Sunday’s game between two of the NFC’s best teams so far could decide home-field advantage in the conference playoffs. The Packers fell from the unbeaten ranks against Denver last week, and will now travel to Carolina to face the still-undefeated Panthers.
The Packers started strongly, but have struggled recently with injuries. They fell to the Broncos last week as Aaron Rodgers struggled to break through Denver’s defense. The Packers still control the NFC North, but need to bounce back well before Minnesota gets too close. Green Bay haven’t lost back-to-back games since 2010.
Carolina have survived some tough tests during their unbeaten run. They had two comeback drives to beat the Seahawks in Week 6 and outlasted the Colts last week on Monday Night Football. They lead the NFC behind Cam Newton and a stout defense.
Three Keys to the Game:
- Green Bay’s wide receiver struggles
Despite having Rodgers under centre, Green Bay’s receivers have struggled recently. James Jones hasn’t had more than two catches in a game since Week 4. Randall Cobb seems unable to hit his second gear and make tacklers miss. Ty Montgomery is injured, and Davante Adams hasn’t had the breakout season the Packers expected. With Carolina’s secondary playing well with Josh Norman and several young cornerbacks, Green Bay’s receiving struggles look likely to continue this weekend. Aaron Rodgers can only do so much.
- Can Aaron Rodgers beat a playoff calibre defense?
Rodgers managed just 77 yards against the Broncos defense last week. While Carolina’s defense won’t be able to pull off that kind of shutdown, Rodgers might still struggle against another playoff calibre defense without much help from an injured receiving corps. The Panthers have a threatening pass rush with Kawann Short and Luke Kuechly, and will cause Rodgers a few problems on Sunday.
- Battle of the running games
The Panthers have the league’s best rushing offense, averaging 144 yards per game. The Packers are allowing 124.4 rushing yards per game, 25th in the league. Eddie Lacy is struggling for the Packers, not able to take pressure off Rodgers and support him. Lacy had just 38 yards on 11 carries against the Broncos. Carolina should be able to dominate this game on the ground.
Matchup to watch:
Aaron Rodgers vs Cam Newton
The league’s reigning MVP faces one of this year’s strongest MVP candidates on Sunday. Rodgers will want to lead the Packers back after a bad loss, and is the much better quarterback. He is as elusive as Newton, but not as much of a downhill runner. Unless the Packers can stop the run, Aaron Rodgers might get upstaged for the second week in a row.
Prediction: Carolina Panthers
The Packers haven’t lost two games in a row since 2010. But the Panthers have a strong enough defense to be able to keep Rodgers from bouncing back. Carolina’s dominant running game will carry them past the Packers and keep them undefeated.