It’s now or never for two of the NFL’s biggest underachievers, as the Green Bay Packers face the Atlanta Falcons in Week 14. Kickoff is set for 1:00 EST on Sunday, December 9, at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wisconsin. Fans in local markets can watch the game on Fox.
According to the Week 14 NFL odds, the Packers are currently listed as 5.5-point favorites at home. The over/under for the game is set at 49 points.
The Mike McCarthy era came to an unceremonious end after the Packers lost to the Cardinals last week. Green Bay has now lost three games in a row and five of their last six games, prompting the team to cut ties with their longtime coach. The Packers head into the season’s final stretch at 4-7-1. Interim coach Joe Philbin will need to guide the Packers to four straight wins and get a lot of help if Green Bay is going to make the postseason.
Given Green Bay’s schedule, that will be difficult but not impossible. The Packers will visit Chicago next week for what is easily their toughest remaining game. However, home games against the Falcons and Lions and a road game against the Jets are all winnable if Green Bay can get their act together after a string of losses.
Speaking of getting their act together, that’s something the Falcons have failed to do during the second half of the season. After a slow start to the season, Atlanta fought their way back to 4-4 at the midway point of the season. However, the Falcons have faltered once again, losing four in a row. Despite being carried by their offense early in the year, the Falcons have gone cold, failing to reach 20 points in four straight games.
Much like the Packers, the Falcons need to win their four remaining games and get a lot of help to stay in the playoff hunt. While they will play three of their last four games on the road, Atlanta’s schedule is actually quite manageable. All four teams they play the rest of the season are at or below .500, which should be a welcomed change after losing to the Cowboys, Saints, and Ravens the past three weeks.
My first inclination was that this spread was a little too much for a team riding a three-game losing streak. But I think Aaron Rodgers and company will respond positively to McCarthy being fired. The Falcons are also a dome team playing a December road game in frigid Wisconsin. That’s enough for me to swallow the points and lean toward the Packers to cover.
Atlanta’s offense is having all kinds of problems right now. They aren’t running the ball effectively, which has been the case all year. Matt Ryan is receiving inadequate protection in the pocket, which means he’s taking a lot of hits. Even Julio Jones was completely taken out of the equation by the Baltimore defense last week. They are completely out of sorts at the moment, averaging just 17 points per game during their four-game losing streak.
To be fair, the Green Bay defense they’ll face this week will be the weakest defense they’ve faced in a while. Since shutting out the Bills in Week 4, the Packers have only held one team to less than 20 points, and that game was against Miami with Brock Osweiler starting.
On the other hand, the Falcons were pitiful last week, gaining only 131 total yards. Atlanta will also have to deal with cold and windy conditions in Green Bay. Even while playing in domes the last three weeks, the Falcons haven’t been able to score more than 19 points. That doesn’t exactly fill me with confidence as they hit the road.
Meanwhile, I’m inclined to think that McCarthy’s firing could lead the Packers to run the ball a little more. Green Bay usually fares better when Aaron Jones gets more touches. However, he was given just 11 carries last week, which is inexplicable for a December game at Lambeau Field against a team that struggles against the run.
The Packers will immediately get a chance to redeem themselves, as they are in a similar situation this week. The Falcons have one of the worst run defenses in the NFL, giving up 130 yards per game and 4.9 yards per carry on the ground. They are also a week removed from giving up 207 yards rushing against the Ravens. If Green Bay simply commits to running the ball, Jones should have a productive day and set up Rodgers to take shots down the field against a porous Atlanta secondary.
In the end, it’s hard to see the Falcons suddenly turning things around while visiting Green Bay. If they can’t get it going offensively, they have little chance of making this a competitive game. Meanwhile, I wouldn’t be shocked to see the Packers get a boost from McCarthy being fired. If Green Bay’s offense can become a little more balanced and rely more on their ground game, they should be able to seize control of the game and cover the spread.