NFC Divisional Playoffs
Green Bay Packers (6) at Atlanta Falcons (1), Georgia Dome, Atlanta, GA
Saturday, January 15, 2011, 8 pm EST, TV: FOX
Opening Line: Falcons -1.5
Current Line: Falcons -2.5
Opening Total: 45.5
Current Total: 44.5
Money Line: Falcons -140 / Packers +120
The Atlanta Falcons (13-3) should be home underdogs against the Green Bay Packers (11-6) on Saturday in their NFC divisional playoff matchup according to most of the mainstream media. But oddsmakers still favor the Falcons (-2.5) in a rematch of an epic regular-season meeting between the teams from Week 12.
Atlanta won that game 20-17 when kicker Matt Bryant connected on a game-winning 47-yard field goal with 13 seconds left after Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers had tied the game with a 10-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Jordy Nelson 43 seconds earlier. If the second meeting is anything like the first game, fans and bettors alike should be prepared for an instant classic.
Still, Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan is 20-2 all-time at the Georgia Dome and also beat the Packers 27-24 at Lambeau Field two years ago when he was a rookie. Ryan is coming off his best season (career-high 28 touchdowns and career-low nine interceptions) and made the Pro Bowl over Rodgers, who is just 2-14 during his career in games decided by four points or less.
As you can see, two of those games for Rodgers’ Packers came against Atlanta, so will the third time be the charm? Ironically, none of Green Bay’s six losses this year were decided by more than four points, and only two of the team’s wins were decided by less than a touchdown.
The difference this time around could very well be whether or not overnight sensation James Starks can build off his rookie record playoff performance last week for the Pack. The running back out of Buffalo rushed for 123 yards in his first major action of the year, helping lead Green Bay to a 21-16 victory at Philadelphia. It seems fitting that he rose to prominence in Philly considering leading rusher Ryan Grant was lost for the season to a knee injury there in a season-opening 27-20 win.
The Packers did not have a rushing attack to speak of before last week’s game unless you count Rodgers, who ran for a team-high 51 yards and a touchdown in the last meeting with the Falcons. Starks has the potential to give Green Bay another dimension to its dangerous offense, but Atlanta ranked 10th in the NFL in run defense during the regular season, giving up 105.9 yards per game.
Atlanta will look to Pro Bowl running back Michael Turner to give Ryan that same advantage of a balanced offense. Turner rushed 23 times for 110 yards and a touchdown in the first meeting and will be going up against a Packers defense that surrenders 114.9 yards per game on the ground.
The Falcons are a remarkable 7-1 against the spread in the last eight meetings with Green Bay, winning five of those games straight-up. They were 5-3 ATS at home this season to go along with their 7-1 SU mark there.
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