I had this big Patriots-Packers matchup circled months ago as I was going to do an article I started in summer 2012 about Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady. It’s one of only a few articles in my files that I started without finishing a full draft. This was going to be a very eye-opening piece that I still expect to complete at some point. Missing from my plans was the fact that Week 13 was Thanksgiving week, so that put a damper on my hopes of generating a lot of discussion over my article with the holiday. Throw in the fact that I’m experiencing pain in the bottom right side of my body every time I move and I haven’t been able to do much at all this week.
What I will do is provide some thoughts on this important game which should have major playoff implications. After Sunday, I’m not sure either team will lose another regular-season game this year.
Coaching – The Patriots are believed to have a big advantage with Bill Belichick matching wits with Mike McCarthy, who still rarely gets credit as one of the best coaches in the league. Also, Dom Capers and his 3-4 defense havea lot in common with Dick LeBeau’s system, which Belichick and Tom Brady have picked apart better than anyone. I’m inclined to agree with all of that, but I know in 2010 McCarthy took his team with Matt Flynn at QB and played very well in Foxboro. At a time when the Patriots were blowing everyone out, the Packers only lost 31-27. A few tactical errors did doom them, such as a short kickoff late in the first half that a NE lineman returned for 71 yards. In the fourth quarter, McCarthy chickened out on a 4th-and-1 at the NE 1 and kicked a field goal for a 27-21 lead. Has McCarthy improved as a decision maker, especially in close games? I wouldn’t say he has, but he’s better than most of the coaches the Patriots have faced this year.
The Quarterbacks – You may have heard five million times already this is the first start between Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady. I was listening to Sterling Sharpe and the NFL Playbook crew break down the matchup and found their takeaways to be intriguing and accurate. Basically, they said Rodgers just has to show up and be himself, which means making great throws into tight coverage to beat those NE cornerbacks. For Brady, they talked about how he’ll take advantage of your mistakes, especially in the red zone and with breakdowns in coverage that leave guys wide open like Tim Wright on just about every touchdown he has this year.
In layman’s terms, Rodgers can credit a higher percentage of his success to his own greatness while Brady benefits more from schematic advantages.
In caveman terms, Rodgers succeeds by being great and Brady succeeds because the opponent fucked up.
That might sound harsh, but I can’t really disagree with it. That’s a big part of the reason I never bought into Brady being the “best” because you rarely see him make the tough plays. There are throws that Rodgers can routinely make that Brady and just about every other QB in the NFL simply can’t make. When pressured, we know Rodgers will take more sacks because he’s really cautious to not throw picks, but he’s still much better than Brady at making something out of nothing. He has the better individual tools for the position.
But the question is which quarterback will have to do more to win this game? That should be Rodgers, because I think he’s playing the tougher defense. Forget the early-season results. The Patriots held Denver and Indianapolis, two of the best offenses in the league, to 21 and 20 points. Rodgers has gone from having the deepest receiving corps in the NFL to basically playing catch with Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb, yet he’s still playing like a MVP this year. He’ll have to play at a high level to consistently beat Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner in coverage with those receivers. I think Nelson is more dangerous and so much of his success comes near the sideline by adjusting to throws from Rodgers where only Nelson can get the ball. Revis will have studied this, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see if they play the size matchups and Revis sees a lot of the faster Cobb. But if the Patriots are winning these matchups, then Green Bay could be in trouble due to a lack of production from tight end and other receivers.
The Running Game – I didn’t even consider the running game in Patriots-Colts, because NE didn’t show any real consistency in that area this season. Of course, the RB position was critical and the Colts made Jonas Gray a star for one night. Of course, the Patriots are the only team in NFL history who would have a guy go off for 200 yards and 4 TD and not even play the following week to teach him a lesson. I have no idea if Gray will contribute this week or if the reacquired LeGarrette Blount will get most of the action. Eddie Lacy has been anything but consistent for GB this year, but he’ll need to have a decent impact. His receiving has been a huge benefit lately, but rarely do you see a Belichick-coached defense look so pathetic on a screen or tackling the way the Bears and Eagles have in recent weeks against GB.
For the year the Patriots have done a better job of stopping the run. A big part of containing the Broncos and Colts was holding those offenses to pathetic rushing numbers. If Lacy has 10 carries for 23 yards, I can promise you the Patriots will win this game decisively. I expect better than that, but I also expect the Patriots to have a better rushing day to help complement Brady’s passing.
Home-field Advantage – It’s good for Green Bay the game is at Lambeau, because they have been landing fatalities before halftime there this season. The problem is they’ve done it against a bunch of weak teams except for the Eagles, who still don’t match up as well as the Patriots can. There’s a pretty big step up in competition here for Green Bay. Still, this is one of the toughest road tests for the Patriots in years, and Indy game be damned, they rarely pass these tests anymore. Keep in mind the Patriots had a bye week to prepare for that Indy game where they went unorthodox by utilizing a sixth offensive lineman to much success in the running game. These are fairly unfamiliar opponents, though I’m not sure that benefits or hurts either team too much after a normal week to prepare. Belichick was playing against a Peyton Manning offense for the 23rd time this year. He was facing the Colts for the 12th season in a row. Did that experience help with those performances? Maybe. I’m just trying to figure out how Geno Smith and the Jets had more offensive success than those teams, and if the Packers are added to that list, then I’m going to be even more confused.
Close Game? – Speaking of first-half fatalities, these teams aren’t playing close games this year at all. They each only have one 4QC/GWD opportunity and both were in Miami. The Packers are 1-0 at 4QC/GWD opportunities, which is stunning since they have three losses. That means they were beaten thoroughly, which is unusual. The Patriots are 0-1 at 4QC/GWDs, because they got their asses kicked in Kansas City and have mostly blown teams out since then. If you want to see a classic shootout between these quarterbacks, you’re probably going to be disappointed. This is more likely to be a rout the Patriots haven’t seen since Drew Brees destroyed them in 2009, or it could be a stomping the Packers haven’t taken under Rodgers since the 2012 Giants made us think they were prepared for another run.
Gronkowski Factor – He’s regained his status as the best TE in the NFL, but Gronkowski can have a big impact without even touching the ball now. Defenses are so afraid of him they’ll allow other guys (like Wright) to get open and Brady has no problem picking out the open guy. Gronk’s actually been held under 80 yards the last two weeks, yet NE continued to score 34-42 points. His touchdown against the Colts, as impressive as it was, came with the game basically decided already. So you can hold down Gronk to respectable numbers, but that doesn’t mean you’ll stop the Patriots. They have too many ways to succeed, and that’s the overall theme I’ve been driving towards with this matchup. Hell, Brady didn’t even average 6.6 YPA against Denver (6.28) or Detroit (6.59), yet the Patriots won by 22+ points. If it’s not Gronk’s amazing catch radius or taking advantage of a poor run defense, you get the defense setting up short fields with takeaways or Julian Edelman making a monster punt return. Did I mention the Patriots are better on special teams? Brandon LaFell has also really come on during this run as a trustworthy third receiver and I wouldn’t be shocked if he outproduced Cobb and Nelson on Sunday. I’m assuming his injury wasn’t a big deal at the end of last week’s game.
Rodgers is certainly having more of a MVP season than Brady, and he could take a significant lead in that race with a brilliant performance here. But it’s also for that reason — needing one player to do more to succeed — that I think the Patriots, the more complete team, get this win.
Final prediction: Patriots 33, Packers 24
NFL Week 13 Predictions
Should the Broncos be worried if Julius Thomas doesn’t play on Sunday night? I don’t think so. Last week’s dominant offensive display was done without Thomas, as was last year’s 35-28 win in Arrowhead. In both games Virgil Green played over 70% of the snaps to give Denver better blocking. While I think the Chiefs will come out strong looking to make up for the Oakland loss and rally around the terrible Eric Berry news, I still think Denver will score enough to get the win. Hopefully this game and NE-GB will live up to the hype, because Thanksgiving really sucked. I picked Detroit, Dallas and Seattle, so there’s a 2-1 start.
Winners in bold:
- Redskins at Colts
- Browns at Bills
- Saints at Steelers
- Raiders at Rams
- Giants at Jaguars
- Chargers at Ravens
- Titans at Texans
- Panthers at Vikings
- Bengals at Buccaneers
- Cardinals at Falcons
- Patriots at Packers
- Broncos at Chiefs
- Dolphins at Jets
Heavy on the road teams late in the week, I guess.
- Week 1: 8-8
- Week 2: 9-7
- Week 3: 11-5
- Week 4: 8-5
- Week 5: 11-4
- Week 6: 9-5-1
- Week 7: 10-5
- Week 8: 10-5
- Week 9: 11-2
- Week 10: 10-3
- Week 11: 8-6
- Week 12: 12-3
- Total: 117-58-1