Home field advantage could be a huge factor in Sunday's showdown between the Green Bay Packers (7-3) and the Atlanta Falcons (8-2) at 1:00 PM on Fox. The Georgia Dome has been Falcons QB Matt Ryan's best friend, and he's only lost there once in his career (18-1).
On paper this looks like an even fight, but Ryan (2,518 yards, 18 TDs) and the Falcons offense have the edge as one of the most explosive teams in the league right now, regardless of where they play. A stutter start against the Pittsburgh Steelers (7-3) in their opener and a bad game away against the Philadelphia Eagles (7-3) in week 6 are the only blemishes on this team's record so far.
In addition to Ryan's poise and natural talent, his top receiver and rusher are making a huge impact on the team's offensive success. Out of the 10 games played so far, Roddy White (1017 yards, 7 TDs) was the top receiver in 6 of them and Michael Turner (864 Yards, 6 TDs) was the leading rusher in 5.
Ryan himself leads the Atlanta "big three" on offense with 7 games as the leading passer. The three QBs who beat him: Drew Brees, Kevin Kolb, and Carson Palmer. Two out of those three (Brees and Palmer) didn't help their team beat the Falcons with all those passing yards.
Tony Gonzalez is also one of the best tight ends in the league, and he is the second-leading receiver for the Falcons this year with 448 yards and three touchdowns.
The real signature of the Falcons this year is their close margins of victory. Ryan simply gets it done when it counts, and he's just the kind of quarterback it takes to win a tough, competitive game like this one should be.
Green Bay's latest losses came in back to back weeks in mid-October at the hands of the Washington Redskins and Miami Dolphins, both a dismal 5-5 at this point in the season. Both also won by field goal margins.
The Packers also blew out three under-par teams so far this season: the Buffalo Bills (2-8), The Minnesota Vikings (3-7), and the Dallas Cowboys (3-8).
The one thing going for the Packers is momentum, particularly on the defensive side in the last three games. They only allowed 10 total points in those games, including a week 8 shutout of the New York Jets. Though they only scored three field goals in that game on offense, the Packers put up 76 offensive points in their last two games against the Vikings and Cowboys. Their only problem going into this game is the Atlanta Falcons are leaps and bounds better than Minnesota or Dallas.
Quarterback Aaron Rogers (2,601 yards, 19 TDs) is the hero of the Green Bay offense. The receivers who make all the big plays on the other end of all that passing help allow Rogers to stay on a roll. Deep threats like Jermichael Finley (301 yards, 1 TD), James Jones (458 yards, 3 TDs), and Greg Jennings (703 Yards, 9 TDs) are always ready to rip off 100 plus yards in a game with all three capable of being the superstar in this game if they have to be.
The running game is Green Bay's biggest problem against the Falcons. Brandon Jackson has just 488 yards with three touchdowns, proving the Packers are a one-dimensional offense in many respects. Against teams not nearly half as good as the Falcons Rogers can put up huge numbers through the air and live by the pass, but Atlanta is a game control type of team at this point. They have a much more balanced attack, so the edge in the offensive realm goes to the Falcons.
The equalizer for Green Bay is the defense. Cornerback Charles Woodson has 4 fumble recoveries, a sack, 2 interceptions (1 for a TD), and 52 solo tackles. OLB Clay Matthews leads the NFL in sacks with nearly a dozen (11.5) to his credit already. If these two get hot Matt Ryan may be in trouble. Cornerback Tramon Williams is also a threat to Ryan with 4 interceptions for 78 yards.
Unfortunately for Green Bay, Atlanta has a powerful defense, too. Also, Rogers has thrown 9 interceptions so far this year, 4 less than Ryan. Linebacker Curtis Lofton (68 tackles, 13 assists, 2 sacks, 2 fumble recoveries), Cornerback Brent Grimes (46 tackles, 3 interceptions), Defensive End John Abraham (8 sacks), and and Strong Safety William Moore (4 interceptions for 90 yards) are the standouts for the Falcons and can each make a huge play at any time.
This game could certainly come down to one team's kicker as the seconds tick away in the fourth quarter, but Green Bay may not have enough tools and talent to be the team in position to win it that way. The game control balance goes to Atlanta in this one, and they should win by at least a field goal at home.
Thanks to our friends at Bet Jamaica for this article.