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Bad blood simmering in emerging Packers-Falcons rivalry

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The Packers, like any champion, are using any form of motivation -- even if it's self-manufactured -- to get their minds right before games. When it comes to the Falcons, who they face Sunday night at the Georgia Dome in a rematch of last season's divisional playoff that Green Bay won 48-21, they're already geared up.

Seems odd, since Atlanta's not a divisional rival like Chicago or Minnesota and there's really no reason for bad blood. Yet there is, at least from Green Bay's perspective.

As Packers wide receiver Donald Driver recalled on NFL.com's Cover Two podcast this week, the Falcons beat the Packers in the regular season and let them know it.

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"Last year it was just the hype of those guys saying that they can't lose at home," Driver said. "We knew we may have to meet them again. ... [In the playoff game,] they had the same attitude that they can't be beat.

"Our mindset was we're going to come in here and beat you and embarrass you. That was our mindset. We knew we only had one chance to get where we wanted to go and that was through Atlanta. It's going to be the same thing this week. It will be another dog-out fight. We don't take Atlanta for granted. They're a great team. They have a great defense, a great offense and great special teams group.

"We know that if we go out there and play our style of football, stay disciplined, no mental mistakes or turnovers, then it's going to be hard to beat us."

Driver is one of the more diplomatic players in the NFL so if he's got some of these feelings, you know the water flows deep. There is a lingering beef between these teams that could make this game far more contentious than it appears right now.

If one has the opportunity to "embarrass" the other, it seems unlikely either would ease off the throttle.

The unbeaten Packers seem to have the advantages based on how they've started. They lead the NFL in scoring (37 points per game), quarterback Aaron Rodgers is playing at a scary level (12 TD passes) and Driver said coach Mike McCarthy still isn't satisfied with how the offense has played. Atlanta struggled big time with some of the matchups Green Bay presented in the playoff game too -- and that was when Green Bay didn't have tight end Jermichael Finley.

"He's always talking about how we have to start fast. He said that we have to have that knockout punch," Driver said of McCarthy. "He said we haven't [thrown] the knockout punch yet. He's a big boxing fan -- he shows a couple clips of this guy, that guy -- and says we have to start knocking guys out... He's making sure he knocks out every team we play. He's bringing everything we got. He's bringing the whole kitchen sink."

On top of that, Atlanta is ranked 24th in pass defense and its offense has been hot and cold. There are legitimate concerns along the offensive line.

Still, Atlanta beat Green Bay last season, holding the Packers to 17 points. They're hardly intimidated.

The talent-rich Falcons felt they were a more physical team when they beat Green Bay and they weren't afraid to let the Packers know during and after the game. Atlanta's chest-puffing led to some of the bent feelings on Green Bay's behalf when they met in the playoffs, according to some Packers players and coaches.

A win over Green Bay could be the type of victory that gets Atlanta pointed in the right direction. A victory by the Packers would continue their dominance. The motivation for both teams is already in place.

Follow Steve Wyche on Twitter @wyche89

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