If you're a believer in momentum in football, the Atlanta Falcons vs. Green Bay Packers game this Sunday should serve as an interesting case study. While the 5-6-1 Packers have the better record, they have yet to win since starting quarterback Aaron Rodgers went down with a fractured collarbone on Nov. 4 and are coming off an embarrassing 40-10 Thanksgiving day blowout to the division rival Lions. The 3-9 Falcons, on the other hand, followed up a promising showing against the Saints in Week 12 with their first win in over a month last Sunday against the Bills.
Meet the Packers
Sure, Rodgers is out, but the Packers have plenty of other problems. Eddie Lacy, the power back that was supposed to carry the team through the Rodgers-less wilderness, has averaged just 56.5 yards over the last four games and had just 16 against Detroit. The offensive line has struggled to run block against constant eight-man fronts and have been even worse in pass protection, allowing seven sacks on Thanksgiving day. Matt Flynn will hope for better protection as he gets the start on Sunday.
A defense that started strong in 2013 hasn't helped the cause over the last month either. They allowed the Lions to rack up 561 yards of offense and have given up at least 400 yards in four of their last five games. Without the offense no longer forcing opponents to play from behind, the run defense has slipped to 26th in the NFL.
Meet the Falcons
The key to Atlanta's 34-31 overtime win in Week 13, aside from a pair of generous late-game fumbles by the Bills, was the reemergence of veteran offensive playmakers Roddy White and Steven Jackson. Banged up with a multitude of medical maladies for much of the season, the pair finally looked healthy last Sunday, posting season highs nearly across the board. White had 10 receptions for 143 yards while Jackson ran 23 times for 84 yards and two touchdowns. The offensive line continued to be a wreck, however, allowing the Bills to sack Matt Ryan six times.
A week after holding New Orleans to what at the time was their second-lowest scoring output of the season, the Falcons defense regressed against Buffalo, allowing at least 30 points for the eighth time in 12 games. Their 28.3 points allowed per game is fourth from the bottom of the league.
Local Takes: Packers
Green Bay's playoff hopes are about as dim as could be, but as Packers blog ACME Packing Company points out, they haven't been extinguished quite yet. While catching the Panthers or 49ers for the wild card isn't going to happen, there is still an outside (and pretty far outside) shot at taking the NFC North.
The Packers are fortunate enough to play in a division of deeply flawed teams. The North-leading Detroit Lions are an undisciplined bunch featuring one of the league's worst pass defenses. The Bears' run defense is nearly as poor as the Lions' pass defense. Neither team is bad, exactly, they're just unlikely to run away and hide with the division title.
Local Takes: Falcons
While Green Bay looked awful during their Detroit debacle, Dave Choate at The Falcoholic cautions that they're still a dangerous team.
The Packers ... have a capable power back in Eddie Lacy and an opportunistic defense that picked Matthew Stafford multiple times. Everything that could have possibly gone wrong for them did, and there's no denying that this is a very different football team with even a limited Aaron Rodgers under center. I don't buy into the idea of momentum in football, so I don't necessarily believe the Falcons are building a head of steam. They're just getting a little healthier and playing more competent football. I'm not sure that's going to be enough against a Packers team suddenly clinging for their playoff lives.
Follow the Fun
Add these fine follows to your Twitter timeline:
FWIW, Eddie Lacy now has more carries in 11 games (207) than he had in 14 games at Alabama last year (204).— Acme Packing Company (@acmepackingco) December 3, 2013
For those traveling to London next year, don't worry, we'll have an informative guide to French culture for you.— The Falcoholic (@TheFalcoholic) December 4, 2013
@TyDunne - Packers beat writer
McCarthy on guys in box: 8-man football is not nothing new. We didn't do a good job handling it. Have some things we're working on.— Tyler Dunne (@TyDunne) December 4, 2013
@AJCFalcons - Falcons beat writer
From Week 14 picks:
It's hard to get a line on this one because nobody knows whether or not Aaron Rodgers will play this week. Rodgers and the Packers are sending out hopeful signals, but it sounds more like blind optimism than any rational diagnosis. For now, the Packers are a slight favorite at home. The Packers are 0-4-1 without Rodgers, but the quarterback's absence doesn't excuse a string of terrible defensive performances that could get Dom Capers fired once the season ends. Roddy White and Steven Jackson are both healthy, and that should be the difference for the Falcons in this one.
Unless Rodgers comes back in time for this one.
The pick: Falcons
The Packers opened as 3-point favorites, according to OddShark.com.