Green Bay Packers (12-6 SU, 11-6-1 ATS) vs. Atlanta Falcons (12-5 SU, 11-6 ATS)
NFC Championship Game
Date/Time: Sunday, January 22 at 3:05pmEST
Where: Georgia Dome
by Evergreen, Expert Football Handicapper, Predictem.com
Point Spread: GB +5/ATL -5
Over/Under Total: 61
If you ask me, I’d much rather watch the conference championships than the SuperBowl. The commercials are probably better during the big game but the conference championship games themselves are often better to watch than the SuperBowl from a pure football perspective. We are lucky to have two potentially fantastic contests this Sunday and the early kickoff features the Green Bay Packers against the Atlanta Falcons. The Packers are the hottest team in the NFL and have that coveted “team of destiny” look now that Aaron Rodgers has found his otherworldly self again. The Falcons got a nice gift in the form of a home game after the Pack took care of the number one seed in Dallas last week. Atlanta was able to keep its league-leading offense rolling after a bye week against a beat-up Seattle squad in the divisional round. Will they be able to impose their offensive will against an equally undermanned Packers defense? Will they be able to contain Rodgers and his apparent endless supply of on-field magic? The SuperBowl awaits the winner here so nothing will be left in the tank.
I couldn’t get a handle on what I thought the line was going to be for this game given how well the Packers are playing. Green Bay gets a lot of public support no matter who or where they are playing so I though this one might be just -3 with the Falcons favored but the majority of lines at the online betting sites have the Packers at +4.5 or +5. Green Bay has performed well in the playoff lately with a 4-0 record against the spread in their last four postseason games and a 5-0 ATS mark in the last five playoff games on the road. Atlanta is on the other side of that coin with just a 1-6 ATS record in their last seven playoff contests but they are 4-1 against the spread in the last five games overall.
These teams did meet earlier this season in a Week 8 tilt. That was a back-and-forth game throughout with Atlanta coming out on top, 33-32. Green Bay took the lead with a Rodgers to Jeff Janis pass late but Matt Ryan hooked up with Mohamed Sanu with just 31 seconds for the game winning TD. Rodgers through four touchdown passes and led the team with 60 rushing yards in that one but the bigger story was the lack of production from the Green Bay defense. Ryan threw three touchdowns of his own and Devonta Freeman scored both on the ground and via a reception. There was no real stopping anyone in this game but the decision gave Atlanta its first win against Green Bay after losing the four previous meetings.
The Packers ran the table in the final six regular season games and haven’t skipped a beat in two playoff wins. The 38-13 win against the Giants was in question after giving up five sacks in the first half but Rodgers eventually got going and threw for 362 yards and four scores. He added 356 yards and three more touchdowns last week against the Cowboys. That banged-up Packer secondary allowed Dallas to tie it up at 28-28 and 31-31 before Rodgers pulled another rabbit out of his hat and threw an amazing dart to Jared Cook that set up the game winning field goal attempt. Cook was huge in that game, essentially taking up the slack for the injured Jordy Nelson. Both of Rodgers touchdown passes were to his tight ends and those matchups could be key again with Atlanta giving up 950 yards and eight touchdowns to tight ends in the regular season. Nelson is likely to miss this game with broken ribs. The receiving load was split pretty evenly as five different Packers caught between 34-76 yards of passes in Dallas.
Atlanta looked really good last week while handling Seattle in the divisional round. The Legion of Boom has seen better days but hanging 36 on them is still pretty impressive. Ryan threw for 338 and three scores with Tevin Coleman and Devonta Freeman combining for 102 rushing yards and 102 receiving yards. Both backs scored against the Seahawks and their ability to produce in both facets will be key against a Packers defense that is still pretty good at stopping the run. Green Bay allowed just ten total touchdowns to opposing running backs during the regular season. Morgan Burnett could miss the game this week, further limiting Green Bay’s ability to handle the Julio Jones matchup. Jones is dealing with a toe injury but he is going to go and he will not be stressed out by whoever lines up against him in green and gold. Atlanta was able to sack Russell Wilson on three occasions, including once for a safety, and getting home against Rodgers will be necessary to slow that Packers offense down. New York and Dallas were able to stay with Green Bay or even gain on the scoreboard when they got in the backfield and landed the sack or incomplete pass. The Falcons know they will be playing with fire there however as just about all of the big plays come when Rodgers moves out of the pocket and throws on the run. A-Rod has a 100+ QB rating on throws outside of the pocket so the key really is getting him to the ground.
Given the relative ineffectiveness of both defenses, you start to wonder if 61 is a big enough number for the over/under total. I can’t image seeing less than 600 yards passing between these teams with 700 a likelihood if a shootout starts from the opening whistle. One difference from the earlier matchup is the expanded role of Ty Montgomery. The converted WR has given Green Bay some hope of a running game and still serves as a tough coverage assignment coming out of the backfield. He is averaging 5.9 yards per carry and could be a big x-factor if Green Bay wants to play a more controlled game and keep their defense off the field. Atlanta ranked 17th against the run during the regular season so there should be running room for Montgomery or Christine Michael for that matter. Jared Cook has emerged since the middle portion of the season with Geronimo Allison also seeing more snaps as well. Those little wrinkles probably help the Packers with some of their subpackages but the bottom line is that Green Bay will simply have to outscore the top offense in the NFL in their building. Atlanta led the league with 33.8 points per game and finished second in total yards. Their playmakers are not plentiful but no one has been able to shutdown both backs and Julio at the same time. Both defenses are probably in for a long day.
I really want to give you some meaningful handicapping to go home with but I also really want to just use the eye test here and take the Packers. They are far from perfect, especially on defense, but how can you go against Rodgers at this point. I think the money line play is good in Green Bay’s favor but certainly you have to think hard about passing up Green Bay with the five. Atlanta is supremely talented on offense and has the home field but I think the Packers win this one unless something out of the ordinary happens. If they avoid the tipped-ball pick six type of scenario and win the turnover battle, Green Bay should head to Houston after a 33-28 win.
Evergreen’s Pick to Cover the Point Spread: Green Bay
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