New England Patriots vs. Green Bay Packers: Game Preview
This week the 11-2 (6-0 at home) Patriots are visited by the 8-5 (3-4 away) Packers on Sunday Night Football. The Patriots can clinch a first round bye if they win and the Jets lose this weekend, whilst the Packers must win to keep a realistic chance of getting to the playoffs alive.
Here are some key points and matchups that will help decide this key game.
Rodgers or Flynn
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The Packers chances really lie on whether Aaron Rodgers will be able to play on Sunday. Rodgers went down last Sunday against the Lions in Detroit with his second concussion of the season. The Packers have already released a statement that no decision will be made on whether Rodgers will play until Saturday, and that he will be out of practice until at least Friday.
Losing Rodgers will be a massive blow for the Packers, as not only is he their Pro Bowl QB, but he is also their second-leading rusher behind Brandon Jackson with 309 yards on the floor along with four rushing touchdowns.
Behind Rodgers is backup Matt Flynn, who has thrown a total of 46 passes in his NFL career, gaining 246 yards, zero touchdowns and two interceptions.
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There is no doubt that both these teams excel in the passing games on offense, but the winner may be the team who has the better running game.
The Packers have the 24th-ranked rushing attack in the NFL, averaging less then 100 yards a game. Their leading rusher is Brandon Jackson, who has 546 rushing yards and three touchdowns, but is only averaging 3.8 yards per carry. They will be up against a very stout run defense who has already held backs such as Adrian Peterson, Ray Rice and Matt Forte in check.
The Patriots come into the game with the 15th-ranked rushing offence, averaging 112.5 yards per game. The attack is led by a former undrafted rookie free agent BenJarvus Green-Ellis. Green-Ellis has rushed for 786 yards and 11 touchdowns.
Green-Ellis is backed up by another free agent pickup Danny Woodhead, who has 711 total yards from scrimmage and five touchdowns (four rushing, one receiving). They will be up against the 19th-ranked run defence in the Packers, but they will be missing starting defensive lineman Cullen Jenkins.
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The main reason the Patriots are blowing out other teams is because they look after the ball on offense, committing only nine turnovers on the season. In fact the Patriots lead the NFL in turnover differential at plus 18. If the Patriots don't turn the ball over, they have to be the favourites in this game.
The Packers aren't too bad themselves in the turnover department at plus seven, but if Matt Flynn starts on Sunday expect that number to go down slightly.
Packers Receivers vs. New England Secondary
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A key matchup during the game will be between the Packers receiving corps and the New England secondary.
One key point in this matchup will be if Devin McCourty is available to play. The rookie cornerback went out of last week's game against the Bears with a rib injury, and it is unknown whether he will miss Sunday's game yet, or whether he will play.
McCourty has become the shutdown corner the Patriots need once Leigh Bodden went on IR before the season started. McCourty is second in the NFL in interceptions with six, and if it wasn't for Suh in Detroit he would be a frontrunner for defensive rookie of the year and rookie of the year.
The Packers leading receiver is Greg Jennings, who has 996 yards through the air whilst catching 11 touchdowns. Jennings is backed up by receivers like Donald Driver, Jordy Nelson and James Jones, who are all dangerous in their own rights to.
The weather forecast for Foxborough on Sunday states that snow is a possibility. Why is this important you ask? The Patriots have outscored the opposition 109-0 in their last three snow games, and that's only including the first halves of each game. The total final score against the three opponents was 142-14.
For some reason the Patriots love playing in the cold, and while other teams' offences start to stall in the cold conditions, the Patriots offence just marches on.
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With the Patriots playing the way they are, they have to be favourites. They seem to be able to score on any defence in the league. Therefore the way to beat the Patriots is to outscore them. With Aaron Rodgers the Packers have a chance, but if Matt Flynn starts you can almost rule the Packers out from the start unless Tom Brady suddenly starts making countless mistakes.
However, even if Rodgers does play he will have missed the whole week of practice and will be coming off of his second concussion of the season. After his first concussion, he came straight back but couldn't even lead his team to a victory over the Redskins, so things aren't too promising for the Packers even if Rodgers plays.
However, you can never rule a team out in the NFL and the Packers are dangerous on both sides of the ball. If they can put it all together against the Patriots, they have as good a chance as anyone of winning on Sunday night.
Score Prediction: Packers 10-38 Patriots