The Falcons are on a bit of a hot streak by their 2013 standards, having hung in against the Saints and triumphed in a sloppy overtime battle in Canada against the Bills. The Packers, meanwhile, just got their posteriors handed to them by the Lions on Thanksgiving. Is no holiday sacred?
This should be another wild, avert-your-eyes kind of game. The Packers aren't doing anything well right now, but when they can get their stuff together they force a decent number of turnovers and run the ball well. The Falcons, meanwhile, aren't in a great position to take advantage of the major weaknesses of the Packers' offense, given that they can't stop the run and have no pass rush to speak of.
We'll keep it brief, but here's four matchups to watch.
Ryan Schraeder vs. The Packer Pass Rush
Maybe this affects the outcome of the game, maybe it doesn't. It's still a critically important matchup.
Whether the Falcons start Schraeder at guard or tackle or just give him serious snaps at either, he's the one guy with untapped upside left to throw into the fire. The Falcons haven't show any willingness to get Harland Gunn active, Peter Konz is going to have to find his success next year and Garrett Reynolds and Jeremy Trueblood are known quantities. Schraeder has shown well in his limited chances, and with coaches committing to giving him playing time,
The Packers don't have the best pass rush. If he can hold up against it, though, Schraeder should start getting more chances to prove he deserves something more than just a roster spot in 2014.
Desmond Trufant vs. Jordy Nelson
The Packers' receiving corps has been thinned out. A healthy Jordy Nelson is the greatest threat, and I propose we throw Desmond Trufant at the problem.
This might be the rare game where the Falcons' pass rush has some success finding its way home, because Matt Flynn is indecisive and he doesn't have a lot to throw to. Take away Nelson and James Jones and it's rough sledding for Flynn, which gives the Falcons a chance to get home, bring him to the turf and give Flynn himself further material to use in his Milton-esque epic poem about his fall from grace.
Let's hope this happens. I really want to see the pass rush working.
Harry Douglas/Darius Johnson vs. Sam Shields/Jarrett Bush
The Falcons' offense snapped along last week with Roddy White having a great game. Facing Tramon Williams, one of the better corners in the league this season, White may not be able to duplicate that success.
So why not look to HD and DJ? Douglas gets Sam Shields, a proficient young cornerback who has had somewhat of a rough season to this point. Douglas has very quietly been putting together a very good campaign, albeit one where he disappears frequently, so he should find some success.
Meanwhile, Johnson continues to make small but important strides week after week. He either gets Jarrett Bush, who has been right around average, or Davon House, who has been lousy. It's another matchup Johnson may be able to exploit, and it'd be a huge help for Matt Ryan if he's able to.
Run Defense vs. Eddie Lacy
The Packers' best shot at victory involves a heavy dose of Lacy. The reason for that is simple: The Falcons can't stop the run at all.
Only six players have a positive grade against the run from Pro Football Focus (unless you count under +1.0 for the season, which I don't). They are, in descending order, Jonathan Babineaux, Corey Peters, Osi Umenyiora, Joplo Bartu, Malliciah Goodman and William Moore. You'll note that four of those guys are on the line.
If a running back gets past the front four, this defense simply can't do anything about it. Lacy's power and deceptive speed make him an excellent bet to do just that. If the Falcons can't clamp down, it's possible the Packers will just ride him to victory.
Your matchups to watch?