Once upon a time, the Packers and Falcons were the foremost contenders in the NFC North. The year was 2010 (or technically, 2011...the season was 2010) and the Packers were headed to Atlanta to take on the high flying Falcons offense. Of course, you know the story from here. The Packers offense exploded, Tramon Williams ran back an interception, and the Packers beat Atlanta the worst it's been beaten since William Tecumseh Sherman was in the neighborhood.
Though the Packers gained the upper hand that day, it seemed like the seeds of a rivalry had been planted. Both teams seemed destined to return to the playoffs again and again, and they'd almost surely meet each other at least once more, if not in the Georgia Dome, surely at Lambeau Field.
In 2013, the story is a little different. The Packers and Falcons may meet again in January...but only if they agree to meet at a bar for drinks while other teams are playing in the playoffs, because neither of them will be making any noise in the NFL's second season.
The reasons for both teams' decline are pretty similar: injuries, shoddy defense, and rapid ascension by competitors have edged both Green Bay and Atlanta out of the playoff picture for the time being. Atlanta is already officially eliminated, and Green Bay is headed there very soon.
Of course, the teams are still required to show up for Sunday's game (I think...what would happen if they didn't?), and regardless of whether or not anybody else is paying attention, a game of some kind will still take place, someone will win, and someone will continue their habit of losing.
How far we've fallen.
5 - Receiving touchdowns for ageless wonder Tony Gonzalez. It's the eighth consecutive season in which he's had at least five touchdowns and the 14th time in his unbelievable 17 year career. If you ever want to be amazed at somebody's stats, go look at what Gonzalez has done and how consistently he's done it. If it weren't for his two touchdown season in 2005, Gonzalez would have FIFTEEN consecutive years of five touchdowns or more. Some guys don't score fifteen touchdowns in their entire career! He's truly amazing and I kick myself every time I remember that the Packers all but had him.
4 - Packers players with four or more sacks. Say what you will about the defense, but the pass rush hasn't been half bad. Wildly inconsistent? No doubt. Productive? Yes. On top of that, Datone Jones, Mike Neal, and Brad Jones only need one more sack each to reach the four sack plateau. If nothing else, the days of Clay Matthews being the lone pass rushing machine seem to be over.
3 - Games in which Jarrett Boykin has played, but been held without a reception, the most recent of which came against the Lions last week. I know the Packers offense was all kinds of lousy last week, but it's legitimately surprising to see Boykind held without a catch. He's performed quite admirably since the Packers' tidal wave of injuries began to crest. Hopefully he bounces back Sunday.
2 - Rushing touchdowns by Falcons running back Steven Jackson in last week's win over the Buffalo Bills. To say that Jackson has been a disappointment for the Falcons this season is like saying water is wet. He signed a three year, $12 million contract this offseason, and for their investment the Falcons have received 339 rushing yards, 128 receiving yards, and four touchdowns all together. However, Jackson has been much healthier recently, and he's topped 60 yards in his last two games. Perhaps a meeting with a soft Packers front is just what the doctor ordered.
1 - Atlanta Falcons with more than one interception: rookie Robert Alford. The Falcons only have six interceptions on the season, so apparently the have nearly as much trouble catching picks as the Packers, who have only managed six as well. That said, at least one of Atlanta's interceptions was pretty spectacular. Catch out this grab by the aforementioned Mr. Albert:
Last Time - Packers: 25 Falcons: 14 - October 9, 2011
Despite falling behind early, the Packers rallied for a nine point win, sparked by a 70 yard touchdown pass from Aaron Rodgers to James Jones. It was a tough, hard fought win in a season that featured plenty of blowouts by the Packers.
Meet a Falcon - Roddy White - 6'0", 211 lbs - WR - 9th NFL Season
"Rowdy" Roddy White has been one of the more productive wide receivers for the past seven seasons or so. This year, hampered by injuries, White has been significantly less dangerous, but that may not matter against a porous Green Bay secondary. White isn't particularly big and he may not be as fast as he could be if he was at full strength, but he'll certainly be a handful.
(Warning: explicit language) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ELGzacxpqnM
The Falcons will win if...
...they manage to somehow avoid scoring less points than the Packers, which would seem like a serious challenge given how poorly the Packers offense has been playing and how little interest the Packers defense seems to have in slowing down opposing teams.
The Packers will win if...
...the can force turnovers like they did last week, but score points like they have an offense that can actually score points, which I'm not sure is a thing that they actually have. Hooray, 2013!
The Pick: Falcons: 28 Packers: 17
I have no confidence that the Packers can actually score enough points to play a competitive game any more. The Falcons have been bad, but the Packers are basically giving points away on defense. As inept as the Falcons have been, they can't be bad enough to avoid outscoring the Packers.
Tweet of the Week
Jerel Worthy gives the most confusing inspirational quote ever.