Win tonight. Go to the Super Bowl. So sayeth I. (Sorry. I saw, “The King’s Speech” last night and got carried away with the whole English thing.)
Most believe the Falcons and Green Bay are the two best teams in the NFC. They just happened to be meeting in the conference semifinals. I fully expect the winner of this game to beat the winner of Sunday’s Chicago-Seattle semi. So winning today could mean a trip to Dallas.
It has been nearly two weeks since the Falcons last played — a lopsided home win over Carolina. It has been only six days since Green Bay played — last Sunday’s win in Philadelphia in the wild card game. Logic says the Falcons will be rested and the Packers will be beat up. (Remember, this is a team that also had to scramble down the stretch and win its last two regular season games just to make the playoffs.) What we can’t predict is whether the week off will affect the Falcons’ timing, but I doubt it.
Is Green Bay a better team? When healthy and at full strength, probably. But neither of those two are the case right now. The Packers lost running back Ryan Grant in the season opener and generally haven’t been able to run the ball this season, last week’s win over the Eagles notwithstanding (seldom-used rookie James Starks rushed for 123 yards).
The Falcons’ keys are fairly obvious and I touched on a couple of them during the week. But here they are:
– Get running back Michael Turner going. Turner has been good this year but not consistent. Green Bay’s defense this season ranked fifth against the pass but only 18th against the run, and Turner rushed for a 110 yards and a touchdown when the teams met in Nov. If he can duplicate that feat, it helps quarterback Matt Ryan. Which leads to . . .
– As a I wrote earlier in the week, Ryan has shown he can win games in the fourth quarter. But the Falcons are not at their best if they’re a pass-dominated offense. They need balance. Ryan has excelled this season in clutch situations and threw a career-low nine interceptions with a career-high 28 touchdowns. That stems from making good choices. Assuming that continues tonight, the Falcons will be fine.
– Defensive end John Abraham has had one of the best seasons of his career with 13 sacks, two forced fumbles and an interception, despite the backdrop of his mother battling lymphoma. The defense needs to get pressure on Rodgers and move him off the spot (to use a football phrase). Abraham is the key to that. He’ll be opposed by Packers left tackle Chad Clifton.
That’s it for now, I’ll be here blogging all game. Before I go, for what it’s worth, here are some odds from the online sports book Bodog (for entertainment purposes only, of course). The Falcons are anywhere from a 1½-to-3-point favorite.Odds to win the 2011 Super Bowl XLV New England Patriots 8/5 Atlanta Falcons 11/2 Green Bay Packers 11/2 Pittsburgh Steelers 6/1 Chicago Bears 8/1 Baltimore Ravens 9/1 New York Jets 12/1 Seattle Seahawks 40/1 Odds to win the 2011 AFC New England Patriots 5/7 Pittsburgh Steelers 3/1 Baltimore Ravens 5/1 New York Jets 15/2 Odds to win the 2011 NFC Atlanta Falcons 8/5 Chicago Bears 2/1 Green Bay Packers 11/5 Seattle Seahawks 14/1 ♦
Falcons blogs from the week: