Game of the Week: Packers-Falcons

Publish date:
roddy-white-nick-collins.jpg breaks down Sunday's Green Bay at Atlanta game (1 p.m. ET, Fox).

Aaron Rodgers and the statistically prolific Packers (7-3) roll into Atlanta to face Matt Ryan and the Falcons, who boast the best record in the NFC (8-2). The winner enters December with an inside track on the No. 1 seed in the NFC playoffs.

1. Aaron Rodgers is about to enter the realm of statistical greatness. The NFL requires a minimum of 1,500 career pass attempts to qualify for "official" records. Rodgers has attempted 1,470. With an average of 33 attempts per game this year, he has a good chance of crossing that 1,500-attempt threshold on Sunday. And when he does, his name will be high on the list of several critical measures of pass efficiency -- the kind of indicators in which the Cold, Hard Football Facts place the most value.

Rodgers has been tremendous since he became the full-time starter in Green Bay in 2008. His 103.2 passer rating in 2009 was the highest by any Packers quarterback since the great Bart Starr himself in his MVP season of 1966 (105.0) and his shortened nine-game season of 1968 (104.3).

Rodger's career rating (96.87) is second-best in NFL history, a micro-shade ahead of Steve Young (96.81) and behind only his current stat-monster contemporary, Philip Rivers (97.27), on the all-time list.

Perhaps more impressively, Rodgers boasts what is easily the best TD-INT ratio ever. We put a lot of stock in this indicator because it indicates great production while minimizing killer mistakes. Rodgers has thrown 2.6 touchdowns for every INT (78-30). It's a mind-blowing number by the historic standards of the NFL. It's well ahead of the next two guys on the list:

• Philip Rivers throws 2.39 TDs for every pick (129-54).

• Tom Brady throws 2.37 TDs for every pick (244-103).

Some other notables on the TD-INT ratio list? Peyton Manning (2.05 to 1); Joe Montana (1.96 to 1); Dan Marino (1.67 to 1); Brett Favre (1.52 to 1), just to name a few.

Barring any unforeseen disasters, Rodgers will "officially" be a statistical giant on Monday morning.

Of course, Rodgers (and Rivers for that matter) still must stand under a shower of confetti in February before their reputations will match their historic productivity.

2. That Matt Ryan kid ain't half bad either, especially at home. Atlanta's third-year quarterback has been deadly at home. He's 18-1 in Atlanta and that lone loss was a narrow 24-20 defeat to the Broncos back in his rookie year of 2008. You rarely see that kind of stretch of success out of a Hall of Fame veteran at the peak of his career, let alone out of a young player in his earliest days.

Ryan's home numbers are impressive, as you'd expect to see from any quarterback during a long string of success. Here's his cumulative performance in 19 home games:

• 347 of 540 (64.3 percent), 4,159 yards, 7.7 YPA, 28 TD, 12 INT, 95.75 rating

Wow, that's great stuff. But don't put another victory in the win column for Atlanta just yet. Green Bay is tied with the Bears for the best defense in football this year (14.6 PPG). And its pass defense in particular provides a formidable challenge.

We measure pass defenses not by yards allowed -- really a useless indicator -- but by Defensive Passer Rating. We take the formula used to rate a quarterback's passing efficiency and apply it to a team's defensive stats. It has an incredibly high correlation to team success.

The Packers right now are No. 2 in Defensive Passer Rating (66.46). Only the Bears are better, and just barely (66.42). Green Bay has allowed just nine TD tosses all year, with 15 picks. Opponents complete a mere 55.9 percent of their passes; only the Jets are better in this department (51.0 percent). Green Bay is also No. 2 in yards per pass attempt against them (6.46). It's a great pass defense, in other words.

With all that said, the Packers have not exactly faced a murderers' row of quarterbacks: Michael Vick in Week 1, Mark Sanchez and Week 8 and that's about it for good quarterbacks leading good teams on Green Bay's schedule so far.

Bottom line: Green Bay's pass defense vs. Ryan at home represents what might be the toughest battle for both sides all year.

3. The Packers are the most efficient, well-run team in football this year. The Cold, Hard Football Facts put a lot of stock in efficiency over volume. Efficient teams win games, regardless of how prolific they might be.

You should put a lot of stock in efficiency, too. After all, teams that win the efficiency battle by our measure win about 85 percent of the time. Few indicators outside of final score have such an incredibly high correlation to success on Sunday.

We measure defensive efficiency through what we call the Bendability Index, our very successful effort to quantify the mysterious "bend but don't break" phenomenon. We measure offensive efficiency by what we call the Scoreability Index.

Right now, no team in football is more efficient on both sides of the ball than Green Bay. The Packers are No. 1 in Bendability: they force opponents to march an incredible 155 yards to score the equivalent of one touchdown and extra point. That's a lot of work and a lot of wasted effort by opponents with little result.

(For comparison's sake, the Chargers are dead last this year in Bendability: opponents need just 89 yards to put seven points on the board. Now you know why San Diego is just 5-5 despite its incredible rankings in most traditional indicators: they're an inefficient team.)

The Packers, meanwhile, are No. 3 in Scoreability, too. They're highly effective at turning just a few yards into a lot of points. Green Bay needs just 97 yards of offense to put the equivalent of seven points on the board.

A lot of factors go into a highly efficient team, at least the way we track it: teams that win the turnover battle, that are good on special teams, that force big plays on defense and that play well in the red zone rank very highly in our efficiency indicators. The Packers, in other words, are an efficient, well-coached team that plays smart situational football and takes advantage of opportunities presented to it on both sides of the ball.

Atlanta is well equipped to handle Green Bay's playmaking defense. The Falcons right now field the best offensive line in football, according to our Offensive Hog Index. And that unit will play a key role on Sunday.

The Packers are among the best in football at getting after the quarterback, as evidenced by their NFC-leading 29 sacks. Linebacker Clay Matthews leads the charge with 11.5 sacks, the most by any player this year.

Atlanta counters with one of the best pass-blocking units in football: Ryan is pressured into a sack or interception on just 5.1 percent of dropbacks. Only Peyton Manning suffers fewer mistakes (4.2 percent).

Provided Atlanta's offensive line plays up to its potential on Sunday, it neutralizes one of Green Bay's typical advantages: its playmaking defense.

The Falcons also have a better record overall, they're a solid club, and they're virtually unbeatable at home. It's hard to go against that kind of trend.

But they do have one critical weakness: the Falcons are merely mediocre on pass defense. They rank a mere No. 21 in Defensive Passer Rating, and have allowed 18 TD passes this year. That weakness does not bode well against the statistically prolific Rodgers, who will exploit that weakness and enter the "official" NFL record books in style.

This is one of the toughest games to gauge we've seen this year: Green Bay is statistically proficient, while the Falcons never lose at home.

Here's the difference: Green Bay has surrendered just 10 points in its last three games, the best stretch of defense by any team in football this year. The Falcons, meanwhile, are soft on pass defense and face a red-hot quarterback. It adds up to a rare loss in Atlanta for the Falcons.

Green Bay 24, Atlanta 23

(Week 11 prediction: New England 27, Indianapolis 26. Result: New England 31, Indianapolis 28.)