That’s the dilemma facing the Green Bay Packers this week as they wait out their first round bye and for their opponent in the divisional round to be determined. While it’s doubtful the Packers are playing children’s board games in the locker room (well, maybe), we fans can play the wishing game and debate for hours on end who we want to see the Packers play in their first home playoff game since the 2007-2008 season.
(Be sure to cast your vote in the Poll at the end of this post)
The Packers can face one of three teams: the New York Giants, the Detroit Lions or the Atlanta Falcons. Should Detroit upset the New Orleans Saints the Lions come to Lambeau. Should the Saints hold on, the winner of Falcons/Giants would get the defending champions next.
So who would be the best matchup for the Packers? Honestly, an argument could be made for all three. The Packers played (and beat) all three during the regular season, and defeated the Lions twice. So familiarity with the opponent will be an advantage regardless.
I’ve decided to rank the three from the best matchup to the worst. This is by no means a rock solid list. I tossed all sorts of different variations in my head but I finally settled on the order below.
1. Atlanta Falcons They’re number one for a couple reasons. First, they are a dome team. So are the Lions, yes, but at least Detroit’s climate is very similar to Green Bay’s. Atlanta’s meanwhile, despite the occasional snow storm, is a much warmer climate. Even though they play indoors, they still don’t commute to work and live in this weather like the Packers, Lions and Giants do.
A second reason is that for whatever reason, the Packers seem to have the Falcons’ number. After beating the Packers at home during the 2010 regular season, the Falcons got spanked by the same team in the divisional round last year. This year, again at the Georgia Dome, the Packers beat Atlanta again 25-14 after the Falcons blew a 14-3 lead.
Of course, Atlanta will be out for revenge in this game looking to do the Packers what the Packers did to them one year ago at the same spot in the playoffs. Still Matt Ryan and company haven’t had the same explosive punch as in past years and the Falcons defense would not stand a chance against Aaron Rodgers and the Packers’ explosive attack.
2. New York Giants Yes, the Giants nearly derailed the Packers undefeated season in New York. It took an epic final drive from Rodgers to win the game. The defense was gashed all over the place and the offense had to keep pace.
However, after their loss to the Giants in the NFC Championship four years ago, the Packers will not let the Giants beat them at home in the playoffs ever again. Many of the players on the team no remember how bitter of a pill that game was to swallow and the Lambeau crowd would be fired up for the Giants. Revenge is a dish best served cold, as the saying goes.
The Giants do have one of the best pass rushes in the league. They would keep Rodgers on the run for a good portion of the game. Thanks to Rodgers’ mobility and deficiencies in the Giants secondary, this would offset the advantage the Giants pass rush seems to create.
Eli Manning seemingly has cured the woes that plagued him last year, but he is still as hot/cold as any quarterback in the NFL. A few frustrating plays early by the Packers ball-hawking secondary could get into Manning’s head and make the rest of the defense’s job that much easier.
3. Detroit Lions While the Packers have played them twice and beat them twice, the Lions coming back to Lambeau a third time concerns me on multiple levels.
First, the Lions will have just beaten the Saints in the Superdome, a Herculean task if there ever was one in the NFL. For a young team with a hot rod of an offense, the amount of confidence this would instill in a team that has never lacked swagger would make them an incredibly tough opponent.
Throw in the way they lost to the Packers in Week 17 (to the Packers backup quarterback nonetheless) and some questionable calls that did not go their way and the Lions will be up for this game. They have lost 20 straight games at Lambeau Field, but there is never a better time to end a streak like that.
It’s also very tough to beat an opponent three times in a season, but it can be done. It would require the defense to step up and make plays it didn’t in the regular season finale. While it’s true they didn’t have Charles Woodson or Clay Matthews, the rest of the defense as eaten alive as Matthew Stafford threw for a ludicrous 520 yards.
I don’t see the Lions winning in New Orleans but as Rodgers himself said last season, “Once you’re in, anything can happen. And I do mean anything.”
There you have it. There’s no doubt there are multiple other rankings out there and they are just as legitimate as mine. As I said earlier, I could make this same list in so many different orders.
It won’t matter much longer anyways. By Sunday night, we will know who the Packers will face in their first game of their march to Indianapolis for Super Bowl XLVI.
Playoff time is here. Buckle up.
Kris Burke is a sports writer covering the Green Bay Packers for AllGreenBayPackers.com and WTMJ in Milwaukee. He is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA) and his work has been linked to by sites such as National Football Post and CBSSports.com. Follow @KrisLBurke