Green Bay (8-5) comes into New England (11-2) Sunday night with their star quarterback injured and listed as questionable due to a concussion Aaron Rodgers suffered last week. Backup Matt Flynn will start the game for the Packers against a streaking Patriots squad that keeps putting up huge numbers on offense and continues to improve on defense.
The Packers need a win more than the Patriots coming into this contest. They trail the division-leading Chicago Bears (9-4) by one game, and time is running out on the season to play catch up. Flynn has limited experience and has yet to throw a single touchdown pass in his three years with the Packers since being drafted out of LSU. If he needs any inspiration, though, all he has to do is look to the example of his counterpart in this weekend's game: Tom Brady.
Brady went from zero to hero in the aftermath of Drew Bledsoe's 2001 injury when he was knocked out of bounds and out of the starting lineup by Jets Linebacker Mo Lewis. Brady's driven the Patriots offense with poise and precision ever since that first breakout opportunity presented itself. Other than one season when Brady himself was injured and Matt Cassel (Now the Chiefs starting QB) took over, he's been the team's most recognizable all-star. Few other backups in the history of the NFL have been able to come out of the shadows and become a true icon of the sport like Brady has. Matt Flynn will have his chance Sunday night to truly shine in the absence of Rodgers and create his own Cinderella story.
The Packers will have an uphill road to climb, though. They've lost two out of their last three, and Rodgers is not just the best QB on the team. He is also the team's 2nd leading rusher with 309 yards and 4 touchdowns on 55 carries. While New England is much more balanced on offense with a running game just as threatening as the passing scheme, Green Bay is more skewed to the pass. The Packers' leading rusher, Brandon Jackson, has 546 yards and three touchdowns on 143 carries. The team ranks 24th in the league in rushing and 8th in passing yards, thanks mostly to the capable arm of Aaron Rodgers.
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This game is going to have to be a defensive show for the Packers to come into Foxboro and compete with the constantly evolving Patriots. Green Bay leads the league in keeping opposing teams from running up the score, averaging 14.5 points allowed per game so far this season. They also rank 3rd in passing yards allowed per game with 196.8.
Meanwhile, the Patriots currently lead the league in points per game (31.9), and they have outscored their opponents 81-10 in their last two games. They come into this game riding a five-game win streak and looking nothing like the team that the Cleveland Browns clobbered 34-14 in week 9. Tom Brady also has an NFL record win streak at home and will be looking to notch his 27th home win in a row Sunday night. Without Rodgers to contend with, the Patriots defense is likely to have another tune-up game to get ready for the playoffs. The last time this defense played at home they kept the New York Jets to just three points. This is one game where the Pats won't need home field advantage, but they'll have it anyway.
Look for the Patriots to roll over the Packers and outscore them by at least two touchdowns. With the New England defense looking so good of late Matt Flynn will be lucky to get his first touchdown throw in this game. He's more likely to pad the stats in the interception column, and the Patriots defense might actually outscore the offense in this one if Flynn falls apart under pressure.