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, 2017 at 3:05PM EST
Where: Georgia Dome, Atlanta, Georgia
By Loot, NFL Football Handicapper, Lootmeister.com
Betting Odds: GB +4/ATL -4
Over/Under Total: 60
The Green Bay Packers come to the Georgia Dome on Sunday to face the Atlanta Falcons in the NFC Championship Game. The winner goes to the Super Bowl, so the stakes are as high as it gets. The Atlanta Falcons, with the top offense in the league, conclusively beat the Seattle Seahawks last Saturday, 36-20, to get to this spot and now attempt to get into the second Super Bowl in franchise history. The Packers, on a massive roll, beat the top-seed in the conference with a dramatic 34-31 road win over the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday. With eight straight wins and two in the postseason, the Packers look to keep it rolling in Atlanta in the NFC title game.
Atlanta was very impressive on both sides of the ball on Saturday against Seattle. They dealt with some adversity early when some special teams plays for the Seahawks threatened to give the Falcons a big deficit. But a few calls went their way and they took over the game. The Packers looked like they were going to cruise on Sunday against Dallas, taking a big early 21-3 lead. A big Cowboys 4th quarter saw Green Bay lose momentum and almost the game. But a pair of late drives, capped off with two Mason Crosby 50+ yard field goals in the final 1:33 of the game saved the win and kept their Super Bowl hopes alive.
These teams met already this season at this very venue, with the Falcons notching a 33-32 win over the Packers in week eight. That was the first loss of a 4-game losing streak that threatened to derail the Packers. Obviously with them now on a roll with eight straight wins, the tenor of this matchup is a bit different. If anything, the fact that a Green Bay team that was worse than they are now came within point of a win is damning to the Falcons. A Matt Ryan pass to Mohamed Sanu for a TD with 33 seconds left gave the Falcons the one-point win. Both Ryan and Rodgers had huge days. While the importance of that week eight matchup might not be that big now, one should expect yet another close and well-contested game that comes down to the end.
The Falcons looked really good on Saturday with a lot of the things that make them good clicking into gear. Matt Ryan was able to use his quick-release and a good and underrated offensive line to get the aerial attack untracked. Julio Jones sprang to life and showed he's ready to take this postseason by the horns. The balance of the offense manifested with damage being done through the air and on the ground. The depth the offense cultivated over the course of the season was also in evidence, as nine different players caught passes against Seattle, with Tevin Coleman, Devonta Freeman, Taylor Gabriel, Mohamed Sanu, and others having great games. There is a lot of room in the top-rated Atlanta offense for a lot of different players to make an imprint. It used to be all about Matt Ryan and Julio Jones. Now they are as multi-dimensional an offense as there is in the league.
The Falcons aren't the only team to make the postseason with a defense that doesn't rank highly in the categories we typically consider when evaluating defenses. By the same token, they thrive across different lines. One is in the playmaking department. Between the pass-rush and their ability to manufacture turnovers, they can in fact be quite troublesome. And they are able to build on momentum, collecting steam as the game moves on. Ricardo James and Deion Jones each picked off Russell Wilson on Saturday in the divisional round, with big games from Keanu Neal, Robert Alford, and Brooks Reed. Vic Beasley was hurt, but despite that, the Atlanta offense attacked and got results. And when the Seattle offense attempted to gain foothold and got on any kind of roll, the defense tightened up and made a stand.
Atlanta's offense is obviously their key weapon. Heading into the Seattle game, Atlanta pessimists cited their defense as a major hindrance to having a nice postseason run. That wasn't the case on Saturday, though one could expect them to be tested to a greater degree this week against he more on-point Packers offensive machine. Seattle was out of their element in the Georgia Dome and this matchup will be tougher. But despite the worn yet true adage that "defense wins championships," scoring points is the name of the game. In that department, Atlanta is tops in the league and putting up 36 points against the Seahawks defense confirms that. It's a unique unit. It was built from the inside-out and developed thoughtfully.
Against Seattle, Atlanta looked shaky early, particularly as some Seahawks special teams plays threatened to send things sideways. A Devin Hester return appeared to send the Seahawks up 10, with a holding call pinning them back where a safety ensued. The game changed on that one holding call. In other words, without a break like that, who knows what would have happened? Not that it was all that close at the end, so maybe it didn't matter all that much. But for a while there, things were looking shaky and they might not get off the hook in these big spots.
The Packers look really sharp heading into this spot as they are definitely continuing to peak. Aaron Rodgers' showing on Sunday was another in a long line of performances that have confirmed his status as the top quarterback in the league. His combination of movement and throwing accuracy, along with an off-the-charts football IQ is a huge part of the Green Bay recipe for success. Rodgers calmly picked apart the Dallas defense with three TD drives in the first quarter and a half. But the Cowboys came back and seemed to have all the momentum. Some big Rodgers' plays set up Mason Crosby for two long FGs late to sew up the win, the last one being a 51-yarder as time ran out.
With Jordy Nelson out, Rodgers was without his most prolific weapon yet again. It didn't matter, with Rodgers making full use of his cast. Ty Montgomery was big again with two rushing touchdowns and his ability to give the Packers a semblance of a ground-attack late in the season has been a big part of the Packers' turnaround. Rodgers also connected marvelously with TE Jared Cook, who caught 6 passes, most of them being critical. Rodgers also hit his other tight end Richard Rodgers with a 34-yard TD strike. With Davante Adams and Randall Cobb continuing to shine, along with more contributions from Geronimo Allison, the Green Bay offense looks like it just might be able to thrive at the highest levels without Nelson.
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The Green Bay defense is going to be the major sticking point for this game. Against Dallas, they went from rigid to exploitable. They started well with Dallas putting up just three points in the first 18 minutes of game time. But ten points for the Cowboys just before the half were big. And their 4th quarter spurt knotted the game at 28. When Dan Bailey tied the game at 31 with 35 seconds left, it looked destined for OT. But Green Bay got a big play with Rodgers hitting Cook to set up Crosby. The Green Bay defense deserves some credit for limiting the damage late with some big third down plays.
The Packers face some daunting challenges in this game. Their defense can be pushed to its limits by offenses that are versatile like Dallas'. And Atlanta's balanced approach could have this defense grasping for straws at times. By the same token, Green Bay backers could point to the prospects of the surgical Rodgers taking on this Atlanta defense, which isn't always the stoutest. The venue is also a concern for the Packers with this being the last game at the Georgia Dome for the Falcons and it being a tough environment, especially for outside teams like the Packers.
Against the Cowboys, the Packers let things nearly slip away and if they do that against Atlanta, they're unlikely to leave the Georgia Dome with a win. The Falcons are a diversely-talented bunch with any number of ways they can beat you. And if they did beat the Packers, it wouldn't register much surprise. But with the Packers coming into this game on the crest of such a crescendo, it's just hard to bet against them, especially when being given 4 points. I'm taking the Packers and the points.
Loot's Prediction to Cover the Point Spread: I'm betting on the Green Bay Packers plus 4 points. Tired of your credit card not working for sportsbook deposit? End that problem today and bet the Green Bay vs. Atlanta NFC title game from the comfort of your own home by signing up at Bovada Sportsbook where your credit card WILL work and where you'll receive a generous 100% sign-up bonus!