The League

Anthony Stalter
National Blogger

Anthony Stalter

Senior Sports Editor for The Scores Report

Rodgers-Ryan must-see


Michael Vick may have put the screws to his former team last Sunday by helping send Green Bay to Atlanta instead of Seattle, but he gave football fans one heck of a matchup in the process.

The most intriguing Divisional Round game is in Atlanta this Saturday night. Outside of the 2005-06 Steelers, there arguably hasn't been a better No. 6 seed in playoff history than the Packers. Green Bay is a legit Super Bowl contender and if Mike McCarthy's conservatism doesn't get in the way, the Packers could make a championship run.

This game also features two young quarterbacks in Aaron Rodgers and Matt Ryan that have already reached elite status or are knocking on the door of it. If it weren't for Tom Brady's play this year, Rodgers would be your MVP. No quarterback (not even Michael Vick) put his team on his shoulders this year and carried it like Rodgers did with the Packers.

Rodgers' 101.2 passer rating was the third highest in the league. His completion percentage of 65.7 was the sixth highest in the NFL, and the same goes for his 28 touchdown passes. Of the quarterbacks that attempted at least 300 passes this year, only Ryan, Tom Brady and Joe Flacco threw fewer interceptions than Rodgers.

He accomplished all this despite teammates on both sides of the ball dropping like flies due to injuries. Does anyone actually believe that the Packers would be the sixth seed if they didn't suffer so many injuries throughout the year? They made the postseason largely because of Rodgers' success and his handling of one of the most explosive passing games in the league.

His counterpart on Saturday, Ryan, leads a team that is highly under-appreciated and overlooked. You want a team that does the little things right, try the Falcons. They lead the league in fewest penalties per game at 3.6 and lead the NFC in turnover margin per game at +0.9. They're well coached, they're always prepared and their overall balance may be the one thing that separates them from the rest of the playoff teams.

Ryan doesn't put up the numbers that Rodgers does. He can't in Mike Mularkey's offense, which is a run-first attack that predicates itself on methodically moving the chains and wearing defenses down. But at least once a game Mularkey will put Ryan in the no-huddle, which is when the third-year quarterbacks' true talents come out.

Ryan is highly efficient at reading defenses and getting the ball out of his hand quickly. When facing five or more pass rushers, he has a 100.1 passer rating with 14 touchdowns to just four interceptions. In comparison, when he's faced with four or fewer pass rushers, he has an 84.5 passer rating with 12 touchdowns and five interceptions.

He knows how to handle pressure, and not just the kind that he faces when defenses bring the heat. "Matty Ice" has been "Matty Comeback" this season, leading the Falcons to wins in seven games when they were either tied or trailing at some point during the fourth quarter. That's unbelievable.

Because I spent so much time waxing poetically about Rodgers and Ryan, I didn't leave myself much room to talk about the defenses that these quarterbacks will face. But in short, Green Bay is seventh in the league in yards allowed per game and Atlanta is fifth in scoring defense. So those expecting a shootout this Saturday may come away disappointed, although that doesn't mean that this game won't be both highly entertaining and fun to watch. (The Falcons won the first meeting 20-17 in Week 12, when Ryan helped set up a last-second Matt Bryant field goal.)

My belief is that one of these two teams will represent the NFC in the Super Bowl. Thanks in large part to the Rodgers-Ryan battle, there's no better matchup this weekend in the NFL.

By Anthony Stalter  |  January 11, 2011; 4:13 PM ET  | Category:  Atlanta Falcons , Green Bay Packers , NFC , Playoffs Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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