The Green Bay Packers visit the Atlanta Falcons at the Georgia Dome on Sunday. There's plenty at stake, with the winner stating its case to earn homefield advantage throughout the NFC playoffs.
While there's plenty to be gained for the winner, there's also plenty to be lost for the loser.
In the NFC, Atlanta tops the NFC list at 8-2, with Philadelphia (7-3; East), Chicago (7-3; North) and Seattle (5-5; West) leading the other divisions. New Orleans (8-3) and Green Bay (7-3) are the front-runners for the wild card spots, with Tampa Bay (7-3) on the outside looking in based on tiebreakers. An eighth team, the Giants (6-4), is in the thick of things, too.
From Green Bay's perspective, a loss would be its third in conference play, which is one of the key tiebreakers. From Atlanta's perspective, the Saints and Buccaneers are in hot pursuit in the hotly contested NFC South, so the team with the best record in the conference isn't exactly on firm ice, either.
"Our goal is to be the better team on Sunday," Falcons coach Mike Smith said in a conference call. "You want to be a relevant team year-in and year-out, you want to be a team in the discussion for the postseason in the NFC. There's six teams that get an opportunity to play on, and our thoughts are to be the best team each and every Sunday, and if we do that, we're going to look up in December and like where we're at."
Rodgers, Matthews, Woodson lead the way
At quarterback for the NFC, the Eagles' Michael Vick (405,292 votes) leads Rodgers (343,177).
Voting concludes on Monday, Dec. 20, with the teams to be announced on NFL Network on Dec. 28. The game will be played on Sunday, Jan. 30, in Honolulu.
Packers injury report
Out: S Atari Bigby (hamstring). Doubtful: S Anthony Smith (ankle). Probable: T Chad Clifton (kinee); WR Donald Driver (quad); DE Cullen Jenkins (calf); LB Clay Matthews (shin); DE Ryan Pickett (ankle); C Scott Wells (arch); CB Charles Woodson (toe).
McCarthy hasn't ruled out Smith, even though he didn't practice all week and his injury listing means he's got only a 25 percent chance to play. Jarrett Bush would be the third safety behind starters Nick Collins and Charlie Peprah.
"He's a guy we've moved around a bunch," defensive coordinator Dom Capers said of Bush. "He's had to play safety for us before. If he has to go in there, I feel confident he'll go in there and do a good job for us."
Wells didn't practice for precautionary reasons.
Falcons injury report
Doubtful: RB Antone Smith (hamstring). Questionable: DE John Abraham (groin); S Shann Schillinger (head). Probable: LB Curtis Lofton (knee); DT Corey Peters (rib); WR Eric Weems (pectoral); WR Roddy White (knee).
Abraham, the Falcons' leader in sacks with eight, didn't play last week at St. Louis. He was limited at practice on Thursday and Friday. White, who leads the NFL in receptions and yards, was a full participant.
-- Not surprisingly, fans voted Rodgers the FedEx Air player of the week for his four-touchdown performance last week at Minnesota.
-- Among the connections between teams, Falcons defensive backs coach Tim Lewis was the Packers' first-round pick in 1984. He played four seasons for Green Bay before his career was cut short with a neck injury.
-- Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan is 18-1 all-time at home. With a win, he'd tie Danny White for the best home record for a quarterback in his first 20 starts.
-- Before the Dallas game, Green Bay ranked 26th on third downs with a conversion rate of 35.1 percent. After going 18-of-30 against Dallas and Minnesota, Green Bay is up to No. 10 at 41.1 percent.
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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at email@example.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport and Facebook under Bill Huber.