GREEN BAY—Eight months ago, Packers-Falcons in Week 14 at Lambeau Field appeared to be one of the top contests of the season.
Current circumstances say otherwise, but that doesn't mean this matchup should be scratched from the marquee list for years to come. In all likelihood, the two franchise quarterbacks in Matt Ryan and Aaron Rodgers will make this must-see NFC football again.
This season, however, took a detour for both teams, as injuries knocked out major players for short and long stretches, and the game lost its appeal, getting flexed out of prime time.
The Falcons, who held a 17-0 lead in the NFC title game 11 months ago and came within five yards of going to the Super Bowl, may have tried to hold together an aging team too long to take one more shot. They're 3-9, with as many losses as they've had in the last two regular seasons combined.
The Packers weren't adequately prepared at backup quarterback – bringing in two signal callers in Week 1 after jettisoning every reserve candidate who took a snap in training camp. Without Rodgers, they're 0-4-1 and hanging on for their playoff lives after a 5-2 start.
It's a good bet, however, that Sunday's matchup is just a one-year hiatus from Packers-Falcons being a schedule headliner.
Heading into this season, Ryan and Rodgers had missed the playoffs as starting quarterbacks only once each – Ryan in his second season of 2009, Rodgers in his first as a starter in '08.
Their head-to-head duels to date have been significant.
Ryan's win at Lambeau Field as a rookie in '08 helped put him on the map and propel the Falcons to a surprise NFC Wild Card berth.
The regular-season meeting in Atlanta in 2010 had everything – a fourth-and-10 bullet of a TD pass from Rodgers late in the fourth quarter to tie the score, and Ryan leading the Falcons back down the field in the final minute for a game-winning field goal.
The Packers got their revenge in spectacular fashion in the 2010 playoffs at the Georgia Dome. Then, just when it appeared the Falcons were going to turn the tide in Week 5 of 2011 by taking a 14-0 lead just over one quarter into the game, the Packers stormed back with 25 straight points to continue a season-opening winning streak that eventually reached 13 games.
Now, there's suddenly minimal charm to a game featuring two teams that went a combined 0-8-1 in November. The Falcons' overtime win last Sunday, Dec. 1, shows they're still fighting, while the Packers have even more to fight for.
"Everybody in this locker room thinks December matters," veteran defensive lineman Ryan Pickett said. "We just have to get one win.
"I guarantee you Atlanta is not watching tape feeling bad for us. Nobody is feeling bad for us. We just have to get up and play."
With the Packers still alive in the NFC North race, the utopian scenario in their case is to win, see the Lions lose and eventually look back on this Falcons game as the one that righted the ship and pointed the Packers back on the path to glory.
That's what the game against the Giants in Week 16 of 2010 ultimately became for Green Bay, and the appeal of Packers-Giants confrontations through 2011 and '12 only intensified.
OK, so that seems a bit far-fetched, but who knows? What is known is this Packers-Falcons meeting isn't what it was thought to be, but the matchup's allure is bound to return, and quite likely as soon as next season.
Atlanta is already on the schedule to visit Green Bay in 2014. Packers-Falcons might not be given a prime-time slot in April, but if it's late in the season, and Ryan and Rodgers are doing their thing, don't be surprised if it gets flexed the other way next time. Additional coverage - Dec. 6