Nfl playoffs green bay to go all the way to super bowl li

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Green Bay Packers @ Atlanta Falcons

Sunday, 20:05

Available at [1.5] on the Exchange, Atlanta will have plenty of takers. But buyer beware! For the Falcons face a Green Bay team who are flush with confidence. The Packers were being derided in mid-season for some sub-par performances, but in the 12 months that brought us Brexit and a Trump presidency, it's starting to look like another majorly unexpected victory could be on the way. And like with those previous upsets, the signs of why it could and perhaps should happen are there should you choose to look for them.

First off, Green Bay have Aaron Rodgers. When it's fourth down and the clock's about to expire, there's nobody else I'd rather have to deliver under pressure. You need only look at last week's clutch throw against Dallas for an example of that. Rodgers threw for more than 350 yards in each of the last two weeks, against much better defenses than Atlanta's. So backing him to reach 320 here looks a much simpler task.

Let's be clear though, while Rodgers has played well this season, he's been by no means exceptional by his own high standards. And by that I mean that his passer rating and average yards per completion were higher in four of out of the last five seasons. So Aaron is just doing his thing like he always does. And it suggests that the real reason for Green Bay's success lies elsewhere.

Well that reason is certainly not the running game, which has been a shambles. Give credit to receiver Ty Montgomery for filling in as an emergency back and succeeding beyond all expectation. His quote of 75 scrimmage yards looks par based on his last couple of games. But Atlanta's defense is unusually soft, and injuries to Green Bay wideouts could open up more looks for Montgomery in the passing game, so I like him a lot to exceed that number.

The receiving corps is where I feel Green Bay have really upped their game. Davante Adams has improved beyond recognition this year and proven the perfect mid-range foil to Jordy Nelson's deep threat role. Of course then there has to be huge concern over the fact that one or both of these players could be out injured. Nelson looks especially doubtful, but the Packers coped fine without him last week. Adams turned his ankle last week but came back into the game minutes later, so I suspect he'll be absolutely fine come game time. He's been the key receiver for Green Bay this season, so pile into his quote of 69 yards, which he can surpass without breaking sweat.

Tight end Jared Cook has emerged as a key player as the season's started heating up. He looks better with every game and can play a big role here. It's Randall Cobb though who I really fancy to break Atlanta's back. Cobb was almost invisible in the first half of the season but has become more prominent and looked in better form with time. He smashed the Giants to pieces with three touchdowns in the Wildcard game and I think he's peaking at just the right time for the Packers.

Atlanta have two very good rushers in Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman. But they're up against a much improved, and the NFL's eighth-best, run defense. So I believe we'll see them employed more effectively in the passing game. When these teams met in Week Eight, the two combined for just 81 rushing yards.

Where the Falcons should make hay though is through the air. Julio Jones looks a total mismatch against the Packers secondary but was almost invisible against the Packers when they met in Week Eight, so beware. Matt Ryan threw 28 completions in that thrilling 33-32 win over the Packers. He is Atlanta's driving force and can go over 30 completed passes here, even more if trailing. He spread the ball around though in that last meeting, with Mohammed Sanu playing the leading role with 84 yards and a score. So his quote of 48 receiving yards looks low here.

Green Bay are hot and Atlanta's defense looks weak. Clay Mathews and his fellow linebackers can keep Atlanta's run game in check and that could be the key. Matt Ryan is a great quarterback when leading from the front, but he's looked suspect in the past when under pressure. He's sure to feel plenty of that on Sunday.

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