Dave Choate: I'll be honest: I think the Falcons may very well lose this game, and the reason I think that is because Aaron Rodgers exists. If you were in the Falcons' shoes, how would you attempt to stop him?
Evan “Tex” Western: Pray?
I don't mean to be glib, but I honestly don't know what the best option is. Rodgers has been great against 4-man rushes lately, because the offensive line gives him tons of time to extend plays. He's had great moments against blitzes when he gets the ball out quickly. I think you have to blitz him though and do an excellent job of disguising those blitzes to confuse the Packers' protection. If you can get a free rusher on him, you've got a chance, but if he identifies the extra rusher and can get him accounted for, he'll find the open receiver quickly.
Dave Choate: Ty Montgomery seems to have given this long-moribund ground game a boost. Tell us what makes him dangerous as a runner, if you would, and how you'd go about slowing him down.
Evan “Tex” Western: Montgomery has become a patient runner, who is growing quickly before our eyes. His vision and cutback ability have been excellent in recent weeks (example here), and he certainly has terrific receiving skills from his time as a wideout. He's also extremely shift in the open field, and is able to make subtle moves to shake tacklers and pick up extra yardage.
That said, sure tackling is a must, and you have to maintain gap integrity and avoid giving him cutback lanes to keep him limited. I also expect to see a lot of Aaron Ripkowski and Christine Michael as well (more on that shortly).
Dave Choate: The health of this receiving corps seem like a major question mark. If Nelson and perhaps Davante Adams can't play, how does that change Green Bay's gameplan?
Evan “Tex” Western: I expect the Packers to use the same game plan early on regardless of whether or not the top receivers can play - use the running game a lot to control the clock and keep the Packers' defense (and Matt Ryan) off the field. With their three runners (I'm including Ripkowski here) they have three very different running styles, which should keep the Falcons on their toes.
If the running game does get established, then the Packers can take some shots deep off play-action, especially if Atlanta brings a safety into the box. It's not necessarily the strategy they used in the last two games, but the Giants and Cowboys had better run defenses than Atlanta does.
The problem comes about if the Packers are indeed limited at receiver and then get down early or can't get the running game going. In that case, you'll see a lot of Jared Cook up the seam and the numbers, hopefully getting open as well as drawing coverage away from Randall Cobb underneath. If that's the case, you'll probably see the short passing game come into play, as McCarthy will want to get the ball out of Aaron Rodgers' hands quickly and in rhythm.
Dave Choate: I'll be honest: I'm even less familiar with your defense than I was earlier this year. Who stands out, how is Dom Capers going to plan to slow down arguably the NFL's best offense, and will they be successful?
Evan “Tex” Western: The critical factor here is going to be getting pressure on Matt Ryan. The Packers' battered secondary simply will not be able to hold up all game against the Falcons' receivers - of that I'm sure. Veteran safety Morgan Burnett is questionable, and if he's out that leaves two undrafted players starting in the defensive backfield - second-year corner LaDarius Gunter and rookie safety Kentrell Brice.
The keys to that pass rush are tackle Mike Daniels (who should see a lot of Chris Chester on Sunday) and linebackers Julius Peppers and Nick Perry. Clay Matthews has been relatively ineffective over much of this season, save for a great game against the Vikings and their abysmal offensive line. With that in mind, look for Peppers to get moved around a lot to find ways to get pressure and for Daniels to be a force on the interior.
Green Bay will probably use their nickel defense for much of the game early, even on running downs; they did so against league-leading rusher Ezekiel Elliott, so I see no reason to expect them to change against a more explosive passing attack. That run D has been solid for most of the season,
Dave Choate: The all-important one: Who wins this game, what's the score, and if they Packers win/lose, describe your mental state for us.
Evan “Tex” Western: I do think the Packers get their running game going early, which allows them to control the clock somewhat and keep the defense rested. That leads to the pass rush making a few big plays and a turnover or two from Ryan. That's all the Packers will need as the offense keeps clicking and they manage to hold off a late rally to win 30-27.
My personal mental state will be one of unabashed joy for about 10 minutes if my prediction comes true; then I'll quickly switch my focus over to the AFC game to see whether Super Bowl LI will be a rematch of XXXI or XLV. After all, there would still be one more game to be played. But in the event of a Packers loss, it depends somewhat on the circumstances; a competitive but not gut-wrenching loss would likely leave me disappointed, but not devastated; after all, it was impressive how the team has turned their season around over the final two-plus months of the season and a loss on the doorstep of the big game would not change that. However, I don't think most Packers fans could handle another last-minute or last-play playoff loss, especially with the Super Bowl so close. If Ryan leads a drive to win it at the end of the game like he did in week 8, you'll likely see a completely despondent fan base with many fans probably calling for Mike McCarthy's head after yet another agonizing postseason defeat.