Rivalry grows between Packers and Falcons as Sunday showdown awaits
ATLANTA — This is becoming a bit of a rivalry.
When the Atlanta Falcons host the Green Bay Packers on Sunday night, it will be both an early indicator of the NFC’s balance of power as well as the third meeting between the teams in less than 11 months.
All three of those games have been in Atlanta, though this one will be at a new venue.
The Falcons (1-0) are making the regular-season debut at $1.5 billion Mercedes-Benz Stadium, which replaced the Georgia Dome.
Green Bay (1-0) is coming off a season-opening victory over Seattle at Lambeau Field.
“We’ve seen a lot of them,” Falcons defensive end Brooks Reed said, breaking into a smile. “I’m sure they’re sick of coming down here. But we like it.”
Last season, the teams first met in Week 8 with the Falcons coming off two straight excruciating losses. Aaron Rodgers threw four touchdown passes, the last of which put Green Bay ahead with just under 4 minutes remaining.
But Atlanta avoided a third straight loss when Matt Ryan tossed an 11-yard scoring pass to Mohamed Sanu with 31 seconds remaining, pulling out a 33-32 victory.
Both teams went on to make the playoffs, and Green Bay knocked off top-seeded Dallas to set up a rematch with the Falcons in the NFC championship game. That one was a blowout for Atlanta, which raced out to a 24-0 halftime lead and cruised to a 44-21 triumph.
Rodgers said he’s not thinking about last season.
“It’s past,” he said. “You can’t rewrite history. It’s just two 1-0 teams who both think we can be there at the end of the season. These are the type of games, like last week, that you win these games and you feel better in December and January when you’re coming down to filling out that 12-team bracket.”
While downplaying talk of a budding rivalry, Falcons safety Ricardo Allen acknowledged that any game against the Packers carries a little extra juice.
“We do play each other a lot, and we’re two really good teams,” he said. “Even though we’ve won the last two games, man, we go into these weeks with a lot of respect for then. We know what kind of team this is. We know have come with our `A’ game every time. This is a team you have to play championship football against.”
Here are some things to watch for when the Falcons host the Packers in prime time:
JULIO’S IMPACT: Coming off offseason foot surgery, Falcons star receiver Julio Jones didn’t have much of an impact in a season-opening victory at Chicago. He was targeted five times and caught four passes for 66 yards. This is not unusual in Atlanta’s multifaceted offense, especially when opposing defenses focus their attention on Jones.
The Packers allowed him to run wild in the NFC title game, giving up nine catches for 180 yards and two touchdowns, but that was with the cornerback position ravaged by injuries. Green Bay is healthy again and added two key players, Davon House and rookie Kevin King. The strengthened unit shut down Russell Wilson and the Seahawks’ passing game in Week 1.
ON THE RUN: Ty Montgomery pounded out some tough yards in the second half to help wear down the Seahawks, a promising debut in his first full season exclusively as a running back.
The one-time receiver also presents a matchup problem for defenses because of his ability to catch passes out of the backfield. Montgomery showed he can handle a full workload after taking 90 percent of the offensive snaps. The Packers will always be a passing team first behind Rodgers, but Montgomery helps keep defenses honest.
FALCONS TAKEAWAYS: Atlanta spends a lot of time focusing on takeaways with its young, speedy defense, so coach Dan Quinn was a bit surprised when the Falcons failed to recover a fumble or intercept a pass against the Bears.
That was a priority in practice going into Week 2, along with improved tackling. The Falcons had 11 missed tackles at Chicago, two of them on a 46-yard run by rookie Tarik Cohen.
FAMILY AFFAIR: First cousins Clay and Jake Matthews figure to see plenty of each other in this one. Clay is moving around again from the outside linebacker position and playing a key role in Green Bay’s pass rush, while Jake is responsible for protecting Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan’s blind side at the crucial left tackle spot.
“Clay is back to his traditional role as pass rusher, so there will be some family-on-family crime there,” Quinn joked.
LOOK TO THE SKIES: The Falcons are set to play their first open-air home game since 1991, their final season at Atlanta Fulton-County Stadium.
Assuming the weather is good — and the forecast called for evening temperatures in the 60s and only a slight chance of rain — the retractable roof at Mercedes-Benz Stadium will be open for the first time during a game.
While working out bugs in the complex system, which resembles a camera lens, the roof remained closed for seven games over its first three weeks, including a couple of Falcons preseason contests. Now, it’s finally ready for the much-anticipated debut.
OPENING LINE — Falcons by 2
RECORD VS. SPREAD — Green Bay 1-0, Atlanta 0-1
SERIES RECORD — Packers lead 17-15
LAST MEETING — Falcons beat Packers 44-21, Jan. 22 in NFC championship game
LAST WEEK — Packers beat Seahawks 17-9; Falcons beat Bears 23-17
AP PRO32 RANKING — Packers No. 1, Falcons No. 5
PACKERS OFFENSE — OVERALL (8), RUSH (15), PASS (6)
PACKERS DEFENSE — OVERALL (5t), RUSH (17), PASS (4)
FALCONS OFFENSE — OVERALL (6), RUSH (19t), PASS (4)
FALCONS DEFENSE — OVERALL (15), RUSH (23), PASS (9t)
STREAKS, STATS AND NOTES — Weather permitting, new $1.5 billion Mercedes-Benz Stadium to have retractable roof open for first event. … Falcons’ last home open-air game was Dec. 15, 1991 at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium. … Falcons beat Packers in 2016 regular season and NFC championship game, final game at Georgia Dome. … QB Aaron Rodgers averages 325.6 yards passing, with 19 TDs, seven interceptions, in seven career games against Falcons, including playoffs. … Rodgers needs two TD passes to become 11th in NFL with 300. … DT Mike Daniels, LB Nick Perry each had 1 sacks last week. … WR Jordy Nelson has four TDs in last three games against Falcons. … Packers moved to top spot in AP Pro32 with Patriots loss. … Packers held Seahawks to 50 yards rushing last week. SS Morgan Burnett played ILB to boost run defense with six defensive backs on field. … Falcons second-year TE Austin Hooper coming off career-high 128 yards receiving, including 88-yard TD. … WR Julio Jones had nine catches, 180 yards, two TDs in NFC championship game. … LB Brooks Reed had two sacks last week. … QB Matt Ryan has averaged 351.6 yards passing last three games against Packers, with 11 TDs, one interception. … After leading NFL with 15 sacks in 2016, LB Vic Beasley had one sack last week. … Falcons had four sacks against Bears. … After leading NFL with 158 points in 2016, PK Matt Bryant scored 11 points, making each of three field goals and two extra points last week. … Fantasy Tip: Falcons WR Taylor Gabriel may be ready for bigger role after having only three catches for 36 yards against Bears. Gabriel believes he’s fully recovered from lower leg injury. Gabriel had 47-yard TD catch in regular-season win over Packers last season. He could benefit from extra attention paid to Jones.