Shawn (8-3) — We will have to wait until Sunday to see if it’s going to be a special game, but the New England Patriots coming into Lambeau Field certainly makes for a special match-up — the kind of regular season game that the Green Bay Packers haven’t seen since the 10-1 Packers faced the 10-1 Dallas Cowboys in 2007.
The Patriots have been playing like the best team in the NFL with big wins over the Denver Broncos, Indianapolis Colts and Detroit Lions. The Packers meanwhile have been undoubtably been the best team in the NFL at Lambeau Field, with the last three home games all being realistically over by halftime.
The Patriots have won seven in a row. The Packers have won seven of eight.
I have the feeling that a lot of Packers fans will look to hedge their bets by picking the Patriots here. I will not be one of them.
Don’t get me wrong. There are a number of good reasons to pick the Patriots. The Patriots defense is better than the Packers, at this point, and it has Bill Belichick as its coordinator. Also, we all know that covering the tight end and the running back are weak spots for this Packers defense, and the Patriots love to throw to both and have the best tight end in the game right now in Rob Gronkowski.
If that’s enough to convince you, then fine. However, I would like to point out that the key to beating and even beating up on the Patriots has already been shown to the world by the Kansas City Chiefs, who throttled these same Patriots 41-14. They did it by getting after Tom Brady. There is little doubt that Tom Brady is one of the greatest quarterbacks to ever play when he’s got six seconds to throw the ball. However, because he’s an immobile target, he is affected even more by the pass rush than someone like Aaron Rodgers is. The pass rush has been the most consistent element for the Packers defense all season, especially at home. If they can get after Brady, then it may not matter who his targets are.
Now, what the Packers can’t do is play their bend-but-don’t-break defense — like they did against the Vikings and like they did against the Saints. Like Drew Brees, if you go into dropping back seven yards and a cloud of dust, Tom Brady will look to negate the pass rush by throwing it quickly. He also is an extremely capable red zone quarterback and so, if you allow him to drive into the red zone, the Patriots are going to be scoring touchdowns most of the time.
I believe the game plan for the Patriots will be to run the football, which they used to batter the Colts into submission in Indianapolis. And their success at running the football will go a long way to determining the outcome of this game. If they can run it, then they can make it more difficult to rush the passer while limiting the Packers’ offensive possessions.
The Patriots have the corner tandem to play the Packers straight up on defense. They don’t have to play the shell and I expect a mixture of both. The Packers will need Aaron Rodgers to maintain his stellar play at home and they will need Eddie Lacy to outrush whoever the Patriots decide to hand the ball. Eddie Lacy’s running and catching, and the pass rush are the Packers’ two main keys to winning this game.
I anticipate a great game. I believe the Patriots will have offensive success, but I think the Packers can make enough plays on the defensive end, as they have at home all season, to keep their momentum going.
Packers 34, Patriots 31
Andrew (9-2) — At this very moment, as I sit down to write my prediction for the Packers-Patriots Sunday at Lambeau Field, I have no clue who I’m picking to win this game.
When the initial line came out making the Packers four-point favorites, I felt like the Patriots would be offering some value on the money line. That is, I would actually be getting better than even money on the Patriots to simply win a game, which given the manner in which they have destroyed their opponents in the last several weeks, would make for a good bet. But getting a sliver of value on the money line is one thing, deciding who is going to win one contest in time is something different altogether.
So, as my initial surprised reaction to the spread decreased, the lingering questions in my head about this game increased. Maybe it was the other way around. Either way, it’s an extension of the old chicken and egg debate really. Let’s move on.
1. Who needs this game more?
The Packers clearly need this game more than the Patriots do. After all, the NFC is a wide open crap shoot, while in the AFC it will take some serious shit to happen for New England to not end up with one of the first-round playoff byes and have home field advantage. Does this mean New England won’t show up in Green Bay on Sunday? Hardly. It just means the Packers should be playing with a dash more desperation and intensity than the Pats.
Although the hype machine would want you to think this is the most important game on each team’s schedule, pretty much the opposite is true. Without question, this game is less important to the Patriots than the final four games on their schedule, which are all versus AFC opponents. Similarly for the Packers, this game and the game at Buffalo two weeks from Sunday are far less important than the ones versus NFC foes — specifically the season finale versus the Lions. Still, this is a bigger game for the Packers than the Patriots.
2. What is the Packers record in prime time home games versus the Patriots record on the road in these contests?
Yes, I get that this is not truly a prime time game, but it is about as close to it as possible. The Packers and Patriots are one of only two afternoon games slated on Sunday. With the other being Arizona at Atlanta, I think it’s safe to say we know which game will have more eyeballs on it. In fact, it wouldn’t surprise me if this game turns out to be the most watched non-prime time regular season game in NFL history.
Since Aaron Rodgers became the Packers’ starter in 2008, the Packers are 11-2 in prime time games at Lambeau Field. The only two losses were against the Cowboys in 2008 and the Bears last year, when Rodgers was injured. If we throw out that Bears game, Rodgers and the Packers have won 11 straight games at Lambeau when the eyes of the nation are on them. For the sake of this analysis, any games fitting this criteria while Rodgers was out with injury have been eliminated.
With Tom Brady under center, the Patriots are 7-5 in prime time road games since 2009. For the purposes of this non-scientific analysis, 2008 was eliminated, as Brady missed the whole season after being injured in week one. The Pats did blow out some teams in those 12 prime time road games, but the win-loss record is certainly not that intimidating.
3. Which team will run the ball better?
This is a tough one and I agree with Shawn. Whichever team runs the ball better will win this game. I think both teams will lean on the run and this game could end up being quite low scoring. As to which team will have the most success running, I have to side with the Patriots.
If I’m Bill Belichick, I run LaGarrette Blount about 35 times on Sunday. Then I run Jonas Gray another 15 times and sprinkle in some Shane Vereen for good measure. The bulk of those carries I take between the tackles and right at Clay Matthews. Knowing that Clay is sort of begrudgingly playing inside linebacker, I go in with the initiative that if Matthews doesn’t already hate playing inside, I’m going to make sure by the end of the day that he does.
This strategy would not be unlike when the Packers won Super Bowl XLV versus the Pittsburgh Steelers. NFL Films’ microphones picked up conversations involving one of Pittsburgh’s offensive coaches saying they were going to go after Matthews in the running game and make him quit.
Well, we know how that all worked out. The strategy was largely effective as Pittsburgh started to dominate on the ground, but when they went to the cookie jar one too many times, Matthews came up with the biggest play of the game for the Packers. If the Patriots pound the rock 40-plus times on Sunday, it is likely they’re able to do so because they are handling Matthews. I would suspect this will be the Patriots’ goal.
If I’m New England, I want to get a body on Matthews as often as possible, test his groin or hamstring or whatever it is this week and punish him. Make him the primary blocking assignment and force the largely incapable A.J. Hawk to make plays. The Patriots should be able to do some of the same things Pittsburgh did in the Super Bowl to hamper Matthews’ effectiveness. However, as we all know, it only takes one or two impact plays to negate any previous successes the Pats might have. New England will look to limit Matthews’ big plays and the Packers will be counting on them.
For the Packers to win this game they need a stout performance against the run, a big performance out of the offensive line and Eddie Lacy, and a five-plus catch/100-plus yard receiving day out of Davante Adams. Someone has to pick up the slack in the passing game because I expect Jordy Nelson to be doubled and largely ineffective.
Can Randall Cobb take Darrelle Revis or will Aaron Rodgers not even look in his direction like he did with Richard Sherman? I would love nothing more than for Cobb to light Revis up. Lambeau Field is notoriously slippery and has been forever. How Packers management can have a field that looks so gorgeous, yet always seems to lead to a surplus of players slipping and falling is beyond me. That’s a different discussion. One person who has always handled the footing at Lambeau better than anyone else is Randall Cobb. It would not surprise me to see the Packers test Revis early to see if they have an edge.
When push comes to shove I am not only concerned about the Packers’ ability to stop New England’s offense, I am also concerned as to how the Packers offense will be effective against the Patriots stubborn pass defense. It’s bad enough to be concerned about one, but to be concerned about both is where the Pats get the edge. If the Packers can win the battle on the ground on either offense or defense, they have a great shot to win this game. I’m just not certain they will get it done on Sunday.
Ugh. I know I make it sound a little bit one-sided in the end, but this should be a great game that goes down to the wire. Field goal kickers will decide this one and touchdowns will be in short supply. The only thing I like in this game is the under. This is about as pick ’em as it gets, which I guess implies I side with the Pats +3 when talking in Vegas-speak.
Even in this very moment it’s hard for me to pick either team or against either team.
What are the odds on this game ending in a tie? It would seem foolish to pick a tie as the final score, but the temptation in this spot is great. I’ll stick with my initial thoughts on this one and cheer all game that I’m wrong.
Patriots 26, Packers 23, OT
Monty (7-4) — This is indeed a tough game to forecast. What we know for sure is that both the New England Patriots and Green Bay Packers can put up points.
They are first and second in the league, respectively, in scoring. Obviously, this game comes down to which defense plays better.
The refrain that I’ve heard all week — other than the idiotic and unoriginal SUPER BOWL PREVIEW! one — is how no one seems to know what Bill Belichick is going to unveil defensively to stop Aaron Rodgers. Because Bill Belichick is a magician, apparently.
While I imagine Belichick is going to have some wrinkles for the Packers, I don’t know why he’d unleash all of his top secret defensive schemes this week. I mean, wouldn’t you save those for the playoffs or — if you want to be specific to the Packers — for that potential Super Bowl meeting?
The answer is yes. Yes you would, unless you’re a fucking idiot. And Bill Belichick is a lot of things (cheater, curmudgeon, snazzy dresser), but he’s not an idiot.
Some people are making a big deal out of the Patriots’ secondary and how they’re going to blanket the Packers’ receivers. Well, there was a time when Darrelle Revis was the best cornerback in the league. He’s still good, but that time has passed. I fully expect the Packers to try to test the Patriots’ secondary, especially if they don’t play cover two.
And if the Patriots don’t play cover two, I expect the Packers to win their match-ups and put up plenty of points. After all, the Patriots’ pass defense is ranked just 17th in the league. They can be thrown on.
What the Packers need defensively are two things.
First, their pass rush needs to get off. The key to beating Tom Brady is pressuring Tom Brady and the Packers have shown they can get after the quarterback very effectively.
Second, the Packers need a big game from Clay Matthews. This is assuming they don’t make the idiotic decision to play Matthews outside like they did last week. If Matthews plays outside, then the Packers will be relying on A.J. Hawk and Sam Barrington inside and they may as well not even show up for the game. That’s not to mention the fact that Matthews has been totally ineffective playing outside linebacker this season.
To put it simply, the Packers need someone outside of the secondary that can make plays. That guy HAS to be Matthews and the only place he can seem to make plays is when he’s playing inside linebacker.
Yes, there are a lot of ifs involved here, but ultimately, it comes down to one simple thing for me.
Until the Packers lose at home — something they haven’t done once this year — you pick the Packers to win at home.
Packers 32, Patriots 23