In order for the Atlanta Falcons to get to the NFC Championship Game, they must prove that they are the true leaders of the pack.
The pairings were set after a wild and wooly Wild Card weekend, which saw two of the sexier Falcons matchups go by the wayside. One day after the Seattle Seahawks stunned the defending Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints, Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers found a running game and outlasted Michael Vick’s Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday afternoon in Philly.
Gone is the third grudge match against the Saints. They ain’t dat no more. And that dream matchup where that redemption story of Vick comes South on a collision course with the team that let him go with the Super Bowl on the line is history as well.
Atlanta (13-3), for its part, got the worst of all possible matchups. They won’t get the No. 4 seed Seahawks (8-9) – the only team make the playoffs with a losing record. The Falcons will face off against arguably the hottest team in the NFC the No. 6 seed Packers (11-6) instead.
Green Bay roared into the playoffs with wins against the New York Giants and the Chicago Bears before seemingly finding their running game in a 21-16 win over Philadelphia.
Rodgers completed 18-of-27 passes for 180 yards and three scores and little known rookie James Starks rushed for 123 yards in the win. Almost half of those yards came from an unusual three-back formation.
Starks – the 193rd overall pick and the first ever draft pick from SUNY Buffalo – gained 22 more yards on Sunday then he did the rest of his rookie campaign.
The Falcons did not see much of any of a running game the last time these two teams met this season. Atlanta won the Nov. 28 matchup 20-17 thanks to some late heroics from Eric Weems, Matt Ryan and Matt Bryant.
Green Bay drew the contest even with a gutty drive late in the ballgame, converting on a pair of fourth down situations before Rodgers found Jordy Nelson with a 10-yard touchdown pass with 56 seconds left. But Weems returned the ensuing kickoff to the Atlanta 36 yard line and a 15-yard facemask penalty gave the Falcons the ball at midfield.
Matty Ice went to work, connecting on a couple of passes to bring Atlanta within Bryant’s field goal rang. The Atlanta kicker’s 47-yard field goal try sailed through the uprights with nine seconds left to secure the victory.
That win went a long way to securing Atlanta’s spot atop the NFC, which is something that they hope to take advantage of in the Saturday night rematch.
Behind Ryan, the Dirty Birds have been virtually unbeatable at the Georgia Dome. Ryan has guided the Falcons to wins in 20 of the 22 games that he has lined up behind center here.
Atlanta has also had moderate postseason success at their downtown digs on the Georgia World Congress Center campus.
Atlanta has won its previous two playoff games at the Dome, throttling the St. Louis Rams, 47-17, on January 15, 2005 and outlasting the San Francisco 49ers, 20-18, on the Falcons’ run up to the team’s lone Super Bowl appearance in the 1998 season.
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