Packers underdogs against the Falcons in NFC Championship game

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The best defense is an unstoppable offense, and Matt Ryan and the Atlanta Falcons simply haven’t been stopped when they are a healthy favorite.

The Falcons are listed as five-point favorites against red-hot Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers with an eye-popping 60-point total on the NFL lines for the NFC Championship Game at sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark.com.

It is the sixth time this season the Falcons have given between 3.5 and 6.0 points, and while they are 3-2 straight-up and against the spread in that scenario they scored at least 28 points every time.

While the Falcons have to turn around some negative trends – such as 1-6 SU in their last seven games against the NFC North, according to the OddsShark NFL Database – it’s doubtful any collapse would be attributable to their offense.

The Packers, who are 12-6 SU and 10-7-1 ATS, have relied on Rodgers and his stellar pass protection to shred opposing defenses during their eight-win streak. It seems the only way to contain Rodgers is to blitz him. Although OLB Vic Beasley had 15.5 sacks in the regular season, the Falcons play straight defense more frequently than the NFL average.

It’s possible the Packers could repeat the scenario of recent weeks, with Rodgers getting scads of time to wait for a receiver to get open. That is contingent on the health of those receivers. Leading receiver Jordy Nelson (ribs) is a remote shot to play while Davante Adams (ankle), Geronimo Allison (leg), Jeff Janis (quadriceps) are each banged up.

Both RB Ty Montgomery and TE Jared Cook have become reliable cogs for the Packers since their loss to the Falcons last week. Atlanta does not have an overly strong run defense.

The Falcons, who are 12-5 SU and 11-6 ATS, do have to be concerned with how many snaps WR Julio Jones (toe) will be able to play on Sunday. The true linchpins in Atlanta’s attack, though, are RB Tevin Coleman and RB Devonta Freeman, whose versatility as ball carriers and receivers has to be accounted for at all times.

The Falcons are very physical in the rushing phase and it will be interesting to see whether the Packers are up to it after so many do-or-done games, including last week’s instant classic against Dallas where they gave up 125 yards to the Cowboys’ Ezekiel Elliott.

Jones, WR Taylor Gabriel and WR Mohamed Sanu are facing a Packers pass defense that has struggled all season. Green Bay was among the NFL leaders in sacks, but the Falcons’ continuity along the offensive line (all five starters have been intact all season) should help them with making adjustments.

The favored team is 5-1 SU and 4-2 ATS in the last three years in conference championship games.  The total has gone over in seven of the last 10 conference championship games.

Ex-Cowboys player on marriage to boyfriend and what Tom Landry would’ve thought: ‘he would have loved me no matter what’

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Former Dallas Cowboys linebacker Jeff Rohrer, 59, who recently came out as gay and was scheduled to get married to Joshua Ross on Sunday in Los Angeles, on what the experience of coming out late in life (to the New York Times and Outsports) has taught him:

Note: Rohrer was the Cowboys’ second-round pick in 1982, out of Yale, and played 83 games over six seasons with the Cowboys. In 1987, when the Cowboys swept the Super Bowl champion Giants, Rohrer had a sack of Phil Simms in both games, per Pro Football Reference.

“Wow. What have I learned? A lot of things. The one big thing I learned recently that maybe I didn’t know is that if you’re a good person, and you have had good relationships with people, and you’ve treated people with respect, you’re going to get that back. That is what has happened to me, and it’s been wonderful.

“How incredibly nice my friends and teammates have been to me! I don’t deserve it!”

[Over the phone from Califormia, Rohrer got emotional and began crying.]

“My high school friends, my Yale friends, my Cowboys teammates, my friends from the film business in California, it’s because of the press this week that they found out. No one knew before that. I didn’t tell anyone. It is shocking how well everyone has reacted to me. They’re saying, We’re so happy for you—so happy for your family, and we can’t wait to meet Josh. Things like that. I’ve had like 150 texts, and I’ve got it down to 30, but more keep coming.

“The world is a great place today.

“You know what I learned from it? We are moving forward as a society. The train has left the station, and you can either be on that train and move forward, or you can sit at the station. Your choice.

“It’s hard for anyone to understand what it was like for me growing up, and in the NFL. Now that I’m out, I know that you’re either born gay or you’re not. And when I was growing up, it simply couldn’t be a part of my life. I was a scholar-athlete in high school, and being gay did not fit into that profile. I was a scholar-athlete at Yale, and it did not fit into that profile. I was a Cowboy, and it didn’t fit into that profile.

“My life was suppressed and managed. So, I got drafted by the Dallas Cowboys and I’m gonna be gay now? No. I don’t think so. Not with the Dallas Cowboys in 1982.

“My life just went on. I was gay, but that was not a part of who I was then. I got married. I loved my wife [Heather]. Still do, even though we are divorced. I still live with my ex-wife and my two kids and Joshua. We’re the happiest family ever. We’ve got the happiest house in town.

“And now I’m gonna be who I am. I am so happy. I’m not Jekyll and Hyde anymore. I’m not the monster.

“So … what would I say to young people who might be in my shoes today? I would say, everybody has their own situation, their own clock, their own calendar. Some people today might say, ‘It’s better now. Come out tomorrow.’ For some people that’s the right thing; you’re happy and you’re free. But people have to make their own decision. It’s a very personal decision. Ultimately, it’s taking me most of life, 59 years, to make this choice. But I can’t make it for anyone else.”

“You played for Tom Landry—the only coach you had in your NFL career. What would he have thought about you today?”

“Tom Landry was one of the most amazing people I’ve ever had in my life. He was all about love and understanding with his players. I loved Tom Landry. He was a man of the Bible, and a good Christian man. So he probably wouldn’t have liked this. But I think he would have loved me no matter what.”

What to expect in NFL’s offensive showdown: Chiefs vs Rams

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Normally, the 9-1 Chiefs at the 9-1 Rams would be the game of the year—it probably still is—and we’d be celebrating it breathlessly. And we still may, in the hours before the game; I’ll help in a moment. But two things have overshadowed it.

Moving the game out of Mexico City makes the NFL look like a bunch of slightly progressive pikers. “Pikers” because how can the league take a game that we’ve all known would be hugely attractive since it was announced on Jan. 31—two defending division champs with brainy offensive minds—and not properly supervise field conditions in the weeks leading up to the game 10 months later? It’s inexcusable. If the field was in trouble a month ago, which apparently it was, why didn’t the NFL throw its weight around then and insist on a new surface or tell officials there the game wouldn’t stay in Mexico? “Slightly progressive” because they did the right thing after all and moved the game instead of trying to force the players to play there—which, I am told by a player leader from one of the teams, they would not have done. And what a scene that would have been, players boycotting the Game of the Year.

The Rams are playing for a wide swath of southern California. They will remember tonight the families of those murdered in the Nov. 7 massacre at the nightclub four miles from their facility in Thousand Oaks, Calif., and for the police officer murdered in that tragedy, and also the first responders and those impacted by the fires that got as close to three miles from their facility and forced 90 Rams employees and family to evacuate their homes. Tonight, coaches and staff from both teams, instead of wearing Rams and Chiefs hates on the sidelines, will wear hats from local fire and rescue departments; all jerseys from the game, plus the hats, will be auctioned off to raise money for the victims. ESPN will show the anthem and the emotional pregame observances. The Rams have given away about 4,000 tickets to public servants and victims of the tragedies, and their players have gone the extra mile. Andrew Whitworth of the Rams gave his suite to the game to first responders, one of several donations made by players to reach out.

It’s going to be emotional night at the Coliseum. And there will be fans. Because this game was not on the team’s home schedule, they began selling tickets late Tuesday night, and in just a few days, they sold about 71,000 tickets. So along with the 4,000 donated ones, there should be roughly the same crowd as attended the red-hot Packers-Rams game at the Coliseum three weeks ago (75,822).

Now for the game. This is just a hunch, because nothing will surprise me in this game, not even a little defense being played. But in a game of tremendous offensive weapons—for both teams at quarterback, for both teams at running back, for both teams at wide receiver—the one player who I think has the best chance to be the game-breaker is Tyreek Hill. There is simply no player like him in football right now. I was in Kansas City last Sunday, and it took Hill (and Patrick Mahomes) 52 seconds to produce a touchdown against a secondary flailing to keep up with this freak of nature. Patrick Mahomes to Hill down the left side for 38 yards on the first play of the game. Mahomes incomplete to Hill. Then Mahomes to Hill, who ran past his man and had the corner pointing at the late safety, for a 37-yard touchdown. By the end of this game, my gut feeling is Rams defensive coordinator Wade Phillips will really be missing Aqib Talib.

On Saturday, talking to Sean Payton during my time with the Saints, I mentioned to him that I’d been in Kansas City last Sunday, and I didn’t think there was a player like Hill in football. Payton smiled and nodded, and looked around to find Drew Brees.

“Hey Drew, tell Peter who’s the most dangerous player in football right now,” Payton said.

“Tyreek Hill,” Brees said.

Payton beamed and nodded.

It’s dangerous to predict which of the intergalactic talents will most influence this game. Todd Gurley is such a touchdown machine that he could more than make up for the loss of Cooper Kupp in offensive production. Patrick Mahomes could get on fire, and with the way Andy Reid spreads the field (his widest-split receivers line up so close to the white-striped boundary that I swear one time they’re going to start a play with a foot out of bounds), an accurate Mahomes could strafe the Rams for 350 yards or more. I’m just excited that it’s going to be a game played on a good field, on a 60-degreee evening with just a puff of wind, and we can judge two superb teams going head to head on fairly equal footing, with each missing a good receiver, Sammy Watkins (Chiefs) and Cooper Kupp (Rams). Bring on the spectacle, and the game.

MORE: Read the rest of Peter King’s Monday column by clicking here