Is this the NFL’s most electric and budding rivalry? Atlanta appears to be a playoffs mainstay and the Pack is back. Stay tuned to this column and I’ll tell you where their rivalry ranks.
The next competition between the freshly up-and-coming franchises will be a barn burner on the gridiron in the “Dirty South.” Fans across the nation will be firing up their tailgate griddles.
To battle the No. 1 seed in the NFC, the Green Bay Packers will appear on the grid at the Georgia Dome on Saturday night at 8 p.m. ET on FOX. The Atlanta Falcons will be waiting. The Packers are the No. 6 (lowest) seed in the NFC Conference and will audition for another upset role.
The Georgia Dome will be rolling with raucousness. Optimism over the possibilities of the franchise’s first Super Bowl appearance since 1999 is at an all-time high. Both teams the Falcons lost to in the NFC regular season—the Eagles and the Saints—have been eliminated from the playoffs.
The Falcons were 7-1 at home in the regular season, but this is a new one, says the Packers. They probably believe they should have won their first meeting with Atlanta this season. They’re probably out for revenge.
The two teams played on Nov. 28, 2010 in the Georgia Dome. Most of the stars performed well. Aaron Rodgers passed for 344 yards and Greg Jennings had 119 receiving. With 51 yards, Rodgers was the Pack’s leading rusher. Michael “Burner” Turner rushed for 110 yards and a touchdown for the Falcons. Matt Ryan passed for 197 and a touch.
Green Bay got served by Matt Bryant’s 47-yard field goal with nine seconds left. Rodgers had just led the Packers on what appeared to be a game-winning 90-yard drive with 56 seconds left.
Wide receiver Eric Weems, though, returned the kickoff to Green Bay’s 49—thanks to a facemask penalty on linebacker Matt Wilhelm. Bryant added the game-winner.
Roddy White was the NFL’s top game-breaking receiver in terms of total yards in the regular season. The Packers held him to less than 50 yards receiving. Tight end Tony Gonzalez was also held to 51, but he caught Ryan’s lone touchdown pass.
One of the two quarterbacks will win their first NFC Divisional Playoff game—Ryan's first playoff game for that matter. They both became starters in 2008.
The Atlanta Falcons have been an NFL franchise since 1965 and were granted the first pick in the 1966 draft. A former first round pick, Matt “Matty Ice” Ryan has made people forget Michael Vick in the city of Atlanta—if that’s possible.
Starting in 1978, the franchise has had 10 total possible chances at winning a Super Bowl by conquering the playoffs. This could be their best chance in the 10 playoff tries in franchise history—including the days of the electrifying Vick.
Playing in the Georgia Dome since 1992, the team formerly known as the "Dirty Birds" has a Jamal Anderson–type runner in Michael “Burner” Turner. The franchise’s best season was 1998-99 when Anderson led them to the Super Bowl against Denver. If Turner gets his “burner” on, then the Falcons could possibly return to the Bowl.
Brandon Jackson was the Packers top rushing running back for the year. Green Bay added James Starks to the mix, and he rushed for over 100 yards against the Eagles. It remains to be seen how good the Packers rushing unit can be going forward.
Of course Atlanta runs the ball better than the Pack. The Falcons ranked higher in rushing yards per game—No. 12 to No. 24 for Green Bay. The lowest-ranked rushing team left in the playoffs, Green Bay finished just above the Bears and Seahawks.
As the NFL’s No. 6-ranked running back in terms of yards, Turner rushed for 1,371 and 12 touchdowns. In the playoffs, the better rushing team in the game usually wins.
That means smashmouth football is coming our way along the lines of Steelers-Ravens. The Packers-Falcons series could become a rivalry along the lines of Colts-Patriots and Steelers-Ravens. It's far from there right now. The hitting, though, will be just as vicious.
Atlanta averaged 25.9 points per game, while Green Bay averaged 24.2. Atlanta had 47 total touchdowns, Green Bay 46. The Saints-Falcons rivalry is a better one than Packers-Falcons, but this one has potential.
The Falcons secondary was suspect in the vertical passing game almost all regular season. Rodgers will again strike deep on at least one long ball to Greg Jennings against Atlanta’s defensive backs unit.
Starks is hot along with Rodgers and the rest of the Packers. I don’t think Starks can repeat his performance from last week, however, against the Falcons front seven.
The fact Green Bay allowed 38 sacks and Atlanta only 23 in the regular season is big. Along with the running game, special teams and tight end play, offensive line play is what separates these teams. John Abraham and Jonathan Babineaux will be in Rodgers face all game.
The Falcons short-passing game and rushing attack will negate the Packers pass rush. Ryan, Gonzalez and White will also have good games in the intermediate passing zone. The Birds will get down and dirty with Turner running the ball through the teeth of the defense.
It will be a close game, but the Falcons will end the Packers playoff run and host the Chicago Bears in the NFC Championship Game next week.