Time to break down what to expect in today's NFL Playoff Game between the Green Bay Packers and Atlanta Falcons.
The Packers and Falcons have faced off twice previously in postseason play, with Green Bay earning a 37-20 home win in a 1995 NFC First Round Playoff and Atlanta stunning the Packers in Wisconsin by a 27-7 score in the opening round of the 2002 NFC Playoffs. That latter game marked the first postseason loss at Lambeau Field in the Packers' history.
Atlanta's three-point decision over the Packers in Week 12 evened the regular- season series between the teams at 12-12. That was Green Bay's first visit to the Georgia Dome since a 33-25 triumph during the 2005 season.
Smith is 1-1 in his career against the Packers, while Green Bay's Mike McCarthy owns the same record versus both Smith and Atlanta. McCarthy improved to 2-2 in the postseason with last weekend's win, while Smith lost his only prior playoff game as a head coach.
WHEN THE PACKERS HAVE THE BALL
Starks (101 rushing yards in the regular season) took pressure off of Rodgers and made McCarthy's plan of running the football a major success last week. The sixth-round draft pick out of the University of Buffalo broke the previous Green Bay rookie record for rushing yards in a playoff game, as Travis Williams had 88 yards against the Los Angeles Rams back on Dec. 23, 1967. Starks' road to glory was a bumpy one, however, as he missed the first 11 games of the season due to a hamstring injury and appeared in just three games prior to Sunday's breakout. Rodgers (3,922 passing yards, 28 TD, 11 INT) did just enough to earn his first playoff win, completing 18-of-27 passes for 180 yards and three touchdowns. He was 28-of-42 for 422 yards with four scoring passes and an interception and a lost fumble in last year's 51-45 overtime loss at Arizona in the NFC Wild Card round. Rodgers set an NFL record with seven touchdown passes in his first two playoff starts, and is the first quarterback to throw for that many scoring strikes in a two-game span in the playoffs since New Orleans' Aaron Brooks tossed six from 2000-01. Rodgers can spread the ball around with Jennings (76 receptions, 1,265 yards, 12 TD), who was held to one catch for eight yards against the Eagles, Donald Driver (51 receptions, 4 TD), James Jones (50 receptions, 5 TD), Jordy Nelson and tight end Andrew Quarless all options for Saturday's game.
The Eagles weren't expecting Starks to explode for more than 100 yards rushing last weekend, so it's very important for Atlanta defensive coordinator Brian Van Gorder to make sure his front line and linebackers are aware of the possibility of another breakout performance. That being said, the Falcons must also apply pressure up front on Rodgers, who can light it up at any time. Abraham (41 tackles, 13 sacks) and defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux (27 tackles, 4 sacks) are Van Gorder's best pass rushers and defensive end Biermann (36 tackles, 3 sacks) should see one-on-one matchups with Abraham getting double-teamed and finding max protection on his side. Middle linebacker Curtis Lofton (118 tackles, 2 sacks) will be calling the schemes and can't get caught off guard. The Falcons were 10th in the league during the regular season with 105.9 rushing yards allowed per game, while ranking 22nd in passing yards surrendered (226.6 ypg). Defensive backs Brent Grimes (87 tackles) and William Moore (71 tackles) finished tied for the team lead in interceptions with five apiece. Getting a few of those on Saturday will make Atlanta's chances of winning even greater. Grimes was first on the team with 23 passes defensed as well. Cornerback Dunta Robinson (55 tackles, INT) and Grimes still figure to have their hands full with Green Bay's solid quartet of wideouts, however.
WHEN THE FALCONS HAVE THE BALL
If the Falcons played at home every time, they might be Super Bowl champions with ease. They are 20-4 there under Smith and hope the bye week was more than enough to heal and prepare for Green Bay's relentless defense. Turner (1,371 rushing yards, 12 TD) had 110 yards and a touchdown on 23 carries in the first meeting, while Ryan (3,705 passing yards, 28 TD, 9 INT) and the Falcons finished 15th in the league with an average of 222.9 passing per game this season. Ryan said this week he started preparing for the Packers right after they won, and complimented Green Bay for its ability to get up front and wreak havoc against opposing quarterbacks. He can only hope he can keep the ball out of the Packers' hands, especially the secondary. Ryan's exploits helped Atlanta capture the NFC's top seed for the first time since 1980, while the Falcons are 3-1 all-time at home in the postseason. Atlanta went 7-1 at the Georgia Dome in the regular season and is 20-2 at home with Ryan under center over the past three years. On top of having home-field advantage, Ryan alluded to how important it will be to get the running game going on Sunday. He enjoys playing in a balanced offense and does his part, as do wide receiver Roddy White and tight end Tony Gonzalez. White (115 receptions, 1,389 yards, 10 TD) set club records for most receptions and receiving yards in a season, while Gonzalez (70 receptions, 6 TD) was second on the team in catches.
Green Bay came up with several big stops against the Eagles, and cornerback Tramon Williams (57 tackles, 6 INT) sealed the win with an interception of Vick in the closing seconds, after Philadelphia was able to creep back after the Packers grabbed a seemingly-comfortable lead. All-Pro cornerback Charles Woodson (92 tackles, 2 INT) recorded a team-high six tackles last weekend and will team up with Williams in hopes of containing the Ryan-to-White connection. White was held to 49 yards on five catches in the first meeting with Green Bay this season, while Gonzalez led the victors with 51 yards and a touchdown on six catches. His score came on a drive after Rodgers fumbled at the goal line. Capers' 3-4 scheme is vulnerable to the run, but didn't have to worry during the Wild Card round since the Eagles abandoned that aspect after falling behind early. Capers has the players to stop Turner, who's one of the best backs in the league. Matthews (60 tackles, 14 sacks) will be counted on to disrupt Atlanta's timing by applying pressure up front, while inside linebackers A.J. Hawk (111 tackles, 3 INT) and Bishop (103 tackles, 3 sacks) will be busy for a Green Bay defense that finished 18th in the NFL with an average of 114.9 rushing yards allowed per game this season. Wynn, Matthews and Bishop each posted a sack in Philadelphia, while defensive end Cullen Jenkins (18 tackles, 7 sacks) returned from a four-game absence last week.
Packers kicker Mason Crosby didn't have to make any field goal attempts last week, but did connect on all three PAT tries. Crosby booted 8-of-10 field goals between 40-49 yards in the regular season and will be playing indoors Saturday night, making his chances of success even greater. Nelson and Sam Shields had 22 and 21 kickoff returns, respectively, during the regular season, but the Packers averaged just 14.7 yards on four kickoff returns in Philadelphia. Starks, Woodson and Shields each had a return. Williams returned a pair of punts for a total of 18 yards last week and had 41 runbacks for 326 yards in the regular season. Punter Tim Masthay posted 43.9 yards per kick in the 16-game regular season and averaged 36.5 yards on four booms against the Eagles.
Falcons kicker Matt Bryant also nailed 8-of-10 tries between 40-49 yards during the regular season and connected on his only try of 50 or more yards. He kicked the second-longest game-winning field goal in NFL history after splitting the uprights on a 62-yarder against Philadelphia in 2006, while then with Tampa Bay. Punter Michael Koenen averaged 40.7 yards on 74 punts this season. Eric Weems is a dangerous return man and had 40 kick runbacks for an average of 27.5 yards. He also posted 12.8 yards on 18 punt returns and scored a touchdown in both areas this season. He had a 102-yard kickoff return for a score at Tampa Bay on Dec.5 and a 55-yard punt return for a touchdown versus Carolina on Jan. 2.