GREEN BAY, Wis. — They'll be trying like mad to knock each other's teams out of the playoffs on Saturday. As two of the NFL's top young passers, they're bound to be compared for the rest of their careers.
That won't stop the Green Bay Packers' Aaron Rodgers and the Atlanta Falcons' Matt Ryan from being buddies off the field.
Rodgers and Ryan got to know each other while attending offseason charity events over the past few years, and Rodgers says they've become good friends.
"We were actually supposed to go on vacation last year, but it didn't work out," Rodgers said. "He's a good guy."
Now Rodgers hopes to send his friend on vacation early this year — by knocking him out of the playoffs.
With Ryan and Rodgers under center, Saturday's game will be a showcase for two of the game's best young passers with a trip to the NFC championship game on the line.
Rodgers earned his first career playoff victory Sunday, throwing three touchdowns in the Packers' 21-16 playoff win over Philadelphia. Now it's Ryan's chance to take the next step in his career.
Ryan made his first playoff start as a rookie two years ago, throwing for 199 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions as the Falcons lost to Arizona. Now he gets another shot at his first career playoff win, but says he isn't feeling any additional pressure as the quarterback for the No. 1 playoff seed in the NFC.
"I don't think so," Ryan said. "I think at this point, the only thing we've done the last 17 weeks, 16 weeks, is ensure that we get one home playoff game. Beyond that, it doesn't make a difference what we do in the regular season. At this time of the year, it's a completely new season and it doesn't matter if you're the one seed (or) the six seed. Every football team's good and it's going to be a battle."
The Packers are widely regarded as the ultimate playoff spoiler, the No. 6 seed nobody wants to play. That perception is fueled largely by Rodgers' ability. He can keep the chains moving with a sharp short pass or scramble, then go deep for a big play.
But it's Ryan, not Rodgers, who was chosen for the Pro Bowl.
"I have a lot of respect for the way he plays," Rodgers said. "I think he delivers the ball on time, he gets the ball out of his hands, doesn't take a lot of sacks. He obviously played at a Pro Bowl level this season and he's tough to beat at home."
Ryan threw for 3,705 yards with 28 touchdowns and nine interceptions this season. He is 20-2 as a starter at home.
After watching Ryan throw only four incompletions in Atlanta's Nov. 28 victory over Green Bay, Packers coach Mike McCarthy hopes his defense can do more to disrupt Ryan.
"Just get him off the spot, get him off schedule," McCarthy said. "When an offense is playing in rhythm, playing to their time clock, the advantage definitely goes to the offense, especially in a dome environment where you have no other elements that factor into the game. You just definitely want to change the time clock and the tempo of the game."
Ryan got the best of Rodgers in the Falcons' 20-17 victory over the Packers in the regular season, completing 24 of 28 passes for 197 yards with a touchdown and putting the Falcons in position to kick the winning field goal with 9 seconds left.
Michael Turner rushed for 110 yards in that game, and Ryan hopes to lean on the Falcons' running game again Saturday.
"I expect them to maybe do a couple things differently against our run scheme and we'll figure out what that is and try to adjust to that pretty quick," Ryan said. "It doesn't change for us. We like to be pretty balanced. We like to run the football effectively and throw the football effectively and figure out through the course of the game whatever we need to do to win."
Rodgers wasn't exactly overshadowed in the loss to the Falcons, throwing for 344 yards and leading a brilliant late fourth-quarter drive to tie the game with a touchdown pass on fourth-and-goal with just under a minute left. In an indictment of Green Bay's shaky running game, Rodgers also was the Packers' leading rusher that day.
Going into Saturday, Rodgers isn't making a big deal about having another chance to outduel his buddy on big stage. Rodgers just wants to get the Packers one step away from the Super Bowl.
"I honestly don't really think about that too much. I really don't," Rodgers said. "I look at it as Green Bay against Atlanta, as cliche as that is. If you know my personality, I never really get into the whole, 'mano y mano, quarterback-on-quarterback, or quarterback-on-big name defender (hype).' I just realize it's our 11 versus their 11."