The Atlanta Falcons and Green Bay Packers will play for an NFC Championship Game berth Saturday night in the Georgia Dome.
The game will kickoff at 8:00 Saturday night in the Georgia Dome and will be televised on FOX. Joe Buck and Troy Aikman will be the commentators for the game.
This is a rematch of their Thanksgiving weekend battle which the Falcons won 20-17. And if the second game is anything like the first one, we are in for a real treat.
But before I get to the keys of this upcoming game it is important to note what happened in their first meeting.
The Green Bay Packers trailed 17-10 going into the final minutes of the fourth quarter. They would get down into the redzone and Aaron Rodgers connected on a ten-yard pass to tie the game up at 17 with 56 seconds left on the clock.
But that was 56 seconds too much for Matt Ryan and this Atlanta Falcons offense.
Aaron Rodgers and the Packers thought that this game was going into to overtime, but the Falcons offense never blinked.
It started with a 40-yard return as well as a 15-yard penalty so the Falcons had the ball on the Packers 49-yard line.
Matt Ryan would then go 4-5 for 20 yards to set up Matt Bryant for a game winning field goal. Bryant would then kick a 47-yard field goal with nine seconds left and the Falcons were victorious 20-17.
If Act II is anything like Act I, then we are in for a real treat. Here are the keys to this Divisional Round game.
1. Running the Ball
The Packers leading rusher against the Falcons in their first meeting was Aaron Rodgers. If he is their leading rusher again, the Packers will lose.
The Packers have struggled throughout the year running the ball, but were able to run for 138 yards against the Eagles.
Enter Rookie, 6th-round pick from Buffalo, James Starks.
Before the Eagles game he only appeared in three games and ran for a combined 101 yards on 29 carries. But in the Eagles game he led the team with 123 yards on 23 carries. The rest of the team ran nine times for 15 yards.
If the Falcons can shut down James Starks and contain Aaron Rodgers in the pocket, it will become very difficult for the Packers to win.
In order for the Packers to win they will need to rush for at least 100 yards, if they don’t the Falcons will win—plain and simple.
The same holds true for the Falcons. They also have to be able to run the ball as well.. Michael Turner ran for 110 yards in their first meeting on 23 carries and scored once. If the Falcons are going to win they need to establish their running game, and they can’t fumble it at the goal line.
2. Roddy White and Greg Jennings
Roddy White needs to find the endzone—Plain and Simple.
The Packers defense did a good job against Roddy White in their first matchup holding him to 5 receptions and 49 yards. Tony Gonzalez led the team with six catches for 51 yards.
But covering the best receiver in the NFC that well again will prove to be a very difficult task.
If Clay Matthews goes after Matt Ryan throughout the game, the Packers will have a hard time covering Tony Gonzalez.
Roddy White will need to be more effective, but still look for Tony Gonzalez to be the leading receiver for the Falcons Saturday night.
Enter the second leading receiver in the NFC, Greg Jennings. In 2010, Jennings caught 12 touchdowns this year, had 76 receptions for 1265 yards.
In the first matchup Jennings would also have 5 receptions, but he averaged 23.8 yards per reception and ended up with 119 yards.
For the Falcons to win they will need to reduce that number to at least under 100 yards. They cannot have Aaron Rodgers be able to throw for 344 yards like he did in the first ball game.
3. Matt Ryan and Aaron Rodgers
These are two of the best young quarterbacks we have in this game today.
Aaron Rodgers is 27 years old and Matt Ryan is 25 years old.
Other names you could also include are Philip Rivers (29) and Joe Flacco (25).
The two quarterbacks in this game both do something that is very important—they don’t make many mistakes. Just look at their stats from the first game.
Aaron Rodgers: 26-35, 344 yards, 1 TD, 0 INT
Matt Ryan: 24-28, 197 yards, 1 TD, 0 INT
Combined: 50-63, 541 yards, 2 TD, 0 INT
I know that I have said that stats are for losers—but if you watched the game you saw a great game from the quarterback position.
You saw one quarterback drive down the field and throw a 10-yard touchdown pass to tie the game up at 17 with 56 seconds left. That was Aaron Rodgers.
Then you saw the other quarterback lead his team into field goal range to set up their team with a game-winning 47-yard field goal. That was Matt Ryan.
If this past game wasn’t an indication of how good these young quarterbacks are, then you are in for a real treat Saturday night.
I see both of these quarterbacks putting up great performances, but if one quarterback struggles, look for the other team to win.
4. Mistakes and Execution
Mark this down for every game played this weekend. Every single game will come down to who executes better, and who makes fewer mistakes.
I know it’s elementary, but it really is the truth.
The Falcons offense, for the most part, has been one of the most consistent offenses in the NFL. And the reason for this is execution, they just do it better than anyone else.
In the first matchup between these teams, the Falcons were able to capitalize on the Packers mistakes. The Packers turned the ball over twice, and the Falcons didn’t turn the ball over.
The biggest one being the fumble by Aaron Rodgers at the goal line in the second quarter. The Falcons responded with a 14-play, 80 yard touchdown drive that ended the first half. The Falcons would lead 10-3 at the half.
This really isn’t something that you can see coming, it is something that will be seen throughout the 60 minutes of football on Saturday, like all of these keys.
But until then, it is just fans being fans and pure speculation on our part. Speculation will become fact, and this will all be put to rest come Saturday night.
5. It Is In Georgia Dome
I don’t care that Matt Ryan lost to the Saints earlier this season. Ryan and the Atlanta Falcons are still a very tough team to beat in the Georgia Dome. He has only lost 2 games during his career at home.
But his success isn’t just limited to the Georgia Dome and Atlanta. No other QB since 1970 has won more games than he did in his first three years—he tied Dan Marino with 33 wins.
There is just something special about this Falcons team playing in the Georgia Dome. And to be honest—I am not exactly sure why.
They are 7-1 this year in the Georgia Dome and it is a very difficult task for any team to beat the Falcons in Atlanta.
The Georgia Dome will be rocking Saturday night and I can’t wait to be there. It will be a great atmosphere as the result of a great game.
For my prediction of the game, read more at Sports with Mike