Well, the table is set, the teams have been chosen, and it’s finally time for the greatest weekend in sports: Championship weekend! And to gear you up, we’ll take a look at the two matchups that will define the weekend, and give you what to watch for from each team and up next: the NFC Championship between the Atlanta Falcons and Green Bay Packers.
GREEN BAY PACKERS
Keys to Victory:
I mean, this one is easy, right? It’s Aaron Rodgers, and everything he means to this team. Rodgers has played like one of the greatest QBs of all-time in the last ten weeks, and the Packers are just absolutely the hottest team in football over that stretch. If Rodgers is half as good as he’s been, the Packers are going to win this game.
But let’s also not kid ourselves: the Packers are as good as Rodgers, but they’ll need to be better against Ryan and the Falcons. And that means that the offense around him has to step up. Namely, the man needs a running game. The Packers have gotten by just letting Rodgers fling it, but they’re facing an offense that can score at an historical level.
Through 5,207 career passes
40,999 YDS / 331 TD / 81 INT / 103.7 QBR
37,580 YDS / 274 TD / 118 INT / 93.1 QBR
— Joe (@SportTaIkJoe) January 16, 2017
And that also means they’ll need some output from the defense, and that probably means forcing turnovers. They did it to the Cowboys, and it ultimately led to their early lead. But once the Cowboys got settled, there was little that the Packers defense could stop. That can’t happen this weekend, as the Falcons will not go that long without scoring, or spot you a 21-3 lead in the first half. Also, making someone other that Jones beat you may be a good idea.
.@AaronRodgers12 in his last 8 games?
— NFL (@NFL) January 17, 2017
X-Factor: Everyone Not Named Aaron Rodgers
Seriously, this game will be decided by everyone not wearing #12. If we get the Packers supporting staff that has shown up before, it’s on. But if we get that performance we got in the second half against Dallas, it’s going to be a lot of hero-ball for Mr. Rodgers. They’ll need everything firing on all cylinders to keep up wit the Falcons offense, and that means some help from everyone but superman.
Keys to Victory:
Matt Ryan turned himself to an MVP candidate in just a season, and the Falcons seriously look legit. Especially in the last part of the season, this offense has been close to unstoppable. But let’s not forget the reason so many doubted the Falcons coming into the postseason and even before it: Matt Ryan. The Falcons are the epitome of bridesmaid but never bride, and it’s been mistakes by Ryan to blame. He can’t turn into a pumpkin and expect to get to move on. They got here on his arm, and they’ll need it again.
Matt Ryan’s 125.7 passer rating is the highest any QB has ever registered against this Seattle team in the playoffs.
— Cody Swartz (@cbswartz5) January 15, 2017
Julio Jones is a freak of an athlete, but I can promise that the Packers are going to do everything they can to limit any targets to him. That means the rest of the offense has to keep Ryan comfortable, from the running game to his receivers. They’ll need some output in the short passing game, and some points to keep the Packers from jumping out quickly.
And of course, it will be on the defense to limit how much Rodgers does. Vic Beasley has created a pass rush in Atlanta that they’ve been missing, but he’s yet to see a QB like Rodgers. The first couple of drives will set the tone for the day, and the Falcons can’t afford to let the Packers cut off that home field advantage early with some deflating opening scores.
— Atlanta Falcons (@AtlantaFalcons) January 16, 2017
X-Factor: Vic Beasley
Look, it could really be a toss up between Ryan and him, but Beasley’s ability to lead that defense or even get to Rodgers will decide this game. If Rodgers is allowed to sit back in the pocket and make his progressions, it will be a long day. But, if they get to him and make him sweat, it could be just enough to outscore those guys and get to their first Super Bowl in forever.