Atlanta runs the kind of offense that can cause problems for Dom Capers' creative 3-4 defense. Michael Turner runs between the tackles very well and if linebackers are blitzing or overpursue, Turner can make some big plays. Roddy White is one of the few receivers who can beat Charles Woodson one-on-one and if he can do that early in the game it can limit Capers' ability to bring extra pressure. From Green Bay's standpoint, Aaron Rodgers played one of his best games of the year last week against collapsing Minnesota. If his offensive line can keep John Abraham off his blind side and prevent Justin Babineaux from coming up the middle, this Falcon secondary is beatable and Rodgers will have his way. If Green Bay is going to win on the road they need either a big game defensively, or Brandon Jackson has to run the ball well and give Rodgers the kind of ground support Matt Ryan gets with Turner. In a great game, I think the Packers get one of the above (likely a standout defensive effort led by MVP candidate Clay Matthews) and eke out a 24-21 win.
The rivals of the Packers and Falcons have prime games in the late window. Chicago hosts Philadelphia. The Eagles are the superior team here, but the Bears play good enough defense to think they can keep it close, and the homefield might be enough to tip it their way. Chicago must keep Michael Vick in the pocket, play soft coverage and hope he forces some throws downfield. If Vick stays patient and works with LeSean McCoy and Brent Celek underneath, he can manage a win. And if the Bears lose containment and Vick can improvise, this can be a road rout. Either way, the Birds win this one and stay atop the NFC East. In the other key late game Tampa Bay visits Baltimore. The battle between the Ravens offense and Bucs defense will be a real test of wills--Baltimore excels at throwing high-percentage passes to the backs and tight end Todd Heap, while Tampa excels at allowing such passes before tightening the noose when an offense gets close, then pulling games out late. The problem with that formula here is that it assumes mistake-free football on the part of the Tampa offense and I don't think they can manage that. Look for Josh Freeman to be forced into some bad passes by the Baltimore pressure, giving the Ravens a hold on this game and forcing Tampa out of their game plan. The final score will be respectable, but the outcome will not be in doubt after halftime. Let's call it 24-13 for the hosts.
San Diego visits Indianapolis for the Sunday Night game. The Colts are tied for first with Jacksonville, while the Chargers could have the opportunity to move into a tie for first if Kansas City loses at Seattle earlier in the day. There's only one hope Indy has to slow down Philip Rivers and that's lots of pressure from Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis and hope they can rattle him into some mistakes. That works a lot better if you can stop the run, but the Colts have one of the league's worst run defenses. San Diego is also good at bringing pressure with Shaun Phillips, but Peyton Manning is as good as anyone at targeting receivers on quick routes designed to beat blitz packages. The points should flow freely in the RCA Dome, but Manning and homefield are enough to prevail, 37-31.
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Dan Flaherty is the editor of the Sports Notebook Family, published through the Real Clear Sports Blog Network, offering daily commentary in college football ,game analysis in the NFL. and coverage of college basketball. He is the author of The Last New Year's, a book that revisits the historic high points of college football's New Year's Day bowl games.