The Atlanta Falcons come into the playoffs as one the under the radar 13-3 teams in recent seasons. There is not a lot of buzz that surrounds the Falcons unlike the Patriots with their score at will offense, the Jets with their swagger, the hard hitting tenacity of the Steelers, or the Bears with their odd combination of strong defense and unpredictable play at quarterback.
Since Mike Smith has been named the Falcons head coach in 2008, the team has seen a reversal of fortune. In the Falcons long history, they have never finished with three consecutive seasons with a record better than .500 until this stretch from 2008-10. In this period, the Falcons have accumulated a home record of 20-4. Some of those wins have been close, but it highlights that the Falcons organization has entrusted their success into quarterback Matt Ryan. Since being drafted by the Falcons in 2008, Matt Ryan has only lost TWO home games by a combined seven points.
Ryan has guided to the Falcons to the playoffs in two of the last three seasons. The Falcons quietly have seen the development of other players such as running back Michael Turner and wide receiver Roddy White. In the Falcons last playoff game, a wild card loss to eventual NFC Champion Arizona, Ryan threw for 199 yards and 2 touchdowns. However, Roddy White was the leading receiver with 11 catches and 84 yards.
In order to give Ryan another pass catching target, the Falcons traded for Tony Gonzales who holds every major tight end receiving record during the 2009 off-season.
In last week’s victory over the Eagles, the Packers discovered that they can run the football. James Starks who only ran for 101 yards during the regular season, surpassed that total with 123 yards rushing. The running game set up for quarterback Aaron Rodgers to throw for three touchdowns.
When the Packers faced the Falcons in Week 12, their defense held Matt Ryan to only 197 yards passing. The problem is that they were unable to stop him as he drove the team down the field with less than a minute to play and set up Matt Bryant to kick the game winning 47 yard field goal.
Even though the Falcons have a lot going for them as a franchise, the Packers appear to be playing their best football right now.
THE PICK: Packers 27, Falcons 23