Sunday, November 16, 2014

Week 11: Packers vs. Eagles Preview and Prediction

The high-flying, 7-2 Philadelphia Eagles pay a mid-afternoon visit today to Lambeau Field for their showdown with the 6-3 Green Bay Packers. Along with New England at Indianapolis and Detroit at Arizona (I still can't believe that last one), this is the game of the day. Obviously, the NFL and TV programmers thought so, too, as the game was "flexed" out of its originally-scheduled noon start to the 3:25 CT start. Make no mistake about it, this game is critical for both teams as the playoff hunt enters high gear. Each team wants this game...needs this game.

The Eagles seem to be rejuvenated in the last week or two (if you can even say that about a 7-2 team) under the similarly-rejuvenated quarterback, Mark Sanchez, he of butt-fumble fame. Getting out from under the dysfunction that is the New York Jets and landing on the roster of Eagles' head coach Chip Kelly may be just what the doctor ordered for Sanchez and his career.

But it's not just Sanchez the Packers defense needs to concern itself with. The Eagles have very good receivers in veteran Jeremy Maclin and rookie Jordan Matthews. RB LeSean McCoy is always a threat, but is averaging more than a yard per rush less this season than in his first five years in the league. And he's not happy about that. For a variety of reasons, the Eagles' running game has gone from first in the NFL last year to 20th in yards-per-carry this season. In a win against the woeful Panthers last week, McCoy rushed for just 19 yards on 12 carries. The Packers defense can't assume that will carry over to this week; with most quality running backs, a game like that will make them angry and anxious to prove a point. The Packers defense will need to make sure they keep McCoy under wraps.

We have to believe the Packers defense will build off last weekend's performance against Da Bearz. Moving Clay Matthews around creates havoc for an offensive line, creating opportunities not only for himself but his teammates to make plays. The Packers secondary will take care of business.

Where the Packers can and probably will be exposed is on special teams where they will have to try to figure out a way to keep Darren Sproles from single-handedly changing the course of the game; he's returned two punts for touchdowns this season.

Packers Guard, Josh Sitton
Photo by Rick Wood, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

On the flip side of things, the Packers offense is rolling. How do you keep that going? Protect QB Aaron Rodgers, have the Pack's great receivers get separation as they usually do, and use Eddie Lacy as both the rushing and receiving threat that he is. The Packers injured guards -- Josh Sitton and T.J. Lang -- are both probable again this week ... read: they will play. The Eagles defensive line is good, and the Pack will need another good performance from its line.

The Prediction
This is a fairly short preview and an even briefer prediction. That's because the Pack can't allow a Mark Shanchez-led Eagles team to beat them on their home field. Weather conditions -- cold, in particular -- will play a role today, although the Packers should be the team better equipped to deal with conditions. Also of note: the Eagles' two losses have been on the road.

The Packers are favored by 5-1/2 to 6 points depending upon what source you are looking at, and the game has the second-highest over-under total points of the weekend at 55.

We're calling it 34-24 Packers.

Go Pack Go!!!