Fearless Rick's NFL Football Picks - Conference Early Game

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NFC Conference Championship NFL Playoff Picks

All times Eastern

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Cumulative Complete Regular Season: Coin: 108-126-8; Rick: 117-117-8

Last week: Coin: 2-2; Rick: 4-0
Playoffs total: Coin: 4-4; Rick: 6-2

Sunday, January 22

3:05 pm Green Bay Packers at Atlanta Falcons (-4 1/2, 60) - Judging by how handily Atlanta took care of their initial playoff opponent - the Seattle Seahawks - beating them to a bloody pulp by a 36-20 final tally, fans of the Falcons can rest assured that the offense is operating at peak efficiency.

That's a huge plus, because the Packers are fresh off a thrilling, 34-31, divisional round victory at Dallas, propelling the NFC North champions into the conference championship game. Green Bay put up 21 points before the Cowboys had a chance to get settled in, but Dallas responded in a huge way with 18 points in the final quarter, setting up a clutch, game-winning field goal by Mason Crosby as time expired.

The takeaway from Green Bay's win over the Cowboys was that the Packer defense, which has been shaky all season, is still in a fragile condition, something that has to have the defensive coaches worried, because Atlanta led the league in points scored, at 33.8 per game during the regular season and topped their average in the win over Seattle.

Beyond the obvious need for Green Bay to contain the deadly combo of Matt Ryan and Julio Jones, the Packers must find ways to score themselves, though that sholdn't be an issue with QB Aaron Rodgers operating with wideouts Randall Cobb and Jordy Nelson, who is expected to return to action after missing last week's game with sore ribs suffered in Green Bay's win over the Giants.

Ty Montgomery has been an added bonus for the Pack, replacing injured Eddie Lacy. Montgomery is a shifty runner with wide receiver speed and he's been exceptional operating out of the Packer backfield.

Atlanta is also a little light in the running back department, though Tevin Coleman and Devonta Freeman can handle the load and the Packers haven't been exactly stingy on defense. Green Bay ranked 24th overall in yards allowed (363.9) and 21st in points allowed (24.3). Atlanta was no better, ranked 27th in points given up, at 25.4 per game, and 25th in yards (371.2), though the effort by the Falcons against the Seahawks was one of their better ones.

This contest should feature plenty of scoring and probably a number of lead changes. In an earlier meeting (October 30), Atlanta geeked out a 33-32 win at home over Green Bay, indicative of what to expect this Sunday.

That loss marked the beginning of a four-game losing streak by the Packers, but they responded by winning the next six straight, including a 31-24 triumph at Detroit which secured the division title.

The hope for Atlanta is that their defense has been shored up somewhat. and there's a good chance that it has. Prior to a season-ending 38-32 win over the Saints, the Falcons allowed 14, 13, and 16 points against the Rams, 49ers and Panthers, respectively, possibly indicating a renewed commitment and better coverage in the secondary. Green Bay is none of those teams, however, and the Packers will be difficult to stop. what's at issue for the Packers, however, is stopping the Falcon offense, a task which seems too tough for a defense that was worn down by Dallas and has not shown any signs of improvement.

With home field advantage, the Falcons are a solid favorite and should find a way to win, but covering the somewhat heavy line may prove problematic. Nevertheless, Atlanta is the choice to advance to the Super Bowl.

Coin Flip: Green Bay

Rick's Pick: Falcons 38 Packers 31

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