GREEN BAY, Wis. – Injuries have sapped the buzz from a game once considered a dandy December matchup and potential NFC championship preview.
Instead, the Atlanta Falcons will play for pride, and the Green Bay Packers will try to keep their dwindling playoff prospects alive when the teams meet Sunday at Lambeau Field.
"Obviously, we've put ourselves in a tough situation," Packers receiver Jordy Nelson said. "We know that and there's only one thing to do and that's to fight to get out of it."
Green Bay (5-6-1) is in a tailspin without quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who has missed a month with a broken left collarbone. His availability for Sunday has been a question mark.
Their defense also crumbling, the Packers are 0-4-1 since the 2011 NFL MVP got hurt. They need to win their four remaining games, and hope Detroit and Chicago stumble, to have any chance in the NFC North.
The playoffs are a distant memory for Atlanta (3-9), but at least the Falcons can draw confidence from last week's 34-31 overtime win over Buffalo.
"Forget last week. We're trying to move on to the next one," outside linebacker Sean Weatherspoon said. "We're trying to close out the right way."
Five things to watch ahead of the first meeting between the teams since the Packers won 25-14 in 2011 at the Georgia Dome:
GOING DEEP: It's clear the Packers are having problems without Rodgers. Defenses are stuffing the box, and backup Matt Flynn has faced questions this week about whether he can hit the deep ball to loosen things up.
The Falcons don't seem to be thrown off by the quarterback uncertainty, though.
"I think what we need to do is just prepare as if Rodgers is going to play and, if not Flynn, is a capable quarterback also," defensive end Osi Umenyiora said. "The offense is basically the West Coast offense and we have to prepare for that no matter who the quarterback is. Whoever we face, we have to go out there and try to win."
CARRY ON: Steven Jackson is regaining his form after missing much of the first half of the season with a hamstring injury. Jackson ran for two touchdowns and set season highs with 23 carries for 84 yards in last week's win over Buffalo that snapped a five-game losing streak.
Now he's about to face a Packers defense that has allowed at least 232 yards rushing each of the last two games.
BALANCING ACT: Receiver Roddy White had his best game of the season last week with 10 catches for 143 yards to give Atlanta a balanced offense that has been missing this season.
The Packers once had that when Rodgers was playing. It's been a struggle ever since.
Rookie running back Eddie Lacy has 771 yards over his last eight games, but was held to just 16 yards on 10 carries last week. Getting Rodgers back would help restore balance, but regardless, the Packers need to get Lacy back on track.
CRUMBLING D: A productive Lacy should help Green Bay extend drives and give its struggling defense more rest. The Packers had five three-and-outs last week, and a sixth drive ended with a safety after two plays.
Also weighed down by injuries, the defense nevertheless has been mired by a season-long problem with missed tackles.
"We've just got to be disciplined, stay in our gaps, play with good pad leverage, things like that," safety M.D. Jennings said. "It's not just one thing that you can point out and say that's the problem."
BUNDLE UP: The forecast for Sunday calls for cloudy skies and temperatures in the upper 20s, definitely out of the Falcons' comfort zone.
Atlanta calls the Georgia Dome home. Sure, they beat the Bills last week, but that was also indoors at the Rogers Centre in Toronto.
Quarterback Matt Ryan, who went to Boston College, doesn't seem fazed.
"I'm familiar with being out there and how you have to handle it," Ryan said. "I don't wear a glove on my throwing hand but I'll be ready to go."
Sports Writer Charles Odum in Flowery Branch, Ga., contributed to this report.
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