The 2017 NFC Championship game will be played Sunday between two remarkably similar teams. The Packers and Falcons both sport high-powered offenses and leaky defenses, leading Vegas to open the over/under line at an incredible 60.5 points. Hopefully, we’ll see a game that lives up to that entertaining expectation.
To preview the game, I’ll be taking a look at how each unit matches up with the same unit of their opponent. I realize this is a useless exercise, but just try to stop me. First, we’ll compare offenses.
***DISCLAIMER*** Remember that this exercise, as with any exercise comparing units that will never be on the field at the same time, is pointless and just for fun. Any stat referencing a quarterbacks record against another quarterback is almost as useless. Aaron Rodgers has never scored against Jay Cutler. He’s scored against the Bears defense.
Falcons: Matt Ryan
Packers: Aaron Rodgers
These are probably the two leading candidates for MVP in the league so far. If you look at the stats, Ryan has the advantage. But anyone who would rather have Ryan start at quarterback for their team in a playoff game is either a delusional Falcons fan or Skip Bayless (also delusional).
Rodgers has torn up the league over the last few months. His statistics over that stretch (2384 yards/ 21 TDs/ 1 INT/ 68.9%) are impressive, but Ryan supporters are quick to point out that the Falcons QB has put up similar numbers (2350 yards/ 14 TDs/ 0 INTs/ 73.2%) over the same stretch.
Both are playing great football lately, but the reason people aren’t gushing over Ryan the way they are over Rodgers isn’t because he’s a bigger name. It’s because individual plays and throws he’s making are absolutely ridiculous. The man is possessed. Some of Ryan’s credit must go to Falcons Offensive Coordinator Kyle Shanahan for his impressive play designs, while Rodgers is making his own plays happen.
Falcons: Devonta Freeman, Tevin Coleman
Packers: Ty Montgomery, Aaron Ripkowski, Christine Michael
Clearly the advantage goes to the Packers here. Their versatility between a speedy hole-hitter like Michael and a physically imposing bulldozer like Ripkowski (not to even mention Montgomery as their best all-around back) gives them an obvious edge.
I’m definitely joking, but the Packers have slapped together a serviceable ground game in the last few weeks. When you look at where they were around the middle of the season (players like Knile Davis and Don Jackson were getting serious playing time), Montgomery, Ripkowski, and Michael have done a great job at picking up chunks to set up the passing game. That’s their real attribute.
That’s why the Falcons are better here. The Packers run the ball because they have to to keep defenses honest. The Falcons run the ball because it works. Freeman and Coleman are so versatile and Shanahan utilizes that versatility. Both are big playmakers and just as likely a reason they’ll beat you as Ryan is with his arm.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends
Falcons: Julio Jones, Mohamed Sanu, Taylor Gabriel, Austin Hooper
Packers: Jordy Nelson, Davante Adams, Randall Cobb, Geronimo Allison, Trevor Davis, Jared Cook, Ty Montgomery(?)
This is a hard group to analyze because we still don’t know who is going to play or how effective they will be. Jones didn’t practice Wednesday or Thursday, but says he’ll play (it’s worth noting that Jones was injured early in the Week 8 game against the Packers and continued to play, but posted a line of three receptions for 29 yards while hobbled), and Gabriel was limited on Wednesday and Thursday in practice. That’s likely more precautionary, but Gabriel relies on his explosiveness to make plays and any hampering of that explosiveness turns him into a “meh” weapon.
The Packers are even more banged up. Nelson, Adams, and Allison are all questionable and Coach Mike McCarthy said that if it were a regular season game, none of them would play. But because it’s the NFC Championship game, certainly at least one of them will be out there. I think Nelson is the least likely as he’d be playing with broken ribs and breathing issues. Adams’ ankle twisted underneath a defender against the Cowboys, but he returned to the game. Allison has a hamstring issue we know less about.
I included Ty Montgomery here as a Wideout as well because if the Packers are as hobbled at that position as it seems, they may need Montgomery to line up there. If you didn’t know from the 50 times a game the announcers mention it, Montgomery is a converted wide receiver.
If everyone here were healthy, the edge would go to the Falcons because Julio Jones is the best receiver on the planet, but there’s so much we don’t know about everyone’s availability and effectiveness. Still, it seems the Falcons top weapons have a better chance to play than the Packers.
Falcons: Jake Matthews, Andy Levitre, Alex Mack, Chris Chester, Ryan Schraeder
Packers: David Bakhtiari, Lane Taylor, Corey Linsley, TJ Lang, Bryan Bulaga
These are two of the best lines in the NFL, point blank. The Cowboys got all the love this year, and that’s deserved, but these two are right there with them. Watch those clips of Aaron Rodgers shuffling around in the pocket for eight seconds and focus on the offensive line. Nobody’s holding and none of the pass rushers get a clean angle on Rodgers. Some credit goes to Rodgers for reading the pocket, but it’s still really impressive what they’re doing up front.
And the Falcons are the only team in the NFL to start the same five up front in every game this season. Personnel continuity is most important on the offensive line – those five players work as a single unit more than any other group on the field – and that’s clear in Atlanta. Mack is their best player on the line, but it’s the group of them that have kept Ryan clean and holes open all year for the rushing attack.
The Packers’ line is a better pass-blocking unit, but the Falcons are probably better run-blocking. It’s a close call.