Super Bowl LI is nearly upon us. We just have that pesky event known as Conference Championship Weekend standing between us and the big game.
This is obviously the biggest step in the postseason outside the Super Bowl, as this Sunday’s games will determine which teams will represent their respective conferences. The first of the two games has the Atlanta Falcons hosting the Green Bay Packers for the right to represent the NFC.
This should be an exciting and action-filled contest. We’ll have two of this year’s top quarterbacks, Matt Ryan and Aaron Rodgers, and both have been playing lights-out of late. The oddsmakers in Las Vegas seem to think there will be a lot of scoring in this game, and, quite frankly, we’d be shocked if they were wrong.
Today, we’re going to take an in-depth look at the NFC Championship Game and the latest odds—courtesy of OddsShark. We’ll also make our predictions and examine some of the latest storylines heading into Championship Sunday.
NFC Championship Game
What: Green Bay Packers at Atlanta Falcons
Where: Georgia Dome, Atlanta
When: Sunday, January 22
Time: 3:05 p.m. ET
National TV: Fox
Line: ATL -5
Prediction: Green Bay 35-33 over Atlanta
Jordy Nelson Back at Practice
Packers fans got some good news on Thursday when wide receiver Jordy Nelson returned to practice. The wideout—who produced 1,257 yards and 14 touchdowns in the regular season—had been sidelined since suffering broken ribs against the New York Giants in the opening round.
It’s unlikely that Nelson practiced at full speed. According to Michael Cohen of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, though, Nelson at least caught some balls on Thursday:
If Nelson can’t get up to full speed, it seems unlikely that he’ll take the field against the Falcons. While his presence, even in a decoy role, could help the Green Bay offense, the Packers are going to need healthy pass-catchers to match points with the mighty Falcons offense.
Atlanta averaged an NFL-best 33.8 points per game in the regular season.
“[Sunday] is obviously a long ways away,” Nelson said, per Jason Wilde of the Wisconsin State Journal. “I’ve improved every day. Hopefully that continues. I’ve got to be able to go out and perform. I just can’t be out there slowly running or just being some random person.”
If Nelson can’t be close to 100 percent, don’t be surprised if he sits. The Packers could also be without wide receivers Geronimo Allison and Davante Adams, though NFL Media’s Ian Rapoport reported that the team is confident both will be available:
Julio Jones Expected to be Fine
While Packers fans are nervously hoping that Nelson will be able to go on Sunday, Falcons supporters might have a little anxiety about their own star receiver, Julio Jones.
Jones missed two games during the regular season due to a foot injury and has experienced some injury issues in the past. This week, he’s missed consecutive practices after getting re-injured during last week’s game against the Seattle Seahawks.
The good news is that Jones believes he will be fine come game time.
“I got a little snag,” Jones said, per Vaugh McClure of ESPN.com. “And I was like, ‘Well, let’s go check it out.’ It’s fine. I’ll be ready to go.”
Falcons head coach Dan Quinn also made it clear that the team expects Jones to be ready to go on Sunday, per McClure:
I’m not worried heading into the game, honestly. This is an injury that he knows well, so we’re trying to get him at his very best. For him to participate in the walkthroughs yesterday and some today, and then tomorrow we’ll get him a good bit of the work. He’s on point. And honestly, [we] just want to get him to the game with his best readiness.
While Nelson remains a question mark, we expect Jones to be just fine.
Falcons Looking to Test Packers Run Defense
Aaron Rodgers proved last weekend that he doesn’t need a whole lot of time to put the Packers in scoring position. If the Falcons are going to outduel Rodgers and the Green Bay offense, they may want to try keeping them on the sideline by running the ball.
It isn’t an easy challenge, as the Packers defense has been strong against the run. The team is rated sixth in run defense by Pro Football Focus and allowed an average of just 94.7 yards per game on the ground in the regular season.
“They’re stout up front,” Falcons guard Andy Levitre explained, per Matt Winkeljohn of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “Their guys up front are big and strong, and they can hold the point really well.”
Fortunately, the Falcons have an extremely talented pair of running backs in Tevin Coleman and Devonta Freeman. They also boast an offensive line that is rated first in run blocking by Pro Football Focus.
If the Falcons are unable to get their ground game going, they clearly have enough pieces to take to the air. However, it would be a major boon to the team if Atlanta can run the ball when needed and keep Rodgers on the sideline for long stretches of the game.Read more NFL news on BleacherReport.com