8:20 PM EST, NBC – Line: Patriots -5.5, Over/Under: 56.5
A popular, annual Super Bowl dream matchup takes the NFL by storm, as the Green Bay Packers look to turn things around against the New England Patriots, from Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Massachusetts, in a matchup featuring a pair of Hall of Fame, god-like Quarterbacks. It’s been a very uneven campaign thus far for the Packers (3-3-1, 3rd in NFC North), who have struggled to find consistency as they reach the midway point of their schedule. Mike McCarthy’s charges have yet to string together consecutive victories thus far, with an increasing sense of urgency in the background as the rest of the NFC North has apparently caught up to them. With the Minnesota Vikings once again pacing the division, and the Chicago Bears and Detroit Lions both looking improved, the Packers cannot afford to sit on their laurels and bank on their northern brethren self-destructing. However, this is a team that has reached the most difficult part of their sleight, finding themselves on the back end of consecutive matchups against the likes of the Los Angeles Rams and New England Patriots, who together have amassed a combined record of 14-2. So how did Green Bay fare in the first of these arduous matchups, you ask? Well, coming off a desperately-needed Bye, Aaron Rodgers and Co. gave the unbeaten Rams everything they could handle in a narrow 27-29 defeat at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum last Sunday, leading 10-2 at one point in the Second Quarter, with their own Defense shutting out arguably the most explosive side in the league until the hosts finally found the End Zone with just Twenty-One Seconds left in the First Half. Midway through the final stanza, Rodgers hit Marquez Valdes-Scantling for a 40-Yard Touchdown to take a 27-26 lead with 8:50 left to play, though Los Angeles would eventually strike back with a Greg Zuerlein Field Goal (34 Yards) to retake the lead with 2:05 remaining in the affair. That’s when the cruel hand of fate stepped in, for when the visitors fielded the ensuing Kickoff, Packers’ Returner Ty Montgomery eschewed McCarthy’s protests and brought the football out of the End Zone, where he would surprisingly fumble it away to the opposition, ending any hope of Rodgers authoring a Game-Winning Drive for the second straight game. When it was all said and done, Green Bay may have put together the blueprint to besting Los Angeles, amassing a balanced 359 Yards of Total Offense, with Rodgers completing 18-of-30 Passes for 286 Yards and a Touchdown despite that bulky knee still clearly hindering his play. Now with that contest in the rearview mirror, what can we expect from the Packers moving forward? As we said, Rodgers (61.3%, 326.1 Y/G, 6.94 NY/A, 13 TD, 1 INT, 53.8 QBR) is still feeling the effects of that knee injury, which McCarthy must be scared to death of, for if at any point No. 12 can’t stay on the field, then it’s all over for this team; Green Bay was 4-1 before a broken collarbone sidelined him for nine weeks in 2017, with his side managing a dismal 3-6 record in his absence. And this is where the Playcalling needs to change so that they no longer need to lean so heavily on their Quarterback, while the emerging Defense must continue their upward trajectory. For years we’ve urged McCarthy to run the football more, and it appears that our pleas continue to fall on deaf ears for despite the Rushing Attack averaging a solid 4.8 Yards per Carry (5th Overall) with the triumvirate of Jamaal Williams (63 CAR, 233 YDS, 3.7 Y/C, 1 TD), Aaron Jones (44 CAR, 274 YDS, 6.2 Y/C, 2 TD), and the aforementioned Montgomery (26 CAR, 105 YDS, 4.0 Y/C, 1 TD) proving capable of providing a long-absent sense of balance, McCarthy is still reluctant to use them more, with his team ranking Twenty-Ninth in Rushing Attempts (21.6 A/G) and Twenty-Second in Rushing Yards (104.0 Y/G). If we ever reach the day when Rodgers can make proper use of Play-Action, then look the !@#$ out NFL!!! The Defense too has progressed under new Defensive Coordinator Mike Pettine, particularly against the Pass, where they’ve permitted 221.7 Passing Yards (6th Overall) on 6.4 Net Yards per Attempt (13th Overall), with pressure being the major component, amassing Twenty-Three Sacks (6th Overall). Three different players have logged at least Four Sacks for this unit, while Rookie Defensive Backs Jaire Alexander (24 TKL, 1 TFL 0.5 SK, 1 INT, 6 PD) and Josh Jackson (17 TKL, 1 TFL, 3 PD) are featuring more prominently in Pettine’s diverse scheme every week.
Meanwhile, stop us if you’ve heard this before, but it’s the midway point of the season and the Patriots (6-2, 1st in AFC East) are rounding into shape. After a surprisingly slow start to the campaign in which they lost two out of their first three outings, New England has since strung together five consecutive victories, as they continue to get healthier and deeper as the term progresses. Simply put, this is not the same team that began the season, folks, for Bill Belichick’s charges have added reinforcements via trade, adding the mercurial Josh Gordon (17 REC, 256 YDS, 15.6 Y/R, 1 TD) courtesy of a deal with the Cleveland Browns, and have also welcomed back Slot Extraordinaire Julian Edelman (25 REC, 251 YDS, 10.0 Y/R, 2 TD) after the veteran served a 4-Game Suspension. We’re approaching the Patriots’ Offense operating at maximum capacity, which is bound to get the most out of reigning MVP Quarterback Tom Brady (67.5%, 275.0 Y/G, 6.97 NY/A, 16 TD, 7 INT, 70.3 QBR); since Edelman returned to the lineup, the Pats have been firing on all cylinders on this side of the football, averaging 36.0 Points on a whopping 538.8 Total Yards. Versatility is the key here, for there is simply no shortage of quality targets for Brady to lock in on; Edelman and Tailback James White (55 REC, 459 YDS, 8.3 Y/R, 6 TD) are as reliable as anyone when it comes to short to intermediate routes, while Gordon has provided a big, athletic weapon on the perimeter, while perennial All-Pro Tight End Rob Gronkowski (29 REC, 448 YDS, 15.4 Y/R, 1 TD) continues to torment opposing Defenses in the middle of the field and down the seam. This unit is such a machine, that even when they’re not cracking Thirty Points, they still give off the impression that they’re owning the game, which was precisely the case when last we saw them, a 25-6 victory over the hapless Buffalo Bills on Monday Night Football. Few things are certain in life, but death, taxes, and the Patriots beating the Bills are among them, for New England once again bested their personal punching bag for the thirty-first time in their last thirty-four meetings. Brady earned his twenty-ninth win against the Bills, the most for any Quarterback against any single opponent, and his fifteenth at New Era Field, which is coincidentally more than any Quarterback that has played for Buffalo since 1996. Granted, the hosts fought valiantly, limiting the visiting side to just four Field Goals in their first eight drives through three quarters of play, but the dam finally broke down in the final frame when Brady led the Pats on a 10-Play, 85-Yard Drive ending in a 1-Yard Rushing Yard from White, followed shortly thereafter by a crushing 84-Yard Interception Return for a score courtesy of Devin McCourty (41 TKL, 1 TFL, 1 INT, 2 PD, 1 TD, 1 FF, 1 FR) with just over five minutes left in the game. So the lessen here folks, is even when they’re not at their best, this group is pretty damn special; New England amassed 387 Total Yards on Twenty-Two First Downs, converted on just 5-of-14 Third Downs, and ran for just Seventy-Six yards on Twenty-Five Carries, while Brady failed to throw a Touchdown for just the third time in his career in an affair in which he attempted at least Forty-Five Passes. With that said, we all know that the Bills are an offensively-challenged team, but the Packers represent a different challenge altogether, and we think that it’s safe to say that they’ll need to ring up more than Twenty-Five Points to earn a sixth consecutive win. Brady and Rodgers have only met once prior to this weekend’s contest, a tightly-contested 26-21 Packers’ victory at Lambeau Field back in 2014; the clash of MVPs was as advertised, with Brady completing 22-of-35 Passes for 245 Yards, and Two Touchdowns, while his counterpart completed 24-of-38 Attempts for 368 Yards, and a pair of Touchdowns as well.