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to make room for the return of Jo
( - Lets face it, the Atlanta Falcons are lucky to be playing meaningful football in December. But the schedule doesnt shape up as all that fortunate down the stretch. The 5-7 Falcons are now atop the dismal NFC South division in advance of their trip north to face the powerful Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field on Monday Night Football. And win or lose in Titletown, Atlanta will remain in control of its own destiny because of a perfect 4-0 record inside the division, along with a looming Week 16 matchup at the Saints, who fell back to 5-8 after Sundays setback to Carolina. If you look ahead, however, you can see things figure to get far stickier for the Falcons starting tonight. While Atlanta has to battle the Packers, who are 6-0 at home this season, New Orleans will face opponents who currently have a 12-26 mark the rest of the way. Conversely, the Falcons face three teams with playoff aspirations (The Pack, Pittsburgh and New Orleans) before finishing off with the now 4-8-1 Panthers. Both the Saints and Atlanta are attempting to avoid joining the 2010 Seattle Seahawks as being the only NFL teams to win a division with a sub-.500 record. The Falcons have won three of four overall, including a big 29-18 win over the NFC West-leading Arizona Cardinals in Week 13 action at the Georgia Dome. Matt Bryant connected on all five of his field-goal attempts in that one and Matt Ryan finished with a season-high 361 yards on 30-of-41 passing with scoring throws to Julio Jones and Levine Toilolo. Jones led all receivers thanks to 189 yards on 10 receptions, Harry Douglas added 116 yards on nine grabs, and Steven Jackson contributed 101 yards on 18 carries. Arizona signal caller Drew Stanton was picked off twice by the much-maligned Atlanta defense, once by Josh Wilson and another by Dwight Lowery. The Packers, meanwhile, took another step toward what would be a franchise- record fourth consecutive division title when they outlasted the New England Patriots, 26-21, in a game that could have foreshadowed Super Bowl XLIX. MVP candidate Aaron Rodgers threw for 368 yards and two touchdowns and kept two NFL-record streaks alive as he outdueled Tom Brady and the Pats. Rodgers was 24-of-38 and has now thrown 360 consecutive passes with 31 touchdowns since his last interception at home, which was over two calendar years ago. Eddie Lacy rushed 21 times for 98 yards and caught two passes for another 17, stretching his Green Bay running back record to four consecutive games with at least 100 yards from scrimmage. Davante Adams had six receptions for 121 yards and Randall Cobb made seven catches for 85 as the Packers ran their winning streak to four games since their bye week. Weve been great at home, said Rodgers. The fans have been excellent with the noise and weve got a good advantage with it. Weve just got to keep rolling. Green Bay leads its all-time series with Atlanta by a 14-12 margin, including a 22-21 win at Lambeau last season while Rodgers was out with a broken collarbone. On Monday nights the Falcons have been dismal historically, compiling a 10-26 mark. The Packers are also underwater but much better at 28-31-1. WHAT TO WATCH FOR Rodgers has thrown for 20 touchdowns without an interception at home this season. Overall, the All-Pro leads the NFL with a 118.6 passer rating and has thrown for 32 scores against just three INTs, captaining a team that scores 31.7 points per game, the best mark in the league. In his four previous career meetings against the Falcons Rodgers has always crossed the 300-yard barrier throwing the ball and has nine TDs against just one INT. Its a big challenge for us this week with Aaron Rodgers, Falcons coach Mike Smith admitted. No doubt, hes playing the best of any quarterback in the NFL right now. Hes got a number of weapons he can get it to. Hes played extremely well at home. I dont think hes thrown an interception at home this season, and I dont even want to talk about how many points theyve scored. The answer to that is 40.9 points while outscoring foes 245 to 106 at Lambeau. I dont know that theres been a quarterback thats had a stretch like hes had in the history of the NFL, Smith continued. Rodgers finished November with 1,233 yards passing with 13 touchdowns and no interceptions for an NFL-best 128.1 passer rating. And more importantly a 4-0 record. No disrespect to any quarterback in the NFL, but right now hes at a level that is much higher than anybody else, Smith said. When you look at his pure statistics, theyre phenomenal. The key to Green Bay at home has been blitzing people out of the starting blocks. The Packers have outscored their opponents by an amazing 79-0 margin in the first quarter of their last five home contests. That number expands to 151-23 at halftime and 14 of those 23 points were scored by the powerful Patriots last week. Foes have been looking up and finding the score 14-0, or in the case of the Pats 13-0, and that has enabled a flawed Packers defense to excel as teams become more one-dimensional. Despite some talent issues on the defensive side Green Bay has allowed just 17.3 ppg in its current four-game winning streak. When you watch the tape, its even more impressive, Smith said. (Rodgers has) got a great grasp of how to attack defenses. Hes extending plays. If he can extend the play and when the play gets off schedule, he can make the throws. Hes been very accurate. His quarterback rating is off the charts. You would think the only way Atlanta can beat the Packers is in a shootout and Ryan isnt too shabby himself, currently second in the NFL with 3,427 passing yards, slightly ahead of Rodgers 3,325. The veteran also has 21 TD passes versus 10 interceptions and a solid 93.7 passer rating. Jones, meanwhile, is one of the best receivers in the game as evidenced last week when he torched the highly-regarded Patrick Peterson time and time again. The Falcons could also get a boost from the potential return of Jones regular running mate, Roddy White, who sat out last week with an ankle problem. Roddy was close to playing (last week), Smith said. He worked with our athletic performance guys late in the week. We felt that it was in the best interest long term for him to not play in the game this past week. We anticipate, with the extra day, that hell be ready to go this week. OVERALL ANALYSIS Rarely is a division leader favored by double digits over another division leader but thats the story here and its hard to imagine a team with so many issues on defense like the Falcons solving Rodgers at Lambeau. We have some big goals, and were getting into December football now with a chance with everything right in front of us, A-Rod said. Expect the Packers to keep rolling here. Sports Network predicted outcome: Packers 34, Falcons 20 Abby Dahlkemper Jersey . Cox started the season with San Francisco, but was released by the team on Nov. 12 before being signed by Seattle, where he appeared in two games and tallied three tackles before being released on Dec. Morgan Brian Jersey . PAUL, Minn – The clock lingered for what seemed like an interminable two minutes and 51 seconds before Mark Fraser finally escaped to the bench during a wildly one-sided first period of an eventual loss to Boston. . LOUIS -- The St. Mallory Pugh Jersey . It was the first game back in Columbus for Rangers star Rick Nash, the Blue Jackets franchise leader in goals, assists and games. He was given a standing ovation during a video tribute in the first period, but was booed loud and long after a second-period, two-handed shove up high on Columbus goalie Sergei Bobrovsky. Hailie Mace USA Jersey . HEROES Alex Ovechkin – Scored a pair of goals in Washington’s 4-0 win over Pittsburgh. With 13 goals in the past 13 games, Ovechkin now has 29 goals on the season to lead the league.The Toronto Blue Jays have dropped three of their last four after that incredible 11-game win streak. They are still just four games back of Baltimore for the second wild card slot, but its pretty clear, if the Jays are going to stay in the thick of the fight, they must upgrade their starting pitching. One bad start Thursday night shouldnt necessarily turn Chien-Ming Wang into a write-off, but face it; Wang was generally regarded as stop gap when the Jays got him, and with the uncertainty about the return dates of Brandon Morrow and J.A. Happ, Alex Anthopoulos has to strike while the Jays still have a chance to make some noise in the race. Ill bet there will be more scouts in the press box Friday night at Miami than there will be fans in the seats. The Padres are taking on the Marlins and both starting pitchers are rumoured to be on the block. Edinson Volquez, whos (5-6) 5.67 ERA will be facing one of the few recognizable faces the Marlins have left in righty Ricky Nolasco, whos 4-7 with a 3.68 earned run average. The Dodgers are rumoured to be willing to pay a pretty hefty price to get Nolasco, but the Orioles, Red Sox and Blue Jays are looking for rotation help as well. Boston could be getting desperate now that Clay Buchholz and Jon Lester are both hurting, while the Os dont seem to have a definitive ace. The Blue Jays have reportedly already scouted Volquez at least once. Nolasco, who is 30-years old, is making $11.5 million this season and is an impending free agent. Volquez turns 30 next week and comes a bit cheaper at $5.725 million for this season. He too is in a contract year. Nolasco has the better career ledger at 80-71 with a 4.43 ERA and once won 15 games in a season. Volquez is (49-46) with a 4.65 earned run average. Those arent the only two said to be available. The Blue Jays were one of several teams at Milwaukee Thursday night scouting Cubs righty Matt Garza. The scouts were well rewarded for their time. Garza, coming off an elbow procedure that delayed the start of his season, was outstanding for the Cubs. He scattered eight hits over seven innings and struck out a season-high of 10 to boost his record to 3-1. The Cubs downed the Brewers 7-2. Garza, an imposing figure at 64 and 215 pounds, is making $10.255 million this season and can walk at the end of the season.dddddddddddd Hes 29-years-old and has never quite fulfilled his potential, racking up a career record of  60-62. An old friend, Chicago sportscaster George Ofman, is speculating Garza could be dealt before the weekend is out but Texas is rumoured to be the team to watch out for if the bidding steps up. One thing that really makes Garza enticing to the Jays is that he won 34 games over a three year span pitching in the AL East with Tampa Bay, including a 15 victory season in 2010. Another possibility is the Brewers Yovani Gallardo. Hes only 6-7 this season with a 4.20 ERA, however, over his career in Milwaukee, the 27-year-old is 75-50 with a 3.69 earned run average. Arizona has been looking closely at him. The problem for the Jays is that the price tag on any of these starters is going to be driven up by the number of teams that are interested. The Blue Jays also gave up a flock of prospects last year to get the likes of R.A. Dickey (Travis DArnaud and Noah Syndergaard) and Josh Johnson, Jose Reyes and Mark Buehrle ( Henderson Alvarez and Adeiny Hechavarria). The July 31 non-waiver deadline is still just over a month away but if the Blue Jays are going to stay in contention, they may have to be creative and strike now. Quite a week for a couple of Blue Jays "fan faves." Munenori Kawasaki, who captured the hearts of the fans and his teammates, was optioned to Buffalo to make room for the return of Jose Reyes. The very same day, Pittsburgh designated John MacDonald for assignment. For the 38-year-old Johnny Mac, you wondered if his career might be over. Talk about reversal of fortunes, after Thursday nights game, Kawasaki was called back up to replace Melky Cabrera on the roster after he went on the DL with a sore left knee that had been bothering him for the bulk of the season. Then, the Pirates swapped MacDonald to the Phillies and all was right in the Baseball Universe. The Pirates, incidentally, have pulled into a first place tie in the NL Central with St. Louis and appear poised to end a 20-year string of missing the post-season. The Blue Jays, of course, are right behind them with a 19-year playoff drought. ' ' '

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