Senior writer jclombardi previews Packers vs Patriots.
Preview:Teams: Packers (8-5) vs. Patriots (11-2). Time: 7:20 p.m. Sunday, Wisconsin time. Place: Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, Mass. The TV coverage: NBC. Injury report: DE Cullen Jenkins (calf) is out. QB Aaron Rodgers (concussion) and LB Frank Zombo (knee) are doubtful. S Anthony Smith (ankle), LB Diryal Briggs (ankle) and CB Pat Lee (ankle) are questionable. LG Daryn Colledge (knee), LB Clay Matthews (shin), DE Ryan Pickett (ankle), CB Charles Woodson (toe, ankle), S Atari Bigby (hamstring), LT Chad Clifton (knees), RG Josh Sitton (knee), LB Desmond Bishop (hamstring) and FB Korey Hall (knee) are probable. The line: The Patriots are favored by 14 points. FIVE THINGS TO WATCH–No Flynn-ching: Starter Aaron Rodgers was ruled out Saturday morning after Rodgers did not advance through the NFL’s designated post-concussion protocol. That means Flynn will be the first backup to start for the Packers since Brett Favre took over for an injured Don Majkowski against the Pittsburgh Steelers 18 years ago. Flynn will face the challenging task of leading the Packers to victory against the NFL’s current Super Bowl favorite. Epic challenge: The Packers defense’s Achilles’ heel last season, when they ranked No. 2 overall in total defense, was their inability to contain elite quarterbacks. This season, while the Packers rank No. 1 in scoring defense, they’ve yet to face a truly elite quarterback. Certainly, nothing comes close to comparing to what they’ll face in the Patriots’ Brady. “It’s the biggest challenge we’ve had,” Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers confessed. Linebackers lament: While there are certainly more dangerous jobs in the world than playing outside linebacker for the Packers, it’s definitely been a difficult year at the position. With right outside linebacker Frank Zombo not expected to play after suffering a knee injury at Detroit, the Packers are down to Erik Walden. Playing for pride: The losing grades were across the board, given to each member of the Packers’ offensive line in the wake of an abominable performance during last Sunday’s loss in Detroit. It marked the first time all season that that’s happened. If the players have anything to say about it, it won’t happen again. And unlike last season, when the group had a number of poor collective performances, Campen believes the unit will rebound against the Patriots. Getting his kicks: Packers punter Tim Masthay had what special teams coordinator Shawn Slocum called an “outstanding” day last Sunday in the cozy, climate-controlled confines of Ford Field, but he’ll face a much greater challenge in the final three weeks, with Sunday night’s game at Gillette Stadium followed by back-to-back home games at wintry Lambeau Field to close out the regular season.
Preview: DUAL TROUBLE: The Patriots haven’t had a Pro Bowl TE since Ben Coates in 1998. In 2010, they drafted Rob Gronkowski and Rob Hernandez. Suddenly, a position of glaring weakness has become a position of overwhelming strength. PLAYING BRADY: “Brady’s a guy where if you just run standard coverages, then he’ll just kill you,” Jets coach Ryan said. “We’re going to pressure him, mix our coverages, change our blitzes. Sometimes we’re going to go all-out blitz, sometimes simulated pressure, sometimes three-man rush, sometimes four-man rush. That’s how you play Brady. There are a lot of good quarterbacks, but for my money Brady and Peyton Manning are the two best guys.” Dating to November 2006, Brady is 26-0 in home games he has started in the regular season and 3-1 in home playoff games. CAPABLE REPLACEMENTS: The Patriots are getting tremendous mileage from early-down RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis, a rookie they signed as a free agent in May 2008, and third-down match-up problem RB Woodhead. ADMIRATION SOCIETY: Ryan and former Minnesota coach Brad Childress discussed their respect for Patriots coach Bill Belichick before games this season. “There are very few coaches that I steal from and Bill Belichick’s one of them,” Ryan said Dec. 2. “He’s so creative. What he does coverage-wise, putting traps out there. That guy’s an amazing coach. The best coach in football. It’s not even close. SOLID GROUP: The Patriots’ offensive line has seasoned starters. “You can tell there’s great communication,” one scout said. “They play smart within the scheme. Help each other. Rarely out of position. Brady may have a lot to do with that in terms of calls. There’s not necessarily an outstanding Pro Bowler in the unit, but they’re very well-coached.”