The Atlanta Falcons and Green Bay Packers will square off Saturday in a rematch for the chance to play in the NFC Championship Game.
Atlanta won their Week 12 meeting, 20-17, on the strength of a Matt Bryant field goal with nine seconds remaining.
The Falcons had success running the ball in that game, with Michael Turner gaining 110 yards and scoring a touchdown on 23 carries. Matt Ryan was also extremely efficient in the contest, completing well over 80 percent of his passes for 197 yards and a touchdown of his own.
There has never been any question about Green Bay's defense, but last week against the Philadelphia Eagles, their ground game suddenly came to life when James Starks ran for 123 yards on 23 carries.
When Atlanta and Green Bay played earlier in the season, Starks did not play. In fact, he did not partake in any game action until Week 13. He was on the physically unable to perform list until November 9.
The Packers running backs were unable to do anything at all against the Falcons, and quarterback Aaron Rodgers actually led the team in rushing that day with 51 yards.
Rodgers took advantage of Atlanta's inability to contain him in the pocket in that game. He added a rushing touchdown to his rushing yards.
The Falcons will need to do a better job of preventing him from scrambling for first downs and other big plays.
The sixth-year quarterback was also fantastic throwing the ball, as he accumulated 344 yards through the air and had a quarterback rating of 114.5. His lone touchdown pass of the day came with just under a minute left in the game and tied the score at 17.
For the Falcons to win the game this weekend, they will need to do many of the same things they did in Week 12.
Turner slowed down a bit after the game against Green Bay, only once eclipsing 100 yards on the ground. Coach Mike Smith will likely look to limit Rodgers's chances to impact the game by controlling the clock, and he will need Turner to be effective to do this.
Thanks to being the No. 1 seed, Turner will be well rested for the next game. He hasn't missed any time, but he has been nursing a groin injury since Week 2.
Tape around the area has been visible through his pants throughout the season, and he noticeably winced after scoring a touchdown against Carolina in Week 17.
Atlanta also lost running back Jason Snelling during the game against Green Bay in November. He has since returned to full speed and should see significant playing time in Saturday's game.
The extra rest should also help receiver Roddy White, whose knee has been bothering him since Week 9.
At least in terms of completion percentage, Ryan has also not been able to match the show he put on against Green Bay. He's gone over 60 percent just once since the Week 12 matchup.
It must be noted though, that Ryan has not thrown an interception at home since Week 7 and has thrown a touchdown pass in every game this season except for the team's first contest in Pittsburgh.
He has also not thrown more interceptions than touchdowns in any game since Week 4.
In order for Ryan to continue this type of success, the offensive line will need to protect him, which they did in Week 12.
The Packers were able to sack Ryan twice, but neither of them came from pass-rush master Clay Matthews.
From a defensive standpoint, Atlanta will need to turn up the pressure on Rodgers. The Falcons defense has been good at getting to opposing quarterbacks this year, and has improved in that area as the season has gone along.
The effectiveness will fall on defensive end John Abraham, who had a major bounce back year with 13 sacks in 2010.
The secondary, which has also improved since Week 12, will need to do a better job of limiting the explosive plays. If Rodgers is able to throw for over 300 yards again, it will be very tough for the Falcons to win the game.
If these 2011 playoffs have been any indication, we should be in for another great game.
Both teams are at the top of their games and the Georgia Dome should be rocking.
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