Sometimes the term "Super Bowl Preview" is overused, and I'm as guilty as anyone considering I used the phrase last week vs. the Lions. This week is a bit different because it's far from a stretch to think these two will meet again on the first Sunday in February. Aaron Rodgers is playing at another level and he has the pieces around him to score at will. Defensively, the Packers aren't the '85 Bears, but they make plays and are better than advertised. Let's answer the Weekly Five to see of the Patriots can handle this juggernaut and return to Foxboro with a 10-2 record.
1. How will the Patriots move the ball?
The Packers have one of the worst run defenses in the NFL, so expect to see a heavy dose of LeGarrette Blount, Jonas Gray and Shane Vereen. Green Bay is allowing 137 rushing yards per game and it's the best way to keep Aaron Rodgers on the sideline, so if this isn't a huge part of the gameplan, the Patriots will have made a mistake. The Packers pass defense isn't that great either, allowing 234 yards per game, which is 12th in the NFL. New England will offset their running game with a strong passing game based off of play action. Expect to see heavy double teams on Rob Gronkowski, which will open things up for Brandon LaFell, Julian Edelman and Shane Vereen out of the backfield (he could be deadly in the flats). The Patriots have proven they can score on anybody, and the Packers are going to have their hands full with this almost perfectly balanced offense.
2. Can the Packers score against the New England defense?
This question is a bit foolish this week, but I'm not changing the format because of one great offense. The obvious answer is yes, the Packers can score on ANYONE. The real question is this: can they score enough to beat the Patriots? In the last three years, Patriot fans would know the deal with Sunday- the Patriots would score a ton but never get a stop. It was a matter of who had the ball last. Those days are over thanks to Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner, and those two are going to be the difference on Sunday. The Patriots are going to have the ability to take away Jordy Nelson (Revis will be matched up with him in man) and Randall Cobb, who will be checked by Kyle Arrington, most likely. The Packers do have other weapons; Eddie Lacy is a load to deal with in the running and passing game, but with the Packers top deep threat and best slot-type receiver removed, things won't be easy for Rodgers and his offense. Browner will draw rookie Davante Adams, a bigger receiver who has had a strong year. Tight end Andrew Quarless has also been very effective this year, but the Patriots have the linebackers and safeties to deal with him. Green Bay is going to score, but don't expect to see them break the 30 point mark.
3. Who has the edge in the coaching match up?
Mike McCarthy has the homefield advantage and Aaron Rodgers, which gives any coach an edge most of the time. This week is a little different though, as McCarthy gets to face off against Belichick and his loaded roster. Coaches sometimes get more credit than they deserve, especially when they have great players to work with. Bill Belichick has the advantage in the experience department and he has a more balanced roster to work with, which gives him the advantage today. It will be interesting to watch Dom Capers vs. Josh McDaniels; Capers tends to be a little over-aggressive at times and McDaniels will try to expose it. Matt Patricia and Bill Belichick will have a new wrinkle for McCarthy and Rodgers, which could be the difference today. Advantage: Patriots.
4. Will the Packers find a way to give Brady fits?The Packers have generated a decent pass rush this season, picking up 27 sacks over their first 11 games. Linebacker Clay Matthews has four and a half sacks, which is second on the team, but the Packers may not be able to use Matthews in that role today. The only way to stop Tom Brady is to get a pass rush with your front four defenders. When the rush comes up the middle, it gets him off his spot and throws the entire passing game off. When Brady feels outside pressure, he's very good at stepping up in the pocket and finding the open man. Most of the Packers pass rush has come from defensive ends Julius Peppers, Mike Daniels and Mike Neal. Letroy Guion has been decent at the nose position, picking up two and a half sacks to date, but he'll have his hands full with excellent rookie center Bryan Stork. The Patriots have the edge in the area Brady needs it, and that does not bode well for the Packers chances of stopping the Patriots offense.
5. Who wins the game?
When New England matched up with Denver a few weeks back, it was expected to be a shootout that was going to come down to the last possession. That seems to be the same assessment from most of the NFL experts this week. I disagreed with that assessment against Denver because I felt the Broncos had major weaknesses and the Patriots secondary could slow down anyone, and this week vs. the Packers feels exactly the same. It's impossible to ignore that the Packers are 30th in the NFL against the run, and let's not forget how bad the Packers have struggled when facing a physical defense with an excellent secondary. The Packers will move the ball and their final offensive numbers will look good, but they'll be playing from behind all day because they don't have the type of balance and defensive talent New England does.
Predicted Final Score- Patriots 38, Packers 26