MINNESOTA VIKINGS (11-3) AT GREEN BAY PACKERS (7-7)
KICKOFF: Saturday, 8:30 p.m. ET, Lambeau Field. TV: NFLN, Al Michaels, Cris Collinsworth, Michele Tafoya (field reporter).
SERIES HISTORY: 112th regular-season meeting. Packers lead series, 59-50-2. The Vikings are 23-31-2 against the Packers in Wisconsin. The last two years at Lambeau Field couldn’t have gone any more differently. Two years ago, they met in a prime-time season finale to decide the division; the Vikings won 20-13. Last year, the Vikings needed to win to stay in the playoff race; the Packers won 38-25. The Vikings are 1-2 against the Packers at Lambeau under Mike Zimmer. The teams have played twice in the playoffs — both wild-card games at Green Bay. The Vikings won during the 2004 season, the Packers during the 2012 season.
KEYS TO THE GAME: Despite the 34-7 rout of the Bengals last week, the Vikings tied their season high for penalties, with 11. Six on offense were momentum stoppers. If they limit the penalties and play another turnover-free game, the Vikings should be able to control the Packers.
If they can stop Green Bay’s running game, the pass rush should torment Brett Hundley.
When the Packers and Vikings met in Week 6, Minnesota knocked Aaron Rodgers out of the game and Hundley threw three interceptions. Look for the Packers to do whatever possible to take the ball out of Hundley’s hands and lean on running backs Jamaal Williams and Aaron Jones. That probably won’t be easy with Minnesota ranking second in the NFL in run defense and second in total defense. But trying to stop Hundley from making critical mistakes might be Green Bay’s best way to pull off an upset.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
–Packers WR Jordy Nelson vs. Vikings CB Xavier Rhodes. Confusion reigned on the field and in the locker room after the Vikings lost to the Packers 38-25 in Green Bay last Christmas Eve. Vikings coach Mike Zimmer was asked why Rhodes wasn’t covering Nelson during some of the plays. Zimmer said he was supposed to. In the locker room afterward, Rhodes said the players came up with a plan on their own. Nobody seemed to be on the same page when it came to explaining what happened on some of the coverages that allowed Nelson to catch nine balls for 154 yards and two touchdowns. There won’t be much confusion this time. Expect Rhodes, who’s now a two-time Pro Bowler, to shadow Nelson, even though Nelson’s numbers are down (471 yards, six touchdowns) and Aaron Rodgers is out.
–Vikings RT Mike Remmers vs. Packers OLB Clay Matthews. Remmers returned last week after missing five games because of injuries. He missed three because of a concussion and two because of a lower-back injury that’s still lingering. Remmers did OK in his return, but that game was at home against a disinterested Bengals team. Prime time in Lambeau could be a different story. Matthews has a team-high 7.5 sacks and will no doubt want to inflict some pain against the team that essentially ruined Green Bay’s season by knocking Rodgers out for seven games earlier this season. Matthews didn’t practice Wednesday because of a hamstring injury. If he’s able to play, he will test whether Remmers is back to full strength.
THURSDAY INJURY REPORT
–Out: CB Tramaine Brock Sr. (foot)
–Questionable: CB Mackensie Alexander (rib), T Riley Reiff (ankle), S Andrew Sendejo (ankle)
GREEN BAY PACKERS
–Out: WR Davante Adams (concussion), CB Demetri Goodson (hamstring)
–Doubtful: LB Nick Perry (ankle/shoulder)
–Questionable: G Jahri Evans (knee), CB Davon House (shoulder/back), LB Clay Matthews (hamstring)
PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Vikings WR Adam Thielen. A year ago at Lambeau Field, Thielen had 12 catches for 202 yards and two touchdowns. It was the fourth-highest total for receiving yards in franchise history, and the most ever by a Viking against the Packers. This year, he leads the Vikings with 83 catches for 1,191 yards and four touchdowns.
FAST FACTS: Vikings QB Case Keenum has 1,609 passing yards (268.2 per game), 13 TDs and four interceptions in his past six games. He aims for his fifth game in a row with two or more passing TDs. He has a 100-plus passer rating in five of the past six games. … RB Latavius Murray had 104 scrimmage yards (76 rushing) and a rushing TD last week. He has five rushing TDs in the past six games. … DE Everson Griffen ranks fourth in the NFL with 13 sacks. In his past six games on the road, he has seven sacks and two forced fumbles. He has five sacks and two forced fumbles in his past five games against Green Bay. He aims for his fifth game in a row against a division foe with a sack. … Packers QB Brett Hundley has six TDs and one interceptions in his past three starts. … RB Jamaal Williams has five TDs in the past four games. He’s tied for third among NFC rookies with six TDs. … LB Clay Matthews has five sacks in his past four games. He has six sacks and two forced fumbles in his past five games at home against Minnesota.
PREDICTION: After being eliminated from the playoffs last week, the Packers cashed it in by putting Rodgers on IR for the last two games. The Vikings can still claim home-field advantage for the NFC playoffs with two wins and some help, and they will hold up their end of the bargain on a cold Saturday night in Wisconsin.
NEW ORLEANS SAINTS (3-2) AT GREEN BAY PACKERS (4-2)
KICKOFF: Sunday, 1 p.m. ET, Lambeau Field. TV: FOX, Kenny Albert, Charles Davis, Pam Oliver (field reporter.)
SERIES HISTORY: 25th regular-season meeting. Packers lead series, 16-8. Green Bay is 10-2 at home, including 4-1 at Lambeau Field and 6-1 in Milwaukee. The Saints won the last meeting, 44-23, in 2014 in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. The Packers won the last meeting at Lambeau Field, prevailing 28-27 in 2012.
KEYS TO THE GAME: Green Bay is about to find out what life is like without quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Brett Hundley, a fifth-round draft pick out of UCLA in 2015, takes over for the future Hall of Famer, who broke a collarbone last week in a loss to Minnesota.
Hundley’s arm strength is above average and he is athletic. He has all the tools (4.63 speed in the 40, 36-inch vertical jump) to be a winner, except for experience. In the first meaningful action of his career, Hundley threw three interceptions and finished with a 39.6 quarterback rating.
“I mean, he needs to turn it up,” a not-so confident coach Mike McCarthy said. “There’s no doubt about it. The whole team needs to turn it up. I told them everybody needs to clean their house up right now. I don’t like the way it looks.”
The Packers still have explosive weapons on offense, and it will be up to the O-line to give Hundley time to make reads and correct decisions.
New Orleans is on a three-game winning streak and, as shocking as it might sound, the defense has been stellar — forcing nine turnovers, scoring three touchdowns and recording 13 sacks against the Lions, Dolphins and Panthers.
The offense is no longer 100 percent reliant on the arm of QB Drew Brees. The Saints are coming off their best rushing performance of the season as Mark Ingram cracked the 100-yard mark and ran for two touchdowns last week against Detroit.
New Orleans has been weak on third-down conversions — they were just 2 of 12 against the Lions — and Brees knows they must improve on that stat. “I think we have been into an abnormal number of third-and-long situations. I think that’s due to penalties and some negative plays that we probably could’ve avoided,” he said.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
–Saints RB Alvin Kamara vs. Packers linebackers. Kamara is the Saints’ second-leading rusher with 158 yards and he’s averaging 6.3 yards per carry. Additionally, he is the second-leading receiver, with 24 catches for 159 yards. With the Packers’ linebackers beat up, Drew Brees figures to look for Kamara frequently in both the running game and passing game.
–Packers RT Bryan Bulaga vs. Saints DE Cameron Jordan. Jordan has a team-high five sacks and could be facing a backup right tackle this week. Green Bay’s Bryan Bulaga is in the concussion protocol, and it’s uncertain whether he will be cleared by Sunday.
FRIDAY INJURY REPORT
NEW ORLEANS SAINTS
–Questionable: T Terron Armstead (shoulder), WR Willie Snead (hamstring)
GREEN BAY PACKERS
–Out: LB Ahmad Brooks (back), S Morgan Burnett (hamstring), QB Aaron Rodgers (On IR, right collarbone), LB Joe Thomas (ankle)
-Doubtful: G Lane Taylor (ankle)
–Questionable: CB Davon House (quadricep), C Corey Linsley (back), CB Damarious Randall (hamstring)
PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Saints CB Marcus Lattimore. The rookie No. 1 draft choice has become a starter and the team’s top cover corner in the absence of injured Delvin Breaux. Jordy Nelson (six touchdown receptions), Davante Adams (five) and Randall Cobb (one) comprise the most challenging receiving corps the Saints have faced, and Lattimore will lead the coverage.
FAST FACTS: Saints QB Drew Brees has thrown for 1,499 yards (374.8 per game) and 13 touchdowns in the past four meetings. He has not thrown an interception in those games. … RB Mark Ingram had 150 total yards and two touchdowns last week, his seventh career multi-touchdown game. In the last meeting against Green Bay, he rushed for career-high 172 yards and a touchdown. … Rookie RB Alvin Kamara rushed for career-high 75 yards in Week 6. He has touchdowns in two of the past three games and is tied for third among NFL rookies with 24 catches. … WR Michael Thomas is gunning for his third straight game with at least seven receptions, 85 yards and a touchdown. … Packers QB Brett Hundley threw his first career touchdown pass in a Week 6 loss to Minnesota. … RB Ty Montgomery has six touchdowns (five rushing) in the past nine games. … WR Jordy Nelson is tied for the NFL lead with six touchdown receptions. … WR Davante Adams has scored a touchdown in three straight games. … LB Clay Matthews has two sacks and two forced fumbles in his last four games at Lambeau.
PREDICTION: Is there a tougher place than Lambeau for a road team to pick up a win? The Saints can buck that trend if the defense keeps the heat on Aaron Rodgers’ replacement, Brett Hundley.
GREEN BAY PACKERS (3-1) AT DALLAS COWBOYS (2-2)
KICKOFF: Sunday, 4:25 p.m. ET, AT&T Stadium. TV: FOX, Joe Buck, Troy Aikman, Erin Andrews (field reporter).
SERIES HISTORY: 28th regular-season meeting. Packers lead series, 14-13. The Packers have won four of the past five, including a 37-36 barnburner the last time they played in Dallas. This is a rematch of the NFC divisional playoff from last season, which Green Bay won, 34-31.
KEYS TO THE GAME: The Packers appear to be finding their rhythm early in the season, although RB Ty Montgomery (broken ribs) and WR Davante Adams (concussion) are questionable for this one.
Aaron Rodgers and his band of wide receivers will likely determine Green Bay’s fate. Dallas ranks 20th in passing defense and 26th in points allowed (24.3).
The Cowboys lost three starters — CB Morris Claiborne, CB Brandon Carr and SS Barry Church — in free agency and their secondary remains a work in progress. Rodgers has had a field day against the Cowboys for much of his career, and he could do the same again Sunday.
Dallas looked like it was on its way to the same 3-1 record until an 11-point lead late in the third quarter melted away to a 35-30 defeat against the Rams.
The Cowboys will try to get to a familiar formula against the Packers: Control the ball with the running game and keep the defense off the field.
Dak Prescott has to be more accurate from the pocket and convert third downs. Defensively, the Cowboys are focused on keeping Rodgers in the pocket and not letting him beat them on the edge.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
–Cowboys WR Dez Bryant vs. Packers CB Damarious Randall. Bryant has struggled to start the season, but he has a chance to get well against the Packers, who lack an elite cornerback. Bryant’s best game last season came in the playoffs against the Packers when he exploited Randall for nine catches for 132 yards and two touchdowns. He will be chomping at the bit for a repeat performance on Sunday.
–Packers OT Lane Taylor vs. Cowboys DE DeMarcus Lawrence. Taylor was moved from guard to left tackle last week due to an injury. He survived against a Bears defense that lacks a premier rusher. He won’t be so lucky if he is forced to play tackle again. Lawrence is rushing as well as any league in the league with 7.5 sacks. The Packers will need to double him, possibly opening up things for David Irving and Maliek Collins on the inside.
FRIDAY INJURY REPORT
GREEN BAY PACKERS
–Out: LB Joe Thomas (ankle)
–Doubtful: RB Ty Montgomery (ribs)
–Questionable: WR Davante Adams (concussion), T David Bakhtiari (hamstring), LB Ahmad Brooks (back), T Bryan Bulaga (ankle), DT Mike Daniels (hip), CB Davon House (quadricep), CB Quinten Rollins (ankle)
–Out: DE Charles Tapper (foot)
–Questionable: CB Anthony Brown (ankle), CB Nolan Carroll (concussion), T La’el Collins (ankle), LB Sean Lee (hamstring), DT Stephen Paea (knee), T Tyron Smith (back)
FRIDAY INJURY REPORT
PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Cowboys S Xavier Woods. Woods has impressed every time he has been on the field. The rookie is demanding more playing time and will get it. He spotted starters Byron Jones and Jeff Heath a series each against the Rams in addition to sub packages. Look for him to soak up more of Heath’s snaps in the regular defense.
FAST FACTS: In eight meetings (including playoffs), Packers QB Aaron Rodgers has averaged 269 passing yards per game and thrown 13 TD passes vs. two interceptions. He has surpassed 300 yards in five of the past six road games. … Packers WR Jordy Nelson had 75 receiving yards and two TDs in Week 4 and is going for his third straight game with at least two TDs. He leads the NFL with five receiving TDs. … Packers LB Clay Matthews notched a sack last week to give him the team record. His 75 surpassed Kareem Gbaja-Biamila’s 74.5. In five games vs. Dallas, Matthews has 3.5 sacks, two fumble recoveries and a pick-six. … Dallas QB Dak Prescott has 549 passing yards, six TDs and two interceptions in two games vs. Green Bay. … Dallas TE Jason Witten has scored in his past two home games vs. Green Bay. He is tied for second among NFC tight ends with 19 receptions. … Dallas DE DeMarcus Lawrence leads the NFL with 7.5 sacks.
PREDICTION: Rodgers is tough to rattle anywhere. If the Cowboys can’t get the running game going, they won’t be able to beat him.
GREEN BAY PACKERS (1-0) AT ATLANTA FALCONS (1-0)
KICKOFF: Sunday, 8:30 p.m. ET, Mercedes-Benz Stadium. TV: NBC, Al Michaels, Cris Collinsworth, Michele Tafoya.
SERIES HISTORY: 29th regular-season meeting. Packers lead series, 15-13. The Falcons beat the Packers in the regular season in 2016 and thumped them 44-21 in the NFC Championship Game last season to earn the franchise’s second trip to the Super Bowl.
KEYS TO THE GAME: The Falcons will be on alert for possible scrambles from Packers QB Aaron Rodgers when he extends plays and when he tries to take shots and cash in on free plays with his cadence. He had four free shots against Seattle.
“He’s fantastic on the move with the way he can improvise and get out of the pocket,” Falcons coach Dan Quinn said. “When you can extend plays, that makes it difficult because now the coverage definitely turns in.”
When he gets loose, the Falcons may have to jump out of a zone coverage and convert to man on the fly.
“We use the term, ‘Plaster’ when a quarterback breaks contain,” Quinn said. “He can also run for some first downs when he needs to. They have a really unique style that they play.”
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
–Packers TE Martellus Bennett vs. Falcons SS Keanu Neal. Bennett caught three of six targets for 43 yards against Seattle as the Packers moved him around in different formations. “He’s a good matchup guy,” Quinn said. The Falcons have the option of using Neal or strong-side linebacker DeVondre Campbell to cover Bennett. Campbell had a pass breakup against the Bears.
–Packers WR Randall Cobb vs. Falcons CB Brian Poole. The Packers like to hit Cobb on short quick routes so he can make a move and get in the open field. Poole is a tough defender and strong open-field tackler. Cobb caught six passes for 82 yards in the NFC Championship Game against the Falcons last season. He caught nine passes vs. Seattle.
PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Falcons TE Austin Hooper. He caught two passes for 128 yards, including an 88-yard touchdown catch-and-run, in the season opener against the Chicago Bears. The second-year player from Stanford is taking over as the starter from Jacob Tamme, who was not re-signed.
“I knew he had some speed,” QB Matt Ryan said when asked about Hooper’s big season opener. “He’s sneaky with his ability to run. He’s had to work extremely hard this offseason. I’m proud of the way he handled that. Sometimes, it’s tough after your rookie year. You’re tired, you’re beat up, (you must) find the right mindset to get back and work and get better. I thought Austin did a great job at that this year.”
FAST FACTS: Packers QB Aaron Rodgers has passed for 300 yards in five of his past six games, including the postseason. Rodgers has a 117 passer rating (2,279 yards, 19 TDs, 2 INTs) in seven career games against the Falcons. … Falcons QB Matt Ryan has passed for 1,055 yards, 11 TDs and 1 INT in his past three performances, including the playoffs. His passer rating during that span is 129.1. … Packers WR Jordy Nelson has 18 receptions for 307 yards and four touchdowns in his last three contests against Atlanta. … Falcons DE Brooks Reid is coming off his second career multi-sack performance. Reed’s takedown of Chicago QB Mike Glennon in the waning seconds preserved the Falcons’ season-opening win.
PREDICTION: What a terrific prime-time matchup. In a nearly even game, the edge goes to the home team, particularly when one considers that it will be the first game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
SEATTLE SEAHAWKS AT GREEN BAY PACKERS
KICKOFF: Sunday, 4:25 p.m. ET, Lambeau Field. TV: FOX, Joe Buck, Troy Aikman, Erin Andrews.
SERIES HISTORY: 18th regular-season meeting. Packers lead series, 10-7. Russell Wilson was intercepted a career-high five times and Seattle lost a game by more than 10 points for the first time in over five years in Green Bay’s 38-10 victory at Lambeau Field last December. Seattle has not won at Lambeau Field since 1999 in Mike Holmgren’s first season as coach after leaving the Packers, with the Packers winning seven straight by an average of 18.9 points.
KEYS TO THE GAME: The big matchup will be Aaron Rodgers and the Packers’ high-scoring offense — even stronger with the addition of tight end Martellus Bennett — against Seattle’s stingy defense, even stronger with the addition of defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson.
The Seahawks will need to utilize the load of talent on their defensive line to pressure Rodgers into mistakes in the passing game. Creating pressure with their front four would allow Seattle the chance to leave as many defenders back in coverage as possible against one of the league’s best passing attacks. They have Earl Thomas this time, too, unlike their 38-10 blowout loss in December.
Green Bay’s revamped defense will be tested by Russell Wilson and former Packers running back Eddie Lacy. After getting shredded for 44 points by Atlanta in the NFC Championship Game, Green Bay added cornerback Davon House and defensive tackle Ricky Jean Francois in free agency and used its first four draft picks on defensive players. The tinkering has continued, with veteran outside linebacker Ahmad Brooks, rookie outside linebacker Chris Odom and veteran defensive lineman Quinton Dial signed since Saturday’s league-wide roster cutdown.
For Seattle, Wilson must avoid the interceptions he has been prone to throw against the Packers. Controlling the game on the ground with their variety of options would go a significant way toward limiting turnovers.
While Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers will undoubtedly come after Wilson with regularity, it’s unlikely the Seahawks’ quarterback will be rattled into five interceptions, like he was nine months ago.
FRIDAY INJURY REPORT
–Doubtful: LB Michael Wilhoite (calf)
–Questionable: DE Frank Clark (wrist), S Delano Hill (shoulder), WR Tyler Lockett (knee), RB Thomas Rawls (ankle), DT Jarran Reed (shoulder), CB Richard Sherman (thigh)
GREEN BAY PACKERS
–Out: DE Montravius Adams (foot)
–Questionable: T Bryan Bulaga (ankle)
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
–Packers WRs Jordy Nelson and Randle Cobb vs. Seahawks CB Shaquill Griffin. As often as Seattle will be in nickel coverage against the Packers, both Nelson and Cobb will be able to find matchups against Seattle’s rookie cornerback. With Richard Sherman on the opposite side, Green Bay will come hard at the rookie and see whether he can hold up. Griffin will be a frequent target of Rodgers and the Packers’ attack.
–Seahawks RB Eddie Lacy vs. Packers’ run defense. Lacy played four years in Green Bay and seemed headed toward a memorable career in green and gold. But injuries and weight issues stymied him in 2015 and 2016, then he signed with Seattle in free agency. With Thomas Rawls questionable with a high ankle sprain, Lacy should get a lot of carries against his former team.
SEAHAWKS NOTABLE ROOKIE: Cornerback Shaquill Griffin. The third-round pick will have the most asked of him of any Seattle rookie. Whether he starts or plays primarily in nickel packages, Griffin will see significant playing time and have the most chances to impact the game. Playing opposite Richard Sherman, he is likely to be tested frequently, which could lead to interception opportunities.
PACKERS NOTABLE ROOKIE: Cornerback Kevin King. Green Bay was leaning toward taking King in the first round of April’s draft, but traded back. The Packers were then thrilled when King was still available with the first pick in the second round. The 6-foot-3 King was the tallest corner in the draft and is one of the biggest corners in Packers history. Despite King’s size, he ran the 40-yard dash in 4.43 seconds and showed his athleticism by posting the top times among cornerbacks in the three-cone drill (6.56) and 20-yard shuttle (3.89) during the NFL Combine.
FAST FACTS: Seattle QB Russell Wilson set career-highs in attempts (546), completions (353) and passing yards (4,219) last season. He tied for the most wins by a QB in his first five seasons. He and Matt Ryan had 56. … Seattle WR Doug Baldwin tied Bobby Engram’s franchise record with 94 catches last season. Baldwin set a career-high with 1,128 receiving yards. … DL Sheldon Richardson makes his Seattle debut after being acquired in a trade with the New York Jets. He has 18 sacks in four seasons. … Green Bay QB Aaron Rodgers led the NFL in 2016 with 40 TD passes and became the fourth QB in NFL history to throw 40 TD in multiple seasons. He had 4,428 passing yards, his sixth career 4,000-yard season. That’s the most in team history. … Green Bay WR Jordy Nelson was named NFL Comeback Player of Year in 2016. Coming off an ACL injury, he caught 97 passes for 1,257 yards and an NFL-best 14 TDs. … This game will feature a matchup of the Bennett brothers — Seattle DE Michael and new Green Bay TE Martellus. It will be the third time they have faced each other in an NFL game.
PREDICTION: These teams are considered the NFC’s best, so the winner takes a huge step in the hunt for home-field advantage. The Packers have had a lot of that vs. Seattle, but a healthy Legion of Boom and the addition of Richardson might change that.
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.
Green Bay at Atlanta
When: 3:05 PM ET, Sunday, January 22, 2017
Where: Georgia Dome, Atlanta
ATLANTA – (Wire Service Preview by The Sports Xchange) – Aaron Rodgers and Matt Ryan are enjoying the rides of their lives, although one quarterback’s impressive run will come to an unceremonious end at the other’s expense. Rodgers has made good on his confident promise to run the table – and then some – as he powers the Green Bay Packers into Sunday’s NFC Championship Game against the host Atlanta Falcons.
“I think he’s played incredible,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy told reporters of Rodgers, who has posted a 117.9 passer rating with 21 touchdowns and one interception during his eight-game winning streak. “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.” The 31-year-old Ryan (franchise-record 4,944 yards) hasn’t been too shabby in his own right, throwing 14 scoring passes without an interception during Atlanta’s five-game winning streak while his 117.1 passer rating this season was tops in the league and his 38 TDs trailed only Rodgers (40). Ryan’s Falcons got the better of Rodgers’ Packers in the first meeting of the season on Oct. 30, with Mohamed Sanu reeling in the quarterback’s third touchdown pass with 31 seconds remaining in a 33-32 victory.
TV: 3:05 p.m. ET, FOX. LINE: Falcons -5. O/U: 60.5
ABOUT THE PACKERS (12-6): While Rodgers has been blistering hot, the two-time NFL MVP will need some wide receivers to reel in his passes as Jordy Nelson (ribs), Davante Adams (ankle) and undrafted rookie Geronimo Allison (hamstring) all are nursing injures. Nelson (NFL-best 14 receiving touchdowns) sat out Sunday’s 34-31 victory over Dallas and is dealing with a combination of pain tolerance and medical clearance in his decision to play versus Atlanta. While Adams (career-best 76 catches, 997 yards and 12 TDs) won’t practice before Sunday’s pregame workout, Randall Cobb has gotten healthy with five touchdowns in his last five playoff games. “In the regular-season … mindset, none of them would play,” McCarthy said Thursday. “But obviously, this is a different time. This is a different point where we are in the season. Everybody understands where we are here.”
ABOUT THE FALCONS (12-5): All-Pro wideout Julio Jones insists he expects to play in the NFC title game despite sitting out his second straight practice on Thursday. “I got a little snag,” said Jones (NFL second-best 1,409 receiving yards), referring to aggravating a toe injury in Saturday’s 36-20 victory over Seattle that has plagued him since Week 13. “And I was like, ‘Well, let’s go check it out.’ It’s fine. I’ll be ready to go.” Sanu had nine receptions for 84 yards to go along with his touchdown in the earlier contest versus the Packers while fellow wideout Taylor Gabriel also found the end zone in that tilt and has five TDs in his last seven games overall.
1. Atlanta (NFL-best 540 points) has scored a touchdown on its first possession in each of its last seven games.
2. Green Bay converted RB Ty Montgomery, who rushed for two touchdowns in the first half against the Cowboys, easily could provide an increased presence in the passing game should Adams or Allison sit out.
3. Falcons Pro Bowl LB Vic Beasley Jr. recorded one of his NFL-best 15.5 sacks in the first meeting with the Packers.
ARLINGTON – (Special to Digital Sports Desk by The Sports Xchange) – The Green Bay Packers have enjoyed a number of special seasons in the past. This one, though, feels even more so.
Green Bay is one win away from the Super Bowl after beating the Dallas Cowboys 34-31 on Mason Crosby’s field goal as time expired Sunday. The Packers are at Atlanta in the NFC Championship next Sunday.
Beating the Cowboys the way they did is something that Aaron Rodgers will treasure … at least until next week.
“This one’s special,” Rodgers said. “More special than we’ve had around here in a while.”
On third down with 12 seconds remaining, Rodgers, scrambling to his left, rifled a 36-yard completion to Jared Cook, who dragged his toes in bounds at the 33-yard line with 3 seconds on the clock. Crosby followed with a game-winner just inside the left upright, after his first attempt right down the middle was waived off after the Cowboys called a timeout right before the snap.
“It’s unreal,” Crosby said. “When we have 35 seconds left on the clock and that offense can move the ball into field-goal range for a manageable kick, that’s just special.”
Green Bay has reached the Super Bowl four times previously, with the last being a win over Pittsburgh to close out the 2010 season. That win came in Arlington in the same stadium the Packers won in Sunday.
Those vibes from six years ago were alive once again.
“This is an outstanding victory for us,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. “We’ve obviously won a lot of games in a row and our focus is obviously now on Atlanta and the goal that I think every team has when the season starts.
“We’re an excellent football team and we’re two steps away from achieving greatness.”
The Packers have been a different team, Rodgers especially, during their eight-game winning streak. He never panicked with the game on the line, despite his team giving up an 18-point first-half lead.
“I felt good. I felt calm,” Rodgers said of the last drive. “I was very positive in the huddle, and I felt like we were going to go down and score.”
Atlanta is led by MVP candidate Matt Ryan, perhaps the only quarterback around as hot as Rodgers.
“They are very explosive,” Packers linebacker Nick Perry said of the Falcons. “When we look at the film, we gave to make sure we don’t give up those explosive plays. Everything lives off that.”
–Praise for Cowboys
A number of Packers praised the Cowboys on their season, including McCarthy and Rodgers. Rodgers has been particularly impressed by rookies Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott.
“Dak and Zeke had phenomenal seasons, and I think it’s just the beginning for the Cowboys,” Rodgers said. “There’s going to be more battles like this over the years. They should be really proud of what they accomplished.”
Green Bay 34, Dallas 31
When: 4:40 PM ET, Sunday, January 15, 2017
Where: AT&T Stadium, Arlington
ARLINGTON – (Special to Digital Sports Desk by The Sports Xchange) – The clock had 35 ticks remaining, the score was tied and one thought went through the head of Aaron Rodgers.
“A little too much time on the clock.”
The NFL’s hottest quarterback put the Green Bay Packers in position to advance to the NFC Championship and kicker Mason Crosby did the rest, booting a 51-yard field goal at the final gun to beat the Dallas Cowboys 34-31 Sunday afternoon at AT&T Stadium.
Aaron Rodgers (12)
The Packers moved on to face the Atlanta Falcons next Sunday with a spot in the Super Bowl at stake.
The final score came in improbable fashion after the Cowboys tied the game in the last minute. On third down with 12 seconds remaining, Rodgers dialed up some familiar magic.
Scrambling to his left, he rifled a 36-yard completion to Jared Cook, who dragged his toes in bounds at the 33-yard line with 3 seconds on the clock. Crosby followed with a game-winner just inside the left upright, after his first attempt right down the middle was waived off after the Cowboys called a timeout right before the snap.
“It’s unreal,” Crosby said. “When we have 35 seconds left on the clock and that offense can move the ball into field-goal range for a manageable kick, that’s just special.”
Rodgers finished 28 of 43 for 356 yards and two touchdowns, with an interception, despite being without leading receiver Jordy Nelson.
Cook caught six passes for 104 yards and a score. Ty Montgomery also had six receptions and scored on two short runs.
Dallas’ season ends after earning the No. 1 seed in the NFC and an off week for the first round of the playoffs.
“I thought we were a team that was capable of taking this thing all the way,” Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said.
The Dallas stars came to play, especially their rookies, quarterback Dak Prescott and running back Ezekiel Elliott. Prescott completed 24 of 38 for 302 yards, three scores and a pick. Elliott rushed 22 times for 125 yards.
Despite their remarkable regular season, Prescott could find little solace after his first playoff game. He said he was feeling as low as possible, but also vowed to be back.
“These are the games I dreamed as a kid of playing in,” he said. “I hope to play in many more of them.”
Dez Bryant had nine catches for 132 yards and two touchdowns.
The Cowboys rallied from an 18-point second-quarter deficit and were on the verge of overtime after Dan Bailey’s 52-yard field goal.
But Rodgers proved too much, continuing a run of incredible performances that began in late November. Green Bay has reeled off eight straight wins.
“I can’t say enough about my football team’s resiliency,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said.
After a big first half, the Packers didn’t skip a beat in opening the third quarter with a touchdown. Rodgers led his team 75 yards in just six plays, ending with the 3-yard toss to Cook.
The Cowboys needed an answer, and were driving for another score before the momentum swung back to the visitors. With a second-and-1 at the Green Bay 19, Prescott threw a quick slant that was jumped by Green Bay safety Micah Hyde.
The game’s first turnover could have been disastrous for Dallas, but the Packers gave the ball right back. Free safety Jeff Heath picked off Rodgers — his first interception since Nov. 13 — deep in Dallas territory.
Prescott calmly directed a scoring march that ended with a 6-yard pass to Jason Witten and trimmed Green Bay’s lead to 28-20 early in the fourth.
The Cowboys weren’t done. After a rare stop of Rodgers and the Packers, Dallas put together a clutch game-tying possession.