NFC Championship Game Preview: Can Aaron Rodgers Continue the Magic at Atlanta?
Conference Championship Sunday is always one of the best days of the year, and the NFL has gifted us with two juicy matchups to enjoy.
The total for #Packers vs #Falcons sits at 60 points. The highest playoff total in our database is Lions vs Saints from 2012 (59.5). pic.twitter.com/kfQGenbjvH
— OddsShark (@OddsShark) January 16, 2017
So, who's got the best chance of scoring more often and securing an opportunity to be in the same stadium as Lady Gaga and Bruno Mars in a couple weeks?
Let's dig in and find out.
If you appreciate high-powered offenses with outstanding quarterback play, then you must be excited to watch two of the NFL's top MVP candidates face off against one another.
Sporting one of the finest seasons ever at quarterback is Matt Ryan. There were 37 signal-callers with at least 200 drop backs this season, but none were better than him. Ryan recorded an NFL-best 0.37 Passing Net Expected Points (NEP) per drop back, and his Total NEP of 223.51 ranks seventh all-time among quarterbacks since 2000.
That domination continued in the divisional round when he dropped a cool 338 yards and 3 touchdowns on the Seattle Seahawks just a week ago.
Aaron Rodgers is also far from a slouch. He finished the 2016 regular season fifth in Passing NEP per drop back (0.26), but what's more impressive and perhaps overlooked is his running ability. He ranked sixth among quarterbacks with at least 51 carries with a Rushing NEP per play of 0.50. So far during the playoffs, the Green Bay signal-caller has passed for 713 yards and 6 touchdowns, all while barely making any mistakes.
This was Aaron Rodgers first interception in his last 319 pass attempts: https://t.co/gMnTWmGrXv pic.twitter.com/dfhx8x1TgY
— SB Nation (@SBNation) January 16, 2017
With two elite options behind center, who stands out in the run game?
Running Back Play
The Falcons would appear to have a decided advantage here by featuring a two-headed monster in the backfield. In terms of Rushing NEP per play among rushers with 125 carries or more during the regular season, Devonta Freeman (0.10) and Tevin Coleman (0.06) rank 5th and 10th, respectively.
Their effectiveness doesn't stop with running the ball, either -- they are equally adept at being a factor in the pass game. Coleman led the league in Reception NEP per target (0.78), and Freeman ranked 12th (0.41).
This was on display last week against Seattle. While they only combined for 92 rushing yards, they accumulated 7 catches for 102 yards and 1 touchdown through the air. Green Bay needs to find a way to slow these two down in order to come out on top.
Ty Montgomery also has taken on an all-purpose role in the Packers backfield, and he easily outperformed his teammates in 2016 by posting a Rushing NEP per carry of 0.08 (77 attempts). In Green Bay's win over the Dallas Cowboys, Montgomery had 17 total touches for 81 yards and 2 scores. With Jordy Nelson still trying to work his way back from a nasty rib injury, Montgomery will be an important cog, regardless of Nelson's status on Sunday.
After taking a close look at these two offenses, how do the defensive units stack up?
Vegas is projecting such a high-scoring game because not only are these offenses firing on all cylinders right now, but their respective defensive units aren't that great.
However, the Packers do have a slightly better group. Using our adjusted per-play metrics, Green Bay ranks 22nd overall, while being significantly better against the run (10th) than the pass (23rd).
The Falcons rank 25th overall and are slightly better against the pass (23rd), but are brutal against the run (31st).
The one silver lining here may be the Packers' defensive line. In terms of Adjusted Sack Rate from Pro Football Outsiders, the Packers get after the quarterback pretty hard, ranking sixth in adjusted sack rate at 7.2%. Unfortunately, the Falcons rank 24th at a mere 5.4%.
According to our models, there is one game with a 89.92% correlation, and it's a past matchup between these same Packers, but against the New England Patriots in 2010.
Before Rodgers began his rise to greatness, journeyman Matt Flynn was briefly at the helm and led them to Gillette Stadium for this tilt.
In a game that featured six lead changes, Flynn and the Packers raced out to an early 17-7 lead in the second quarter before Tom Brady and the Patriots worked their way back to pull ahead on a fourth quarter touchdown pass to the now-infamous Aaron Hernandez.
This wasn't Brady's best game -- he only passed for 163 yards and 2 scores. However, the opportunistic Patriots defense forced two Green Bay turnovers, which helped engineer a comeback win.
In this matchup, the Packers would reprise the role of themselves, covering the spread but ultimately leading to a Falcons win.
To see who our algorithm thinks is going to win this NFC Championship showdown and whether or not the spread will be covered, you can find all those details right here.