Only one round of the NFL playoffs remains before we reach Super Bowl LI. The NFC's road to the big game now runs through Atlanta, and either the Falcons or the visiting Green Bay Packers are going to emerge.
These two teams will battle for the right to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl on Sunday. The first of the two conference championship games is scheduled for kickoff at 3:05 p.m. ET.
This should be a good one, folks. On one side, we have Matt Ryan and the high-flying Falcons offense, which averaged an NFL-best 33.8 points per game during the regular season. On the other, we have Aaron Rodgers and a Packers team that has managed to win eight in a row. That Green Bay offense is definitely nothing to overlook, as the Packers have averaged 36 points in their two playoff games.
Don't be surprised if this game turns into an all-out scorefest. The oddsmakers in Las Vegas certainly seem to believe it will.
We're going to examine the latest odds and over/under figures—courtesy of our friends at OddsShark.com. We'll be making our predictions for both while taking an in-depth look at some key components of the NFC title game.
NFC Championship Game
What: Green Bay Packers at Atlanta Falcons
Where: Georgia Dome, Atlanta
When: Sunday, January 22
Time: 3:05 p.m. ET
Latest Line: ATL -4.5
This game features a historic playoff over/under, and for good reason. Not only have the Falcons and Packers both been putting up ridiculous points as of late, but the two quarterbacks involved have been playing about as well as the position can be played.
Let's consider the weapons in this game, too. The Falcons feature the likes of Julio Jones, Taylor Gabriel, Mohamed Sanu, Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman. This is a group that can put up yards quickly.
The combination of Freeman and Coleman in the backfield makes the Falcons offense especially dangerous because keying in on Ryan and the passing game isn't a realistic possibility.
The Packers aren't as stacked at the running back position, but receiver/rusher Ty Montgomery adds an element of unpredictability to the offense. Plus, he's been pretty darn good at carrying the backfield load. He rushed for an impressive 5.9 yards per carry in the regular season and finished rated 11th among all running backs by Pro Football Focus.
Green Bay also boasts an impressive assortment of pass-catchers such as Montgomery, Davante Adams, Randall Cobb and tight ends Richard Rodgers and Jared Cook.
Unfortunately, there's a strong chance that star wideout Jordy Nelson—who produced 1,257 yards and 14 touchdowns in the regular season—won't be able to play. He suffered broken ribs two weeks ago against the New York Giants and is still having difficulty breathing normally.
If Nelson can go, it would provide the Packers with a huge boost, but it feels unlikely. A lot will likely hinge on his ability to practice this week.
"Can't tell you if Jordy's going to practice Wednesday, but he did all the work in the [regeneration] workout today," Packers head coach Mike McCarthy said Monday, per Rob Demovsky of ESPN.com. "So that's a good sign."
I'm personally not too worried about the Packers potentially missing Nelson. Yes, he has the ability to change the course of a game quickly. Yet Rodgers is playing at such an insane level right now—Pro Football Focus rates him second among quarterbacks for the regular season and playoffs—that he should be able to match Ryan with or without Nelson.
"You can't replicate what he does," Falcons safety Ricardo Allen explained, per Vaughn McClure of ESPN.com. "It's not too many people in this world that can roll right or left and not have to set their feet and can deliver passes like he does. He's deadly in everything."
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This leads us into why I believe this game goes over the 61-point mark. While both of these defenses involved in the game have positive traits, neither is truly elite.
Green Bay is rated 15th in overall defense by Pro Football Focus and allowed an average of 24.1 points per game in the regular season. The Falcons are rated 17th in overall defense by Pro Football Focus and allowed an average of 25.4 points per game in the regular season.
What happens when you cross two average defenses with two of the most potent offenses in the league? You get a lot of points. The Packers and Dallas Cowboys combined for 65 points last week, and I believe this is a realistic benchmark for this game.
If the Packers offensive line—which is rated first overall in pass blocking by Pro Football Focus—can hold up against Atlanta's pass rush, I also believe the Packers will have a chance to cover, if not win the game outright.
This game could very well go to the team that scores last, and as we saw last week in Dallas, Rodgers and Co. don't need a lot of time to make that final strike.
Prediction: Green Bay 35-33 over Atlanta