NFC Championship: Green Bay to pack a punch
Four remain in the NFC and an argument could be constructed in favour of any of the quartet going all the way to Houston at the start of February.
The number one seeds are the Dallas Cowboys, the story of the 2016 season, with a rookie quarterback and running back tandem guiding them to a 13-3 record (and Ezekiel Elliott did not play in a Week 17 loss while Dak Prescott barely did). Prescott, a fourth-round selection in this year’s draft, has astounded everyone by throwing for 23 touchdowns and only four picks while Elliott, running behind the best offensive line in football, has been this team’s driving force.
Yet in a conference stacked with talented teams perhaps Prescott will be too green just yet to go all the way and find a way past some offensive powerhouses manned by experienced play-off quarterbacks.
None has more knowledge of getting it done in January than Russell Wilson, who was in Prescott’s shoes only four years earlier. With an 8-3 post-season record, there are no question marks surrounding Wilson and the re-emergence of Thomas Rawls and Seattle’s running game last week drew comparisons to the Marshawn Lynch-led Seahawks that reached back-to-back Super Bowls.
There are concerns elsewhere, though. Their offensive line, for so long neglected as the team has been formed, can be worked over and the loss of free safety Earl Thomas makes the Legion of Boom susceptible across the middle.
You can guarantee both of those weaknesses will look to be exploited by the Atlanta Falcons this weekend. Matt Ryan may just be the MVP-in-waiting after masterminding an offence that scored a league-leading 33.8 points per game and, perhaps because they command the smallest attention of the four teams remaining, the Falcons are flying a little under the radar. Pass rusher Vic Beasley led the NFL in sacks too – an ominous sign for that Seahawks offensive line – so there is a lot to love.
However, Atlanta also gave up the sixth-most points across the league, hardly the recipe for post-season success. Defeats to Seattle and the Kansas City Chiefs are also on the resume and the fear is that against very good teams, their defence may let their offence down.
Which brings us to Green Bay. They too have flaws – a depleted secondary, the lack of a pass rush and an average running game – but they also have Aaron Rodgers, a quarterback playing at an echelon above everyone right now. Rodgers was masterful against the New York Giants last week, piling on 38 points, and the way he has performed on a seven-game winning streak suggests he can drag this team to the big dance alone.
Jordy Nelson’s injury is a concern, yet Rodgers had no problems getting it done without him last week and running back Christine Michael may just be a factor down the stretch. The X-factor is most certainly Rodgers, though, and that could give Green Bay the edge.