Trent Stutzman

Packers Are In Better Situation Than Falcons

Created on Dec. 06, 2013 3:00 AM EST

When the Green Bay Packers host the Atlanta Falcons this Sunday, the game will feature two teams with similar recent paths.

Each of their respective franchise quarterbacks, Aaron Rodgers and Matt Ryan, became full-time starters in 2008. Each has steadily improved since then, which has made both the Packers and Falcons frequent playoff teams and constant Super Bowl contenders.

Both teams’ 2013 season has been derailed by several major injuries. Rodgers himself has missed the past five games, while Randall Cobb, Jermichael Finley, Clay Matthews, Nick Perry and Casey Hayward have all missed significant time. For the Falcons, Julio Jones has been the biggest loss, but they have also missed Steven Jackson plenty, and although Roddy White has only missed three games, he hasn’t been fully healthy all year. Kroy Biermann and Sam Baker going on Injured Reserve has made their already-weak front seven and offensive line even worse.

While the Packers are still mathematically alive for the playoffs, this Sunday’s matchup is less about need to improve in the standings and is more about two prideful teams showing they’ve still got fight left despite their disappointing seasons.

But it’s the way these teams were built that puts a big difference between the two. Under Ted Thompson, the Packers have been a draft-and-develop through and through. With being reliant upon draft picks, Green Bay constantly stashes up young talent to ensure it is always a competitive team. The Falcons roster, meanwhile, has been constructed in a different way. Although maybe their two best players, Ryan and Jones, are young and were selected in the draft, this team overall is pretty old and went all in on the past couple of years. They had to trade away many draft picks to go up and get Jones in the 2011 NFL Draft. Three of their biggest offensive weapons – White, Jackson and Tony Gonzalez – are much closer to the end of their careers than the beginning. They also signed 32-year-old Osi Umenyiora to be their No. 1 pass rusher. He’s certainly not the same guy he used to be.

Because of the difference in roster construction, Packer fans have a lot more to look forward to than the Falcons. When you trade away multiple future high picks for one guy and sign old free agents that eat up your cap space, two things happen: You become extremely reliant on just a handful of players, and your young depth takes a toll. And when your old free agents don’t pan out the way you’d hoped, all of a sudden you find yourself in rebuilding mode. The Falcons have Ryan and Jones to look forward to for the next several years, but there’s not much else after them. Since they took a swing for the fences, the bottom of their roster is barren of talent and won’t be enough to help that duo win a Super Bowl.

The Packers, meanwhile will be just as competitive next year as any. They themselves are incredibly reliant upon Rodgers, but that’s true of any elite quarterback’s team. The difference with the Packers is that they’re able to still be top contenders as long as Rodgers is healthy. Despite all the huge injuries the Packers endured, they still were 5-2 in games that Rodgers started and finished. Most of that is Rodgers’ doing, no one player in the NFL can do everything by himself. Thanks to the young, talented depth Thompson constantly infuses his team with, the Packers will always be competitive as long as Rodgers is healthy.

The Falcons cannot say the same. They still have their franchise quarterback healthy, but the talent around him has been completely depleted, and a 3-9 record is the result. Next year’s team won’t look much different. With so little depth and an aging roster, they’ll have to start over just as Ryan is coming into his prime.

So cheer up, Packer fans. This season has certainly been a disappointment. But don’t forget, there’s next year, the year after that, the year after that and so on. Because of how Thompson stacks his roster, the Packers will always be a Super Bowl contender as long as Rodgers is playing quarterback for them.

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