Sunday, November 08, 2015

Packers vs. Panthers Game Preview: Will the Pack get back on track?

While no one is saying this is a "must-win" game for the Green Bay Packers, fans -- including yours truly -- want to see how well the team bounces back from its first defeat of the season. Let's also not forget that the Minnesota ViQueens are now only a game behind the Packers in the NFC North. But the question for today is: Will we continue to see sluggish play out of the once-vaunted offense -- now ranked 28th in the league -- and sieve-like defense from what had been a very good unit until giving up more than 500 yards to opposing offenses in the last two games? Or, will the loss have served as a wakeup call to the players and coaching staff that things are just not where they should be at the roughly halfway mark of the season?

We'll get an answer in just a few hours' time.

Granted, there's still a long way to go in the season. And the Packers have certainly been dinged up. Today, Ty Montgomery, Sam Shields and Quinten Rollins look as if they will be held out of the game. Clay Matthews says he'll be ready to go but how will last weekend's ankle/leg injury affect him today? The rushing game has been moribund without a healthy Eddie Lacy and James Starks; one or the other is needed to take pressure off Aaron Rodgers and the passing game. Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Packers reporter, Bob McGinn, asserts in his most recent article that the Panthers coaching staff has been compensating for their team's injuries better than the Packers have with their injuries. Matter of opinion, I guess, but one team is still undefeated and looks well positioned while the other has been pretty flat overall for a while now, despite only one loss so far.

Packers QB Aaron Rodgers hopes to bounce back against the Panthers today from his worst passing performance as a pro last weekend.
Photo by Evan Siegle/Press-Gazette Media

It's been far too easy for opposing defenses over the last month or so to play tight coverages on the Packers wide receivers who are not getting open, thus allowing the front seven defenders to just come after Rodgers play after play. Without a deep threat to loosen things up, or a running game that keeps defensive linemen and linebackers honest, well, it hasn't been pretty. Seventy-seven passing yards vs. Denver...from Rodgers? Admittedly and arguably the best defense in the NFL. But...c'mon.

Today, Rodgers will have a chance against a Panthers secondary...if receivers can get open, the running game is effective, etc. etc. You know the drill as well as I.

But...and it's a big but...the Packers defense will have to keep one of the most dangerous offensive weapons in the league, in the person of QB Cam Newton, in check. They did so in a dominating win against the Panthers at Lambeau Field last season. But that was then, this is now. The Packers defense is starting to remind at least some fans of Forrest Gump's proverbial box of chocolates: we just don't know what we're going to get. Will it be that great and essentially win-preserving "D" we saw on display in the first four or five games of the season, or the sieve we've seen the last two weeks? If the latter, the Packers are in trouble today.

There's at least one factor in the Pack's favor today, despite playing a second consecutive game on the road against an unbeaten opponent: Rodgers rarely has two bad games in a row. Still, Green Bay Press-Gazette's Packers reporter, Wes Hodkiewicz, puts it like this: "Only twice in NFL history has a team faced a pair of teams with 6-0 records or better in consecutive weeks. The Packers are only 6-6 since the start of the 2014 season on the road, but Rodgers tends to have some of his best games after disappointing losses. The Panthers will put that theory to the test with the NFL’s top-ranked rushing offense and a potent defense coming off an emotional overtime win on Monday night."

The Prediction
While the Packers are favored by 2-1/2 points as of the time of this writing, it really seems to be more of a toss-up to this writer. We rarely pick against the Packers. And when we do, we sincerely hope we are very wrong.

But today, even though Rodgers and the Packers often seem to bounce back after a poor performance, it seems as if what ails the Pack -- whatever it is, apart from injuries -- is still not remedied. Until we see some evidence to the contrary -- which we hope happens today -- we'll have to go with the following prediction:

Panthers 31 - Packers 24.

Go Pack Go!!!