GREEN BAY—On paper, the numbers clearly favor the Packers. This will be a game between the No. 7 offense and the No. 32 defense. It’ll be a match between the best quarterback in the game and the No. 32 pass defense.
This is a game, however, that also matches two first-place teams. Huh?
That’s right, at 9-3 the Packers are in sole possession of first place in the NFC North. At 5-7, the Falcons are tied with the Saints for the NFC South lead.
You know the story behind all of that. It’s a result of the flaw in the division title system. Every so often, a team with a bad record makes it into the playoffs and, as a division champion, hosts a wild-card round game.
The Falcons should be 7-5; they blew a couple of games that appeared to be certain wins. The more important record is 3-1; that’s the Falcons’ record in the last four games, which doesn’t exactly qualify the Falcons as a hot team, but that’s exactly what they would become with a win in Lambeau Field on Monday night.
Packers Coach Mike McCarthy has no doubt brought all of that to light with his players. He likely has also reminded them of a game in Lambeau Field on the same date a year ago in which the Falcons nearly claimed victory.
The point to all of this is to avoid putting too much stock in the numbers. December is a fickle month. Teams change in December. Emotions swing. Pretenders become contenders.
Here are 10 things the Packers have to do to beat the Falcons.
1. Play to your identity – Many are saying the Packers are the best team in football, and that’s a very good identity in December.
2. Keep the home streak going – Six up and six down at home this year.
3. Enjoy the weather – Cold and snow are in the forecast, and that’s Packers-perfect weather for a nationally televised, late-season game at Lambeau Field.
4. Follow the arrow – The Packers defense’s arrow is pointing straight up, with rankings beginning to trend toward the middle of the league and above.
5. Attack! – Against a suspect Falcons secondary, why hold back?
6. Don’t turn it over – It’ll work every time and bears mentioning only because it would be difficult for the Falcons to win without forcing a turnover or two.
7. Say hello to an old friend – Devin Hester is in a new uniform but he’ll be playing at a familiar place and he’s still the best at what he does, returning punts.
8. Pressure Ryan – That’s how the Packers won last year’s game. It was late-game pressure on Matt Ryan that turned the tide.
9. Win the battle of big backs – Remember when the Packers tried to sign Steven Jackson but failed, and then drafted Eddie Lacy?
10. Turn Matthews loose – This game begins a finishing stretch of games against teams low in the rush rankings. Will Matthews begin spending more time at outside linebacker?
ADDITIONAL COVERAGE - DEC. 5