The NFC North could come down to the final weekend at Lambeau against the Bears. That said, this week's game is the most important one left on the schedule. This game will serve notice as to which team will head into December as the hottest team in the NFC--it also may very well determine home field advantage in the playoffs.
As well as the Packers have been playing, and they've been playing historically well, they are in for a dogfight in Atlanta. The Birds are 18-1 at home with Matt Ryan as the starter. They almost lost a couple of weeks back, when Roddy White got away with a push off and the Falcons pulled out a last minute come-from-behind win over the Ravens. But their home field advantage is about as strong as anyone's in the league right now.
Meanwhile, Rodgers has been razor sharp during the winning streak and the 10 points allowed by the defense in the last three weeks is the stingiest stretch since '74. This will be a test to let us know precisely how good this defense is. Matty Ice cannot be rattled. He runs the offense efficiently and effectively and when he goes in no huddle mode he's ruthless.
With apologies to the Texans' Andre Johnson and his balky ankle, Roddy White has been the most explosive wide receiver in the NFL this season. He can run by defenders, run past the quickest corners and is tough enough to make the tough third down catch over the middle. Expect Tramon Williams to spend most of the afternoon trying to ensure they play keep away. Veteran tight end Tony Gonzalez is getting long in the tooth, but remains a reliable weapon, especially in the red zone and on third downs. WR Michael Jenkins has never lived up to his first round billing, but he's okay.
The Falcons will try to churn out yards on the ground with Michael Turner, who hasn't approached the numbers he put up in 2008, but can move the chains and is a great short yardage runner. The Falcons want to keep the ball out of his Aaron Rodgers' hands and will accomplish that if they can move the ball on the ground.
Defensively, the Falcons are extremely vulnerable. They've allowed 300 yard passing games to Drew Brees, Kevin Kolb and Carson Palmer and all three threw three TD passes--as did Baltimore's Joe Flacco. John Abraham is their best pass rusher but he's been nicked up, missing last week with a groin injury. Their secondary has improved with the addition of free agent Dunta Robinson, but the unit is below average and McCarthy and Rodgers have to be licking their chops.
It feels like the Packers are meeting the Falcons at the right time. The team is healthier than they've been in weeks and is coming together in all phases. The Falcons were in danger of losing in St. Louis last Sunday, until Sam Bradford threw a terrible shovel pass that was intercepted.
The Pack also owes them one. Remember the 2008 game at Lambeau, when rookie QB Matt Ryan led the Falcons to an upset 27-24 over the Pack? It's time for payback. Let's go with the same score, with the result reversed: Packers 27 Falcons 24.
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