Reason For Hope, Reason For Concern

They have steam. In their eyes, they've won three straight playoff games and this Saturday is just the next item on the "to do" list. The Green Bay Packers feel like they are on a roll as they head into Atlanta: winning must games against the Giants, Bears and Eagles the last three weeks.

Meanwhile the top-seeded Falcons haven't played a meaningful game since December 27th, when they lost at home on a Monday night to the Saints. They closed the regular season sleep-walking through a cupcake closer at home against the Panthers and have been sitting around waiting for their turn to play.

So Mike McCarthy is selling the players on their momentum. Six days rest vs. 13? 'No big deal, we like our chances.' Hard to argue with him. In a road game where Aaron Rodgers threw for less than 200 yards and fumbled in the red zone, Greg Jennings caught one ball and the team as a whole ran five plays on the Eagles' side of the field in the second half, they beat a solid, dynamic team and earned their way into the divisional round.

That gives the Packers hope. The emergence of James Starks, if nothing else, makes the Pack unpredictable and more difficult to prepare for. Perhaps for the first time this season, play action may actually be an effective tool for McCarthy and Rodgers to use. Defensively, this team is playing at a different level from last year's playoff edition. You can bet watching film of the first Atlanta matchup will fire them up: it was the worst tackling performance of the season. Michael Turner was a one-man wrecking crew and there were more missed tackles than we'd seen all season. You know they're pumped up to get a second chance.

Look, the Falcons are the top seed for a reason. They've got a great young QB who's 20-2 at home. His top targets include top-5 guy Roddy White and instant Hall of Famer Tony Gonzalez. Plus, Turner is an elite back. Defensively, they're middle of the pack, but they have big play guys like John Abraham, Dunta Robinson and Curtis Lofton.

The Dome will be rockin' and the game has all the makings of a heavyweight bout, with both teams landing punches and the result coming down to who can make the big play. That's where the concern comes into play. Despite the rousing win in Philadelphia the Packers gave us glimpses of why they are a six seed and not a two seed in the playoffs.

Their maddening habit of failing to execute in key situations, mismanaging the clock and getting ultra-conservative with a lead could easily have cost them against the Eagles, as it did in losses to Chicago, Washington, Miami and Atlanta. Go back to the drop by James Jones at the end of the half. That whole drive had ugly written all over it, beginning when McCarthy failed to use a timeout as the Eagles were trying to kill the clock. Rodgers got the ball and the Pack wasn't sure whether to try something or not. When they did, Jones failed to convert.

Their last possession is hard to argue with too much. The strategy was to run the ball, force the Eagles to use their timeouts and try to leave Vick with as little time as possible. But, as a few readers have correctly thrown out there, why not try play action there and try a safe pass over the middle. Complete one or two of those and the Eagles don't even get the ball back.

So far the 2010 Packers will be thought of as the team that withstood 15 players heading to IR and the team that lost a lot of close games--none by more than four points. In fact, they haven't trailed by more than seven points all season.

You get the feeling that after Saturday night that second point will either be underlined or forgotten. This game will most likely be decided in the final two minutes. If the Pack can rise up and avoid the big mistake late (a la the penalty on the late kickoff in the first Falcons meeting), they just might take down their second species of bird in this post-season.


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