After two straight losses -- something new for this Patriots team -- New England will travel to Green Bay to take on the surging Packers this Sunday. After a slow start, the Packers have won three out of their last four games. The Patriots can't afford a third straight loss or things will start to get tense in New England.
Since their rocky start, the Packers haven't looked like Super Bowl contenders but the young team has shown some improvement. Brett Favre finally looks comfortable in new head coach Mike McCarthy's West Coast offense. The veteran has been more accurate as a passer in recent weeks and has cut down on the turnovers that plagued him earlier in the year.
Favre will get his chance to pick apart a Patriots defense that currently ranks 23rd at defending the pass. With starting safeties Rodney Harrison and Eugene Wilson both ailing, the Patriots are thin in the defensive backfield. The Jets took advantage of this last week by using multiple receiver sets and spreading the New England defense out. Chad Pennington didn't throw for a lot of yards but he was very effective at finding the open receiver, especially on third downs.
The secondary is going to get another big test this week when it goes up against Donald Driver and Greg Jennings. Driver is having the best season of his career, while Jennings is one of the most productive rookies in the league so far this year.
The two have combined for 85 receptions, 1,256 yards and seven touchdowns on the season. Driver is coming off a 6-catch, 191-yard performance against the Vikings last Sunday. If Favre can get some time behind a young offensive line, Driver and Jennings could create matchup problems for the New England secondary. Both receivers have the speed to get downfield and make big plays.
"Offensively, they're very skilled," Bill Belichick said. "They have as many big plays throwing the ball as any team in the league."
While the Patriots could struggle to stop the high-flying Packers' air attack, they should be able to rack up a lot of yards and points themselves. Green Bay ranks 32nd in the NFL in pass defense and has had trouble stopping the better offenses they've gone up against. The Patriots haven't looked like a great offense recently but after two bad outings, Tom Brady is due for a big game. Luckily for the Patriots, they're playing the right defense to get things going again.
Green Bay has been able to get pressure on the quarterback this season, in most part thanks to defensive end Aaron Kampman who has 9.5 sacks. Still, even with Kampman and cornerback Al Harris having good years, Brady and the Patriots receivers should have a field day against the Green Bay defense.
One area that's really hurt the Packers on the defensive side of the ball is the safety position. Marquand Manuel and Nick Collins have struggled in coverage and there's very little depth behind them. That could mean a big afternoon for Ben Watson if New England can get him matched up one-on-one with either of the Green Bay safeties.
It should be an interesting showdown this week against a Packers team playing well and the Patriots coming off a surprise loss to the Jets. A below .500 NFC team going up against one of the better squads in the AFC may sound like a mismatch on paper. Although, getting to see Brady and Favre battle it out for most likely the last time in their career on the most historic stage in the NFL is a pretty good way to spend a Sunday afternoon.