The last time the Denver Broncos played the Green Bay Packers, they took a 49-23 drubbing on the road in 2011. Kyle Orton was the quarterback. Aaron Rodgers, the defending Super Bowl MVP, threw for 408 yards and four touchdowns.
It was another time and another place.
This year's matchup between the two teams features two of the best quarterbacks in the business. Both teams are undefeated, coming off of a bye. And both teams have February aspirations. It's a rare event.
Neither team are strangers to the bright lights of Sunday Night Football. Peyton Manning and Aaron Rodgers have built their respective reputations by shining in these high profile situations.
It'll be quintessential football. Let's take a closer look at the Packers, as we preview the Week 8 matchup.
Aaron Rodgers—A Repeat MVP?
Rodgers is off to a phenomenal start in 2015. He's again on pace to throw for 40+ touchdowns and 4,000+ yards. And as usual, he's protecting the football well, with a 15:2 touchdown to interception ratio.
What's scary about the Packers is that Rodgers hasn't had to do it himself. They're averaging 127.3 yards rushing per game, good for eighth-best in the league. Their passing offense is ranked 22nd—a Rodgers passing offense.
So, the Broncos defense will not only have to square off vs. Rodgers and his array of aerial weapons, they'll also get a top-10 rushing offense. It's a very balanced attack.
James Jones is the Packers leading receiver, with 424 yards and six touchdowns. Cobb leads in receptions (30) and targets (47), but the 31-year-old Jones has been the playmaker.
The NFL doesn't love giving repeat awards for MVP, but if Rodgers and the Packers keep it up, it could happen in 2015. Manning's pulled it off twice. Rodgers will likely have to contend with Tom Brady and maybe even Carson Palmer for the honor.
These two Pro Bowl corners like playing off, because it gives them a cushion and a clearer look at the quarterback. In this game, if they go full press-man, it should buy the already potent Broncos pass rush that extra mili-second needed to get to Rodgers.
There are risks to playing press-man. But the Broncos have good safety talent and should be able to mitigate any big shots over the top Rodgers might take.
Who Will Tote The Rock?
Eddie Lacy's been nursing an ankle injury and James Starks stuck around Green Bay over the bye for treatment on an undisclosed injury. Starks hasn't practiced yet this week. On the season, each back has seen 185 snaps on offense.
However, all signs point to Lacy being ready to go on Sunday. The Broncos have yet to face a running back quite like Eddie Lacy this year. He's a bruiser in the mold of Marshawn Lynch, who excels at picking up yards after contact, and he's coming off back-to-back 1,000-yard rushing seasons.
He's also a weapon in the passing game. Lacy caught 42 balls in 2014, finding the endzone on four of them. A healthy Lacy adds another formidable component to the Packers offensive attack.
Some Broncos fans still bemoan passing over Lacy in the 2013 NFL Draft to select Montee Ball in the second round. Lacy has two highly productive seasons under his belt as a starter, while Ball is currently out of the league.
It's a pick John Elway wishes he had back.
Clay Matthews Shakes Up Career To Save Defense
Since he was drafted in 2009, Clay Matthews has been one of the NFL's premier edge rushers. He entered 2015 with 61 career sacks.
But with a with free agent losses and musical chairs in the linebacker corps, Mike McCarthy and Dom Capers asked Matthews to move from his natural position on the outside to inside linebacker.
Matthews agreed to do it—at great personal risk to his career. Edge rushers make more money than interior linebackers. Their value to NFL teams is greater.
Matthews did it anyway, showing what matters most to him—team and winning. So far, the move has paid off. Matthews has amassed 25 combined tackles and the sacks are still coming—he has 4.5. It's all led to a +4.0 cumulative grade via Pro Football Focus.
The move has given the Packers a playmaker inside. And they've still found creative ways to rush Matthews. All in all, it was a gamble by the team and the player, but the early returns look good.
A Fool's Gold Defense In Green Bay?
The Green Bay Packers boast the No. 1 scoring defense in the NFL, allowing an average of 16.8 points per game. Like the Broncos, they're +6 in the turnover differential, with seven less takeaways.
They're tied with Denver in the turnover differential because Aaron Rodgers isn't giving the ball away on the regular, like Peyton Manning is. In total takeaways, Green Bay ranks thirteenth, with 10.
But they're second only to the Broncos in sacks (23). Against the pass, they're the No. 12 unit, surrendering an average of 236.5 yards per game. Against the run, they're ranked No. 22, allowing 118.5. Middle of the road, right?
Wrong. Their ability to rush the passer, led by Julius Peppers' 5.5 sacks, should not be underestimated. Defensive coordinator Dom Capers crafted one of the best Super Bowl defenses in 2010. He knows how to get it done.
This is no fool's gold defense.
However, Green Bay's biggest weakness is against the run. If the Broncos can impose their will on the ground, and sustain clock-milking drives, I really like the their chances to win. But all things considered, that's a bif if.
In Denver's defense, they rushed for 152 yards on the ground in Week 6 vs Cleveland, who was one of the worst run defenses in the league. Anything they can do to keep the ball away from Rodgers on Sunday, while also scoring touchdowns, will lead to good, good things.
To get instant Broncos notifications, download the NEW Scout mobile app for iOS HERE!
Be sure to check out the ever-growing benefit package of being a Mile High Huddle Insider! Check it out HERE.