Packers have nemesis Falcons right where they want them

Ryan Wood
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Packers cornerback Quinten Rollins gives up a catch to wide receiver Julio Jones (11) during a September 2017 game against the Falcons at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.

Twelfth in a 13-part series on the opponents the Green Bay Packers will face during the 2018 regular season.

GREEN BAY – In their past decade-plus as a title contender, the Green Bay Packers have had several litmus tests to show how close — or far away — they are from winning a Super Bowl.

Eli Manning’s New York Giants knocked them out of the playoffs twice. Then it was Jim Harbaugh’s San Francisco 49ers. Then it was the Legion of Boom-era Seattle Seahawks.

The current iteration has been Matt Ryan's and Julio Jones’ Atlanta Falcons.

In a decade marked by devastating playoff losses, none were more lopsided than the 2016 NFC championship game. But the 44-21 loss that closed the Georgia Dome — it was 31-0 early in the third quarter — was only part of a larger trend. The Falcons have won three straight matchups since the middle of the 2016 season, exposing a startling lack of speed on the Packers' roster.

The Packers have focused extensively on adding team speed in their past two drafts. They’ll see whether their efforts have helped when the Falcons come to Lambeau Field on Dec. 9. Even in a cold-weather environment, the Falcons remain one of the faster teams in the NFL.

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Here are three things to know about the Falcons:

Odds and evens

A season that ends in the playoffs is hardly a bad year, but in 2017 quarterback Matt Ryan continued one of the more puzzling trends in the NFL. Since entering the NFL, Ryan’s best seasons have generally come in even-numbered years. That’s only grown more stark the deeper he’s gotten into his career. Since Ryan’s career began, the Falcons are 54-26 (.675) in even-numbered years and 41-36 (.532) in odd-numbered years. He has 142 touchdowns to 55 interceptions in even years, and 118-71 in odds. The three best passer ratings of his career have come in each of the past three even years, including an MVP season in 2016. His passer rating has dipped below 90 three times in his career, each in odd years. It’s likely nothing more than a statistical anomaly, but it’s worth tracking for one reason: 2018, of course, is an even number.

The Quinn effect

The Seattle Seahawks' defensive slump since 2014 isn’t entirely because they lost defensive coordinator Dan Quinn after that season — there has been a great depreciation of talent on that side of the ball — but it couldn’t have helped. Quinn inherited a bottom-ranked defense in Atlanta when he left Seattle, and the group has only improved since. After finishing 32nd in total defense in 2014, the Falcons jumped to 16th in 2015. They were ninth in yards allowed and eighth in points last season, becoming one of the NFL’s best units. In other words, Quinn has done exactly what he was hired to do in Atlanta: give the Falcons a solid defense to support all their stars on offense.

Cold weather

The new Mercedes-Benz Stadium has a retractable roof instead of a dome, so there are times the Falcons will play outdoors. In hot Atlanta, you can bet those times won’t be when the temperature dips. So an early December trip to the frozen tundra isn’t ideal, but that doesn’t mean the Falcons can’t win. Ryan, a Pennsylvania kid who played his college football at Boston College, actually has a winning record (6-4) when temperatures dip below 45 degrees. The Falcons are 1-2 with Ryan at quarterback when the temperature dips below freezing, with one loss being by a razor-thin 22-21 margin at Lambeau Field in 2013. The Packers again beat the Falcons at home in December one year later. The Falcons have never won a December game at Lambeau Field, with an 0-5 record dating to 1975. Still, while the cold weather certainly helps, it isn’t a gimme against the Falcons’ cold-weathered quarterback.

Packers schedule glimpse

Dec. 9 vs. Falcons, noon, Fox

Week before: vs. Cardinals, Dec. 2.

Week after: at Chicago, Dec. 19.

On the horizon: at Jets, Dec. 23.

Atlanta Falcons

Coach: Dan Quinn (29-19, fourth season with Falcons).

2017 record: 10-6, third in NFC South.

Scoring offense: 22.1 points per game (15th in NFL).

Total offense: 364.8 yards per game (8th).

Scoring defense: 19.7 points allowed per game (8th).

Total defense: 318.4 yards allowed per game (9th).

Series: Packers lead 17-16 (2-2 playoffs).

Last meeting: While it wasn’t quite as emphatic as the NFC title game nine months earlier, the Packers lost their third straight game to the Falcons last September. The 34-23 defeat wasn’t as close as the final score; the Falcons led 31-7 early in the third quarter. The Packers, christening Mercedes-Benz Stadium, were hampered with a pair of backups at both tackle positions. They scored all 13 points in fourth-quarter garbage time to make the score respectable, but Julio Jones’ five catches for 108 yards showed their secondary still had plenty of ground to make up.

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