When the 12-6 Green Bay Packers take on the 12-5 Atlanta Falcons Sunday afternoon in the NFC Championship Game at the Georgia Dome, many are expecting a shootout type of game.
You can put NFL scout Chris Landry into that crowd. I concur with Landry and the others who see a track meet taking place in Atlanta. It might come down to who doesn’t stub their toe heading to the finish line in terms of which team will represent the NFC in Super Bowl LI in Houston on February 5.
Sportsbook.com has the over/under number in the game set at 61 currently. That is unheard of. That being said, a number of us see the over as the probable outcome of this game.
Why is that? There are a number of reasons.
First, let’s take a look at the two quarterbacks in this game.
Both Aaron Rodgers of the Packers and Matt Ryan have put together fabulous seasons in 2016.
Rodgers threw 40 touchdowns passes (led the NFL) versus just seven interceptions for 4,428 yards. That adds up to a passer rating of 104.2.
Ryan threw 38 touchdown passes versus seven picks for 4,944 yards. That adds up to a passer rating of 117.1.
Those are NFL MVP type of years for both quarterbacks. Earlier this week, Ryan was given that honor by the Pro Football Writers Association (PFWA). The Associated Press honor will be announced the night before Super Bowl LI.
Not only have both quarterbacks had fantastic seasons overall, but both played outstanding down the stretch as well.
It’s been well-publicized that Rodgers thought that the Packers could run the table after a 4-6 start to the season. Rodgers put his money where he mouth was in those final six games of the year.
In those six games, Rodgers threw 15 touchdown passes without a pick for 1,667 yards. That adds up to a cumulative passer rating of 121.0.
Not only did the Packers win all six games, but they also won the NFC North title and the No. 4 seed in the NFC playoffs.
Ryan also played well in those final six games of the season. Ryan threw 14 touchdown passes versus two interceptions for 1,697 yards. That adds up to a cumulative passer rating of 121.5.
The Falcons were 5-1 in those six games and ended up as the No. 2 seed in the NFC playoffs as they finished 11-5 and were champs of the NFC South.
Both quarterbacks have stayed on a roll in the postseason as well.
In two games, Rodgers has thrown six touchdown passes versus one pick for 717 yards. That is a cumulative passer rating of 110.9.
In one game, Ryan has thrown three touchdown passes without a pick for 338 yards. That adds up to a passer rating of 125.7.
In terms of Rodgers, it’s becoming difficult to come up with the proper way to describe the play of No. 12 over the past eight weeks. Superlative is just one description that comes to mind.
Rodgers creates big plays out of the pocket better than anyone in the history of the NFL. Landry had this to say about Rodgers last week on 620 WDAE’s Steve Duemig Show before the divisional round game against the Dallas Cowboys.
“They [the Packers] have the most talented quarterback in the league. No one, I mean no one, throws the ball outside the pocket better than Aaron Rodgers, ever, in the history of the game. Better than [Fran] Tarkenton. Better than anybody.
“It’s uncanny, and we talk about getting your feet under you and squared away [as a quarterback], this guy does things with his body in unsound ways that just puts it in spots that are unbelievable. He can extend plays as well as he can with his protection.”
Again, Landry said that before the game against the Cowboys. Boy, was Landry spot on in his analysis. Just look at the play Rodgers made with just 12 seconds to go on his own 32 in a third and 20 situation and the score tied 31-31.
Rodgers rolled to his left by design, moved up a bit before he threw, spotted tight end Jared Cook running through the zone and delivered a pass across his body on a dime for 36 yards, as Cook toe-tapped the sideline before going out of bounds.
The result? A first down with three seconds to go. Kicker Mason Crosby took care of the rest with a game-winning 51-yard field goal which put the Pack into the NFC title game.
When looking at Rodgers and Ryan, we also need to look at how they performed earlier this year in Week 8, when the Packers and Falcons faced each other again at the Georgia Dome.
Rodgers threw four touchdown passes without a pick for 246 yards. His quarterback rating in the game was 125.5. Plus, those numbers occurred without Randall Cobb, Jared Cook and Ty Montgomery in the lineup.
No. 12 also added 60 yards rushing.
Ryan meanwhile, threw three touchdown passes without an interception for 288 yards. That added up to a passer rating of 129.5. This occurred without running back Tevin Coleman in the lineup.
The Falcons won the game 33-32 in shootout fashion.
Historically, Rodgers likes playing against the Falcons and Ryan likes playing against the Packers.
In five regular season games versus Atlanta, Rodgers has thrown 13 touchdown passes versus just one pick for 1,626 yards. That adds up to a 118.0 passer rating.
In six regular season games against the Packers, Ryan has thrown 13 touchdown passes versus five interceptions for 1,427 yards. That adds up to a passer rating of 99.7.
The only time Rodgers and Ryan met each other in the postseason was the in the NFC divisional round in 2010 also at the Georgia Dome.
Rodgers completed 31-of-36 passes for 366 yards and three touchdowns. Rodgers had a whopping 136.8 passer rating in the game.
No. 12 also did not throw a pick, plus rushed for another touchdown.
Ryan did not have his best game that night in Georgia. No. 2 threw for 186 yards and a touchdown, but he also tossed two interceptions to Tramon Williams, one of which was returned for a pick-six by No. 38.
Ryan also lost a fumble in the game.
The result? A resounding 48-21 victory by the No. 6 seeded Packers over the No. 1 seeded Falcons.
So, what will happen Sunday afternoon when the Packers take on the Falcons in the NFC title game at the Georgia Dome?
Rodgers will be facing the 28th-ranked pass defense of the Falcons, while Ryan will be facing the 31st-ranked pass defense of the Packers.
Landry appeared Wednesday again on Duemig’s show on 620 WDAE and had this to say about the high over/under number.
“I think it’s inviting,” Landry said. “There is always a chance that getting a running game going against these defenses could keep the point total down a little, but I expect it to be in the high-30 to 40 point game (per team) and may have a three to six point (differential) game.”
Landry then discussed the overall matchup.
“I do think that Atlanta is more of a complete team,” Landry said. “I think their pass-rush is better. Not great, but better. It’s just whether you can you do a better job of getting Aaron Rodgers to release the ball quicker. That’s going to be the whole key.
“They (the Falcons) are at home. They have a better running game. They have backs that can run it and can work the short passing game. They have more ways to beat you, where as with Green Bay, it’s Aaron Rodgers…it’s all Aaron Rodgers. Which is pretty good thing to have by the way!
“Listen, I think it’s going to be a great game. I do think it’s going to come down to this. What defense can create a turnover or steal an extra possession for their offense? Guess what, that’s going to be golden if you can do that.
“Making a big play on special teams. Not giving up key points or getting a shorter field. All of those things are pivotal.”
On his website, Landry ventured a prediction regarding the game.
Both quarterbacks are playing as well as any passers have heading into the final couple games of a season, but Ryan has a healthier crew and home-field advantage.
OUR PICK: Falcons, 35-31.
I see a similar score, but I see the Packers being the winner and advancing to Super Bowl LI.
Why? Because I simply believe Rodgers will make more big plays than Ryan.