Either way, the Patriots figure to be a heavy favorite. At 11-2, a five-game winning streak, a league-best point differential of 139 points and Tom Brady's NFL-record 26-game home winning streak, the Patriots have emerged as the class of the league. They made that abundantly clear by outscoring the then-first-place Jets and the first-place Bears by a combined 81-10 the last two weeks.
However, the Packers, licking wounds both physical and mental after last week's loss to Detroit, don't sound like a team that thinks it has no chance this week.
"We're nobody's underdog," coach Mike McCarthy said on Wednesday. "We have all the confidence in our abilities. We've had challenges throughout the season. We've stepped up to those challenges, and we feel the same way going into this game."
Because of Rodgers' concussion and a Patriots offense that has scored 41 more points than second-ranked Philadelphia, the pressure is on the Packers' league-leading scoring defense to prove it can shut down an elite unit.
And it's a challenge they are embracing.
"We like having the underdog role a little bit this week," linebacker Desmond Bishop said. "They're a good team, but these are the games we really want. They're the best, and if you want to be the best, you've got to beat the best. We are all accepting this challenge, embracing it full on."
That challenge begins with Brady, who is the clear front-runner to win his second league MVP. The Patriots are averaging 31.9 points per game, with Brady leading the NFL in passer rating (109.9), touchdowns (29) and interceptions (four).
"Tom Brady is playing at an extremely high level," McCarthy said. "Statistically, I think it's the best he's performed in his career. He's a champion. He's their team leader. He's very impressive on film. You just look at the decisive wins they've had the last two weeks, there's a lot to be impressed by their performance. But we are who we are, and we've had different challenges, and we're going to line up and put our best foot forward. That's our approach. We respect them, but we look forward to playing them."
Zombo out, Walden in
He'd be the third player to start at that spot, and was signed after Week 1 starter Brad Jones (shoulder) and veteran Brady Poppinga (knee) were put on injured reserve. Walden played some snaps on defense right away against the Jets on Oct. 31 and has played primarily special teams since then until replacing Zombo in the fourth quarter last week.
"I've got to tell you, that felt tremendous," Walden said of being thrown into the first immediately. "Being out there, being able to contribute like that and help the team win, that was big for me as far as my confidence. I'm looking forward to Sunday."
Packers injury report
Out: DE Cullen Jenkins. Did not participate: G Daryn Colledge (ankle); QB Aaron Rodgers (concussion); LB Frank Zombo (knee). Limited participation: T Chad Clifton (knees); CB Pat Lee (ankle); LB Clay Matthews (shin); DE Ryan Pickett (ankle); G Josh Sitton (knee). Full participation: S Atari Bigby (hamstring); FB Korey Hall (knee); S Anthony Smith (ankle); CB Charles Woodson (ankle/toe).
McCarthy said Colledge might practice on Thursday and wouldn't speculate on the availability of Bigby and Smith, who have been out since going down against the Vikings on Nov. 21.
Patriots injury report
Did not participate: DL Ron Brace (concussion); QB Tom Brady (shoulder/foot); CB Devin McCourty (rib); NT Myron Pryor (back); GL Gerard Warren (knee); DL Mike Wright (concussion). Limited participation: WR Deion Branch (knee). Full participation: CB Kyle Arrington (elbow).
— Rookie tight end Andrew Quarless, whose fumble on the opening possession last week got the game off to a bad start, fumbled during a ball-security drill at practice.
— The Packers got Clay Matthews by sending three draft picks to the Patriots. "Of course, I go back with his dad, I coached his dad at Cleveland," Patriots coach Bill Belichick said in a conference call with Packers beat reporters. "Terrific football family. Loved coaching Clay Matthews and he had a wonderful career. I remember his sons when they were growing up. You could see they were starting to be a chip off the old block even at that young age. Clay had a great senior season at USC and certainly has done well in the league. He's done well in the Packers' defense. He's athletic, he plays with a high motor, he's tough, he's quick. He's done very well."
— In his conversation with Patriots beat reporters, McCarthy was asked about Brett Favre's starts streak ending: "It's a tremendous streak. I think his numbers speak for themselves. You would've probably liked to see him move on on his own terms, but it's definitely remarkable. On a personal note, having the opportunity to coach the quarterback position and to line up and play that many games, I think it's remarkable."
— Woodson returns to New England, the scene of the infamous "Tuck Rule Game," when Woodson's sack-strip of Brady was taken away by officials, allowing the Patriots to beat Woodson's Raiders. "You know, I've had that flashback more times than I would like," Woodson said. "I catch that game on the classic football channel sometimes. That's a bad memory for me, but you know, it is what it is. This week, we're just going to try and concentrate on getting this win, whether it snows or not."
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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at email@example.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport and Facebook under Bill Huber.