Posted by Holly Phelps on December 16, 2010 Jump To Comments
Go ahead. Ask any NFL media analyst, and they’ll tell you that the 11-2 New England Patriots are Super Bowl bound. After watching the way they dismantled the Jets and buried the Bears — in Soldier Field, it’s hard to argue. Yet, if you ask the Patriots themselves, they haven’t won a darn thing.
This kind of attitude comes from their coach, Bill Belichick, who builds up an opponent and tears down his own players as motivation each Sunday. A team that’s bought into the mentality that every play must be perfect, regardless of the score, poses a stiff test for a Packers team expected a victory over the Lions without fighting for it.
Stopping the run may be Dom Capers’ first goal in every game, and it’s certainly plausible since BenJarvus Green-Ellis isn’t Adrian Peterson, but the Patriots have the most dynamic passing attack in the league. Tom Brady doesn’t turn the ball over, and he picks apart defenses to give his playmakers room to work. Dropping 120 points on the Jets, Bears, and Steelers doesn’t happen by chance.
Wes Welker is fully recovered from his knee injury, and Deion Branch (with better route-running and a far better temperament than Randy Moss) is back in the fold. Yet, the Packers have dealt with top-flight receivers before.
Unfortunately, as good as Woodson and Co. have been against receivers, they’ve been suspect against tight ends, which may cost them on Sunday. The rookie tandem of Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski has given the Patriots a slew of new offensive wrinkles sure to inspire nightmares if the Packers linebackers aren’t on their toes. Add in Danny Woodhead’s ability to change speed and direction, and a defensive unit that hasn’t tackled cleanly for weeks may be left behind.
Even with Matt Flynn under center, the Packers can score on New England’s defense. With the team’s top run-stuffer, Brandon Spikes, suspended, heavyweight Vince Wilfork is the biggest obstacle in the way of an effective ground game. The Packers sure could use the kind of production out of James Starks that he showed against San Francisco.
The Pats secondary is young – only one starting defensive back has more than two years in the league – and they’re showing improvement each week. Devin McCourty is becoming a ballhawk, and safety Patrick Chung tackles aggressively. Still, if the Packers are savvy, they will be able to move the ball. Whether they can score as often as the Patriots offense does…that is a far tougher task. 21 offensive points won’t win this game.
The conventional wisdom says that “any given Sunday, any given team” can win a football game. It’s not a guarantee that the Packers will lose on Sunday, but it is likely. If they lose, the story about injuries catching up writes itself. If they somehow pull off the upset, they’ll open eyes all across the league…and make jaded Packer fans wonder where this team was against Detroit.
Still can’t get enough of the write-up on this game? Head over to my full Opposition Research post for more about the Patriots, including detailed breakdowns of players, strategy, and how Belichick’s rose-colored glasses make Charles Woodson into a Superman in the slot. ALSO – we were fortunate enough to be joined by the Boston Globe’s lead NFL writer, Greg Bedard, to talk Pats-Pack on tonight’s episode of CheeseheadRadio. It is a must-listen for anyone looking for insight from the only man to have covered both teams this year. Don’t miss it.