Only 8 teams are left standing as the NFL Divisional Round playoffs are here. The Packers (11-6) return to the Georgia Dome to face the Atlanta Falcons (13-3) Saturday night. While I was very comfortable picking the Packers over the Eagles in the Wild Card round last week, there's a little uneasiness this time around. Just like the contest November 28, a 20-17 Falcons victory, decided on a Matt Bryant field goal with :09 to play, this one is almost too close to call. Let's look at the game from both sides.
Why the Packers will win
They're hot and battled tested, having won three straight do or die games. Aaron Rodgers is playing at a peak level, James Starks delivered a huge jolt to the running game last week in Philly with 123 yards, the defense is playing fast and aggressive and the special teams units have become much more consistent. If the Packers are to win, they'll need to maximize every posession against a team that limits the number of times the opponent gets the ball. Balance between the run and pass would be helpful, but not critical after Rodgers shredded the Atanta secondary in the first meeting. The defense must do a much better job getting Michael Turner to the ground. He broke far too many tackles in his 110 yard effort last time, allowing Matt Ryan to play a close to the vest, short passing game, completing 24 of 28 passes. Forcing Ryan to convert third downs at 7 to 10 yards wil give the Packers a better opportunity to blitz and possibly take the ball away downfield. Eric Weems must be held in check. The Pro Bowl return man set up the game winning field goal with a 40 yard runback in November. Considered the most dangeous 6 seed in the past few years, the confidence level of Mike McCarthy and the players could be enough to carry them through.
Why the Falcons will win
They almost always do at home, 20-4 under Mike Smith, Ryan is 20-2 as the starting quarterback. This is a team that doesn't beat itself, only 19 giveaways and a league low 58 penalties on the season. They have a ball control back in Turner. Atlanta finished third in time of posession. Their defense doesn't feature a true superstar beyond John Abraham perhaps with his 13 sacks, 15 different players have snared at least one interception and Bryant is having that kind of year, 4 game winning kicks and he's hit 26 of 29 field goals on the season.
What the guys are saying...
Here's a collection of comments from McCarthy and the players as the Packers march to Atlanta to try and reach the NFC Championship game for the second time in 4 years.