NFC Championship Game Preview

The NFC Championship game between the Green Bay Packers and Atlanta Falcons is primed to be a shootout of epic proportions.

The red-hot Green Bay Packers will head into Georgia Dome to face the explosive Atlanta Falcons, Sunday, with a spot in Super Bowl LI on the line. In a game that features two of the NFL’s most high-powered offenses and prolific quarterbacks.

The NFC North champion Packers sent the top-seeded Dallas Cowboys packing last Sunday with a dramatic 34-31 victory, thanks to a walk-off field goal by Mason Crosby. Atlanta, kings of the NFC South, dominated the Seattle Seahawks 36-20 in divisional round game that wasn’t really even that close.

So, which of these exciting squads will represent the NFC in Super Bowl LI? We’ll give you the breakdown on the match-ups, strengths and weaknesses of each team. I’m just breaking down the squads…I’ll leave the picking to Big Al!


2017 NFC Championship Game Info

When: Sunday, January 22, 3:05 PM (FOX) | Where: Georgia Dome, Atlanta, GA


GREEN BAY OFFENSE

rodgersFirst, the obvious. Aaron Rodgers is the most dangerous singular force remaining in the playoff field. He gives the Packers an edge getting off the bus. Secondly, the Green Bay offensive line is among the league’s best in pass protection. Thus, affording Rodgers time and comfort to do his thing. When protection does break down, Rodgers thrives making plays on the move. Rodgers is playing the position as well as anyone has ever played it.

The receiving corps is in a fluid state leading up to the NFCCG, with #1 wideout Jordy Nelson highly questionable with broken ribs. Randall Cobb, Davonte Adams and Geronimo Allison have all been contributors in critical moments. The Packers’ most dangerous that receiving that has been tight end Jared Cook as of late. Cook’s blend of size, speed and athleticism will be a challenge for the Atlanta secondary. Richard Rogers, the second tight end, also make timely catches.

The Green Bay running game has been in a state of flux all season long. Former wide receiver Ty Montgomery has been a godsend at the running back position. Montgomery gives the Packers rushing attack a dimension of explosiveness that will keep the Falcons honest. Obviously, he’s a threat as a pass-catcher as well.

Bottom line is that this offense begins and ends with the man under center. If Rodgers continues his historic level of play, he will pick apart a young, but improving Atlanta defense.


GREEN BAY DEFENSE

matthewsGreen Bay’s defense has been an inconsistent bunch, as shown in the  divisional round victory over Dallas. There are times when this unit plays fast and decisive. More often, they are predictable and unsound. Against the run, the Packers are susceptible up the middle. The front seven, led by linebacker Clay Matthews and and defensive lineman Mike Daniels. Rookie Kenny Clark has steadily improved as the season has progressed.

The pass defense has been hurt by the lack of consistent pass rush and injuries at cornerback. Linebackers Matthews, Nick Perry and Julius Peppers are a serviceable unit, but can disappear for stretches as pass rushers. Matthews and Peppers are no longer the elite forces they once were. Perry is the team’s leading sack man with 11 takedowns on the year.

The aforementioned injuries at corner have sapped the depth of that unit. Damarious Randall, Ladarius Gunter and Quinten Rollins have all dealt with injury and/or inconsistency throughout the season. Safeties Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Morgan Burnett form  one of the better tandems in the NFL.

The Green Bay defense is really no match for the Atlanta offense. The Packers must stop the run, get pressure on Ryan and force a few turnovers to keep the Falcons from lighting up the scoreboard. Tall task for sure. But, hey, a trip to the Super Bowl is at stake!


ATLANTA OFFENSE

ryanLost in the shuffle of the Aaron Rodgers hoopla, Falcons’ quarterback Matt Ryan has performed at an equally stellar level throughout this season. The presumptive MVP of the league has guided the highest scoring outfit if the NFL (over 34 points per game) in the regular season. They also dropped 36 on the vaunted Seattle defense last week. Ryan has become the perfect combination of smarts and aggression.

As for the plethora of weapons as Ryan’s disposal, none are more potent than Julio Jones. A top-3 wideout when healthy, Jones demands extreme attention from every defense he faces. That opens up freedom for fellow wide receivers Mohamed Sanu and Taylor Gabriel as well as tight ends Lovine Toilolo and Austin Hooper.

The weapons don’t end there for the Atlanta offense. Running backs Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman are among the league’s best backfield duos. They both offer speed and explosion as runners and versatility as receivers.

Not to be outdone, the offensive line, led by center Alex Mack, is a formidable group. The line will be key in its ability to protect Ryan and display it’s superiority over the Packers in the run game.


ATLANTA DEFENSE

beasleyThe Atlanta defense is young, fast and ascending. However, it too can be highly inconsistent. Up front, the defensive line is greater than the sum of its parts. Jonathan Babineaux, Tyson Jackson, Grady Jarrett and Ra’Shede Hageman are an unflashy, but stable bunch. Brooks Reed mans the hybrid DE/LB position. Defensive end Adrian Clayborn is likely out for the remainder of the playoffs with a torn biceps suffered last week.

Linebacker Vic Beasley is the team’s best defensive player. He led the league in sacks (14.5) during the regular season. He’s a terror off the edge and will be a priory for the Green Bay protection schemes. Rookies Deion Jones and De’Vondre Campbell are swift, active playmakers who always find their way around the ball. Jones has quickly become one of the NFL’s best coverage linebackers.

In the secondary, the Falcons are led by all-rookie safety Keanu Neal. He’s the big, fast playmaker that has become the Falcons’ version of Kam Chancellor. Ricardo Allen has also carved out a niche for himself as the steady last line of defense. With Desmond Trufant on injured reserve, Robert Alford and Jalen Collins have stepped in to provide steady, if unspectacular, play in his stead.

If Beasley and crew can get pressure on Rodgers on a consistent basis, this could be the difference in the game. That’s easier said than done, especially considering Rodgers’ ability to make plays under duress.


X-FACTOR

As we’ve stated, this has the potential to be a very high-scoring affair in the final game a the Georgia Dome before moving into the Mercedes-Benz Dome next season. So, the fans will be loud and raucous, in support of a Super Bowl berth and a sendoff to their beloved Falcons. If the Green Bay offense has trouble with snap counts, audibles and getting off the ball, Atlanta’s fast past rushers can take advantage. With Aaron Rodger invading the dome, you want each and every advantage you can find. Anything helps when the “Bye-Bye Man” is coming to town.

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