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Submitted by Jim Hurley on Sunday, October 9, 2011 at 9:04 AM

Somebody may have kidnapped the Atlanta Falcons defense in the offseason. That's the only explanation for the unbelievable collapse the team has seen on the ball one year after earning the #1 seed in the NFC playoff brackets. If you can't stop Tavaris Jackson and Seattle, how are you going to stop Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers in a big Sunday Night TV game on NBC?!

Let's quickly review the details of a theme that became clear fairly quickly in the 2011 season.

*Jay Cutler passed for almost 300 yards, and the Chicago Bears put up 377 yards overall in a 30-12 season opening win over Atlanta. The Falcons allowed almost six yards-per-play. You get the idea that it might have been worse but the Bears were sitting on a big lead through the whole second half.

*Michael Vick and Mike Kafka combined to pass for over 300 yards, and the Philadelphia Eagles up 447 yards overall in what turned out to be a 35-31 win for Atlanta. The Falcons were able to overcome their own horrible defense thanks to some turnover breaks. Atlanta allowed 6.7 yards-per-play…and it may have been worse if Vick hadn't been injured. Two games into the season…the defense looked like a sieve and the Falcons were lucky to have a 1-1 record.

*Josh Freeman was actually held in check fairly well by Atlanta, in what turned out to be a hardfought 16-13 loss. No complaints here. We should note that Tampa Bay has been inconsistent on offense this season. There was hope after this game that the Atlanta defense had righted the ship (fitting against the Buccaneers), and that another playoff run might be in the cards even after a 1-2 start. Surely a win was in the offing in Seattle that would bring the team back to .500.

*Tavaris Jackson had the best game of his life, throwing for over 300 yards in what turned out to be a wide-open 30-28 victory for Atlanta. They did get that win to reach .500 again…but they made Tavaris Jackson look great in the process.

Check out Seattle's passing numbers this season for some perspective:

21-37-1-155 at San Francisco
20-29-0-133 at Pittsburgh
18-31-1-139 vs. Arizona
25-38-2-319 vs. Atlanta

You can pick any other two games, and you won't make it to 300 passing yards. Frankly, Seattle had one of the most embarrassing passing offenses you could imagine in this pass-happy era. Cam Newton made it to 400 yards in the air…Tavaris Jackson was struggling to reach 150. Until he faced Atlanta.

So, if Cutler, Vick/Kafka, and Jackson are going to be in the neighborhood of 300 yards against this defense, what kind of numbers will Aaron Rodgers put up?

Here's what he did on this very same field last year when Atlanta's defense was good enough to earn the #1 seed:

Rodgers: 31-36-0-346

It was one of the sharpest passing games in NFL postseason history. Only five balls touched the ground. Rodgers averaged well over 10 yards per completion…and had his team up 28-14 at the half on their way to a 48-21 laugher. What might Rodgers have done if he NEEDED to produce in the second half?!

Clearly a bleak Sunday Night scenario for Atlanta. They have to hope Green Bay comes in flat and overconfident after a 4-0 start. That's certainly possible given the ease with which they've been winning…and the fact that they already won so easily on this very same field in recent memory. How fired up can a team be in this kind of spot?

Or, they're going to have to hope their own quarterback Matt Ryan kicks things up a notch and plays his best game this season. One of the underreported stories so far this season is how shaky Ryan has been.

16 incomplete passes, 1 interception, and 5 sacks at Chicago
11 incomplete passes, 2 interceptions, but 0 sacks vs. Philly
21 incomplete passes, 2 interceptions, and 4 sacks at Tampa Bay
14 incomplete passes, 0 interceptions, but 0 sacks at Seattle

The cleanest game was in Seattle last week…but Ryan kind of disappeared in the second half when Seattle was rallying to make it close. In the other games, 5 interceptions, 9 sacks, and way too many incomplete passes for an NFL offense in the modern game. Those certainly weren't the performances of a playoff bound quarterback.

Clearly Atlanta has issues on both sides of the ball right now. The good news is that three of the first four games were on the road. That means seven of the last 12, starting tonight, will be at home. There's time to get things fixed. A bad loss to Green Bay might be such a confidence blow though that you can write off the rest of the 2011 campaign. One a team that had swagger has lost it, it takes awhile to find the fire once again.

JIM HURLEY'S NETWORK has a lot to think about in this Sunday Night affair. We try to play every Sunday Nighter at least as a bonus play for clients because we know how much YOU like to play the big TV games. Based on pure math…and state-of-the-art simulation software…this would be a Green Bay rout. Our computer programmers are showing at least 34 points for the Packers…with the clear possibility of reaching 40 if they need to (they scored 49 on Denver last week and they DIDN'T need to!). Vegas has the number closer to 29 because of 'regression to the mean' and the chance that the Packers are flat.

That's the big issue for us. How motivated will Green Bay be? Our on-site sources have been working diligently on that angle. If the Packers want to show the world on national TV that they're the undisputed kings of the NFC (thanks to the fall of Philly), then they can probably name the score here. The Vegas spread doesn't matter. But…how many times have we seen top teams lay eggs as road favorites in non-divisional games that don't get their juices flowing?

How about Pittsburgh at Indianapolis two Sundays ago? Lethargic Green Bay only beat Carolina 30-23 as a road favorite and this Atlanta team is probably better than that Carolina team.  The road favorite hung on and won those games. Some of the biggest home dog upsets of recent years have come in this kind of spot.

This is why the TEAM HANDICAPPING approach of network is so important. The statheads chime in. The trend guys chime in (particularly important in trends involving the big TV games). The computer guys chime in. Our Wise Guy connections chime in. We know that sharps bet Green Bay at -4 and at -5. Does Atlanta become the smart money play at +6 or higher? Or, will a Green Bay blowout make the line moot?

Finally, the man in the middle of the information hurricane, JIM HURLEY, makes the final call based on everything at his fingertips. DON'T MAKE A MOVE UNTIL YOU HEAR WHAT JIM HURLEY HAS TO SAY!

You can purchase our full Sunday football slate here at the website with your credit card. Be sure to check out our baseball too, with a LCS doubleheader on the schedule. If you have any questions, or if you want to put together a two-sport combination package for October, call the office at 1-800-323-4453.

We have one of our patented NFL SHOCKERS going today. We're certainly looking at big TV games like Philadelphia-Buffalo, Tennessee-Pittsburgh, NY Jets-New England, and Green Bay-Atlanta for serious play. The winning will continue Monday Night with Chicago-Detroit (be sure to check out our preview tomorrow right here in the NOTEBOOK) and Game Two of the NLCS.


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