The Packers will face a rematch of the divisional playoff on Sunday night, where they will play the Atlanta Falcons. Although the Falcons were 13-3 last year, they were blown out of the playoffs by the No. 6 seed Green Bay Packers, who eventually went on to win the Super Bowl.
This year, the Packers are continuing to ride high with a 4-0 record, while Atlanta has struggled to a 2-2 record. However, both teams have had their strengths and weaknesses this year, as Green Bay has struggled stopping big plays, while Atlanta's defense has had a problem keeping the score low, even letting the anemic Seattle offense score 28 points last week.
It should be a great matchup between two of the best teams in the NFC, as Green Bay will look to continue their streak, and Atlanta will be looking to finally get on track and beat the team that routed them in the playoffs.
In the 2011 NFL draft, the Atlanta Falcons drafted Julio Jones, giving up a king's ransom to move up and grab him. While this was a big, risky move, the Falcons were looking to add to their already potent offense, and by adding Jones, they solidified their receiving corps and added another weapon for Matt Ryan, who already had Roddy White.
The Falcons were looking to have an unstoppable offense, although it has been the Packers offense this year that has looked more dominant, as quarterback Matt Ryan has struggled more than usual, and the Falcons have been dealing with a pedestrian running game.
However, the Packers defense has struggled at times this year, giving up big plays, even to teams like Denver and Carolina. Can the Packers defense get on track, or will they let a Falcons offense that has a lot of potential run all over them?
The price of drafting Julio Jones has already showed up on the Falcons defense, as they have been hemorrhaging points, allowing Chicago, Philadelphia and Seattle to score over 28 points on them. Besides signing Ray Edwards, the Falcons did not do much in the offseason to improve the defense that gave up 48 points in the playoffs.
The Packers offense has looked unstoppable, as Rodgers has taken advantage of his many receiving weapons in Greg Jennings, Donald Driver, Jordy Nelson, James Jones, Randall Cobb and of course, Jermichael Finley. And with Ryan Grant and James Starks sharing carries, the running game has looked good, as well.
With a Falcons defense that has not been able to rush the passer very well, the Packers could score big points in this game, and I predict that Aaron Rodgers will have a very good night on Sunday.
In both games against Atlanta last year, the Packers special teams struggled in containing their returner, Eric Weems. In the first game, Rodgers and the Packers offense had scored the game-tying touchdown with a minute left to play, but the special teams let Weems run down the field to put the Falcons close to field goal range, allowing them to kick the game-winner. In the playoffs, they allowed a record-breaking kick return for a touchdown by Weems.
While the Packers special teams has been much better in the last two years, it has still struggled, and allowed big plays to be made on occasion, especially with teams with talented returners, like Weems, Darren Sproles in New Orleans or Devin Hester and Johnny Knox in Chicago.
If the Packers want to win this game, they can't allow the big plays on special teams to allow Atlanta to take the momentum, especially at inopportune times.
Last year, turnovers proved to be a major factor in the Packers defense taking the momentum away from the Falcons and giving it to Green Bay. Two Tramon Williams interceptions in the second quarter rattled the formerly explosive Falcons offense, and the Packers were able to take advantage of the reeling Falcons in the second half, by putting the final dagger in them.
I do believe that turnovers will be a big factor on this game. If the Packers defense can force turnovers, it will slow down the Falcons offense, and give the Packers the chance to cash in on the Falcons' misfortunes.
Last year, the Falcons went undefeated in the Georgia Dome, up until Rodgers and the Packers rolled through and beat them in the playoffs. This year, the Falcons continue to be undefeated at home, although they have only played one game in the Dome.
The Georgia Dome will be loud on Sunday night with Falcons fans who want to see their team knock off the defending Super Bowl champions, especially given what happened to them in the playoffs last year.
However, the Packers were the only team to neutralize the home field advantage last year, and they did it by starting the rout early, and taking a 28-14 lead at halftime. By the end of the third quarter, the Dome was silent as the Packers were able to take out the home crowd, and continue to pound the Falcons. If the Packers can do it again on Sunday night, that might give them the advantage.