In a rematch of Super Bowl XXXI, the Packers come to The Razor to face off the Patriots where Patriots QB Tom Brady has won 26 straight. The Packers are playoff contenders in the NFC, even though they're on the outside looking in on a wild card spot. They sit a game behind the Chicago Bears in the NFC North and they'll most likely need to win Sunday night's game against the Patriots to keep up with the Bears and win the North. The outlook for the Packers grabbing a wild card spot is not very good with teams like the New Orleans Saints, New York Giants and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers ahead of them in the standings. The Packers are going to come out guns blazing.
However, some unfortunate circumstances may prevent the Packers from bringing their best- and it may come at an opportune time for the Patriots. Here's the Packers' injury list from Wednesday:
Cullen Jenkins DE Calf OUT - Starting DE
Daryn Colledge G Knee Did Not Participate - Starting LG
Aaron Rodgers QB Concussion Did Not Participate - Starting QB
Frank Zombo LB Knee Did Not Participate - Starting OLB
Chad Clifton T Knees Limited Participation - Starting LT
Pat Lee CB Ankle Limited Participation - Dime CB
Clay Matthews LB Shin Limited Participation - Starting OLB
Ryan Pickett DE Ankle Limited Participation - Starting DE
Josh Sitton G Knee Limited Participation - Starting RG
Atari Bigby S Hamstring Full Participation - #2 SS
Korey Hall FB Knee Full Participation - Starting FB
Anthony Smith S Ankle Full Participation - #2 FS, Former Mr. Guarantee for the Steelers
Charles Woodson CB Toe/Ankle Full Participation - Starting CB
So what does this injury list contain? 4/5 of their starting offensive line is banged up. Their starting defensive ends are hurting and one of them can't play. Their outside linebackers are both hobbled. Their quarterback could be out. Never mind the fact that their star running back was put on the IR at the beginning of the season. Their trenches are completely ravaged and they could be without their star quarterback. For all the need the Packers have to put on a great performance against the Patriots, it looks like the deck is stacked against them.
Read more analysis after the jump!
The Packers already porous offensive line could be without a couple starters and they could be trying to protect a new quarterback. The Patriots, however, might not be able to take advantage of the Packers' misfortune. Here's a list of players who sat out Thursday's practice for the Patriots:
DL Mike Wright (concussion)
DL Gerard Warren (knee)
DL Myron Pryor (back)
DL Ron Brace (head)
I'm sure you've figured out what all four players have in common. Two starters, Warren and Brace, were injured on Sunday against the Bears and they might not be at 100% against the Packers. Wright and Pryor have been out for some time, so while it's not a surprise, it's still harmful to the Patriots' depth on the defensive line. The Patriots are left with NT Vince Wilfork, DT Kyle Love, DE Brandon Deaderick and new acquisition DL Louis Leonard. Ouch. That's only four players, which leaves no more room for injury. Also, Wilfork is the only player with more than a season on the Patriots defensive line- oh, and UDFA rookie Kyle Love and 7th round rookie Brandon Deaderick have the second most experience. It's not a stellar group.
However, the Patriots may not be without hope. Remember how I said that the Packers lost their running back early in the season? Well, quarterback Aaron Rodgers has been the leading rusher for two of their past three games. Let me repeat that: Their quarterback has led the team in rushing 2 out of the past 3 games. Their #1 running back hasn't broken 4.0 yards/carry in six games and has been under 3.0 in three of his past four games. This team is struggling to run the ball.
So, naturally, the Patriots should look to defend the pass, right? Not so fast. Despite Rodgers being an elite quarterback, he could be held out of Sunday's game with a concussion. Back-up Matt Flynn is a solid player, but he's no Rodgers- and since it's his first start, he might not come out of the gates slinging the ball. (side note: even if they do, the Patriots had Devin McCourty return to practice on Thursday! Hooray!)
Looking at their game against the Detroit Lions, the Packers utilized Flynn in a similar fashion as Rodgers- he threw the ball all game. The Patriots' decimated defensive line could be catching a lucky break if the Packers try and throw the ball on Sunday, especially if the Patriots' offense gets the team off to an early lead. The team's secondary is growing into quality players and look to be in position to stop Flynn.
So what's happening?
The Packers' injured offensive line will face off against the Patriots' injured defensive line.
The Packers' injured defensive line will face the Patriots healthy offensive line.
The Packers' poor running back core will face off against a Brandon Spikes-less defense of the Patriots.
The Packers' passing game might have to operate without Aaron Rodgers against a possibly hobbled Devin McCourty and the Patriots' secondary.
The Packers injured outside linebackers are going to square off against healthy Patriots' tackles and tight ends.
The Packers look to be at a disadvantage in many categories, yet the Patriots manage to match that disadvantage with troubles of their own. The only clear advantage the Patriots have is with their offensive line and tight ends against the Packers' pass rush, and that's where I believe the game will be decided. If the Patriots can stave off the Packers' pass rush and Tom Brady can get off to a hot start, the Packers won't be able to keep up.
Overall, Sunday night looks to be a fantastic game!