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NFL Preview - Atlanta (3-9) at Green Bay (5-6-1)



By John McMullen, NFL Editor

(SportsNetwork.com) - Will he or won't he?

For Green Bay, it all boils down to whether or not star quarterback Aaron Rodgers can get back in the lineup.

With Rodgers, the Packers are a legitimate Super Bowl contender. Without him they are 0-4-1 and the Grey Cup seems out of reach in Titletown.

Green Bay still hasn't cleared Rodgers, who is recovering from a broken collarbone suffered against Chicago back on Nov. 4, for this Sunday's game against Atlanta but it was also holding out hope he would be ready to go.

The All-Pro was able to practice on a limited basis this week and the issue isn't pain tolerance, it's whether or not his collarbone has had enough time to properly heal.

"I thought he looked good for what they asked him to do," Packers coach Mike McCarthy told assembled reporters. "He did everything seamlessly, individual drills. Basically, he did everything he was cleared to do medically. He was in rehab mode."

Rodgers also updated his progress.

"It's the strength, the range of motion and the evidence that we see on the scan. Two out of three are passed so far," he said. "I can't control the healing of my bone. That's frustrating. But I've been preparing as if I was going to play every week and trying to help Matt (Flynn) and Scott (Tolzien) out as much as I possibly can."

The third scan wasn't passed, however, and Flynn will get the start against the Falcons over Tolzien.

The Detroit Lions' 40-10 victory over the Pack on Thanksgiving Day was even more emphatic than the final score indicated. The total yardage differential in the contest of 435 yards was the most in any NFL game for the last eight years. In addition to posting seven sacks, a safety, an interception and two fumble recoveries, Detroit limited the Packers to just 126 total yards and no offensive touchdowns.

"I knew this organization isn't used to games like this," rookie running back Eddie Lacy understated. "The players aren't used to games like this."

Flynn, the third quarterback to start under center for Green Bay since Rodgers' injury, went just 10-for-20 for 139 yards with an interception and two lost fumbles against Detroit, while Lacy was held to just 16 yards on 10 carries.

"It's just tough when you can't get in a rhythm," Flynn said of his struggles under center. "We kept stalling out and when you're not making first downs it's just hard to get things going."

Green Bay is currently 1 1/2 games behind Detroit in the NFC North and an even more distant 2 1/2 south of San Francisco for the NFC's final wild-card spot with just four games to go. The 49ers also own the tiebreaker over the Packers thanks to their 34-28 Week 1 win.

"We're still in it," Rodgers said. "We need Detroit to lose two out of four, but the biggest part of that is us winning out. We've got to control what we can control."

The Falcons, meanwhile, are coming off just their third win of the season after Matt Bryant made a 36-yard field goal three minutes into overtime to lift Atlanta over Buffalo, 34-31, at Toronto's Rogers Centre.

Steven Jackson carried the ball 23 times for 84 yards and two touchdowns, while Matt Ryan was 28-for-47 for 311 yards and a touchdown for the Falcons, who snapped a five-game slide and piled up 423 yards of offense, their best total in two months.

Receiver Roddy White, who has struggled with injures for most of the year, had his best game of the disappointing campaign with 10 receptions for 143 yards.

Buffalo began overtime with the ball, and the second play saw Scott Chandler catch a pass on a crossing pattern and go up the right side of the field. He had gained 22 yards when the ball was punched out by Falcons' safety William Moore, with Robert Alford recovering and eventually lateraling to Desmond Trufant, who took the ball to the Buffalo 42.

A 20-yard catch from Harry Douglas, was followed by runs of four and two yards from Jackson before Bryant drilled the ball through the uprights for the win.

"Today was a reminder that football is the ultimate team game," said Falcons coach Mike Smith. "We needed every man in that locker room to get the win."

The Packers lead their all-time series with Atlanta by a slim 13-12 margin. In the last encounter, Green Bay won 25-14 on Oct. 9, 2011 when Rodgers threw for 396 yards and two TDs as the Packers overcame a 14-0 deficit,

WHAT TO WATCH FOR

If you are selecting the most valuable individual to his particular team's success, the answer was plainly obvious on Thanksgiving Day as Rodgers was watching helplessly from the sidelines as his Packers were embarrassed by the Lions.

With A-Rod, McCarthy looks like an offensive genius and one of the best coaches of his generation. Without him, McCarthy is lost, ping-ponging from Seneca Wallace to Tolzien to Flynn.

With No. 12 in the Green and Gold, it doesn't matter if Randall Cobb and Jermichael Finley are hurt, the Packers' system takes players like Jarrett Boykin and Myles White and makes them impactful. Without him, Jordy Nelson and James Jones have looked like No. 3 receivers.

With the former mustachioed one, Packers GM Ted Thompson is regarded as a genius around draft time while pointing to less-than-nimble tackles like David Bakhtiari and Don Barclay as "hits" in the selection process. Without him, Thompson's offensive line prodigies look like they are playing in sand against the NFL's lightning-quick edge rushers.

Rodgers' absence has only magnified just how important he is to the Packers on every level, and having him at the controls for so long has masked quite a few of deficiencies on the Pack over the past few years.

Even the Green Bay defense, which had been allowing 79 yards rushing a game with Rodgers rolling up leads or controlling the clock has collapsed and given up an average of 188.7 on the ground over the last four contests. And its best player, Clay Matthews, looks an awful lot like a one-trick pony without Rodgers taking all the pressure off of him and his mates.

Rodgers has thrown for at least 300 yards in all four career games against the Falcons, adding nine TDs and just one interception. Ryan, on the other hand, hasn't reached 200 yards in any of his four outings against the Pack with five touchdowns and an equal about of picks.

On the injury front for Atlanta, tight end Tony Gonzalez, who is only 79 yards short of becoming the only tight end -- and fifth overall -- to reach 15,000 career receiving yards is dealing with a painful toe and could be slowed this week.

OVERALL ANALYSIS

This figured to be as simple as it gets. With Rodgers, Green Bay wins rather easily. Without him, the Packers might be better off running out the University of Wisconsin as Doppelgangers.

Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Falcons 17, Packers 14

12/06 16:00:42 ET