Game Scout: Atlanta Falcons (4-8) At Green Bay Packers (4-7-1)
SERIES HISTORY: 30th regular-season meeting. Packers lead series, 15-14. The Falcons have won the last three matchups -- all at home -- including the 2016 NFC Championship Game. The Packers have won the last two meetings at Lambeau Field.
KEYS TO THE GAME: Green Bay's passing game has been ineffective for most of the season but that's the best way to attack the Falcons' defense. Atlanta has missed the play of standout safety Keanu Neal, who's on injured reserve, and established stars such as defensive end Vic Beasley Jr. and cornerback Desmond Trufant haven't played up to expectations. Of Atlanta's nine interceptions, only one belongs to a cornerback (slot Brian Poole). So long as quarterback Aaron Rodgers can steer clear of big-play safety Damontae Kazee, who is second in the NFL with six interceptions, perhaps the Packers' sputtering offense can finally find its stride.
On the other side of the ball, the Falcons have one of the NFL's elite offenses. On paper, anyway. During a four-game winning streak, they haven't even scored 20 points. The Ravens beat the Falcons 26-16 last week by holding Atlanta to a feeble 2.3 yards per carry. The week before, in a loss at New Orleans, Atlanta generated just 1.6 yards per carry. If the Packers can keep running back Tevin Coleman under wraps, they'll be able to attack quarterback Matt Ryan, who has been sacked 36 times and knocked down on a league-worst 81 occasions.
The Falcons must find a way to field a more productive offensive line. They started two new guards last week -- Ryan Schraeder and veteran Zane Beadles -- and may give rookie Ty Sambrailo more opportunities. The team has been struggling there since season-ending injuries to Andy Levitre and Brandon Fusco.
FRIDAY INJURY REPORT
--OUT: TE Logan Paulsen (knee, ankle)
--QUESTIONABLE: K Matt Bryant (back)
GREEN BAY PACKERS
--OUT: S Raven Greene (ankle)
--DOUBTFUL: T Bryan Bulaga (knee, illness)
--QUESTIONABLE: T/G Byron Bell (knee), LS Hunter Bradley (ankle), CB Bashaud Breeland (groin), S Kentrell Brice (ankle, concussion), G Lane Taylor (foot)
MATCHUPS TO WATCH
--Falcons WR Julio Jones vs. Packers CBs. Jones leads the Falcons with 86 receptions, 1,323 yards and three touchdowns. At 6-foot-3 and 225 pounds, he is one of the most physically dominating receivers in the league. Kevin King, at 6-3, would have been Green Bay's best option, but he was placed on injured reserve Wednesday.
--Falcons MLB Deion Jones vs. Packers TE Jimmy Graham. Although Graham has slowed down some, he's always a problem for the Falcons. Graham has 44 catches for 36 yards and two touchdowns. Graham has faced the Falcons 12 times (most of them when he played for the Saints) and has 62 catches for 782 yards and nine touchdowns. Jones will need to be aware of Graham as he goes across the middle in those sticky third-down situations.
PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Falcons S Damontae Kazee. One of the bright spots in an otherwise disappointing season has been the emergence of Kazee. The second-year player from San Diego State has grown into one of the team's most productive players since the early-season loss of safeties Keanu Neal and Ricardo Allen. In 12 games, Kazee has 60 tackles, one for loss, and leads the team with six interceptions. He also had two interceptions in the preseason.
FAST FACTS: FALCONS QB MATT RYAN ranks 3rd in NFL with 3,814 pass yards & is 1 of 3 in league with 3,500+ yards & 100+ rating (109.3) in 2018. In his past 4 vs. GB (incl. playoffs), has 1,307 pass yards (326.8 per game) with 12 TDs vs. 1 INT for 124.9 rating. ... RB TEVIN COLEMAN has 3 TD catches in his past 3 on road. ... RB ITO SMITH ranks 2nd among NFC rookies with 4 rush TDs. ... WR JULIO JONES leads NFL with 1,323 rec. yards & ranks 4th with 86 receptions this season. In his past 4 vs. GB (incl. postseason), has 28 catches for 576 yards (144 per game) & 3 TDs. ... TE AUSTIN HOOPER had TD catch last week. ... DE VIC BEASLEY JR. had 74-yard FR-TD last week, his 2nd-career TD. Aims for his 3rd in row vs. GB with sack. ... LB De'VONDRE CAMPBELL aims for his 5th in row with 6+ tackles. ... LB DEION JONES led team with career-high 15 tackles & had sack in Week 13. Aims for his 3rd in row on road with INT. ... DT GRADY JARRETT had sack & 2 FFs last week, his 1st-career FFs. ... PACKERS QB AARON RODGERS in 8 career meetings (incl. postseason), has 2,622 pass yards (327.8 per game) with 21 TDs vs. 3 INTs for 112.9 rating. Has 1,512 pass yards (302.4 per game) with 16 TDs vs. 2 INTs for 127.9 rating in his past 5 at home vs. NFC South. ... RB AARON JONES had rush TD last week. In his past 4, has 420 scrimmage yards (105 per game) & 6 TDs (5 rush, 1 rec.). His 6 TDs since Week 10 are tied for most in NFL over span (CHRISTIAN MC CAFFREY). Aims for his 5th in row with TD. ... WR DAVANTE ADAMS ties for 2nd in NFL with 11 TD catches & ranks 5th with 85 receptions this season. Aims for his 3rd in row with TD catch. Since 2016, ties for NFL lead with 33 TD catches (ANTONIO BROWN). ... LB BLAKE MARTINEZ leads NFC with 106 tackles in 2018. Aims for his 3rd in row with 10+ tackles. ... LB CLAY MATTHEWS has 10 tackles & 2.5 sacks in his past 2 vs. Atl. ... DL DEAN LOWRY had sack in Week 13. Aims for his 3rd in row with sack.
PREDICTION: Few would have expected both teams to be playing out the string at this juncture of the season. The passing games can negate one another, but Aaron Jones gives the Packers a clear edge in the run game.
OUR PICK: Packers, 27-23