8:30 PM EST, NBC – Line: Falcons -2.5, Over/Under: 54
A rematch of last year’s NFC Championship Game is on tap from the newly minted Mercedes-Benz Stadium, as the Atlanta Falcons open their brand new stadium against the Green Bay Packers in a battle of NFC Favorites. Of course, the Packers (1-0, 1st in NFC North) would prefer for tonight’s contest NOT to end like it did the last time they traveled south to Atlanta, where their season ultimately came to a crashing halt in a 44-21 debacle, which saw them trailing by twenty-four points at Halftime. You can’t blame perennial MVP candidate Aaron Rodgers for the loss, for the two-time award-winner completed 27-of-45 Attempts for 287 Yards, three Touchdowns and an Interception, while rushing for another forty-seven Yards on four Carries. No, this one was squarely on Green Bay’s Defense, which was absolutely eviscerated by the hosts, who rung up a whopping 493 Total Yards, including 392 through the air. Then again, Mike McCarthy’s Secondary had become a proverbial Punching bag of sorts in 2016, as injuries rendered them all but useless, which was completely exploited by one of the most explosive passing attacks in the league. Let’s hope that they’ve figured this out in 2017, for after last weekend’s 17-9 slugfest against the Seahawks, the Defense looked better than they’ve been in well, quite a long time. Granted, Seattle has had plenty of problems offensively, particularly early in the season in recent years, but McCarthy and his Staff can’t help but feel encouraged with the play of this unit against one of the contenders in the NFC; the Packers limited Russell Wilson and Co. to a mere 225 Yards of Total Offense, including just 158 Yards on 14-of-27 passing, while relegating them visiting side to just 3-of-12 on Third Down. Furthermore, Green Bay really got after the elusive Wilson, routinely overpowering the Seahawks’ beleaguered Offensive Line, dropping the Quarterback in the backfield three times and forcing a Fumble, which they recovered. Defensive Tackle Mike Daniels in particular was a beast in the trenches, totaling seven Tackles, including 1.5 Sacks and the Forced Fumble, wrecking havoc behind the line of scrimmage on a regular basis. Offensively, Rodgers was masterful even in a low scoring affair; the thirteen-year veteran deftly probed Seattle’s vaunted Defense, completing a solid 28-of-42 Attempts for 311 Yards, a Touchdown and an Interception, while avoiding the rush as best he could, despite being sacked four times. As he typically does, Rodgers (65.7%, 4,428 YDS, 6.48 NY/A, 40 TD, 7 INT in 2016) did a great job of spreading the ball around, with Randall Cobb (9 REC, 85 YDS), Jordy Nelson (7 REC, 79 YDS, 1 TD), Davante Adams (3 REC, 47 YDS) and newly-acquired Tight End Martellus Bennett (3 REC, 43 YDS) all getting into the act. Of course, Atlanta poses a completely different set of problems this week, particularly for the Secondary, which must prove that they’ve come full circle from last year’s unit which was figuratively and literally held together by duct tape. McCarthy will be counting on the likes of Davon House, Quinten Rollins, and Damarious Randall to continue to play at a high level now that the injuries are in the past for the latter two.
Meanwhile, as their opponent laments the missed opportunity to advance to a Super Bowl, the Falcons (1-0, 1st in NFC South) must continue to live through the nightmare of blowing a 28-3 lead in that very game, eventually losing to the New England Patriots in Overtime. Plenty has been mentioned of Atlanta possibly suffering from the dreaded Super Bowl hangover which has plagued many a team that came up short on Super Sunday, and after last Weekend’s near defeat to the Chicago Bears, fuel has only been added to the fire of that particular discussion. When it’s all said and done, maybe the Bears will be a better team than we all thought they would be, but in the meantime, Dan Quinn’s charges dodged a very clear bullet from a team that they should’ve handled with relative ease. So what went wrong for the defending NFC Champions, you ask? Offensively, Matt Ryan and Co. stalled just about every time they crossed the host’s side of the field, settling for three Matt Bryant Field Goals on the day. Ryan (69.9%, 4,944 YDS, 8.25 NY/A, 38 TD, 7 INT in 2016), the reigning MVP, was solid if not spectacular, completing 21-of-30 Attempts for 321 Yards and a Touchdown, which went eighty-eight Yards to Tight End Austin Hooper, the longest scoring play the NFL has seen from that position in well over a decade. However, if you’re looking for a reason that the drives kept bogging down, look further than the Ground game, which was largely inept throughout the duration of the contest. The visiting side racked up just sixty-four yards on twenty-three Carries, with Dynamic Tailback Devonta Freeman (1,541 Total YDS, 13 TD in 2016) bottled up on thirty-nine Total Yards on fourteen touches. While they were able to create the explosive play through the air, there were none to be had on the ground, as the longest rushing play that Atlanta could muster was just seven Yards. Defensively, the Falcons may have turned in a solid performance strictly looking at the numbers, but there were plenty of occasions where Bears’ Quarterback Mike Glennon threatened them late. Chicago’s patient, balanced attack (125 Rushing Yards on 19 Carries) forced Quinn’s outfit to remain honest, as Gelnnon stepped up in the Pocket to connect on 26-of-40 Passes for 213 Yards and a Touchdown, despite taking four Sacks. The veteran Backup drove his side all the way down to the Falcons’ 5-Yard Line with just eight seconds left on the clock, only to see a pair of potential game-winning Touchdowns inexplicably dropped by his Receivers. Finally, on Fourth Down he was sacked by Brooks Reed, turning it over on Downs and effectively ending the contest. Needless to say, Atlanta will need a much more concerted effort from this side of the ball with the aforementioned Rodgers coming to town, as their young Defense looks to continue their development under Quinn and his Staff. Keep in mind that last year, this unit started four Rookies (most in the NFL) and improved markedly as the season progressed; the Falcons allowed 28.8 Points through the first nine games, but trimmed that figure down 21.0 Points over the final seven outings.