Sunday, December 14, 2014

NFL Week 15: Packers vs. Bills Preview & Prediction

This week the team from the NFL's smallest city, Green Bay, travels to the NFL's second-smallest city, Buffalo. Yes, folks, in a rare meeting between these two teams and rarer still in Buffalo, arguably the league's highest flying offense matches up against arguably the league's best defense.

Here's how Vic Ketchman, editor, puts it in his game scouting report: "The Bills defense is No. 5 overall, No. 8 against the run and No. 5 against the pass. By comparison, the Packers’ opening night opponent, Seattle, is first, third and first, and Week 3 opponent, Detroit, is second, first and 10th. The Packers lost to those opponents and managed only 23 points combined. Even more impressive is the Bills’ No. 1 ranking in sacks and No. 2 ranking in third-down defense."

Now, the Bills offense has improved a bit since veteran Kyle Orton has taken over at quarterback. (For anyone counting, Orton has actually won one more game against the Packers than Jay Cutler...which still isn't saying much.) If given time, Orton is a reliable quarterback if given time. And he has a great receiver in rookie Sammy Watkins and a good running back in Fred Jackson. If the Packers defense continues its inconsistent performance, as witnessed this last week in the game vs. Atlanta, the game could go Buffalo's way. There needs to be pressure early and often on Orton. Plus, Packers defenders will need to at least be in the same zipcode as the receivers they are supposed to be covering.

This Bills team is good and can beat the Packers if the Packers allow their defense to take command. As Ketchman notes in his scouting report, the Pack hasn't always fared well when put up against great defenses. Now, one if not both of the games he's referencing admittedly were played when the Packers offensive line wasn't configured as it is now. Admittedly, this game will be won in the trenches: the Packers offensive line against the Bills defensive front. If the Packers linemen can keep Aaron Rodgers from being pressured and sacked, and can get some running room for the team's running backs, the Packers will win. And of course, if the Pack can get up big early -- assuming the defense doesn't decide to take the second half off ala vs. the Falcons -- the Pack will emerge 11-3. If, on the other hand, the Bills defenders take control at and through the line, it could be a long day for the Packers. Also figure that the Bills are playing for their playoff lives at 7-6.

Still, we shouldn't minimize the fact that the Packers are also playing for the NFC North Division title, a first-round bye, and home games during the playoffs.

The Prediction
With Packers RB Eddie Lacy probable for today's game after battling a hip injury all week, we should probably expect to see more of RB James Starks. It's a homecoming for Starks, having grown up in the Buffalo area and attended the University of Buffalo. We might expect that he'll want to be at his best today when given his opportunities, just as he did late in the game against the Falcons with the game on the line.

Packers RB James Starks with huge run against the Falcons.
Photo by Mark Hoffman, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

The weather is not expected to be a factor: cloudy and 38 degrees. The Packers are favored by four points.

If the Packers defense plays up to its potential and does so for a full four quarters, that will negate anything the Bills offense might generate. If the Packers offensive line is able to handle the Bills formidable front, and the Packers don't have turnovers, I'll take Rodgers over Orton any day of the week. All of the Packers three losses this season have been road games. I expect this game, however, to be their fourth road win.

We're calling it 27-20 Packers.

Go Pack Go!!!