Super Bowl  

 

Team Nobody Wants to Face gets another shot at top seed

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PHILADELPHIA -- The Packers were so upset after their 20-17 loss at Atlanta in November that they wanted a do-over. Little did they know, seven weeks later they would get one.

"We felt we left a lot of football on the field (against the Falcons)," Packers cornerback Charles Woodson said after his team's 21-16 victory over Philadelphia on Sunday in the NFC Wild Card Playoffs. "This time around, it won't happen."

This time around is next Saturday, in Atlanta, in the NFC Divisional Playoffs. It's where the best team in the conference, Atlanta, plays host to The Team Nobody Wants to Face.

The Packers say that is who and what they are, and it's really hard to not buy in.

Their victory on Sunday was the second time they had beaten the Eagles in Philadelphia this season. That's not what makes them so scary. The way that they beat Philadelphia does. They pounded the Eagles with long drives on offense, executed brilliant schemes on defense, and made plays when they needed.

The frightening part is that the Packers are still an evolving team that's difficult to figure out. With so many new players replacing injured ones, and coaches devising schemes to fit the influx of different talents, Green Bay isn't easy to decipher.

Kirby Lee / NFL
Aaron Rodgers became the first Packers quarterback not named Brett Favre to win a playoff game since 1982.
Rodgers' last eight games (including playoffs)
Completion percentage
70.8
Passing YPG
261.4
TD-INT
19-2
Passer rating
122.1
Yards per attempt
9.0

The Falcons, who have one of the most thorough coaching staffs in the NFL, have broken down every Packers tendency to the millionth degree, but it's still hard for them to take into account what exactly they'll be facing on Saturday.

Rookie running back James Starks, unearthed on Sunday after his ambitious offseason was sidetracked by a hamstring injury, answered a huge question about an offense that lacked a ground attack. Starks pounded out 123 yards on 23 carries against the Eagles and showed burst and power that remains hard to evaluate for a team like Atlanta that doesn't have much tape on what the sixth-round pick from Buffalo does well.

They have more than enough tape on Aaron Rodgers, who was fearless against the Eagles, hanging onto the ball until the last second and leading the Packers to their third straight do-or-die victory. This last one got him his first playoff victory, a hurdle that his coach, Mike McCarthy, acknowledged his quarterback needed to leap to be considered among the Mannings and Bradys of the NFL.

Rodgers and his Falcons counterpart, Matt Ryan, are a lot alike in terms of how teammates feed off of them. They are leaders, kind-hearted guys on the surface who thrive on beheading their opponents. To that point, don't think Rodgers won't be packing his Pro Bowl snub with him on his trip to Atlanta to face Ryan, who made the NFC squad.

The Packers aren't two wins away from the Super Bowl because of their offense, though. What defensive coordinator Dom Capers and his likely to-be-poached staff have done this season has been nothing short of brilliant, and it shows why good coaching and excellent personnel decisions matter.

Green Bay has 10 defensive players on injured reserve. It has lost multiple safeties, linebackers and defensive linemen, yet it ranks in the top five in nearly every major defensive category in the NFL. Relative unknowns such as linebacker Desmond Bishop and cornerback Tramon Williams developed into standouts.

It was Williams' interception of Michael Vick in the waning moments that sealed Sunday's victory. Packers coaches will tell you Williams, not Charles Woodson, is the best defensive back on the team, but they don't mind Woodson getting the credit so Williams can remain humble and be overlooked -- as was the case when Vick went at him when it mattered most.

Againats the Eagles, Capers used rotating "spies" on Vick to prevent the quarterback from gashing them on breakaway runs. In the first half, they relied on Woodson to track Vick -- and fill the "A" gap in run support, technically making him play the role of an inside linebacker. In other situations, Matthews was the "spy." They used other players in the role, too, but they made sure Woodson and Matthews drew Vick's attention so when somebody else stepped in, there was some guesswork.

Vick, who rushed for more than 100 yards when these teams met in the opener, finished with 33 yards on the ground on eight carries.

Things might not go as smoothly against the Falcons. Packer coaches know that Atlanta offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey is one of the most difficult play-callers to scheme against because he is cunning, aggressive and creative, and tends to meet their best plans with something better. So the gamesmanship should be intriguing.

The Packers are one of those teams that are peaking at the right time. They're hot. But they know it will be difficult to beat the Falcons in the Georgia Dome because Atlanta is as good as its record.

They aren't afraid, though. They want more. Besides their evolving personnel and unpredictable manner, the main reason why Green Bay is to be feared is because it feels it should be.

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