These Falcons Are Birds of a Different Feather; Pack Will Stay Unbeaten

When the schedule came out last spring, I marked this one down as an "L." You know, prime time, revenge factor, really really tough at home--all that jazz.

I had Atlanta, San Diego, Detroit and Kansas City as my "Ls" when the schedule came out. I've obviously erased the loss at Arrowhead and now I'm forced to erase a loss to the Falcons. This is not the same Atlanta team as 2010. I was asked by the boys on KXNO in Des Moines this week if I thought the Falcons had taken a baby step backward this season. I thought it was more of a pre-teenager step back.

The problems come on both sides of the ball and between the ears. Let's start with the latter: they've been flagged 29 times already and incurred over $40K in fine money. Offensively, they traded a draft worth of picks for wide receiver Julio Jones and he makes an instant impact on the offense. With Roddy White slowed a bit by a nagging injury, Jones has been Ryan's favorite target through four games.

But by trading away all those picks, they didn't address some needs: like replacing the departed Harvey Dahl at right guard and addressing a mediocre defense. They gave big money to former Viking pass rusher Ray Edwards who has as many sacks as I do this season.

Now on to their injuries. They'll be without the leader of the offensive line, Todd McClure (add in the weakness at right guard and you can guess where Grant and Starks will look for holes). Two of their top defensive linemen are questionable: veteran end John Abraham and tackle Jonathan Babineaux. The latter has missed the last three games and the Falcons have a total of zero sacks in those three games, against Josh Freeman, Michael Vick and Tavaris Jackson.

This is not the 13-3 team of a year ago. Close observers of the Falcons will tell you that Michael Turner has aged overnight--the years of heavy workload and big hits have taken their toll. Matt Ryan is not being called Matty Ice anymore. With a shaky line in front of him he looks less comfortable and less confident and is not a very accurate passer on the run.

At 2-2, Atlanta has managed to squeak past a disappointing Eagles team at home and overmatched Seahawks team on the road, while getting blown out in the opener in Chicago and losing a road division game to Tampa Bay. Now they face the team that wiped out their swagger and apparent rise to NFC dominance.

They will have revenge on their minds. They've been hearing about that playoff game for nine months. The nation will be watching and a loss will have them looking way up at New Orleans and Tampa Bay in the NFC South.

But the Packers have an offensive rhythm going like nobody else in the NFL right now. Playing on the immaculate carpet at the Georgia Dome is the fast track that they love. There is no way the Packers don't score 30 points in the game. The question is whether the defense can hold the Falcons down.

The Packers pass rush is concerning. Kyle Orton had a lot of time to throw last weekend and if Ryan has time he will find White, Jones and Gonzalez. You have to believe Dom Capers has been holding some things back to throw at the Falcons. Unfotunately, Frank Zombo is still at least a week away, despite returning to practice this week. The fact that Clay Matthews is not practicing at all right now, tells you he's not close to 100% and one reason why he only has one more sack than Ray Edwards.

While the Falcons are out for revenge, the Packers are out for respect--at least from some of the guys in red jerseys. Roddy White's comments following last season's playoff thrashing still resonate in the Packers lockerroom: "We were a better team than those guys. We went out there and we didn't perform at our highest level." Aaron Rodgers took the high road, calling White's comments "borderline disrespectful." You can bet they want to put an exclamation point at the end of the conversation.

Prime time, tough, loud environment--we'll have our share of pre-snap penalties I think the Pack's defense has more playmakers and will make the big play late to seal this one.

It might be in come-from -behind fashion, but I have it Pack 34 Falcons 30.


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