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By the Numbers: Stats Preview for the NFC Championship

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It all comes down to a rematch between Atlanta and Green Bay to determine who will represent the NFC in the Super Bowl. Who has the edge statistically on offense and defense?

Green Bay Packers v Atlanta Falcons Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

If any of you expected the Falcons to be in this position—fighting for the NFC Championship and a Super Bowl berth—at the beginning of the 2016 season, you’re the biggest homers in the world. You’d also be right, so good job.

After dispatching the Seattle Seahawks last week in the divisional round, the Atlanta Falcons host the Green Bay Packers in one final game in the Georgia Dome. The crowd will be raucous, and Atlanta has perhaps the best chance ever in franchise history to reach and win the Super Bowl.

While we’re all crossing our fingers for that eventuality, the Falcons first need to claim the NFC title. To do so, they’ll take on the Packers and wizard-person Aaron Rodgers again, and this one is for all the marbles.

These two teams are fairly different than they were when the teams first met in Week 8. Here is the Stats Preview for that game, if you’re interested. Let’s take a look at how they match-up now based on 16 games worth of data.

Offense

Total Points/game: Falcons 33.8 (1st), Packers 27 (4th)
Total Yards/game: Falcons 415.8 (2nd), Packers 368.8 (8th)
Passing Yards/game: Falcons 295.3 (3rd), Packers 262.4 (7th)
Passing TDs: Falcons 38 (T-2nd), Packers 40 (1st)
Rushing Yards/game: Falcons 120.5 (5th), Packers 106.3 (20th)
Rushing TDs: Falcons 20 (T-3rd), Packers 11 (T-20th)
Third Down Efficiency: Falcons 42% (11th), Packers 47% (2nd)
Turnover Margin: Falcons +11 (5th), Packers +8 (6th)

Despite the view that the Packers are some unstoppable offensive juggernaut, the Falcons best them in nearly every statistical category. Atlanta is 1st in points (33.8, a full 6.8 PPG more than the Packers), 2nd in total yards, 3rd in passing yards, and 5th in rushing yards. They’re also among the best in the league at protecting the football and generating turnovers, with a +11 TO margin good for 5th. Atlanta’s weakest point is their third down efficiency, which is 42%, only 11th in the league.

The Packers are clearly also an excellent offense. They’re top-5 in points (4th), passing TDs (1st), and third down efficiency (2nd). Green Bay is also top-10 in total yards (8th), passing yards (7th), and turnover margin (6th). Where they clearly struggle is in the run game, where they’re 20th in yards and T-20th in rushing TDs. This is a very unbalanced offense that relies on Aaron Rodgers to carry the team every week. While for any other QB that might be a poor strategy, it’s taken them to the NFC Championship thus far.

Advantage: Falcons

Defense

Total Points/game: Falcons 25.4 (27th), Packers 24.2 (21st)
Total Yards/game: Falcons 371.2 (25th), Packers 363.9 (22nd)
Passing Yards/game: Falcons 266.7 (28th), Packers 269.2 (31st)
Passing TDs: Falcons 31 (28th), Packers 32 (T-29th)
Rushing Yards/game: Falcons 104.5 (17th), Packers 94.7 (8th)
Rushing TDs: Falcons 15 (T-18th), Packers 11 (T-10th)
Third Down Efficiency: Falcons 42% (26th), Packers 41% (24th)
Sacks: Falcons 34 (T-16th), Packers 40 (T-6th)

Atlanta has clearly improved since the bye week on defense, but the early season struggles have really hurt their overall stats. Still, this isn’t exactly what we’d call a “good defense” (S/O to Jeanna). The Falcons are 27th in total points and 25th in total yards. They’re bad against the pass (28th in yards, 28th in TDs), but are actually better than the Packers in that regard. Atlanta has performed better against the run (17th in yards, T-18th in TDs) and in generating sacks (T-16th).

Green Bay is also a fairly bad defense on the whole. They’re 21st in points and 22nd in total yards. They’re among the worst in the league at defending the pass at 31st in passing yards and T-29th in passing TDs, and are also poor on third down (24th). The Packers have played good run defense throughout the year, however, as they are 8th in yards and T-10th in TDs. They’ve also been effective rushing the passer with 40 sacks this season, T-6th in the league.

Advantage: Packers

The numbers produce a split advantage: Atlanta has the edge on offense, Green Bay has the edge on defense. That would lead you to believe that this would be a close, well-matched game, and it likely will be. But who has the overall advantage?

If you look closely at the statistics, you’ll notice that some are closer than others. On offense, although the placements may be “close” (1st to 4th in points, for example), the actually gap in stats is enormous. That is a testament to the dominant performance the Falcons have displayed on offense.

Obviously, Green Bay is a very good team that just dispatched another very good team in the Dallas Cowboys. But neither of those teams were a historic offense. Neither were even close, if we’re being honest. Green Bay scored 432 points, 108 less than Atlanta. Dallas scored 421, which was 119 less than Atlanta. That’s a lot of points, folks. And the argument could certainly be made that Atlanta could have scored a lot more if they didn’t put in back-ups after building large leads.

Green Bay and Dallas were very good offenses. Atlanta is a great offense.

Conversely, if we take a look at the differences between defensive stats, the statistical differences are quite minor. Atlanta has allowed 1.2 more PPG, 7.3 more YPG, 9.8 more rushing YPG, and 1% more third down conversions. These are not hugely meaningful differences, and although the Packers do have the slight edge, it isn’t big enough to overcome Atlanta’s offensive advantage.

The truth of the matter is—by statistics or the eye test—no NFL team in 2016 can keep up with the Falcons on offense if Atlanta is playing their game. They’re a great offensive team, matched or exceeded only by 8 teams in NFL history. They displayed their dominance last week against a vastly superior defense, and they could’ve easily dropped 40+ on Seattle.

I expect a hard-fought battle, but Atlanta’s offense is too much to overcome.

Overall Advantage: Falcons

What are your feelings on the game? Do you have faith in Atlanta’s historic offense to win in a shootout, or do you think the defense will play better than expected?