Green Bay Packers (12-6) at Atlanta Falcons (12-5)
KICKOFF: Sunday, 3:05 p.m. ET, Georgia Dome. TV: FOX, Joe Buck, Troy Aikman, Erin Andrews, Chris Myers.
SERIES HISTORY: 32nd overall meeting, fourth playoff meeting. The Packers hold a 15-13 advantage in regular-season games. The Falcons became the first team to win in the playoffs at Lambeau field after the 2003 season, and the Packers, on their way to a Super Bowl title, defeated the Falcons 48-21 on Jan. 15, 2011. The Falcons beat the Packers 33-32 earlier this season.
KEYS TO THE GAME: This game figures to be decided by the MVP-caliber quarterbacks, Atlanta’s Matt Ryan and Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers.
Behind Ryan, the Falcons scored 71 more points than any other team in the NFL. Ryan’s 117.1 passer rating was the fifth-best in NFL history as he threw for 4,944 yards and 38 touchdowns, with seven interceptions.
The Falcons enter the game on a five-game winning streak, during which Ryan has thrown 14 touchdown passes and zero interceptions.
Meanwhile, Rodgers has led the Packers to eight consecutive wins. During the streak, Rodgers has posted a 117.9 passer rating with 298 yards per game, 68.9 percent accuracy, 21 touchdowns and one interception.
“I think he’s played incredible,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. “It’s important for our team to play our best football come Sunday. He’s in a great rhythm right now. Is he playing the best he ever has? He’s played at this level so often, but I think this is probably one of his best runs.”
Both quarterbacks should have big days against poor pass defenses. Green Bay finished 31st in the NFL, Atlanta 26th. Both defenses also finished in the bottom fourth of the league on third down and in the red zone.
Ryan might have the better supporting cast. While premier receiver Julio Jones didn’t practice because of an ongoing toe injury, coach Dan Quinn expects him to play. Jones caught 83 passes for 1,409 yards and six touchdowns this season.
Ryan also has Mohamed Sanu (59 catches, 653 yards, four touchdowns), Taylor Gabriel (35 catches, 579 yards, six TDs) and explosive running backs Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman (85 receptions, 883 yards, five scores). A league-record 10 players caught at least two touchdown passes.
Freeman (1,079 rushing yards, 11 TDs) and Coleman (520 yards, eight TDs) powered a running attack that finished fifth in the league.
Meanwhile, Rodgers’ supporting cast might not be complete. Jordy Nelson suffered broken ribs against the New York Giants, sat out the win over the Cowboys and might have trouble getting back for this game. Meanwhile, fellow receivers Davante Adams (ankle) and Geronimo Allison (hamstring) did not practice on Wednesday.
When these teams met Oct. 30, the Falcons outlasted the visiting Packers 33-32. It would be a surprise if this game played much differently.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
–Falcons QB Matt Ryan vs. Packers FS Morgan Burnett. Burnett and his defensive backs must find a way to slow down the Falcons. Ryan was 26 of 37 for 338 yards and three touchdowns against Seattle in the divisional round. In the past five games, Ryan has hit 115 of 157 throws for 1,469 yards, 14 touchdowns and zero interceptions.
–Packers TE Jared Cook vs. Falcons SS Keanu Neal. Cook finally got healthy and caught 30 passes for 377 yards and one touchdown. He has been a big safety valve for quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Neal has played well in the box and probably will get help with Cook, who has the speed to open up the seam.
Friday Injury Report
GREEN BAY PACKERS
–Out: RB James Starks (concussion), C J.C. Tretter (knee)
–Questionable: WR Davante Adams (ankle), WR Geronimo Allison (hamstring), S Morgan Burnett (quadricep), WR Jordy Nelson (ribs, illness), CB Quinten Rollins (neck, concussion)
No players listed
PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Packers K Mason Crosby. What can the late-game hero of the Packers’ 34-31 win over Dallas do for a postseason encore? Crosby just might be needed again in the closing moments to try to kick Green Bay to the Super Bowl for the first time in six years. The prolific 10th-year pro has made an NFL-record 23 straight field goals in the playoffs. His last two conversions — from 56 yards with 1:33 left and 51 yards with no time left — enabled the Packers to get past the top-seeded Cowboys.
FAST FACTS: The Packers have won 13 championships, most in NFL history. The team’s .618 postseason winning percentage is the best in NFL history among teams with 50 games played. This is the team’s 32nd playoff appearance, tied for most in NFL history. … Mike McCarthy has led the Packers to the playoffs in nine of his 11 seasons as coach and is 10-7. … Packers RB Ty Montgomery ran for two TDs last week. He has four TDs in his past three road games. … Packers WR Randall Cobb has five TD catches in his past five postseason games. … Packers LB Clay Matthews has 11 career postseason sacks, tied for fifth most since the stat became official in 1982. He had two sacks in the only playoff meeting between the clubs. … Packers LB Julius Peppers has 143.5 career sacks, fifth most since 1982. In his past six postseason games, he has 4.5 sacks, two forced fumbles and two passes defensed. … The Falcons won the NFC South and advanced to the postseason for the first time since 2012. They are 5-3 at home in the playoffs in franchise history. … Falcons QB Matt Ryan set a franchise record with 4,944 passing yards. He has six consecutive 4,000-yard seasons, tied for the second-longest streak in NFL history. In the past three postseason games, he has 984 passing yards, nine TDs and three interceptions. … Falcons RB Devonta Freeman had 1,079 rushing yards, his second consecutive 1,000-yard season. In his past six home games (including postseason), he has 10 rushing TDs. … Falcons LB Vic Beasley led the NFL with 15.5 sacks. He has six sacks and two forced fumbles in his past seven home games.
PREDICTION: Both quarterbacks are playing as well as any passers in the game, heading into the final couple games of a season, but Ryan has a healthier crew and home-field advantage.