While the Championship Round usually offers the best games of the year, it’s always a bittersweet short slate as we wave goodbye to fantasy football action until the 2017 preseason. Two game slates are always filled with fun, but Championship week in particular is shaping up to be a great one. In terms of pure quarterback talent, this final-four may be the best ever.
Even though Aaron Rodgers is white-hot, the Packers’ receiving corps is a complete mess. Jordy Nelson (ribs) still is not practicing and is a “long shot” to play against the Falcons. In grueling pain, Nelson reportedly was still having trouble breathing normally on Sunday during the Divisional Round. In perhaps equally distressing news given Nelson’s slim chance for availability against Atlanta, Davante Adams (ankle) also did not practice on Wednesday. Note that Adams did come back into the game against Dallas after injuring his ankle, but per HC Mike McCarthy, Adams won’t practice until Saturday at the earliest. Nelson is likely doubtful to play while Adams is a true game-time call. If Adams can’t get cleared to play come early Sunday afternoon, the Packers will rely heavily on Jared Cook and Randall Cobb for a second straight week. Geronimo Allison (hamstring) will play against Atlanta, but he, too, did not practice on Wednesday. Allison’s absence was just a precaution. Allison functioned as the Packers’ boundary option opposite Adams versus Dallas in the Divisional Round, playing on 76% of Aaron Rodgers’ drop backs.
As a result of Jordy Nelson’s injury in the Wild Card round, Packers’ TE Jared Cook has become somewhat of a lynchpin in Green Bay’s attack. Cook set season-highs in both snaps (76%) and routes run (41) in the Divisional Round while his 11 targets tied a season-high and led the team against Dallas. Cook’s share of team targets has been on the rise for four straight games, too: 13%, 21%, 23% and 26%. Cook will be relied upon heavily in the event Jordy Nelson misses, but even more so if Davante Adams can’t give it a go. In the regular season, Atlanta faced the fourth-most targets versus tight ends (8.80) and they allowed the eighth-most yards per game (63.3) to the position.
While the Packers have major issues at receiver, Atlanta, too, is monitoring their star wideout. Julio Jones seemingly re-aggravated his toe issue that ailed him late in the regular season in the Divisional Round against Seattle and he did not practice on Wednesday. Julio missed Weeks 15-16 due to his balky toe. Jones is fully expected to suit up against Green Bay, but this toe injury may begin to nag him once more at game speed. Obviously Julio could light the Packers on fire even if he played just 60% of the snaps — receivers of all types have taken a blowtorch to Packer cornerbacks as of late — but it is worth monitoring his status as we get closer to Sunday. Packers’ boundary corners Ladarius Gunter and Damarious Randall gave up a combined 144 yards in coverage against Dallas in the Divisional Round while slot corner Micah Hyde has been charged with allowing 8.4 yards/target in coverage in the playoffs, per PFF. Outside of Julio and Devonta Freeman this week, finding unique exposure to Atlanta’s secondary pieces on offense through Taylor Gabriel, Mohamed Sanu and Tevin Coleman will be crucial. Even TE Austin Hooper is in play, Green Bay allowed 65-year-old Jason Witten (6-59-1) and left-for-dead Will Tye (4-66) to have strong games against them. Green Bay’s secondary is a complete sieve on every level of the field at this point.
Per multiple reports, Falcons’ OC Kyle Shanahan is “almost certain” to accept the 49ers’ offer to become their new head coach… Both Malcolm Mitchell (knee) and Chris Hogan (thigh) practiced on Wednesday… Steelers’ TE Ladarius Green (concussion) practiced on a limited basis Wednesday. He’s still extremely questionable to play on Sunday… Steelers’ suspended WR Martavis Bryant applied for reinstatement on Tuesday… The Rams hired ex-Jaguars OC Greg Olson as QBs coach… The Jaguars hired Nathaniel Hackett as their offensive coordinator.
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