Positioned at 9-3, the Green Bay Packers are in prime spot to earn home-field advantage throughout the 2014 NFC playoffs or at least the first-round bye. But, even though they are tied for the best record in the National Football League, the NFC is loaded with high-quality teams, which means the Packers really, truly have no room for error.
With the Eagles and Cardinals both at 9-3, the Cowboys now 9-4 after last night’s win over Chicago and Seattle and Detroit both 8-4, one loss could drop the Packers from the No. 2 spot they are in right now to completely out of the playoffs—that is why Monday Night’s game against the Atlanta Falcons is a must-win.
Atlanta, who will come into Lambeau Field at 5-7 and tied atop the NFC South, has caused problems for the Packers before. In 2008, Matt Ryan and the Falcons defeated Aaron Rodgers and the Packers at Lambeau and last season Matt Flynn had to rally Green Bay from a 16-point second-half deficit to get the win. So while, Green Bay is a much different team than those others, they need to be wary of a Falcon team that is also fighting for its playoff life.
The Falcons struggle defensively and it’s hard to imagine them stopping Green Bay’s dominant offense led by Rodgers, Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb, Eddie Lacy, Davante Adams and a very solid offensive line—maybe the best offensive line of the Rodgers/Mike McCarthy era. Yet, Atlanta does possess some weapons—namely Ryan, Julio Jones, Roddy White and Steven Jackson, who the Packers pursued as a free agent two off seasons ago.
The most dangerous of those weapons to Green Bay is Jackson, who has gotten rolling recently and rushed for over 100 yards in last Sunday’s win over the 9-3 Arizona Cardinals. If there is one way the Falcons could beat the Packers, it’s Jackson running the ball well as he did against Arizona. If the Falcons can run it successfully, they will be able to keep Rodgers and the Packers offense on the sideline, which is by far the easiest way to slow them down. Green Bay also has one of the worst (statistically at least) run defenses in the NFL.
However, in the Packers last four games and since the move of Clay Matthews to inside linebacker, Green Bay has surrendered just 90 yards per game on the ground and just 3.3 yards per carry, which is outstanding. Part of the reason for that has been big leads built by the offense against both Chicago and Philadelphia—but even last week, the defense more than held its own against a physical New England ground game.
Green Bay is the heavy favorite going into MNF and it should be. But, as I said, there is no room for error, not if the Packers want to wrap up a playoff spot before the last week of the season and earn home-field advantage. That means the Packers’ defense must hold Jackson in check. As long as they can do that, Rodgers should have the football more than enough times to beat a very questionable Atlanta defense into submission.