Green Bay Packers vs. Atlanta Falcons: Prediction, preview, pick to win

By The Sports Xchange
Matt Ryan and the Atlanta Falcons meet the Green Bay Packers on Sunday in a rematch of last season's NFC championship game. Photo by Kamil Krzaczynski/UPI
Matt Ryan and the Atlanta Falcons meet the Green Bay Packers on Sunday in a rematch of last season's NFC championship game. Photo by Kamil Krzaczynski/UPI | License Photo


KICKOFF: Sunday, 8:30 p.m. ET, Mercedes-Benz Stadium. TV: NBC, Al Michaels, Cris Collinsworth, Michele Tafoya.


SERIES HISTORY: 29th regular-season meeting. Packers lead series, 15-13. The Falcons beat the Packers in the regular season in 2016 and thumped them 44-21 in the NFC Championship Game last season to earn the franchise's second trip to the Super Bowl.

KEYS TO THE GAME: The Falcons will be on alert for possible scrambles from Packers QB Aaron Rodgers when he extends plays and when he tries to take shots and cash in on free plays with his cadence. He had four free shots against Seattle.

"He's fantastic on the move with the way he can improvise and get out of the pocket," Falcons coach Dan Quinn said. "When you can extend plays, that makes it difficult because now the coverage definitely turns in."


When he gets loose, the Falcons may have to jump out of a zone coverage and convert to man on the fly.

"We use the term, 'Plaster' when a quarterback breaks contain," Quinn said. "He can also run for some first downs when he needs to. They have a really unique style that they play."


--Packers TE Martellus Bennett vs. Falcons SS Keanu Neal. Bennett caught three of six targets for 43 yards against Seattle as the Packers moved him around in different formations. "He's a good matchup guy," Quinn said. The Falcons have the option of using Neal or strong-side linebacker DeVondre Campbell to cover Bennett. Campbell had a pass breakup against the Bears.

--Packers WR Randall Cobb vs. Falcons CB Brian Poole. The Packers like to hit Cobb on short quick routes so he can make a move and get in the open field. Poole is a tough defender and strong open-field tackler. Cobb caught six passes for 82 yards in the NFC Championship Game against the Falcons last season. He caught nine passes vs. Seattle.


PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Falcons TE Austin Hooper. He caught two passes for 128 yards, including an 88-yard touchdown catch-and-run, in the season opener against the Chicago Bears. The second-year player from Stanford is taking over as the starter from Jacob Tamme, who was not re-signed.

"I knew he had some speed," QB Matt Ryan said when asked about Hooper's big season opener. "He's sneaky with his ability to run. He's had to work extremely hard this offseason. I'm proud of the way he handled that. Sometimes, it's tough after your rookie year. You're tired, you're beat up, (you must) find the right mindset to get back and work and get better. I thought Austin did a great job at that this year."

FAST FACTS: Packers QB Aaron Rodgers has passed for 300 yards in five of his past six games, including the postseason. Rodgers has a 117 passer rating (2,279 yards, 19 TDs, 2 INTs) in seven career games against the Falcons. ... Falcons QB Matt Ryan has passed for 1,055 yards, 11 TDs and 1 INT in his past three performances, including the playoffs. His passer rating during that span is 129.1. ... Packers WR Jordy Nelson has 18 receptions for 307 yards and four touchdowns in his last three contests against Atlanta. ... Falcons DE Brooks Reid is coming off his second career multi-sack performance. Reed's takedown of Chicago QB Mike Glennon in the waning seconds preserved the Falcons' season-opening win.


PREDICTION: What a terrific prime-time matchup. In a nearly even game, the edge goes to the home team, particularly when one considers that it will be the first game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

OUR PICK: Falcons, 30-27.

--Tom Musick

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