The difference in the two coaches' approach to this game is intriguing. Falcons Coach Mike Smith rejects the storyline. Packers Coach Mike McCarthy acknowledges it and is using it to motivate his players.
Whatever it takes, right?
So what's the storyline for Sunday's prime-time game between the Packers and Falcons? It's about revenge. The revenge of the Falcons, who had homefield advantage and were just two home wins away from the Super Bowl when the Packers, the NFC's sixth-seeded team and a club the Falcons had defeated earlier in the season, stormed Atlanta last January. When the dust had cleared from the whirlwind Aaron Rodgers had created, the Packers were 48-21 winners and one road win away from the NFC title that was supposed to be the Falcons'.
Revenge? Of course. How did Packers fans feel when the Giants did the same in Green Bay in 2007? Did that make the Packers' win over the Giants late last season, which ended the Giants' playoff hopes, taste a little sweeter?
You bet it did, and you can bet the Falcons want that same sweet taste this Sunday, it's just that Smith isn't gonna allow his team to focus on revenge because to do that would be to focus on something other than what's important, what it takes to win.
"The motivation for us is it's the next game. They're the Super Bowl champs. We have to be excited about the opportunity to play them," Smith said.
That, ladies and gentleman, is what you call classic coachspeak.
McCarthy, on the other hand, can be a little more liberal in his approach to this game because the storyline works to his advantage. It should serve to focus even more sharply his team for a game in a hostile environment that McCarthy, no doubt, is telling his players the Falcons circled on their schedule as a day of reckoning.
"I definitely think it'll have a little playoff feel to it. We think this is going to be a hot game. We're fully aware of how they probably feel about us," McCarthy said.
Now, if you wanna know just how the Falcons probably feel about the Packers, read this quote from Coach Smith: "We had a chance to drill down deeper than we ever have. I know we spent more time on that as a coaching staff than we ever have."
He was talking about offseason time the lockout provided for preparing for the next season's opponents. Coach Smith was letting us know the Falcons did some work on the Packers.
This one has some hype to it. It's fun.
Here are 10 things the Packers have to do to beat the Falcons:
1. Stop the run—Coach Smith is disappointed with his team's play up front. He's a run-the-ball guy and he no doubt is challenging his offense to run the ball and dominate time of possession.
2. Force the issue—That's the counter to the run-the-ball game plan. You take a team out of that game plan by scoring early and forcing a fast tempo.
3. Quiet the crowd—Domes can be very tough places to play when you're losing.
4. Deny big plays—Explosives have been the problem for the Packers defense, and Julio Jones and Roddy White have game-changing speed.
5. Win the battle of the tight ends—Jermichael Finley vs. Tony Gonzalez. They make their teams go in the red zone.
6. Take what they give you—Smitty doesn't have the pass-rush to be aggressive in coverage. He'll back it off. Take the underneath stuff and move the sticks.
7. Pull your chinstraps tight—Don't buy any of that next game stuff. The Falcons may not have circled this one on their schedule, but you can bet they circled it in their hearts.
8. Win the fourth quarter—As the games get bigger, the outcomes are decided later.
9. Block John Abraham—He's the rusher of concern.
10. Turn Clay loose—The Eagles' pass-rush ravaged Ryan. It's time for Clay Matthews to get "home." Additional coverage - Oct. 6