Once again, the New England Patriots went on the road to face a tough team in inclement weather and handled their business in dominating fashion. Last Sunday’s 36-7 win over the Chicago Bears proved that this offense can continue to play at a machine-like pace in nearly any set of circumstances. This Sunday, the Pats are on the national stage on NBC and in the friendly confines of Gillette Stadium against the 8-5 Green Bay Packers.
With a win Sunday night and a Jets’ loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers, New England will win its second straight division title and be in a great position to clinch home-field advantage against the Bills next week. That should make any Patriots fan’s Christmas special.
As far as the Packers go, it is amazing that they are 8-5 with all the injuries they have suffered this year to key players such as tight end, Jermichael Finley, running back, Ryan Grant, and linebackers, Nick Barnett and Brad Jones. Now, they face an injury that could possibly derail their season. Last Sunday, franchise quarterback, Aaron Rodgers, suffered his second concussion of the season on a running play. Enter Matt Flynn, and you have a 7-3 loss to the Detroit Lions that hinders Green Bay’s playoff hopes.
The report from Packers’ coach Mike McCarthy is that Rodgers’ status for the game will be decided on Saturday. But, if he can’t go, Green Bay will desperately need their defense to make plays. This is possible when you have a linebacker like Clay Mathews, who has 12.5 sacks, and the reigning Defensive Player of the year in cornerback Charles Woodson.
Here are my keys to the game Sunday Night:
The Law-Firm open for Office: Yes, I am talking about Ben Jarvus Green-Ellis. I was watching a stat on NFL Network during the 49ers-Chargers game and saw that the “Law Firm” is second in the league in rushing touchdowns with eleven. He is averaging over four yards a carry so far this season as well. With him and Danny Woodhead running effectively, the Patriots’ offense has run like clockwork. The duo faces a Packers’ defense that is 19th against the run this season, giving up 117 yards per game. Look for the running backs to get some big gains, setting up the famous Brady play-action pass.
Who’s at Quarterback: This is the situation that everyone is wondering about in Green Bay this week. Will the franchise quarterback Aaron Rodgers suit up in what could be a snowy Gillette Stadium this Sunday? Concussions have become a serious issue in the National Football League and when a player has two concussions in the same year, everyone will expect him to sit down. I would sit Rodgers if I were Green Bay, because this game does not mean as much as the next two games. Green Bay ends the season against the Giants and Bears at home in games that will directly affect NFC playoff positioning. Also, their loss to the Lions last week severely hindered their NFC North title hopes.
Even if Matt Flynn is called on to start, Patriots fans should still not look past this game. I understand Flynn does not have the talent level of Rodgers, but Green Bay have skill at the wide receiver position with Greg Jennings and Donald Driver. The New England secondary gives up a ton of yards, but against Flynn, don’t expect a lot of touchdowns compared to Rodgers.
A Bruised McCourty: With Green Bay’s lack of a running game, the key will be for the New England secondary to limit the big pass play regardless of who is under center for Green Bay. This could be a problem if Devin McCourty can’t start on Sunday. The rookie cornerback, who is two INT’s shy of tying a Patriots’ all-time rookie record with eight interceptions, suffered a rib injury against the Bears that kept him out of the second half. This would be a huge loss for the Pats because Darius Butler would get the start to replace McCourty, and the Patriots just put Jonathan Wilhite on IR earlier in the week. Butler was struggling earlier in the year, which caused him to lose his starting job to Kyle Arrington. Put him on Greg Jennings or Donald Driver and that could lead to some big Green Bay plays to keep them in the ball game.
Prediction: Once again, here is your Foxboro Game Forecast - 24 degress, 20% chance of snow.
We all know the storylines surrounding Tom Brady this weekend. He has the chance to pass Bernie Kosar’s record for most consecutive pass attempts without an interception. Also, if he throws for 300 yards, 2 TD’s and 0 INT’s, he will pass the late Don Meredith for the most consecutive games with that streak. Then there's also his current record 26 straight home victories.
To win the game, New England will need a balanced attack and the offensive line will need to keep Brady on his feet, especially with the threat of Clay Mathews for the Packers. If the balance continues with the running game, that should not be a problem. Plus, Cullen Jenkins could be out of this game for Green Bay, taking away one pass rusher.
Regardless of who is at quarterback, I think New England continues its dominant offensive play and clinches the AFC East.
Patriots 34 Packers 20