Defense wins championships.
That’s the old adage. And it’s about to be turned on its head by either the Green Bay Packers or Atlanta Falcons.
The Packers finished 21st in points allowed. The Falcons finished 27th. And yet, one of them will win the NFC Championship Game on Sunday in Atlanta.
The victor will be playing in Super Bowl LI, and it figures to be a battle of brilliant quarterbacks — Atlanta’s Matt Ryan and Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers — who decide this one.
Behind Ryan, the Falcons scored 71 more points than any other team in the NFL. Ryan’s 117.1 passer rating not only led the NFL, but was the fifth-best in NFL history. He threw for 4,944 yards with 38 touchdowns and seven interceptions. He topped 100 in passer rating in 12 of 16 regular-season games, then did it again against Seattle in the divisional round.
The Falcons enter the game on a five-game winning streak. Ryan has 14 touchdown passes and zero interceptions during the five-game streak.
“It’s always a cool thing to watch when you see a good player go to a new spot,” Falcons coach Dan Quinn said. “You guys have for sure seen it (with Rodgers). You know what it looks like, and Matt did that with his own game.
“It started way back in February in terms of his intent for the offseason, the way he was going to set it off. He had some things in his own game that he wanted to improve upon and, honestly, it carried over all the way through OTAs, into training camp.”
Not to be outdone, Rodgers led the Packers to eight consecutive wins. Through the first quarter of the season, Rodgers ranked toward the bottom of the league in completion percentage (56.1) and yards per attempt (6.30). But he has been unstoppable as of late. During the winning streak, Rodgers has posted a 117.9 passer rating with 298.0 yards per game, 68.9 percent accuracy, 21 touchdowns and one interception. For the season, Rodgers threw for 4,428 yards with 40 touchdowns and seven interceptions.
“I think he’s played incredible,” Packers head coach Mike McCarthy said. “It’s important for our team to play our best football come Sunday. He’s in a great rhythm right now. Is he playing the best he ever has? He’s played at this level so often, but I think this is probably one of his best runs.”
Both teams will need huge efforts from their quarterbacks in what could turn into a shootout. They’ll be attacking what are at times poor defenses. Green Bay finished 31st in pass defense. Atlanta wasn’t much better at 26th. Both teams finished in the bottom fourth of the league on third down and in the red zone.