By Gregory Hunt
For the 4th consecutive game, the New England Patriots will face a team in 1st place in its division when it faces the Green Bay Packers Sunday afternoon at Lambeau Field. The 9-2 Patriots are looking to extend a seven-game winning streak that began with a 43-17 win over the Cincinnati Bengals October 5. This will be the first time Patriots QB Tom Brady and Packers QB Aaron Rodgers have faced each other as starting quarterbacks.
The Packers currently hold an 8-3 record, putting them in first place in the NFC North by one game over the 7-4 Detroit Lions. In the all-time series, which dates back to 1973, Green Bay holds a 4-5 record against New England in the regular season, but the Packers won their only postseason meeting, a 35-21 win in Super Bowl XXXI at the Louisiana Superdome on January 26, 1997.
The teams last met on December 19, 2010 at Gillette Stadium, in a game Rodgers missed because of a concussion he suffered the previous week. Matt Flynn started in his place and played well, but Green Bay lost 31-27. Still, Green Bay went on to win Super Bowl XLV that season and Rodgers was named that game’s MVP. In the teams’ previous meeting on November 19, 2006 at Lambeau Field, Brett Favre started at quarterback for Green Bay, but Rodgers finished the game doing mop-up duty in a 35-0 loss to the Patriots.
Packers On Offense
Rodgers, long considered an elite quarterback in the NFL, is currently playing as well as he ever has in his career. In his last eight games, he has thrown 25 touchdown passes and only two interceptions, both of which came October 26 against the New Orleans Saints in his only loss during that stretch. His favorite target this season is wide receiver Jordy Nelson, who is 5th in the league in receiving yards with 1,066. Nelson has caught nine touchdown passes, but fellow receiver Randall Cobb leads the team with 10.
Green Bay’s rushing attack is ranked only 18th in the league, but running back Eddie Lacy has a knack for making big runs when his team needs him to. He has scored six rushing touchdowns while running for 672 yards, and he also has three receiving touchdowns. Rodgers himself is the team’s third-leader rusher with 178 yards on 28 attempts with one rushing touchdown.
Packers On Defense
The Green Bay defense is anchored by veteran inside linebacker A.J. Hawk, who is second on the team in tackles with 77, and speedy outside linebacker Julius Peppers, who leads the team in sacks with five. This unit has occasionally struggled this season, as it is currently ranked only 24th in the league in total defense (371.1 yards per game) and 16th in the league in scoring defense (22.4 points per game). However, the team does produce a lot of takeaways, recovering eight fumbles (10th in the NFL) and making 15 interceptions (2nd in the NFL). Peppers has scored touchdowns on both of his interceptions this season, and cornerback Casey Hayward also has a pick-six among his team-leading three interceptions.
If the weather at Lambeau Field is reasonably good, this could be an entertaining shootout between Brady and Rodgers. Even though the Patriots have played extremely well in recent weeks, it’s difficult to imagine a scenario in which they run the table the rest of the season, and of the five games remaining on New England’s schedule, this one in Green Bay looks like the one the Patriots are most likely to lose. The Patriots have the stronger defense, but Lambeau Field is a tough place to play. It should be a fun game to watch regardless of the outcome.
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Gregory Hunt is a Boston native and a life-long fan of the Patriots, Red Sox, Bruins and Celtics. He’s also particularly fond of lacrosse, IndyCar racing and women’s college basketball. He currently works for Examiner.com where he serves as the Senior Manager of Content and Media Access. He also writes for Examiner.com as the New England Patriots Examiner. His work can be found on aExaminer.com.