The New England Patriots (11-2) welcome the Green Bay Packers(8-5) to Foxboro this week looking to continue Tom Brady's streak of 26 consecutive home victories dating back to 2006.
The Packers have their own streak at Foxboro as they look to win their third consecutive game against the Patriots.
It will be a tough task for the Packers who are depleted with key injuries on both sides of the ball while the Patriots are playing some of the best football in their history.
The Packers are potentially missing 15 players from their roster through injury including key players such as running-back Ryan Grant, tight end Jermichael Finley and linebacker Nick Barnett who have all been placed on season ending Injured Reserve. However their latest injury is likely to be the biggest and fatal to the teams chances in this game if not for the rest of the season.
Aaron Rodgers suffered a concussion in last week's loss to the Detroit Lions and is expected to miss the game in New England. Rodgers left the loss to the Lions in the second quarter after suffering his second concussion of the season. Coach Mike McCarthy held Rodgers out of midweek practices, saying a final decision on the star quarterback's status wouldn't be made until Saturday, "We understand the importance of the quarterback position, but this is about Aaron Rodgers...being healthy,"
If Rodgers cannot play McCarthy will hand over the reigns to either Matt Flynn, who went 15 of 26 for 177 yards and an interception after Rodgers went down last week, or second year practice squad player Graham Harrell who was a record breaking quarterback in college for Texas Tech. Neither player has ever started a game in the NFL. It is difficult enough to make your first appearance in such a tough league for young quarterbacks without having to play away from home, in December, against a defense that has given up 10 points in it's last two games and scored 7 points directly, as well as having to face one of the greatest defensive coaches ever in Bill Belichick.
The Packers will look to run the ball on offense to take pressure off whichever quarterback is the starter. This isn't something that the team has been good at since they lost Ryan Grant to a season ending ankle injury. Grant would have been the perfect back to wear down the Patriots defense with his hard running style and physical presence. Grant could easily carry the ball 30-35 times against the Patriots to great effect however his replacement, Brandon Jackson, is a different type of back.
Coming into the season Jackson was expected to be the third down back in Green Bay but the injury to Grant has forced him into the feature role. Jackson is 5 ft 10 inches and 216 lb, his body is unlikely to stand up to the physical beating that comes with 20 plus carries. Jackson is also not a downhill runner like Grant, or BenJarvus Green-Ellis who is an expert in this role for the Patriots, Jackson is agile and will look to make defenders miss which will be difficult in the winter conditions in Foxboro.
Without Rodgers this game is likely to be dictated by the Patriots. A fully healthy Packers team could match the Patriots in any conditions but with so many injuries it is unlikely that this game will be anything more than a blowout.
The Packers will need a huge performance from their 9th ranked defense looking to elite players such as Clay Matthews, who is second in the league with 12.5 sacks, and reigning defensive MVP Charles Woodson. Woodson and fellow cornerback Tramon Williams should provide tough match-ups for Patriots' receivers Wes Welker and Deion Branch while Brady will need to know where Woodson is at all times as defensive coordinator Dom Capers lines him up all over the field and blitzes him as much as a linebacker.
The Patriots may look to change it up this week on offense going against a defense that is ranked 3rd in the league in pass defense compared to a lowly 19th against the run. Expect for heavy doses of BenJarvus Green-Ellis early and often as his down hill style of running and physicality should take advantage of the holes that his offensive line can create for him. The Patriots are a pass first team and they will still look to do that but GreenEllis is likely to see close to 20 carries this Sunday.
Defensively the Patriots will look to get to the opposing quarterback as much as possible. Nothing is worse for inexperienced quarterbacks than having to deal with pressure and reading defenses, you can trust that Bill Belichick will know that and look to take advantage of it. If the Packers offensive line can stave off the Patriots' blitzers they have the receivers on the outside to take advantage of the Patriots inexperienced secondary.
Donald Driver and Greg Jennings are horrifying match-ups for Patriots cornerbacks Devin McCourty and Kyle Arrington. Both Driver and Jennings are some of the most physical receivers in the league. They are both built like running backs with the ability to both break tackles after the catch and outmuscle defenders to gain position. The pair are complimented by James Jones, who has played brilliantly this season with 40 receptions for over 500 yards, and Jordy Nelson, who has 38 receptions for over 400 yards. The Packers offense is similar to the Patriots' offense as the ball is spread out almost equally between it's receivers. The Patriots will not be able to key in on any of the one receivers because running the risk of leaving another of the Packers receivers free could easily result in big gains or six points.
Similarly to last week the biggest issue coming into this game will be the Patriots' levels of concentration against what is, on paper, a much weaker opponent. The Packers injuries have hampered them significantly but as Bill Belichick points out, “Green Bay's really an explosive football team and I've been really impressed watching them. They're a very competitive football team [with] a lot of good football players. This will be a big challenge for us Sunday night.”
The Packers play the Patriots in Foxboro on Sunday Night.
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