The national spotlight will be shining bright on Sunday night as the Green Bay Packers head to Foxboro to take on the New England Patriots. While both of these teams have been at or near the top of their respective conferences over the last two decades, surprisingly this will be only the 12th time that they have met with Green Bay having the all-time series lead 6-5 over New England. This includes, unfortunately, their match up in Super Bowl XXXI where a fledgling Patriots team was beaten 35-21 behind a 99 yard kickoff return by game MVP Desmond Howard with 3 minutes left to go in the game.
Green Bay (3-3-1) enters this game having lost 2 of their last 3 games and trying to keep pace in their division with the Chicago Bears and Minnesota Vikings. While the Packers’ Aaron Rodgers is off to strong statistical start, the rest of the team around him is going through a youth movement which has been producing some inconsistent results in the Win/Loss column. A loss on Sunday coupled with an unlikely Lions win would put the Packers into last place in the NFC North.
For New England (6-2), they are coming off a less than impressive win over the less than impressive Buffalo Bills and are dealing with serious injury issues on both sides of the ball. At running back, the situation has gotten so bad that the Patriots used Cordarrelle Patterson as their starting running back on Monday Night. While their spot at the top of the AFC East seems secure, the Patriots are trying to keep pace with other AFC powerhouses in the Conference Playoff chase.
The eyes of the nation will be focused on Foxboro so in yet another futile attempt to be non-bias and analytical, both teams were broken down in key areas to see how they will match up against each other and which one may have the key to a victory.
Quarterback – PUSH: There are very few truly elite quarterbacks in the NFL today and two of the all-time greats will be facing off in New England on Sunday Night.
Running Backs – PATRIOTS: While it’s true that the Patriots are dealing with injuries in their backfield, New England’s James White is putting together a truly special season. Going into Week 9, White has single handedly produced more yards from scrimmage than the entire Packers’ running back group as a whole.
Wide Receivers – PACKERS: The Packers have some new faces at wide receiver that have been quite productive. However they are anchored by Davante Adams who has quietly been putting up a very solid season and is tied for the most touchdown receptions in the NFC. The Patriots, on the other hand, have veteran group that has been performing better as of late but still has a lot of work to do.
Tight Ends – PUSH: A few seasons ago, a matchup featuring Rob Gronkowski and Jimmy Graham would have really grabbed national headlines. Unfortunately between age and injury both of these players are not quite the premier matchup they used to be. Statistically, both players are relatively even and if Gronkowski was fully healthy, his ability to block in the running game would give the Patriots the edge in this area….However, it’s quite obvious he is not 100% right now.
Offensive Line – PATRIOTS: Statistically the Patriots and Packers have been run blocking relatively equally up to this point in the season, where New England separates themselves is their ability to protect their Quarterback. Entering Week 9, Aaron Rodgers has been sacked 22 times vs Tom Brady only being sacked 11 times.
Defensive Front Seven – PACKERS: New England’s front seven is more productive at stopping the running game than Green Bay’s front but the big difference is the Packers ability to rush the passer. They are currently 3rd in the NFL with 23 sacks.
Secondary – PUSH: There is no doubt that the Packers secondary is allowing less yardage than the Patriots secondary. However what is surprising is that New England’s defensive backfield is near the top of the league in lowest allowed quarterback rating (4th in the NFL) and the number of interceptions (tied for 2nd in the NFL).
Special Teams – PATRIOTS: Outside of Mason Crosby’s horrific game against the Lions a few weeks ago, both teams’ kickers and punter are relatively even. However, New England return game, particularly in kickoff returns, is one of the best in the NFL.
Coaching – PATRIOTS: While there are teams that would love to have the level of regular season success that Mike McCarthy and the Packers have had, the biggest criticism of McCarthy has been his inability to get the Packers back to a Super Bowl especially with an all-time great QB like Aaron Rodgers. While the Packers quietly did give McCarthy a 1 year extension at the beginning of 2018, there have been rumblings in the Midwest that if the Packers fail to make the playoffs this year, there could be big changes in Green Bay. While there will always be some criticism of Bill Belichick and his methods, it’s hard to argue the level of success he continues to have with the Patriots.
If we assign 2 points for every category (1 point per team for draws) this is how it lines up:
Betting Line: Patriots -5 ½
Key’s to a Patriots Victory:
1) Commit to Running the Ball: The best chance of slowing down Aaron Rodgers is to try to limit his opportunities with the football. While the Patriots are very thin at running back, they must find a way to use whomever they can to generate a running game to shorten the game and keep the Packers offense on the sideline.
2) Generate a Pass Rush: With an offensive line that is allowing almost 3 sacks a game, the Patriots shouldn’t be afraid to throw a well-timed blitz at the Packers. While this could be a dangerous thing to do against the Packers, letting Aaron Rodgers sit comfortably in the pocket may be worse.
3) Defensive Discipline and Organization: In the world of football gamesmanship, there is no better player than Aaron Rodgers. Whether it is getting a free play by drawing the defense off sides with his cadence or snapping the ball while the other team is substituting the Patriots need to stay focused at all times while on defense. It’s hard enough to defend Aaron Rodgers without giving up easy yards.
While in seasons past this would have been considered a Super Bowl preview, this year both teams are struggling in their own way trying to make it to the NFL post season. However, NFL fans should look forward to seeing two of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history square off in what could be their last regular season match up.
Look for a game that will make any fan of defensive football want to throw up….The last team to have the ball may very well win the game.
The Knuckles Prediction: Patriots 31 – Packers 30