Sunday, November 30, 2014

Weel 13: Packers vs. Patriots Preview and Prediction

It is the game of the weekend, Packer fans. The 9-2 New England Patirots vs. the 8-3 Green Bay Packers at historic Lambeau Field, with arguably the two best quarterbacks in the game right now and the two best teams going head to head. Over the past two decades, the series is as even as it gets: 5-5. Of course, there was that Packers' 35-21 win over the Pats in Super Bowl XXXI in New Orleans (remember that?).

But that was then. This is now.

Today, we'll see two powerful offenses matched against defenses that will try to keep up and make a stop when it most matters. It could well be one of those games where whichever team has the ball last wins. The oddsmakers are basically seeing the game as a toss-up, giving the Packers the 3-point edge that comes with home field advantage. They're expecting a shoot-out, too, with the over-under set as the weekend's largest point total: 58-1/2.

The Patriots

The Patriots, aside from curmudgeonly head coach Bill Belichick, begin and end with QB Tom Brady. What more do you need to say? If the Pat's win today -- and many suspect they will -- it will be because of Brady. At age 37, and after a slow start to the season, Brady and company are on track. The weapons for Brady are many, going beyond TE Rob Gronkowski, who gets most of the press. Other receivers who can and do cause problems for opposing defenders are Julian Edelman and Brandon LaFell, as well as TE Tim Wright. Lots of receiving targets to cover. To keep a balance to the game, the Pat's have RB LeGarrette Blount who had the best run of career at Lambeau in 2011 as a member of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Blount isn't the starter, though. That distinction goes to Shane Vereen, who is currently listed as questionable for today's game on the injury report. Jonas Gray should also should play extensively. Those are a lot of different running styles to adjust to, especially behind a pretty good offensive line.

On the Pat's defense, they have a very good defensive line, anchored by NT Vince Wilfork and DT Alan Branch. It will be tough sledding for Packers RB Eddie Lacy trying to get yardage up the middle today. In the secondary, the Pats also present challenges in cornerbacks Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browne. Packers receivers had problems getting separation last week against the ViQueens. Against a better secondary this week, at home, the Pack's receivers need to have a better showing in order to stay in this game.

The Prediction
Assuming for a moment that the offenses are similar and of equal scoring ability, who has the edge? It obviously goes to defenses and special teams. Let's set aside the special teams play, although the edge on field goals in this game -- if that's what it comes down to -- should go the Packers way. It comes down to defense. Run-stopping ability may also be a push. While the Patriots have two very good corners, the Packers entire secondary is very good. So it comes to pass rush. The edge there should go to the Pack, particularly with the mobility and come-from-anywhere mode of LB Clay Matthews and the rejuvenated Julius Peppers.

One of the Pack's keys in the past several weeks has been getting out to a big lead early. If that were even the case today, against Brady that's no guarantee of Aaron Rodgers getting the second half of the game off as in those earlier blowout wins.

Much of the buzz about today's game is that this is a preview of the next Super Bowl. That might be a bit premature, but certainly not out of the question. And because this is an interconference game, it's not a do-or-die, late-season situation for either team. Still, we think the Packers need this game more.

We think the oddsmakers have the point spread on this game right. It will be a nail-biter...perhaps down to the last play of the game.

We're calling it 34-31 Packers.

Go Pack Go!!!