Sunday, November 10, 2013

Week 10: Packers vs. Eagles Preview and Prediction

This is a game which looked ripe for the picking a week ago: the Green Bay Packers playing the Philadelphia Eagles at Lambeau Field. The Pack, so we thought, would be coming off a big Monday night win against Da Bearz, having secured their lead at the top of the NFC North. This would begin a stretch of games for the Packers where the team could separate itself from the rest of the division.

Funny thing...that Monday night game...well, arguably the best quarterback in the NFL, namely one Aaron Rodgers, got hurt in the first quarter of the game. Not only lost for the game but for likely the next four to six weeks. Ouch! In more ways than one.

After 21 years of consecutive starts by Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers (with two tossed in via Matt Flynn), the law of averages finally caught up with the Packers. For the first time in nearly a generation, Packer fans, we know what it feels like to be pretty much like most other teams in the league. It's not a good feeling, is it?

So, today and for the next month probably at least, we will see an offense lead by veteran backup QB Seneca Wallace and now number 2 QB Scott Tolzien.

Is there any chance for a win in today's game? The oddsmakers don't seem to think so, designating the Packers as now 1-point underdogs at the time of this posting. But for a glimmer of hope, be sure to read this tremendously insightful article by Bob McGinn of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

Whether the Packers are able to step up their game in the absence of Rodgers will be the question of the day. McGinn cites examples showing what's possible. But realism also dictates that we have to acknowledge it's going to be a much different game than what we are used to seeing. Expect a big dose of Eddie Lacy on offense, perhaps with more balance by additional carries by James Starks. There will likely be more roll-outs to get Wallace outside the pocket where he could also use his legs, which could be more valuable today than his arm. There won't be a lot of downfield passing. Expect shorter routes.

Defense and special teams will need to account for some scoring today, and not just by way of field goals. The Packers have been woeful at takeaways this season. If they hope to win this and some of the upcoming games without Rodgers, the defense will have to generate turnovers and set the offense up to score short-drive touchdowns...or score them on their own. The return teams will have to also perform well. As McGinn points out, for the Packers to have a good chance to win short drives rather than field-long drives are the order of the day.

What, then, do we make of this game? If ever there was a crapshoot game, this is it. We have no idea what Seneca Wallace can bring to the table after a week working with the number one unit, nor how the players around him will raise their games. We also have no clue as to how head coach Mike McCarthy will scheme the offense to take advantage of whatever it is that Wallace can bring to the field as his unique abilities. We have no idea as to how the defense will stop a red-hot quarterback in the form of Nick Foles; if they give him the time they gave Josh McCown Monday evening it could be a long and disappointing afternoon for the Packers.

With Rodgers, this is a game the Packers win. Without Rodgers...? This game will give us an early insight into whether this team can hang in the division race long enough to see Rodgers' return make a difference going down a playoff stretch run, or whether the season will be an ultimate, injury-riddled disappointment.

The Eagles are 4-1 on the road this season, 0-4 at home; might have been better odds had the Pack been playing in Philly today.

Naturally, the green 'n' gold-colored glasses are still on. We're calling this 23-20 Packers. We are probably in small company today as it seems many are picking the Eagles. So it goes. The Packers -- despite the MASH unit of injuries -- is still the more talented team overall. But whether they can execute and form a new identity apart from Rodgers for the time being is the big question.

It's not going to be pretty. But the team needs the "W" for many reasons today. After Monday evening's disappointment -- and flat defensive performance -- expect something better today. It should be just enough, especially with the probable return of LB Clay Matthews to the lineup. Even with one hand in a cast, he's better than most with full use of both hands.

Go Pack Go!!!