Packers vs. Falcons: Why This Is an NFC Championship Game Preview

Michael DulkaContributor IOctober 7, 2011

ATLANTA, GA - JANUARY 15:  Quarterback Aaron Rodgers #12 (R) of the Green Bay Packers is congratulated by Matt Ryan #2 of the Atlanta Falcons after the Packers won 48-21 during their 2011 NFC divisional playoff game at Georgia Dome on January 15, 2011 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

The Green Bay Packers travel to take on the Atlanta Falcons for the first time since their beat-down in the divisional round of the 2010 NFL playoffs. In that game, Aaron Rodgers and the Packers rolled all over the Falcons 48-21, after trailing early. When the two teams play in Week 5, it will be an early NFC Championship game preview for later on this season. 

The Packers have looked the part of defending Super Bowl champions with their 4-0 undefeated start and strong play behind Rodgers. While the Falcons have tripped up out of the gates with a 2-2 start, they have the team in place to bounce back and be successful late in the year. 

As of right now, the only team that looks as if it can stop the Packers, may actually be the Packers. They have used hot play at the quarterback position and the return of their running game to outscore opponents while dealing with injuries on the defensive side of the ball. 

Twice already in the first four weeks of the season, Rodgers has been pegged as the top offensive player from the NFC. In addition, he also received player of the month recognition for his play during the month of September.  Through the first four games of the season, Rodgers has had a quarterback rating of 124.6 which, for the season, would break Peyton Manning's record for highest quarterback rating over a season. 

Defensively, the Packers have struggled to contain opposing quarterbacks coming into this matchup with the second-to-last ranking in passing yards allowed, averaging 335.8 per game. They have given up 419 yards to Drew Brees, 432 yards to Cam Newton, 302 yards to Jay Cutler and 273 yards to Kyle Orton. 

Despite some defensive concerns, the Packers are averaging 37 points per game this season with an average margin of victory of 12.75 points per game. The Packers are rolling and look as if they will be extremely tough to beat. Without a major collapse, the Packers should be right back in the NFC Championship game this season.

ATLANTA, GA - JANUARY 15:  Roddy White #84 of the Atlanta Falcons is tackled by Charles Woodson #21 of the Green Bay Packers during their 2011 NFC divisional playoff game at Georgia Dome on January 15, 2011 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Get
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

The Falcons have their work cut out for them after a slow start and two disappointing losses to the Chicago Bears and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. In the two wins this season, the Falcons have put up an average of 32.5 points—in the two losses, they have only put up 12.5 points.

Adding Julio Jones and Jacquizz Rodgers, the Falcons offense has been much more dangerous at times, but still needs to gel and incorporate those players into their already rich pool of talent.

While the wide receiver pairing of Jones with Roddy White has been successful to the tune of a combined 50 catches for 644 yards, there was only one touchdown for the pair when White found the end zone in a win against the Philadelphia Eagles

Defensively, their secondary led to their ultimate downfall and hasn't looked much better early. They will need to do a better job containing opposing offenses. They will most likely continue to be a weak link, but with that offense, holding teams to under 25 points could win victories. 

It won't be long until the Falcons can get their early season issues figured out and get into a solid rhythm. When they do, the Falcons offense will be one of the best in the league and will be hard to contain for any defense.  

The biggest roadblocks that could prevent the Packers and Falcons from meeting in late January are the Detroit Lions, New Orleans Saints, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and, potentially, the Eagles. 

ATLANTA, GA - JANUARY 15:  (L-R) Aaron Rodgers #12, Greg Jennings #85 and Donald Driver #80 of the Green Bay Packers celebrate a play against the Atlanta Falcons during their 2011 NFC divisional playoff game at Georgia Dome on January 15, 2011 in Atlanta,
Chris Graythen/Getty Images

While the Detroit Lions have looked great in the early season, they still lack a quality signature win besides barely escaping Tampa Bay with a victory. They have advanced to 4-0, but their opponents have combined for a record of 5-11. The Lions look to be definite playoff contenders, but lack of playoff experience could hurt them. 

The New Orleans Saints have looked backed to their Super Bowl winning form following their season-opening loss to the Packers, and look to be the biggest threat to a potential Packers-Falcons NFC Championship game. The Saints offense will be extremely hard to stop, but there are definite holes defensively. 

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers currently sit atop the NFC South with the New Orleans Saints with a 3-1 record, but have shown vulnerability in each of their first four games. All games have been extremely tight, even against poor teams like the Minnesota Vikings and the Indianapolis Colts. Lack of playoff experience could play a factor for a team like the Bucs if they were to advance. 

Looking like the favorite to challenge the Packers, the Eagles have stumbled out of the gates with a 1-3 record. It is hard to imagine that their highly hyped-up "dream-team" has struggled more than most could have predicted. Michael Vick has struggled to stay healthy and maintain his high level of play from last season, while new addition Nnamdi Asomugha has been targeted by opposing teams because of his weak play so far. 

While there are definite obstacles that could prevent the Falcons and Packers from playing for a trip to the Super Bowl, the race in the NFC is wide open beyond the Packers team that looks to be a clear-cut favorite. Two great offenses going head to head could make for an exceptional game on Championship Sunday. 

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