Being deemed the Super Bowl Preview, the two best teams in the NFL, the New England Patriots versus the Green Bay Packers, faceoff in Sunday afternoon’s matchup at Lambeau Field. Patriot and Packer fans have seen this moment coming and after today, one team will walk off the field the best team in the NFL. This will be the first showdown between the Patriots’ Tom Brady and the Packers’ Aaron Rodgers. The Patriots, with a seven game winning streak, face off against the Packers who are currently undefeated at home.
This matchup should have come sooner, as early as 2010, prior to Rodgers ever receiving the league’s Most Valuable Player and Super Bowl MVP award. However, Rodgers suffered a concussion the week prior and all of those plans and speculation apparently had to be placed on hold for four years. Now, the highly anticipated matchup is here featuring the two best quarterbacks in the league.
This season, Rodgers is leading the pack, no pun intended, as the leading candidate for the NFL MVP award, but Brady is hot on his heels. They have combined for a total of 56 touchdowns and nine interceptions this season. Tom Brady threw 50 touchdown passes and eight interceptions by himself back in 2007 when the Patriots went 18-1 losing to the New York Giants. It was unanimously voted the greatest passing season of all time by ESPN last year.
The Packers are number two in the NFL with a total of fifteen interceptions while the Patriots sit at number eight with twelve interceptions. When blitzed, both quarterbacks still score remarkably with Rodgers at 25 percent of his drop backs and Brady at 21 percent according to Pro Football Focus.
The Patriots currently have a game changer at tight end with Rob Gronkowski. Over the last four games, Gronkowski has racked up 403 receiving yards and five touchdowns. Tight ends have been cumbersome for the Packer defense this year with Greg Olsen’s eight receptions for 105 yards against the Carolina Panthers and Martellus Bennett’s nine catches for 134 yards in Chicago. No one player on the Packer defense can contain Gronkowski so defensive coordinator Dom Capers plans on “changing up on the guy.”
The Patriots have outscored division leaders, Denver Broncos, Indianapolis Colts, and Detroit Lions, by at least three touchdowns. The team averages almost 40 points per game during their streak or a minimum of one touchdown more per game than any other team in the NFL.
Darrelle Revis is another formidable weapon in the Patriots’ arsenal. He still is a top-5 cornerback in the league and now has one of the deepest secondaries in the league, former Seattle Seahawk, Brandon Browner. Rodgers is very aware of Revis’ athleticism as the Packers versus the Patriots unfold in what many are calling the Super Bowl preview.
The Packers on the other hand, have one of the best wide receiver combos in the league today with Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb. Nelson is not only looking at his first Pro Bowl but also being named All-Pro. Cobb, bouncing back this year after a train wreck in 2013, has emerged as a premier slot receiver.
The Packers have outscored their last four opposing teams 66-0 in just the first quarter. By the half, the Packers lead by 128-9. The Packers have won six of the last seven games and trail only the Arizona Cardinals in the NFC standings.
The Packers also have Eddie Lacy. In Minnesota, Lacy combined 25 carries and two receptions, all with a gastrointestinal illness. Lacy ran out the clock with several successful rushes against the Vikings. Lacy is currently the reigning Offensive Rookie of the Year and has shown to be expanding his game this season.
Against the run though, the Patriots rank 14th in rushing yards allowed. The run defense as a whole is ranked 11th. More and more, this Sunday’s game looks to play out as a shootout between two excellent quarterbacks. Lacy’s role may be more as a pass-catcher in this matchup.
It is a mystery what Belichick will do with his running backs this game. He has kept the league guessing all season with Gray. Gray had 12 touches and Vereen had 11 against Denver. The next game, Gray was on everyone’s timeline with 37 touches, 201 yards, and four touchdowns. To the dismay of many converts expecting an encore, Gray was benched the next game for sleeping in and missing practice, and LeGarrette Blount, signed just days earlier, handled the run offense.
Though evenly matched, the Patriots have exposed the weaknesses in the Packers run defense. The Packers run defense is currently ranked 30th in the league. With Tom Brady in the pocket, the Packers can’t commit any extra defenders to stopping the run.
To some, the Patriots versus Packers matchup is more than just a preview, it is an under-hyped Super Bowl. The last time the Patriots lost to an NFC North team coincidentally was the Packers back in 2002. Tom Brady won his only career start in Wisconsin 35-0 as a 6-point underdog in 2006.
Commentary By Stevenson Benoit
Photo by Keith Allison – Flickr License