Coming off a down-to-the-wire road victory over the Philadelphia Eagles Sunday night, the Green Bay Packers (11-6) must now travel to Atlanta (13-3) for the second time this season.
For the No. 1 seed Falcons, Saturday night's matchup will be their first go-around in the postseason.
However, don't expect Atlanta to roll over easy, as Matt Ryan, Michael Turner and Roddy White possess one of the most prolific offensive attacks in the NFL this season.
How will the matchups break down? Who holds the key advantages? Which players are most important to a win for each team?
I'll address some of those questions and more in my breakdown of Saturday night's premier matchup.
Even though Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers has yet to unleash his full potential to the league, he has still managed to tear apart some of the most threatening of secondaries the NFL has to offer.
In three must-win games, Rodgers has thrown for 813 yards and eight touchdowns—including a pass to interception ratio of 8:1 over those last three games.
But that's not where it ends. Rodgers has also completed passes to nine different receivers in three straight weeks—making Green Bay's receiving corps one of the most diverse and stable in the entire league.
Atlanta? Well, allowing 226.6 yards per game through the air is enough to rank 22nd in the NFL. However, the Falcons have gotten their fare share of interceptions—forcing 22 INT during their regular season play.
Still, with the amount of weapons Green Bay has at the wide receiver position, and the lack of noticeable talent matching up with the Packers' receivers, based on depth alone, Green Bay gets the nod here.
Falcons running back Michael Turner has been nicknamed "the bowling ball" many times this season, and Saturday will be a great test for Green Bay's linebacking corps.
Averaging 118.2 yards per game, Atlanta ranked 12th in the league in yards gained per contest, all while fumbling the ball four whole times in the regular season.
Against the Packers in Week 12, Turner ran for 110 yards and one touchdown, including a 26-yard burst through the Green Bay defense so many have dubbed "best in class."
The Packers have given up 114.9 yards per game on the ground but have limited the big play to a certain extent, giving up one run longer than 40 yards this year.
With the Falcons more than likely trying to balance out their offensive attack Saturday night, Turner will get regular amount of carries. However, with Dom Capers at the helm for the Packers defensive unit, look for Turner to be limited more than usual.
What you see here is the game-ending interception of Michael Vick recorded by Tramon Williams. Isn't that enough? Well, almost.
Make no mistake about it: Green Bay will be sending three defensive players to the Pro Bowl at the end of this season in Clay Matthews III, Charles Woodson and Nick Collins—not to mention the outstanding play from Williams (six interceptions and one forced fumble during the course of the regular season).
However, in their first meeting, Falcons' quarterback Matt Ryan was able to do what he does best—make the most intelligent throw. Come playoff time, that may be the utmost important factor in moving on to the Super Bowl.
With Ryan's favorite target Roddy White getting his touches, Atlanta will be taking their shots deep and often.
But the x-factor to watch is how much pressure the electric Green Bay defense will be able to put on young Ryan in the pocket. Let's remember Atlanta has allowed just 23 sacks on Ryan this season—putting the Falcons offensive line as one of the best in the business.
If Green Bay's linebackers can continuously supply pressure to Atlanta's big men up front, like I think they will, then Ryan is in for a long night.
Providing offensive balance and consistent running ability, Packers' rookie running back James Starks burst onto the scene Sunday night in Philadelphia, running for 123 yards on 23 carries.
However, that wasn't the end for Green Bay's rushing attack as John Kuhn, Brandon Jackson and Aaron Rodgers also combined for 15 extra yardage via the ground game.
The league's 24th ranked ground attack during the regular season, averaging 100.4 yards per game, the Packers may have completely turned their fortunes around as of last week with their commitment to running the football. Against Atlanta's somewhat average rush defense, another duplicate performance from Starks is not out of the question.
Nevertheless, Green Bay's newly found running game is a fresh and untampered part of Packers' coach Mike McCarthy's offensive game plan. So for that reason, Atlanta should have the preliminary edge heading into Saturday night.
For the Packers, Tramon Williams has been a solid return man in the punt-return game for Green Bay—averaging just under nine yards per punt return. Likewise, Sam Schields and Jordy Nelson have had steady seasons themselves, averaging 22.1 yards per kick return between them.
However, the consistent special teams coverage blunders have cost Green Bay numerous times during the regular season. In fact, if not a facemask call in the final minute of their Week 12 meeting in Atlanta, Green Bay would've taken the Falcons into overtime. Oh, and let's not forget the infamous 73-yard return given up to Patriots' offensive lineman Dan Connolly.
It's been a gruesome season for Green Bay's special teams, and with Falcons' wide receiver Eric Weems averaging over 27 yards per kick return, the Packers could be in for a long day.
Given Atlanta's home record under Matt Ryan so far in his career (20-2), Falcons' coach Mike Smith has obviously made his mark to the rest of the league as well.
In his third year with the Falcons, Smith has led Atlanta to three winning seasons (11-5, 9-7, 13-3) but has failed to win a playoff game in his two appearances. Saturday night will be his chance to avenge those earlier losses.
Under Mike McCarthy, Green Bay has made the playoffs three individual times, including playing host to the NFC Championship game in 2007. The Packers are 2-2 in postseason play under McCarthy and have one NFC North division title.
However, with that being said, the most important and vital part in the outcome of Saturday night's matchup is dependent on a coach who isn't even on the sidelines. Yes, that's right. Packers' defensive coordinator Dom Capers will be the deciding factor on the coaching side of things.
How Capers decides to attack Matt Ryan via the blitz will make for must-watch television Saturday night.
A tall order indeed, but it must be done.
For the Falcons to come away with the victory, they must ensure that Charles Woodson is either accounted for on every down or is injured at some point during the game. Neither seems very likely.
Woodson's threat to blitz the quarterback is one of the most feared in the entire league—and Saturday night will be a prime example of that.
Against Michael Vick, Woodson was in on nearly every play and consistently put pressure on the league's most entertaining player.
If Atlanta can limit Woodson, they'll have a shot.
Though Ryan has solidified himself as one of the premier young quarterbacks in the NFL today, he has also had his struggles.
Against the New Orleans Saints in Week 16, Ryan was held to 148 yards and one touchdown through the air and maintained one of his lowest quarterback ratings of his young career (77.9).
Not only did Ryan have to play catchup for most of the game, he was also excessively zeroing in on wide receiver Roddy White throughout the entirety of the contest. That won't be the case against Green Bay.
With saftey Nick Collins, Charles Woodson and Tramon Williams looming in the secondary, Ryan will have his hands full for 60 full minutes—and must evenly distribute the football for Atlanta to have a shot.
Having already played seemingly three consecutive playoff-caliber games, the Green Bay Packers are on one heck of a roll. Aaron Rodgers and Green Bay's prolific passing game is second to none, and the running game has also produced consistently.
A road test against the NFC's best will be quite the task to accomplish, however, the momentum Mike McCarthy's crew brings to Atlanta will play a huge role in Saturday night's outcome.
Addition of a shut-down defensive unit lead by the most intelligent defensive coordinator in Dom Capers only adds more fuel to the fire.
Nevertheless, defeating the Falcons on the road has proved to be one of the most difficult tests in all of sports, to say the least.
However, the one thing the Green Bay Packers have that the Atlanta Falcons don't is Aaron Rodgers. Look for Saturday night to become just the beginning of the legend that is Rodgers.
For that, I'll take the Pack.
Prediction: Packers 23, Falcons 21