capable of making big plays when he gets the ball in his hands.
The Falcons struggled to cover Tampa Bay Buccaneers receiver Vincent Jackson in both matchups against Tampa Bay this season, and Nelson is a more fluid route-runner who may have more speed than Jackson.
Desmond Trufant played well against Buffalo and will need to match that effort against Nelson should he draw the assignment on Sunday.
Special Teams Breakdown
Packers rookie return specialist Micah Hyde has a 93-yard punt return on his resume this season and is capable of flipping the field quickly. As was the case last week with Buffalo return man Marquise Goodwin, Atlanta's coverage units will have to be disciplined if they don't want to allow Green Bay to steal a touchdown on special teams.
Even if Aaron Rodgers doesn't play on Sunday, it's tough to give a 3-9 Falcons team that's only won one road game (technically on a neutral field) the benefit of the doubt at Lambeau Field.
If Atlanta can't stop the run any better than it has through its first 12 games, Green Bay could win its first game in a month.
All stats are via ESPN.COM
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