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Sunday, January 9, 2011
Quick Take: Packers at Falcons

By Pat Yasinskas

Three things to know about Saturday's Atlanta Falcons-Green Bay Packers divisional-round playoff game:

1. Tough draw. Of the three teams they could have drawn out of the wild-card round the Packers probably are the team the Falcons least wanted to see. Seattle, which went 7-9 in the regular season and would have had to travel across the country, would have been the top choice. There also were some people in the organization wishing the Falcons would draw their NFC South rival, the New Orleans Saints. New Orleans won in Atlanta late in the season and some Saints posed for pictures on the Falcons’ logo. The Saints said it wasn’t a sign of disrespect, but the Falcons didn’t see it that way. There would have been plenty of motivation for revenge if the Saints were coming back to the Georgia Dome. Although they are the No.6 seed, the Packers are hot right now and that makes them more dangerous than Seattle or New Orleans would have been.

2. The sequel. When the Packers came to the Georgia Dome on Nov. 28, Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan took a huge step in his growth process. With the game tied, 17-17, and 49 seconds left, Ryan calmly led the Falcons on a six-play drive to set up a game-winning field goal by Matt Bryant. This game could be another huge challenge for Ryan as he tries to establish himself as an elite quarterback. He can win his first playoff game. Ryan’s only other playoff appearance came in a loss to Arizona in his rookie season.

3. Not a rookie anymore. One player I think could make a big difference in this game is Atlanta rookie linebacker Sean Weatherspoon. He started the season well and was showing signs he could make some big plays happen. But Weatherspoon got banged up and missed some time. When he came back, he was used as more of a situational player in a rotation with Stephen Nicholas. But the bye week gave Weatherspoon some time to get rested. He’s fully healthy and he should be comfortable with the defensive system by now. Don’t be surprised if he plays a bigger role in this game.