The New England Patriots go back out on the road and travel to the âfrozen tundraâ of Lambeau Field to take on the Green Bay Packers in another battle of divisional leaders on Sunday. The game will be carried by CBS and the kickoff is slated for 4:35 p.m.
The Patriots (9-2) are winners of seven in a row and dominated the then NFC North division leader Detroit Lions 34-9 on Sunday in Foxboro. The defense kept the Lions out of the end zone and Tom Brady threw for 349 yards and 2 touchdowns as the offense continued their hot streak of averaging 30+ points.
The Packers (8-3) survived a close divisional game against the Vikings on the road 24-21 as Aaron Rodgers tossed two touchdown passes to lead the offense. With the win coupled with the Lions loss in New England, the Packers vaulted back to the top of the NFC North and now hold the #2 seed in their conference.
With both teams getting hot and moving up in their respective conferences, many have circled this matchup as a possible Super Bowl preview. While it is certainly in the realm of possibility, it is still a tad early for that type of hype. Regardless, it promises to be a great football game with two teams playing very well right now.
Sunday marks only the third trip the Patriots have made to Lambeau Field in their history. The last being back in 2006, a 1988 game was played in Milwaukee.
Here are our 5 First Impressions of the Packers:
Rodgers Matchup, A Difficult One For Belichick/Defense: It seems like every week, the Patriots defense has faced an offense that has the potential to score a ton of points. This week facing the explosive Packers, it will be a huge test for the Pats secondary as Aaron Rodgers has Green Bay operating at peak efficiency now.
After some early season struggles, Rodgers told the Packers fans on a radio interview to R-E-L-A-X, that the Packers would find their groove. And they haveâŠ Green Bay is a perfect 5-0 at home and scoring points by the bushel. In their last three games at home, the Pack are averaging a ridiculous 48.6 points per game.
Rodgers is having another stellar season completing 228 of 342 passes (66.7 percent) good for 2957 yards, 30 touchdowns and only 3 interceptions. He has a QB rating of 119.2, has tremendous accuracy and is able to make plays with his feet to extend plays and is excellent at throwing on the run.
Curiously, this will be the first time that Rodgers has started against New England. The two teams rarely play each other and Rodgers missed the 2010 Sunday Night Football matchup with a concussion. Backup QB Matt Flynn played in that one. Rodgers did play in some mop-up duty in 2006 at Lambeau for Brett Favre.
Nelson, Cobb Provide Potent 1-2 Punch: The Green Bay offense is a passing one and Rodgersâ top two targets are the talented Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb. The two WRs average 173 yards of production per game and are capable of breaking one to the house at any time. Their 19 touchdown receptions are the top 1-2 WR combos in the league. After losing Greg Jennings and James Jones to free agency and Donald Driver to retirement, many wondered if the Packers passing offense would take a step backwardsâŠthose questions have been answered.
Nelson is a big (6â3, 217), WR, is sneaky fast and is outstanding at reading opponentsâ coverages. Nelson is Rodgers favorite target, while Cobb (5â10, 194), is more of a proto-typical slot receiver in terms of build, similar to the Patriots Julian Edelman.
They provide a dynamic tandem in the passing game and versatile enough to play inside or outside.Â Nelson has 68 catches for 1066 yards and 9 touchdowns on 106 targets. Cobb has 58 catches for 837 yards, 10 touchdowns on 79 targets.
Nelson is on pace for nearly 100 catches, 1600 yards and 14 touchdowns. It is somewhat of a head-scratcher that he has yet to be voted to a Pro-Bowl, but this season he should not only be selected for that but as an All-Pro as well.
It would seem that covering Nelson would fall to Darrelle Revis which would make this the premiere matchup to monitor this week. But something the Patriots have been doing is putting Revis on the #2 option and having Brandon Browner with safety help covering the #1.
Lacy Gives GB Needed Balance: Much like the Patriots, the Green Bay offense tries to remain balanced to keep opponents from either pinning their ears back getting after Rodgers or in flooding the passing lanes. And in Eddie Lacy, the Pack has found an excellent runner who is also good in the passing game.
Lacy is a big (5â11,229), powerful runner who is perfectly built to help with the running game now that the weather in Wisconsin, like New England is turning cold and wintry and may affect the passing game.
Lacy has 154 carries for 673 yards and six touchdowns on the season, but his best effort was on Sunday against the Minnesota Vikings. Battling a stomach illness, Lacy rushed for a season high 25 times for 125 yards, 5.0 average and had two touchdowns (1 rush, 1 receiving) in the win over Minnesota.
More importantly, the fact the Vikings were able to contain the top receiving duo in Nelson and Cobb, Lacy was able to pace the offense and act as the closer for the offense in the final quarter. He had 65 of his 138 yards from scrimmage coming in the final quarter and Lacy got 10 carries, including five in the final three and half minutes to close it out.
With much of the Patriots focus this week on slowing down the passing of Rodgers to Nelson and Cobb, Lacy will play a pivotal role in the Packers offense.
Clay Matthews Must Be Accounted For: The Packers defense has struggled against the run this season, allowing an average of 136.7 yards per game. So Head Coach Mike McCarthy and Defensive Coordinator Dom Capers moved LB Clay Matthews inside next to AJ Hawk on early downs to help with the run defense and then slide him back to the outside on passing downs where his normal position has been.
Matthews has 4.5 sacks on the season and is always dangerous coming off the edge in the passing game. But he may be a factor in coming up the middle on earlier downs in an attempt to disrupt both the passing and running games this week.
With Tom Brady not being the most mobile of QBs, it is something to watch for and the Patriots OL will have to know where Matthews is at all times this week.
Special Teams A Focus Again This Week: Something to monitor for both teams will be the battle between the special teams on Sunday. Green Bay has a very solid kicker in Mason Crosby who is 16-18 on field goal attempts this season. They also are getting solid production from punter Tim Masthay who is averaging 45.8 yards per punt this season.
One area that the Packers have struggled in has been in the return game. But two weeks ago, Micah Hyde returned a punt 75 yards for a touchdown in the blowout win over the Eagles.
As weâve seen in the big Patriotsâ wins over Detroit, Denver and Chicago, a key special teamsâ return can ignite a team against a quality opponent. The STs of New England have been improving, now the Packers, at home will have the opportunity to do the same.