Now could be the time when their bye for the opening weekend of the playoffs really pays off for the Falcons. It might also be when the Packers finally run out of steam.
It’s not as if the Falcons haven’t had their share of setbacks, injuries or otherwise. But compared to the Packers, they’ve had a stress-free path to the NFC championship game on Sunday at the Georgia Dome.
The Falcons had a bye after 10 games of the regular season and then clinched the NFC South title before the final game of their front-loaded schedule. They opened the postseason by dispatching the Seahawks with little drama last weekend and will have an extra day of rest over the Packers.
All active Falcons players participated fully in practice in the week leading up to their divisional playoff game against the Seahawks and there shouldn’t be many names on the injury report this week, either.
“Having everybody healthy at this point and time, it’s almost unheard of,” Falcons fullback Patrick DiMarco said. “Having that bye week was great. Guys were able to heal up and rest up. When we are full strength, we are a force to be reckoned with.”
Contrast that with the Packers, who will come to Atlanta looking to extend what’s been a grinding season.
The Packers will be playing their 16th straight game since their bye week. They’ve essentially been playing weekly elimination games since losing four straight games and falling to 4-6. So many of Green Bay’s key players are hobbled after two playoff games that coach Mike McCarthy is more concerned with getting players healthy for Sunday than getting them on the practice field this week.
“We’ve been in some level of that mode all season and that’s just the kind of year that we’ve had,” McCarthy told reporters in Green Bay, Wis., this week.
The Falcons clinched the NFC’s No. 2 seed by beating the Saints in the regular-season finale. They were off for the first weekend of the playoffs and then dominated the third-seeded Seahawks in the divisional round last Saturday.
The Packers won the NFC North by beating the Lions on the final day of the regular season. They dismantled an elite Giants defense at home in the wild-card round and on Sunday pulled out a last-second victory at top-seeded Dallas.
But the Packers are now paying a physical price for their slog.
Green Bay’s top wide receiver, Jordy Nelson, is questionable for Sunday because of broken ribs. Starting safety Morgan Burnett (thigh) tried to return to the Cowboys game after being forced from the game but couldn’t go. Cornerback Quinten Rollins (concussion) missed both playoff games and has yet to be cleared to play.
Three other Packers starters could miss practice time this week: wide receiver Davante Adams (ankle), left tackle David Bakhtiari (knee) and right tackle Bryan Bulaga (ankle).
“Our team is a little more healthy than theirs,” Falcons safety Ricardo Allen said. “If you are talking about that as an advantage, yes (it is).”
The Falcons lost Adrian Clayborn to a season-ending knee injury suffered early in the Seahawks game. Wide receiver Julio Jones (foot) didn’t finish the Seattle game but coach Dan Quinn said he definitely will play against the Packers.
And that covers the significant injuries to Falcons players on the active roster.
“Across the board, I feel we are physically and mentally really healthy,” Falcons cornerback Jalen Collins said. “Our bond is really good and everybody is taking care of their bodies the way they need to.”
For the second straight week, the Falcons should have a full compliment of players, or close to it, throughout practice this week. Quinn said that was a big advantage in preparing for the Seahawks.
For yet another week, the Packers figure to be short-handed for their practices and probably will be without key players on Sunday. That may be a disadvantage but McCarthy said it’s one they will overcome.
“This is the NFC championship,” McCarthy said. “When you go through playoff runs, a lot of teams go through injuries. You have to overcome it. We will. We’ll be ready to go when we get down there.”
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Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com