NFL Playoff Schedule, Divisional Round: Stat Matchups for Falcons vs. Packers

DANNY'S NOTE: This is going to be our official game thread for Falcons-Packers. Let the drinking begin...I mean, continue.

Time to preview the late game, which pits the Atlanta Falcons against the Green Bay Packers. If you're unfamiliar with the format of these statistical preview posts, see my Stelers-Ravens post from earlier today. If you're unfamiliar with Football Outsiders' stats, feel free to take a look at their overall team stats, OL & defensive front-7 (DF7) stats, and an explanation of the methods they used to come up with their stats.

GREEN BAY PACKERS @ ATLANTA FALCONS

Here's how the two teams stack up in terms of Total, Offense, Defense, and Special Teams DVOA (Top-8 in bold, Bottom-8 in italics):

Team

Total DVOA

Rank

Offense

Rank

Defense

Rank

Special Teams

Rank

GB

23.2%

3

14.7%

7

-10.8%

2

-2.2%

27

GB - ROAD

9.1%

3.4%

15

-7.9%

6

ATL

15.9%

8

10.9%

10

1.3%

12

6.3%

2

ATL - HOME

20.3%

 

11.9%

12

2.1%

18

 

 

Not that this is news to anyone, but the venue really plays a big role in this matchup. A neutral-field 7.3% DVOA disadvantage for the Falcons becomes an 11.2% DVOA advantage when you consider that the game is in the Georgia Dome. What might be news to someone is that, even though we always hear about ATL's home-field advantage, it's actually GB's decreased efficiency on the road that accounts for most of that 18.5% venue-related matchup difference.

One other thing to note in the above table is that ATL has a massive advantage on special teams (ST). Looking a little deeper into the ST DVOA stat, ATL's advantage basically comes entirely in one area: kickoffs. The Falcons was #1 in the NFL in terms of field position created via the kickoff, whereas the Packers were ranked 27th on kickoff returns. Obviously, slowing down the GB offense is likely to be an important contributor to an ATL victory. And only 3 paragraphs into this post, I've already uncovered 2 stats that suggest the Falcons have a head start towards that goal.

After the jump, the outcome becomes a little clearer...

Here are the meaningful strength-versus-weakness (SVW) matchups in the game:

Situation

ATL Rank

GB Rank

ATL KICKOFF VS. GB KICK RETURN

1

27

GB OFFENSE VS. ATL DEFENSE ON 3RD & LONG

29

5

GB OFFENSE VS. ATL DEFENSE WHEN GB AHEAD BY 7+

26

8

Again, like the PIT/BAL game, there aren't that many SVW matchups in the ATL/GB game. I guess that's not surprising given how this is the playoffs and all. However, aside from the ST advantage I already mentioned, the remaining advantages are in GB's favor. You'd think, what with practically every pundit I've seen this week picking the Packers to win, that there'd be a lot more situational statistical advantages for GB. In fact, there are only 2, one of which is in a situation that's not exactly favorable to in a basic football sense. I mean, it's not like GB's offense is going to purposefully put itself into 3rd & Long just to exploit the advantage. Furthermore, in order to exploit their advantage while winning big, the Packers first have to get a TD-or-more lead. If they do that, beware the blowout.

There were, however, a couple of other matchups that just missed being SVWs, and both of those are in GB's favor as well. First, GB's 3rd Down Defense DVOA was ranked 3rd this season, whereas ATL's 3rd Down Offense DVOA was ranked 23rd. So, for ATL, it'll be especially important to overcome this disadvantage, and be unusually successful on 1st down. Second, GB's pass offense had the #9 DVOA in the league on 2nd down, whereas ATL's 2nd-Down Pass Defense DVOA ranked 4th-worst. So, if I were the Packers, I'd be passing the ball early and often on 2nd down. If they do so, they should be able to find a lot of success.

Here's how the two teams rank in the trenches (Top-8 in bold, Bottom-8 in italics):

Team

ALY

LE

LT

C/G

RT

RE

Power

Stuffed

ASR

GB OL

23

32

21

7

18

28

25

9

21

ATL DF7

12

18

7

4

10

28

19

5

23

 

Team

ALY

LE

LT

C/G

RT

RE

Power

Stuffed

ASR

ATL OL

8

16

17

12

12

10

9

20

3

GB DF7

20

19

28

21

25

16

2

28

4

Because the Packers are so reliant on the pass, the fact that ATL is a below average DF7 in terms of the pass rush strikes me as important. Usually, the teams that are able to disrupt high-powered passing attacks are those that are able to take the QB out of his comfort zone. One way to do that, obviously, is to sack said QB. From these rankings, it doesn't look like the Falcons do a good enough job of it to slow down Aaron Rodgers and the best WR corps in the league.

Unlike GB's pass-heavy offense, ATL's offense revolves around the running of Michael Turner, especially to the left side of the formation. Therefore, the fact that GB's DF7 is a middle-of-the-road run-stopping unit overall, and near the bottom of the league specifically stopping runs behind LT, potentially bode wells for the Falcons' offense. The question, though, is whether or not ATL's statistical matchup advantage here is big enough.

BOTTOM LINE: Based on the stats, I don't really see this as much of a clear-cut GB win as the national punditry. The Packers have advantages, for sure, but I honestly figured there would be a lot more of them, especially with respect to the matchup between GB's offense and ATL's defense. Not to mention that the venue seems like a huge factor. Of course, on the other hand, if GB is able to grab an early lead, they don't take their foot off of the pedal, and ATL's defense plays pretty badly when trying to hold a deficit in place.

I think this is a situation where it's either going to be a very close game or a GB blowout. Because the game's in ATL, I don't put a high likelihood on a blowout. However, because I picked the Packers to win the Super Bowl before the season started, I'll take them tonight...in closer-than-expected win.

**DVOA, ALY, and ASR statistics used to produce this article were obtained from Football Outsiders.

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