Players To Watch:
QB Aaron Rodgers– The MVP of the Packers won his first playoff game last Sunday with a solid passing performance and three touchdowns, although he could have had a 4th touchdown if receiver James Jones had learned to catch back in high school. Rodgers’ performance last time around against the Falcons was pretty good, but not good enough to win. He had 344 passing yards and his best rushing performance of the season, but a costly fumble near the goal line was major difference in the game. Rodgers will have to avoid those types of mistakes if the Packers want to get the best of a talented Falcons team. We know Rodgers can get the best of the Falcons defense, but touchdowns, not field goals, is what the Packers need.
RB James Starks – The 6th round pick out of Buffalo surprised many with his breakout performance against the Eagles. He is easily the best runner on the Packers with Ryan Grant on the sideline, but it will be interesting to see how much running plays Mike McCarthy will have in his game plan. The Falcons have a better than average rush defense, so it might be better for McCarthy to focus more on the passing game. The Packers only scored 21 points last game against a suspect Eagles defense, and it looked like the Packers were calling for far too many running plays in the 4th quarter trying to run down the clock when it would have been smarter to go for the jugular. Nonetheless, James Starks will be the featured back on Saturday, and his success early on will likely determine if the Packers go with the balanced or pass heavy attack.
CB Charles Woodson– Matt Ryan had an incredibly efficient game against the Packers in week 12, throwing 24 completions in only 28 attempts. If the Packers want to stop the Falcons offense this time around then they are going to have make life tougher for Ryan. Woodson is a big play specialist, constantly jumping routes, forcing fumbles, and making leaping tackles. His resurgence in Green Bay is due in large part to Dom Capers’ game plans which allow Woodson to use his playmaking abilities instead of solely playing coverage. Look for Woodson to be all over the field trying to deny Ryan’s first playoff win.
Key Matchup – RB Michael Turner v. DT B.J. Raji – The Packers have been a very good tackling team throughout the year, but one man who gave them trouble was Turner. He is a big, bruising back who stays low to the ground, and the Packers will need to step up their tackling if they want to stop the running game. This starts all up-front with Raji, who is a lot more mobile than he appears. Raji has really elevated his game in his 2nd year, and it will be his duty to wrap up Turner before he can get decent yardage.
Why the Packers Will Win – The Packers easily could have won against the Falcons the first time around, but mistakes will kill you against such a disciplined team. Because of the numerous injuries to many key Packers players, they have a new focus on limiting penalties and turnovers in order to win games. The victory against the Eagles was impressive, and showed that the Packers have one of the best defenses in the league. If the Packers defense can hold the Falcons to 21 points, which I think they will, Rodgers should be able to take care of the rest.
Prediction- Packers 27, Falcons 21