Week 14 wraps up with a battle of division leaders, as the Atlanta Falcons will take on the Green Bay Packers on ESPN’s “Monday Night Football.” Despite a 5-7 record the Falcons are leading the NFC South over the Saints (5-8) on the strength of a 4-0 record in divisional play, while the Packers (9-3) are battling the Lions (9-4) for the top spot in the NFC North. Green Bay also is the hottest team in the NFL, winners of four in a row, and is undefeated (6-0) at Lambeau Field.
This matchup features two of the more potent offenses, while both defenses rank closer to the bottom, statistically speaking. The last time Atlanta and Green Bay played each other was a year ago. In Week 14 last season, the Falcons enjoyed an 11-point halftime lead at Lambeau over a Packers team that was without an injured Aaron Rodgers (collarbone). Green Bay’s defense stiffened in the second half, and Matt Flynn capitalized on an early fourth-quarter fumble by Matt Ryan, putting the Packers ahead for good with a short touchdown pass to tight end Andrew Quarless.
Without that 22-21 victory over Atlanta, Green Bay’s 2013 season pretty much would have been over. Prior to that game, the Packers had gone 0-3-1 without Rodgers under center. The come-from-behind win against Atlanta allowed Green Bay to even its record at 6-6-1. The Packers would go on to win two of their final three games, including a Week 17 33-28 victory in Chicago, which gave the Packers (8-7-1) the NFC North crown over the Bears (8-8). Without that win over Atlanta, Green Bay not only wouldn’t have won the division title, it also would have been shut out of the playoffs because Dallas (8-8) would have earned the second Wild Card berth.
Atlanta Falcons at Green Bay Packers
Kickoff: 8:30 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ESPN
Spread: Green Bay -13
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Atlanta’s Key to Victory: Fight Fire with Fire
The Falcons are coming off of their most impressive and surprising win of the season, a 29-18 victory at home against Arizona. The Cardinals entered Week 13 tied with Denver and New England for the best record (9-2) in the NFL and with a defense that had given up more than 20 points just once. Atlanta changed both of these statistics, as the Falcons jumped out to a 17-0 lead and pretty much outplayed the favored Cardinals in all facets of the game. The 29-18 victory kept Atlanta in first place in the NFC South, as the Falcons piled up 500 total yards of offense against one of the league’s better defenses. This week Atlanta faces a new challenge in trying to beat Green Bay at home. The Packers are second in the league in scoring and have been unstoppable at home. They are averaging 40.8 points per game at Lambeau Field and have beaten opponents by an average of 23 points. If the Falcons have any hopes of overcoming these trends, they will need to try and match Green Bay’s offensive firepower. Atlanta torched Arizona for 358 yards passing and that should be the goal tonight too. Statistically, the Packers’ defense has done a pretty good against the pass (235.4 ypg, 11th), but cornerback Sam Shields may not play due to a concussion and this unit has had some trouble against teams with potent passing attacks. Provided Roddy White returns after missing last week because of an ankle injury, the Falcons will definitely have some weapons to attack Green Bay’s secondary with, most notably Julio Jones. And any success through the air should help a running game take advantage of the Packers’ true defensive weak spot – stopping the run. Green Bay is 28th against the run, giving up 4.5 yards per carry and 132.3 yards per game. Atlanta rushed for 142 yards last week against a Cardinals defense that still ranks among the best in that category. Regardless of whether it’s through the air or on the ground, the Falcons will need to be offensive tonight if they have any hope of beating the Packers on their own turf.
[inline_team_schedule team-id=25 date=20141106 sport=nfl upcoming=1 limit=8][/inline_team_schedule]
Green Bay’s Key to Victory: Stay the Course
As far as the Packers are concerned, the phrase “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” certainly applies. Green Bay has won four in a row and eight of nine behind an MVP-caliber performance from Aaron Rodgers. The 2011 MVP, Rodgers is well on his way to winning a second. The league’s highest-rated passer (118.6), Rodgers has thrown 32 touchdown passes and just three interceptions, despite leading the way in yards per attempt (8.75). He’s been flawless (20 TDs, 0 INTs) at home, a big reason why the Packers are 6-0 at Lambeau. Green Bay beat New England 26-21 last week behind 478 yards of offense, while holding the Patriots to just 320 yards. The Packers’ defense has had its issues and the statistics aren’t that impressive, but this unit has been playing much better recently. Since a 44-23 Week 8 loss in New Orleans, Green Bay’s defense has given up an average of 19 points per game during its four-game winning streak. The bottom line is with Rodgers playing as well as he has, the Packers don’t need their defense to completely shut down opponents. Even with a running game that’s been inconsistent at times, Green Bay continues to win at an impressive clip. It’s pretty clear that the game plan is working right now, so there’s certainly no reason to change it up against the Falcons tonight.
Credit to Atlanta for proving a lot of people wrong in handily beating Arizona last week. And even though the Falcons enter tonight two games below .500, they are in the driver's seat to win the NFC South, which would get them into the playoffs. However, much will happen between now and the end of the regular season, and with tonight’s matchup against the NFL’s hottest team, the Falcons need to focus on the “now.” Speaking of “now,” Green Bay is on a serious roll and the Packers have been especially tough at home. Matt Ryan is a Pro Bowl-caliber quarterback, but Aaron Rodgers is making a strong case for his second MVP award. Offense should take center stage tonight, and there’s no one in the league doing that better right now than Rodgers and company.