Saturday, November 29, 2014

Preview: Patriots at Green Bay Packers

It could be below freezing at game time but all the snow it going to be cleared away. Even for QB Aaron Rodgers, the extreme cold takes away some of his accuracy.
While Football Outsiders has currently ranked these two teams overall as the No. 2 and No. 3 teams, I'm expecting one of them to establish themselves and take control of the game. As good as the Patriots have been playing lately, the Packers have been playing great football too. Either one of them could emerge, and both teams have the offensive firepower to stage a comeback. No lead will be safe.

When I've had doubts about the Packers this season, they've usually shown up with a dominant game and proved me wrong. But I do see two particular problems with the Patriots.

Rob Gronkowski. Don't spend too much time reading the articles on how to cover him. The short answer is that's nearly impossible. The guys who can run with him are too small and the guys with size can't keep up. The Patriots have had a lot of trouble in pass protection this season, though they've been playing better in recent weeks. The best way to stop Gronkowski is to pressure Tom Brady. The Packers will need big games from their top pass rushers: Clay Matthews, Julius Peppers and Mike Daniels.

Jonas Gray/LaGarrette Blount. Actually, any running back who steps onto the field for the Patriots. Their run game hasn't been that effective this season (ranked No. 20 by Football Outsiders) but they lined up RB Jonas Gray and a sixth offensive lineman early and often against the Colts and ran it down their throat. The Packer run defense has been better lately as some teams haven't had the luxury of being able to run the ball while getting blown out (Bears, Eagles) but I don't take that as a sign that they've solved their run defense problems. It can't hurt to have Clay Matthews at inside linebacker, but they need him to line up outside and rush the quarterback too. I don't have any faith in their run defense to get a stop.

I have no prediction because this game could go either way, but the Patriots have a couple of edges that the Packers don't seem to have. However, the one major edge the Packers have is home field advantage, which cannot be taken lightly. I'd lean Patriots on a neutral field, but their two losses this season came on the road and the Packers are a completely different team at home and that's why they'll win on Sunday.

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