Packers vs. Falcons preview: Predictions, 5 things to watch
TEAMS: Green Bay Packers (4-7-1) vs. Atlanta Falcons (4-8).
WHEN: Noon Sunday.
WHERE: Lambeau Field.
TV: Fox with Kevin Burkhardt (play-by-play), Charles Davis (analyst), Pam Oliver (sideline).
RADIO: AM-620 in Milwaukee, FM-101.1 in Green Bay; Packers Radio Network.
SERIES: Packers lead, 17-16.
LINE: Packers by 5.
WEATHER: Sunny, high of 27.
COACHES: Green Bay’s Joe Philbin (24-28 as an NFL head coach) vs. Atlanta's Dan Quinn (36-29).
LIVE GAME BLOG: Join Tom Silverstein for analysis and lively discussion
5 THINGS TO WATCH
TONYAN TIME? Interim coach Joe Philbin wouldn’t commit to using the final four weeks of the season to evaluate young players, but one guy he would like to see more of is tight end Robert Tonyan. Veteran Jimmy Graham, playing with a broken thumb, basically blocked with one arm last week and that’s not going to get it done in the run game. Since Tonyan’s strength is his speed, Philbin doesn’t have anything to lose playing the former wide receiver. “We’ve had four tight ends up just about every single week,” Philbin said. “I like all of them. I think they all have a little bit of unique skills. Robert Tonyan’s kind of an emerging type of a player, a little bit like (fullback) Danny Vitale. I would love to see him a little bit more if we can.” Since catching a 54-yard touchdown against Seattle, Tonyan has played 10 snaps from scrimmage. He has two catches for 59 yards this season.
JULIO VS. DAVANTE: Falcons receiver Julio Jones is certain to make the Pro Bowl. He leads the NFL in receiving yards (1,323) and is fourth in receptions (86). His only blemish is that he has only three touchdowns, which is the same number he had last year when he made the Pro Bowl. Last year, Davante Adams was the injury replacement for Jones in the Pro Bowl and this season he has made a strong case to make it on the first ballot. Adams ranks fifth in catches (85), sixth in yards (1,115) and tied for second in touchdowns (11). Adams maintains that he continually gets overlooked when it comes to being grouped with the elite receivers in the NFL. He’ll have a chance to make his case against one of the best Sunday.
KICK IN THE PANTS: Kicker Mason Crosby ranks 20th in success rate among kickers with at least 20 field goal attempts and will have to finish strong to avoid posting a second straight season under 80 percent. Crosby has hit 22 of 29 field goals (75.9 percent), which would be his worst percentage since his disastrous 2012 season (63.6 percent). The worst part of his season isn’t the number of field goals he has missed, but when he has missed them. Misses against Detroit, Minnesota, Seattle and Arizona contributed heavily in four of the Packers’ seven losses. Nevertheless, special teams coach Ron Zook still has confidence in him. “Not a, not a, not a doubt in my mind,” he said.
RADIO SILENCE: Philbin will be calling plays in a regular-season game for the first time, but he knows one thing: He’ll do his communicating with quarterback Aaron Rodgers on the sideline. Philbin will be calling in the plays to Rodgers via radio transmitter and doesn’t intend on staying on the line very long. “Sometimes I think less is more,” he said. “I want to give him the play, I want to be quick, I want him to have time to process it, hear and not hear a lot of clutter from me. The guy, he’s played a lot of football. He’s got a good handle, a very, very good handle on things.”
PLAYOFFS? PLAYOFFS?! The Packers and Falcons both come into the game with a 1 percent chance of making the playoffs, according to FiveThirtyEight.com, which seems about right for a pair of four-win teams. So, what happens to the team that wins? The Packers’ chances improve to 3 percent with a victory and they are eliminated with a loss. If everything breaks the Packers’ way (they improve to 5-7-1) and Seattle beats Minnesota (making the Vikings 6-6-1), Dallas beats Philadelphia (making it 6-7), Arizona beats Detroit (making it 4-9), the New York Giants beat Washington (making it 6-7) and Cleveland beats Carolina (making it 6-7), their chances remain at 3 percent. If the Falcons win, their chances increase to 2 percent. Who says this game doesn’t mean anything?
How much can the offense change in a week? Not a lot. Receivers still have to win routes and the linemen still have to win up front. The biggest difference probably will be Joe Philbin’s willingness to run the ball. We’ll see if Aaron Rodgers is willing to stick with those calls. Packers 24, Falcons 23
The guess here is last week’s firing of Mike McCarthy will temporarily lift the burden off the underachieving Packers, and they’ll come out loose and inspired against equally underachieving Atlanta. Packers 24, Falcons 21
This week begs the question: Do we really have to pick a winner? If both these teams could figure out a way to lose Sunday, they probably would. The Falcons are a train wreck, having lost four straight games, three of them by double digits. The Packers, somehow, are even worse after losing at home against Arizona last Sunday. There really are no winners between these two, but here’s guessing the Packers will end the day with more points at home. Packers 24, Falcons 20
Following the sudden firing of Mike McCarthy last week, this team is all about Joe Philbin and how he will change the play calling and how Aaron Rodgers and the offense responds. This game is all about the Packers and what they do and how they respond after McCarthy was fired, and less about the struggling Falcons. Packers 20, Falcons 17
We noted last week that, despite being huge favorites to beat Arizona, nothing has come easily for this Packers team. They couldn't stop rookie Josh Rosen and a tepid Cardinals offense from moving the ball last Sunday, so how will they fare against savvy Matt Ryan and dynamic receiver Julio Jones? The Packers need to prove they are capable of closing out a victory. Falcons 28, Packers 27