The Atlanta Falcons opened up Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Sunday night but for the Green Bay Packers, it might as well have been the Georgia Dome. New stadium, but the same results for the Packers. Last season, the Packers played the Falcons twice on the road and both times, they came away with a loss. The first, a regular season match up, the Packers fell 33-32. The last, and one the Packers would like to forget, was the NFC Championship when they lost 44-21.
This past Sunday, the Packers were hoping that they would fare better in the Falcons new home, but that wasn’t to be. Instead, the Falcons once again were the superior team, handing the Packers a 34-23 loss. The score gives the impression that this game was a close contest, but it wasn’t. Just like they did in last season’s NFC Championship game, the Falcons dominated the Packers. The Packers are a team that not only has playoff aspirations, but for some, they are the choice to represent the NFC in this season’s Super Bowl. If they are to be a true Super Bowl contender, playoff success isn’t just determined by their playoff play, but also during the regular season. The Green Bay Packers playoffs success hinges on earning home field advantage.
Green Bay Packers Playoff Success Hinges on Earning Home Field Advantage
Falcons head coach Dan Quinn came to Atlanta from the Seattle Seahawks, where he was the Seahawks defensive coordinator from 2013-2014. When he came to Atlanta before the 2015 season, he wanted to build a roster similar to the Seahawks, a roster that has speed, and more speed, on both sides of the ball. With the help of Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff, Quinn has done just that, built a roster that has speed to burn.
On offense, Quinn has weapons like wide receivers Julio Jones, Taylor Gabriel, tight end Austin Hooper, and running backs Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman, players that are built perfectly for the turf of Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Throw in reigning MVP and starting quarterback Matt Ryan and Falcons have a dangerous if not lethal offense. But the offense isn’t the only unit of the Falcons that is based on speed. The Falcons defense is just as fast, with players like rush ends Vic Beasley, Brooks Reed, and linebacker Deion Jones. When the Falcons are playing on home turf, as they proved on Sunday against the Packers, they are a freight train that is almost unstoppable. If the Packers, or any team, takes on the Falcons in the playoffs, the best chance to come away with a victory is to get them off that turf and make them play on a slower surface, something like Lambeau Field has.
Aaron Rodgers Knows Best
Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers knows how important it is to get home field advantage in the playoffs. After their humiliating NFC Championship loss last season, Rodgers said just that. Rodgers probably wasn’t just talking about the Falcons when he made that statement, but he might as well have been. Right now, the Falcons are the team to beat in the NFC. They are the defending NFC Champions and if they wouldn’t have melted down in last season’s Super Bowl against the New England Patriots, they easily could have been the reigning world champions. Rodgers knows that if the Packers were to earn the top seed going into the playoffs, the Packers would have a major advantage. Not only is Lambeau Field a very difficult place to play, but with the miserable weather that Green Bay goes through in the winter and a playing surface that is pretty much painted mud after November, the Packers would have a major advantage if they were to have home field advantage. But if the Packers are to earn the top playoff spot, they have to avoid slow starts, something that has been the case in recent history.
You Snooze You Lose
The Packers are known to for their slow starts. That was highlighted last season when they started the season going 4-6 until Rodgers proclaimed that they would “run the table”, which they did finishing with a record of 10-6. That mark earned them a spot in the playoffs, but when you have arguably the best quarterback in the NFL, that just isn’t good enough and Rodgers knows that. The difference between a good team and a great team is to win on a consistent basis. That means starting slow or hitting rocky spots during the season just isn’t acceptable. True, the players play a big part in avoiding this, but most importantly, it is up to Packers head coach Mike McCarthy and his staff to make sure it doesn’t happen.
McCarthy and his staff have led the Packers to eight straight playoff appearances, which on the surface is impressive. But with the NFL being a quarterback driven league and the Packers having possibly the best player at the position in the league, there should be more. Excluding 2010 when they won the Super Bowl, during that span, the Packers have only been to two NFC Championships and they lost both. In both of those games, against the Seahawks and the Falcons, the Packers had to hit the road, again because they didn’t earn home field advantage throughout the playoffs.
Still Early, but Every Game Adds Up
As Aaron Rodgers once proclaimed “R-E-L-A-X”, the 2017 season is just two games in and the Packers are sitting with a record of 1-1. The Packers were missing several key players in their loss on Sunday night and lost several more as the game went on. But teams that are true Super Bowl contenders find a way to win those games or at the very least, give them a chance to win. Even if the Packers had their full arsenal, it doesn’t guarantee them a victory, especially with playing the Falcons on their home turf. If these two teams meet again in the NFC playoffs, the Packers need to make sure it is at the friendly confines of Lambeau Field, giving them the best chance to take home a victory. Sure, the season is just two games old, but if the Packers are the Super Bowl contenders most believe they are, they need to make sure Sunday’s game isn’t the standard and make sure they do everything they can to earn home field advantage.