Sunday, January 22, 2017

NFL NFC Championship: Packers vs. Falcons preview and prediction

After the epic win in Dallas in the NFC Divisional Playoff, and for the second time in three years, the Green Bay Packers are in the NFC Championship Game. As Packers fans, we can only hope and pray that this game turns out better than the last (the horror...the horr0r...).

We awoke to good news for starters: according to the NFL Network, wide receivers Jordy Nelson, Davante Adams and Geronimo Allison are all expected to play today. This was very much in question over the last few days as all have been nursing injuries, none more so than Nelson who has two broken ribs. The thinking might be (OK, this is my thinking) that even if Nelson can only be on the field part of the time, and not even be thrown to (to try to protect those ribs), he will have to be covered; that takes one defender away from another receiver who could perhaps otherwise receive double coverage. In other words, Nelson as decoy. The Pack have three additional receivers active today (not including Ty Montgomery), which is one more than typical...for insurance purposes, it would seem.
The Packers need to get pumped and play 60 minutes of outstanding football -- on both sides of the ball -- to win today.
Photo by Mark Hoffman, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

It is interesting to note, however, that the Packers did elevate one of their practice squad receivers yesterday to the 53-man roster: Max McCaffrey. (If that name sounds familiar it is because he is the son of former Pro Bowl receiver Ed McCaffrey and the older brother of Christian McCaffrey, whom we know is currently projected as a first-round pick in this year's NFL draft.) The Pack signed him to the practice squad in December after he was released by the Raiders. He was undrafted out of Duke and has yet to play in an NFL game. To make room for McCaffrey, the Packers put center JC Tretter on the injured reserve list.

The Packers, fortunately, have great depth at receiver and that depth will be needed today. Of course, the Pack also has TE Jared Cook who has been nothing short of amazing since returning from injury earlier in the season. Recall that he did not play in the earlier loss to the Falcons, nor did Montgomery. It's all hands on deck.

Atlanta is averaging over 35 points per game at home. The Falcons earlier season win against the Pack was by one point, 33-32. So stop the presses! There will be points scored today. The record for points for a NFL championship game is 73. We believe it will be more than that today.

Neither of these two teams boasts outstanding defenses. Both are near the bottom of the standings. Atlanta is actually 32nd in red zone defense. So the more often the Packers can get into the red zone, the better. Pass protection for both teams is very good. Atlanta is the only team in the league that has had all five starters on the offensive line start every game this season. Amazing. The Packers O-line give Rodgers time to work outside of the pocket and find receivers downfield. So it's going to be an offensive battle and the defense that can generate a turnover or two, or make a stop, is likely the team that will come out on top. It may very well come down to "whoever has the ball last wins," just like last weekend versus the Cowboys. So get your heart medication ready again, Packer fans.

It's getting close to about 2 hours to game time and we could go on and on. But we won't. Let's get to the prediction.

The Prediction
You've already read here and elsewhere that the expectation is for a high-scoring game. The Falcons are favored by 5 points, which seems a bit off, despite Atlanta coming into this game arguably as hot as the Packers. It is the final game in the George Dome so that might generate some additional energy for a while for the Dirty Birds. But if the Packers can get out early as they did last weekend, and the defense can get a turnover or two and make some key stops -- don't let that two-headed running attack of the Falcons get going, for example -- Rodgers and company should come out on top. Ty Montgomery should have a big day...and not just because it's his 24th birthday. Mike McCarthy will have a game plan in place to take advantage of the defense's weaknesses. Dom Capers will be as creative as he can be given the walking MASH unit that is the Packers' secondary. And if it comes down to the leg of kicker Mason Crosby, say it with me, "It's good!". (By the way, there's a great story about Crosby by Ryan Wood of the USA-Today Network-Wisconsin. Really gives you great insight into the mind of a kicker...especially this kicker.)

The Pack will be packing for Houston after this game's over. We're calling this one Packers 41 - Falcons 38.

Go Pack Go!!!