Get Ready for Rodgers vs. Brady IPosted:Nov 28th, 2014 6:00 pm
These are the Sundays we dream about. The calendar's about to turn to December. A late afternoon, nationally televised showdown at Lambeau. Temperature around 30. Rodgers vs. Brady for the first time. The two hottest teams and current Super Bowl favorites meeting up to see who will head into the fourth quarter of the season labeled as the league's best team.
As scorching hot as the Pack has been at Lambeau, the Patriots provide the ultimate litmus test. Bill Belichick has enough moving pieces that his gameplan can change 180 degrees, depending on the opponent. Two weeks ago, on a Sunday night in Indy, they unveiled something called Jonas Gray. By the end of the game, millions of running back-starved fantasy players were scurrying to try to add him to their rosters, after a 199 yard four touchdown explosion. A week later, after Gray overslept and missed practice, the recently acquired LeGarrette Blount took over, scoring twice to complement a Brady aerial assault on the Lions in another Patriots laugher.
That's what makes Dom Capers' job especially tough this week. He has to prepare for a team that can beat you on the ground or through the air, depending on what they feel like doing. If Nick Perry is out again and Clay Matthews is still slowed by the groin, Brady will likely be free to hang out in the pocket and choose where to deliver the ball. He's hard enough to sack against a great pass rush, let alone one slowed by injury. The defense's biggest challenge, obviously will be containing Rob Gronkowski. We all saw AJ Hawk try to keep up with a gimpy Kyle Rudolph last week--expect the Pack to assign a corner to the freak of nature in this matchup. He's Brady's most dangerous weapon, but clearly not his only one.
This is not a team like the Lions or Bears, whose biggest threats are on the outside. Guys like Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola are slot guys, who rely on short passes over the middle, another area where Capers' D has looked vulnerable, of late. The Pack's massive upgrade at safety provides hope that they will have a chance to match up with the Pats' numerous weapons.
Mike McCarthy's challenge is dealing with physical cover corners Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner--they will likely spend much of their time blanketing Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb. That means Davante Adams (who appeared on the injury report Thursday with a heel injury), Andrew Quarrels and Richard Rodgers may need to step up in the passing game. Eddie Lacy will continue to be a workhorse, both on the ground and through the air. The Patriots' secondary doesn't have a weakness, so McCarthy and Rodgers will need to will need to be creative in finding ways to exploit it.
When you're talking about the NFL's hottest teams going at it, you look at special teams and turnovers possibly deciding things. Both teams have feasted on turnovers this season, ranking one and two in the league. The Pack is +15, the Patriots +11. There's no real edge on special teams either, the Patriots make very few mistakes there and Stephen Gostkowski may be the most reliable kicker in the league.
The biggest intangible is Lambeau Field. But this is the one team in the league that is unlikely to be bothered by the noise, elements and mystique. As big of a matchup as it is, the game probably means more to the Packers. New England has wrapped up their division, for all intents and purposes and has a solid edge to get the top seed in the AFC.
The Pack, as you know, has a shot at the top spot in the NFC, but could just as easily fall completely out of the playoffs. Such is life in the NFC this year, so the need is greater for Green Bay to hold serve at home and hold their spot atop the NFC North.
That said, this has all the trappings of a classic. Two relatively healthy, high octane teams that rarely face each other will get a true test of where they stand in the NFL hierarchy, knowing the national storyline is that this could be a Super Bowl preview, a rematch of SB XXXI.
It feels like a ping pong match, with a number of lead changes and plenty of scoring. In the end, I get the feeling the ball will be in Rodgers' hands in the final moments and he will make a play to deliver an electrifying win.
Packers 34 Patriots 31