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NFL Preview - Atlanta (5-7) at Green Bay (9-3)



By John McMullen, NFL Editor

(SportsNetwork.com) - Let's face it, the Atlanta Falcons are lucky to be playing meaningful football in December.

But the schedule doesn't shape up as all that fortunate down the stretch.

The 5-7 Falcons are tied atop the dismal NFC South division with New Orleans in advance of their trip north to face the powerful Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field on "Monday Night Football."

And win or loss in Titletown, Atlanta will remain in control of its own destiny because of a perfect 4-0 record inside the division along with a looming Week 16 matchup at the Saints.

If you look ahead, however, you can see things figure to get far stickier for the Falcons starting in Week 14. While Atlanta has to battle the Packers, who are 6-0 at home this season, New Orleans is hosting a Carolina team that has lost six straight a day earlier.

Looker further the Saints will face opponents who currently have a 15-32-1 mark the rest of the way. Conversely, the Falcons face three teams with playoff aspirations (The Pack, Pittsburgh and New Orleans) before finishing off with the Panthers.

Both the Saints and Atlanta are attempting to avoid joining the 2010 Seattle Seahawks as being the only NFL teams to win a division with a sub-.500 record.

The Falcons have won three of four overall, including a big 29-18 win over the NFC West-leading Arizona Cardinals in Week 13 action at the Georgia Dome.

Matt Bryant connected on all five of his field-goal attempts in that one and Matt Ryan finished with a season-high 361 yards on 30-of-41 passing with scoring throws to Julio Jones and Levine Toilolo.

Jones led all receivers thanks to 189 yards on 10 receptions, Harry Douglas added 116 yards on nine grabs, and Steven Jackson contributed 101 yards on 18 carries.

Arizona signal caller Drew Stanton was picked off twice by the much-maligned Atlanta defense, once by Josh Wilson and another by Dwight Lowery.

The Packers, meanwhile, took another step toward what would be a franchise- record fourth consecutive division title when they outlasted the New England Patriots, 26-21, in a game that could have foreshadowed Super Bowl XLIX.

MVP candidate Aaron Rodgers threw for 368 yards and two touchdowns and kept two NFL-record streaks alive as he outdueled Tom Brady and the Pats. Rodgers was 24-of-38 and has now thrown 360 consecutive passes with 31 touchdowns since his last interception at home, which was over two calendar years ago.

Eddie Lacy rushed 21 times for 98 yards and caught two passes for another 17, stretching his Green Bay running back record to four consecutive games with at least 100 yards from scrimmage.

Davante Adams had six receptions for 121 yards and Randall Cobb made seven catches for 85 as the Packers ran their winning streak to four games since their bye week.

"We've been great at home," said Rodgers. "The fans have been excellent with the noise and we've got a good advantage with it. We've just got to keep rolling."

Green Bay leads its all-time series with Atlanta by a 14-12 margin, including a 22-21 win at Lambeau last season while Rodgers was out with a broken collarbone.

On Monday nights the Falcons have been dismal historically, compiling a 10-26 mark. The Packers are also underwater but much better at 28-31-1.

WHAT TO WATCH FOR

Rodgers has thrown for 20 touchdowns without an interception at home this season. Overall, the All-Pro leads the NFL with a 118.6 passer rating and has thrown for 32 scores against just three INTs, captaining a team that scores 31.7 points per game, the best mark in the league.

In his four previous career meetings against the Falcons Rodgers has always crossed the 300-yard barrier throwing the ball and has nine TDs against just one INT.

"It's a big challenge for us this week with Aaron Rodgers," Falcons coach Mike Smith admitted. "No doubt, he's playing the best of any quarterback in the NFL right now. He's got a number of weapons he can get it to.

"He's played extremely well at home. I don't think he's thrown an interception at home this season, and I don't even want to talk about how many points they've scored."

The answer to that is 40.9 points while outscoring foes 245 to 106 at Lambeau.

"I don't know that there's been a quarterback that's had a stretch like he's had in the history of the NFL," Smith continued.

Rodgers finished November with 1,233 yards passing with 13 touchdowns and no interceptions for an NFL-best 128.1 passer rating. And more importantly a 4-0 record.

"No disrespect to any quarterback in the NFL, but right now he's at a level that is much higher than anybody else," Smith said. "When you look at his pure statistics, they're phenomenal."

The key to Green Bay at home has been blitzing people out of the starting blocks. The Packers have outscored their opponents by an amazing 79-0 margin in the first quarter of their last five home contests. That number expands to 151-23 at halftime and 14 of those 23 points were scored by the powerful Patriots last week.

Foes have been looking up and finding the score 14-0, or in the case of the Pats 13-0, and that has enabled a flawed Packers defense to excel as teams become more one-dimensional.

Despite some talent issues on the defensive side Green Bay has allowed just 17.3 ppg in its current four-game winning streak.

"When you watch the tape, it's even more impressive," Smith said. "(Rodgers has) got a great grasp of how to attack defenses. He's extending plays. If he can extend the play and when the play gets off schedule, he can make the throws. He's been very accurate. His quarterback rating is off the charts."

You would think the only way Atlanta can beat the Packers is in a shootout and Ryan isn't too shabby himself, currently second in the NFL with 3,427 passing yards, slightly ahead of Rodgers' 3,325. The veteran also has 21 TD passes versus 10 interceptions and a solid 93.7 passer rating.

Jones, meanwhile, is one of the best receivers in the game as evidenced last week when he torched the highly-regarded Patrick Peterson time and time again. The Falcons could also get a boost from the potential return of Jones' regular running mate, Roddy White, who sat out last week with an ankle problem.

"Roddy was close to playing (last week)," Smith said. "He worked with our athletic performance guys late in the week. We felt that it was in the best interest long term for him to not play in the game this past week. We anticipate, with the extra day, that he'll be ready to go this week."

OVERALL ANALYSIS

Rarely is a division leader favored by double digits over another division leader but that's the story here and it's hard to imagine a team with so many issues on defense like the Falcons solving Rodgers at Lambeau.

"We have some big goals, and we're getting into December football now with a chance with everything right in front of us," A-Rod said.

Expect the Packers to keep rolling here.

Sports Network predicted outcome: Packers 34, Falcons 20

12/05 12:21:22 ET