I Have a Feeling: Atlanta Falcons Most Important Packers Opponent in 2013

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The Atlanta Falcons could be the Green Bay Packers most important 2013 opponent.
The Atlanta Falcons could be the Green Bay Packers most important 2013 opponent.

Last offseason, our fearless leader “Jersey” Al Bracco predicted that Ryan Grant would return to the Green Bay Packers. Though the circumstances were different from what he envisioned, Al’s gut feeling came true, and Grant signed with the Packers in December as back-up insurance. This year, I am going to announce my own bold prediction that the Atlanta Falcons will be Green Bay’s most critical opponent in the coming 2013 season.

I was sizing up the schedule recently, wondering to myself what the most important game of the year would be for the Packers. Many fans have the Week 1 game against the San Francisco 49ers circled in fire engine red, but for me that game comes way too early to have a truly significant impact. As a conference opponent, it will certainly have some sway on playoff seeding; nevertheless, there is still plenty of time to recoup a loss.

That line of thinking led me to the latter portion of the season, where the playoff picture slowly starts sliding into place and a single win or loss could change things drastically.

Within the final six games, the Packers face off against all three division opponents, two conference rivals in the Atlanta Falcons and Dallas Cowboys, and the lone AFC foe Pittsburgh Steelers. There is a strong chance that the Week 17 game versus the Chicago Bears will be significant when it comes to the playoffs, especially after last season. We shouldn’t soon forget that Green Bay’s loss to the Vikings in 2012 bumped them out of the #2 seed and a first-round bye.

However, my sights are set on Week 14, when the Falcons travel to Lambeau Field for a Sunday night showdown in the December cold. At that point, both teams will have played twelve games and should have a rather clear idea of their chances in their respective divisions, as well as in the NFC. The outcome of the match-up will certainly affect the urgency with which both teams approach the remaining three games.

But even beyond that, the Atlanta Falcons could be a top contender in the NFC next year. Many folks are focused on the San Francisco 49ers and Seattle Seahawks as Super Bowl prospects, but as Jeff Fedotin of the National Football Post points out, Atlanta is quietly flying under the radar as the team to beat.

Aside from being in the NFC Conference Championship last season – and watching a 17-0 lead slip out of their hands – the Falcons have addressed some deficiencies in the offseason. They acquired free agent running back Steven Jackson, signed defensive end Osi Umenyiora, and saw Antonio Gonzalez put off retirement for another year.

Then there’s this interesting statistical analysis from Over The Cap in which Jason looks at where playoff teams come from. With the exception of the 2004 and 2012 New England Patriots, no other Super Bowl participant (runner-up or champion) since 2002 has made it past the Divisional Round in the following year. In fact, since the NFL went to their new playoff format eleven years ago, 25% of the Super Bowl participants were Conference losers in their previous year. Another 25% were Wildcard losers, and 30% were non-qualifiers for the playoffs.

By those odds, the Falcons have more of a reason to be hopeful than the San Francisco 49ers, the Seattle Seahawks, or even – dare I say it – the Green Bay Packers.

A lot is going to happen over the next few months, but my gut feeling is that the Atlanta Falcons will be the most important team that the Green Bay Packers face in 2013. They finally have the playoff monkey off their back, could be more improved, and have a decent shot to make it all the way. Atlanta is the most important opponent not just for the Week 14 game and playoff seeding, but also during the postseason, when the two teams could meet again for even bigger stakes.

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Chad Toporski, a Wisconsin native and current Pittsburgh resident, is a writer for AllGreenBayPackers.com. You can follow Chad on twitter at @ChadToporski

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  • Savage57

    Living in Atlanta, I am subjected to a steady stream of Falconitis (as it should be) whenever those rare moments occur when the topic of conversation deviates from college football, NASCAR, the Braves or who makes the best BBQ. Folks who know my Packer fervor, or once they discover it, get that glazed-eyed look that southerners typically reserve for abrasive Yankees within their ranks. Theirs is a quiet, simmering resentment embellished with grudging respect for the Packers.

    Since the March through Atlanta on the way to the Super Bowl, Falcons fans have been waiting for this one, much like we Packer fans were waiting to re-pay the Falcons for soiling the Packers perfect post-season record at Lambeau.

    Whether you cheer for Green and Gold or Red and Black, this one is going to be great football. It has all the ingredients of a legendary rematch in the making. It might sound like hype now but if both of these teams play to their potential and aspirations, as John Madden would say, BOOM!

    • Pack Fan in ATL

      Perfectly said. I’m trying to get my best friend, a Falcon’ fan, to make the trek with me to Lambeau for the game. While I hope the Falcons indeed get the one seed and force the Packers to come to Atlanta for the NFC Championship (Selfish, I know), I hope it isn’t because of a loss here.

    • Dobber

      My observation when I lived in Macon was that the Falcons always play second-fiddle to UGA and SEC football…kinda like the NHL in Minnesota: they always seem to lose to college and HS hockey.

      The Falcon fans jump off the bandwagon pretty fast if they don’t get into a hot streak.

  • cow42

    Ridiculous schedule.

    I think by the ATL game the Packers will already be out of playoff contention.

  • Chad Toporski

    Please don’t feed the troll.

    • Bearmeat

      lol

      • cow42

        go look at the schedule again.

        you can laugh all you want.

        i really do see a 6-10 or 7-9 type season.

        • marpag

          I encourage you to place your bets.

        • http://allgbp.com Jersey Al

          I agree with you on the schedule – it’s brutal. But predicting 6 or 7 wins is saying you don’t think the Packers are a top-10 team in the NFL. Is that what you’re saying? Cause that would be crazy pessimistic.

          • Bearmeat

            Al. Meet Cow. This is who he is.

            If Cow won the Powerball, he would complain about the federal tax rate.

          • cow42

            Falcons
            49’ers
            Ravens
            Seahawks
            Broncos
            Patriots
            Giants
            Bengals
            Redskins

            all clearly better.

            Texans
            Saints
            Cowboys
            Eagles
            Colts
            Vikings

            all on par

        • Stroh

          Oh yee of little faith! See 11-5 and another NFCN title w a deep playoff run and possible SB berth.

          Should try being a fan instead of pessimist!

          • cow42

            you should try being more of a realist.

        • Nopainnogain

          It’s not like their schedule was a cakewalk last year. Division winners usually have tougher schedules since they are guaranteed to face all the previous years’ division champs from their conference.

          The only sure-to-be-tough opponents are SF and ATL. Maybe add the Giants since they seem to match up well. I don’t think the NFC North is any tougher than it was last year. MIN is the only threat, but it’s not like they were chopped liver last year.

          DAL,PIT,PHI,CLE are not threatening at all. CIN & BAL dont scare me either. none of us even knows what RGIII will look like post-injury, so that’s a big questionmark.

          • cow42

            last year’s schedule was foolishly easy.

            Dallas, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Cincinnati, and Baltimore are all way more than capable of beating this Packer team.

            teams without offensive lines multiple pass rushers, and quality safeties usually don’t do all that well.

            • Mojo

              …and of the five teams you mentioned, the Packers are more than capable of beating them also.

              Every year there is so much parity in the NFL, there’s only a handful of teams that are incapable of putting together a winning season. The rest of them-on any given Sunday….

            • Nopainnogain

              Every team in the nfl is more than capable of beating every other team. If you think the Packers are falling, what about Pitt & Baltimore? they’re on the way out more than anyone. Philly is terrible and when was the last time the Cowboys accomplished anything? Last year they faced one of the toughest divisions in the NFC West as well as HOU & NYG. Take off your hater shades.

              Not sure how the Pack finished 4th in sacks last year w/o “multiple pass rushers”. or how they went 15-1 2 yrs ago w/ the same caliber safeties and cb’s that were way worse than we have now.

        • Chad Toporski

          Can’t say I didn’t warn you…

          Instead of talking about the topic at hand, he sucks you into a tangential conversation which spirals out of control into the abyss of pessimism.

          • cow42

            I don’t think I’m off topic.
            I just don’t agree that this will be as important of a game as the article makes it out to be.

            If they start out 0-3, week 5’s game will be the most important of the season.

          • Bearmeat

            lol

          • http://allgbp.com/category/authors/jason-perone/ Jason Perone

            Vocab winner of the week! (And to stay on topic, I agree with you)

  • Bearmeat

    I think ATL will be good and will have a chance at the end of the year to make noise in the NFC.

    The 9ers and Seahawks will be good too, but I’m not buying their ‘dominance’ before the year starts. Especially with no deep threat to the 9ers offense and no available quality DL of any sort in Seattle.

    The Redskins are the only team in the NFCE that don’t have GAPING holes in their roster. And that’s assuming RG3 is healthy week 1 and stays healthy all year.

    The Saints are switching to a 3/4 on D. Their offense will be very good again, but they don’t have the players on D to make it happen.

    IMO GB, ATL, and Minny are going to be right there at the end.

  • Bearmeat

    PS – GB will be able to run the ball this year. That will be HUGE in Lambeau in December/January. And the good Quarless highlights are also exciting. This offense is going to be sick.

    PSS – Chad, don’t be silly. The Bears are not going anywhere this year. Their D is ancient. Their OL still sucks. And Cutler… well enough said.. 6-10 at best.

    • Dobber

      Agreed: the Bears are borderline rebuilding. They have weapons at the skill positions, but too many holes in other places. Cutler might have a very good year if he can stay upright, but the defense isn’t what it once was.

    • Chad Toporski

      While I agree on the Bears, I wouldn’t have guessed the Vikings to be so problematic last year. Ya just never know..

      • Bearmeat

        True. But at this time last year, we were ALL saying: “If Ponder can put it together, the Vikings will be good again very quickly”.

        Well, the Vikes squeaked by in a couple of close games in the middle of the year. AP was AP. And Ponder pulled his head out of his rear around mid November.

        The difference between the Vikings before last year and the Bears before this year is that the Vikes were solid on both lines. The Bears are OLD across the board on D. Plus they’re bringing in a completely new offensive system AGAIN and a new HC to boot. And their OL STILL sucks. Oh, and they happen to have a QB who cries like a little girl (and throws picks) every time he doesn’t have 10 seconds in the pocket.

        The safe bet is last in the NFCN for them.

        • cow42

          Bears’ line > Packers’ line.

          • http://allgbp.com/category/authors/jason-perone/ Jason Perone

            Besides Bushrod, who else do they have? Slauson, Garza, Webb (the turnstyle) and Long. At best, they are equal but Bulaga and Sitton alone trump these guys.

  • Batavia Greg

    It’s a very nice article, Chad. I certainly will put week 14 down on my calendar as a crucial game for the Pack. The relative importance of one game over another, of course, comes down to how the season unfolds. The first three games (S.F., Redskins and Bengals) before the “bye” week look very tough and I think that the coaching staff would be happy with winning 2 out of 3. Losing all 3 would not bode well for making the playoffs. Also, the last 7 games of the schedule, beginning with the Giants at NY on Nov. 17th, are brutal. If the Pack does no better than split the first 6 of these, the season may come down to the final game against an improved Bear team at Chicago.

    • Chad Toporski

      Thanks, Greg. I agree completely with your statement about the importance of games vs. how the season unfolds. Last year, the Packers started 2-2 and were a couple points away from being 1-3 after the New Orleans game.

      The NYG game was a runner-up for me in terms of importance.

      • BubbaOne

        @ Giants and then home against a good and improving ViQueens rank 1 and 2 in my book. W/ Atl, a dome team, coming to Lambeau in Dec w/ older vets at key positions and the Packers coming off a mini-bye equates to Packers winning by 7…or more. Usual caveats apply.

        • Batavia Greg

          If the Pack can beat the Giants in NYC that would give the team momentum going into the following week’s home game against the Vikes. Winning both games would go a long way towards building confidence for the remaining 5 games against some tough opponents and then for the playoffs. If the Packers lose the first two games of the season, the game at Cincinnati becomes very important. The Packers’ “bye” week follows that game. Injuries will mount as we progress into the “meat” of the season and without a later “bye” week to recover; it will be that much harder to overcome a 0 and 3 start.

  • Mojo

    Considering the strength of the top teams in the NFC, I do believe this years SB winner will come from this conference.

    After talent, I think motivation is a large component of a teams success(and avoiding key injuries). The big-boys in the NFC are highly motivated, especially Atlanta and SF. It’s going to be a brawl in the NFC this year.

    Many would pick a division game as the key game(s) of the year(especially the coaches). If you pull it out, it’s almost like getting two wins. The SF game is too early to predict anything. Same for the Skins game. To be honest, teams change so much from year-to-year to gauge who’s going to rise and who’s going to sink, but I think we can count of Atlanta, SF, GB and Seattle as being serious contenders. In the next group,teams such as the NY Giants, Skins, Vikings, Cowboys and Bears could squeeze into the playoffs or totally tank. Either way, I don’t consider any of them championship material.

    So the long-winded answer is, I don’t know. If the Packers goal is to win the SB, then the most “important” game would be a late divisional foe like the Vikings game in November or the Bears in the last game of the year. The best way to make sure you’re in the playoffs is to win your division. For the teams psyche, yes the Atlanta game in December seems important, especially if their reeling from some earlier head-shots and are wobbling on the ropes. A win could be what brings them together for a final run.

    • Dobber

      I think Denver will be as good as any of those NFC favorites. There’s a big dropoff in the AFC after them, though, and their season goes down the tubes if anything happens to #18.

  • BubbaOne

    NFP article re the Falcons:
    http://www.nationalfootballpost.com/Are-the-Falcons-the-team-to-beat-in-the-NFC-9895.html

    After I read it I don’t think the Falcons will be a force come the playoffs. The NFL is a young man’s game and the Falcons will be dependent on old timers; TE Gonzalez is 37, Osi will be 32, DT Seymour (who they’re courting) will be 34, and RB Jackson has mileage and age working against him. On the flip side the team is counting on their first two draft picks, CB’s Trufant and Alford to step up and contribute. This is a recipe for disaster.
    They’re good but they haven’t proven they can win the big game and get over the hump. W/ the Bucs improved and Payton returning to coach the Saints I don’t think Atl wins more than 10 games.

  • Dobber

    Ultimately, you need to win at home in the NFL especially against your own division, and then against your conference. That’s what makes this game important…especially given that it’s late in the season.

  • capackerfanatic

    Has everyone already forgotten that the Falcons are a dome team? Any given Sunday, should apply in Lambeau. Second, yes I admit…they are getting better. But so is most of the other teams mentioned. I still thinks its early to predict the demise of the packers. Or any other team.

  • capackerfanatic

    Also consider the fact that Atlanta had a lot of games, they squeeked by on last year. I don’t buy all the hype regarding Atlanta. We stomped them before, not that I would under-estimate them now. Not to mention, as far as post season, they had a better path to the big game. Seahawks were certainly not as good last year as the 9ers.

    • capackerfanatic

      But to say, that the Cowboys are a threat???? See, now you have insulted my intelligence. Was that supposed to be serious?

  • Chad Lundberg

    I have a feeling, that the shrimp (Falcons), are over there! Turn left Forrest!

    Anyway, I can see what Chad is saying, however I have always felt that the Falcons are vastly overrated. On paper I’ve never liked the way their team looks, and they rely far too much on Matt Ryan and Matt Bryant to finish the job which is IMO the strongest indication to why they almost always exit the playoffs so early.

    If the Packers Pass Rush is at least slightly more effective than last season, which by all means it should be, and have a respectable run game, the Packers really ought to handle the Falcons just fine.

  • Chad Toporski

    One quick note… I don’t necessarily think the Falcons will be the most challenging team the Packers face, I simply think they’ll be the most critical/important. A small but significant difference.

  • http://www.aol.com mark

    Atlanta will be a big game but not the barometer. The SB goes thru SF. The Falcons are a “finesse” team like the Packers. The man eaters are the Seahawks and SF. SF is physically dominant on the offensive and def lines along with talent in the “skill” positions.

  • Nopainnogain

    A win or loss counts the same at the beginning of the season as at the end. I don’t think there are many teams that show up on gameday unmotivated to win.

    Motivation is often pretty overrated by fans. I don’t think good teams like the ones we’re discussing really have much change in motivation from week to week. Hell, even bad teams are motivated in the NFL (you can make the playoffs at 8-8 and there isn’t much difference between an 10-6 team and a 6-10 team. they’re highly motivated every week, so even if a game might have more apparent ramifications, you cant give more than 100% you’re already giving. And at the beginning of the year, everyone’s slate is clean so no one will be slacking.

    As cutthroat as the NFL in player competition and how easily you can be released and go from hero to zero in the blink of an eye, I doubt there are very many who aren’t busting their ass. Laggards won’t last long in the league. Look at Jamarcus Russell.

  • Wagszilla

    I read your post Chad but humbly disagree. Matt Ryan isn’t that great to begin with (where would he be without Matt Bryan?) but even less impressive outside of the RCA Dome or whatever it’s called nowadays.

    The biggest game for the Packers is any one vs. a physical defense and/or that has a great QB with an ability to scramble or read defenses.

    They don’t call him “One Read Ryan” for nothing.

    Just my $0.02.

    • Dobber

      Yes, but his “one reads” get him to Roddy White, Julio Jones and Tony Gonzalez. How do you think ARod would look if his targets were that forgiving?

  • JakeK

    The Atlanta game is certainly important because of the NFC factor but the six divisional games have much more weight to them than any other games on the schedule. The Falcon game is the 13th game of the season. The playoff teams are already pretty much known by that time & seeding just isn’t all that important anymore.

    Also, calling the Falcons as an “under the radar team” must be a joke. Few teams with Ryan, Julio & Tony G. could go unnoticed. Only in blogsville.

  • tarrega

    I think overlooking Drew Brees is a huge mistake in relation to the Falcon’s success

  • Since ’61

    With Aaron Rodgers we have the better QB than Atlanta. Aaron can’t win alone but the Packers have usually closed their seasons strong under MM and I expect the same this year. By this point in the season we will know where we stand with OL , the running game and our defense. I am concerned about the Packers having such an early bye in 2013. That puts a premium on earning the 1 or 2 spot in the conference and a first round bye. Potential conference losses include SF and NY, both on the road. We should knock off Dallas, Philly and Washington and be strong in our own division again. Hopefully 9-3 by the time we get to this game. Only time will tell.
    Thanks, Since ’61

  • Ryan

    Couldn’t agree more with this. I look at the game against the Steelers with equal importance, but the Falcons have always had a chip on their shoulder ever since we beat them in the Divisional Round in 2010. It always turns into a defensive game too.