When Green Bay is throwing: Aaron Rodgers has been a trailblazing, smart blast of fun since he took over the reins of the Mike McCarthy offense. Recently, things got more serious with two concussions and doubts have been planted in the minds of some of his most fervent supporters that his career will last long enough for him to reach his full potential. Right now, I’d place him as number 2 in all the NFL, a hair ahead of Peyton Manning as I think – protection being equal – Rodgers can do more and evade a rush better than Manning. Asante Samuel has returned to the line-up for the Eagles and improves match-ups across the board in MOST situations. This is not one of them. The Packers have four talented wide receivers and several decent running backs to dump off to. The Eagles pass defense has been shameful against the tight end. After not giving up a touchdown to a tight end in any of the first three games, they allowed one in seven of their next eight games. Tennessee didn’t get one but they weren’t getting in the red zone because Kenny Britt kept getting huge touchdown receptions. They closed out the year giving up Jason Witten and Kevin Boss TDs in three of the final five matches. With Samuel back there – and Rodgers less likely to take off and run when the play breaks down – he needs to avoid trying to force one on a third down if they’re behind. Edge: Green Bay.
When Green Bay is running: All in all, there have been whispers that defensive coordinator Sean McDermott is coaching for his job. There are plenty of “likable” characters on this defense, and plenty of pretty good players. Statistically, though, the trend has been up for the Packers run game and down for the Eagles run defense. You could argue that the Bears game was a strategic abandonment (7 of the 23 runs were Rodgers scrambles). Their drives were often killed by incompletions, not failed runs. Across the previous three games, the Packers rushing attack had only been stopped in the Lions game when Flynn was forced in cold off the bench and the Lions were daring him to throw. All in all, Green Bay will not get much traction against an inspired Eagles defense and it won’t matter. Edge: Even.
When Philadelphia is throwing: The Packers defensive backs and pass-rushers are a spirited motley crue. They thrive off of attitude and energy. I actually think the crowd will serve to further enrage them. This is a team out to prove they can stop Vick after he ran on them in week 1, coached by Dom Capers who is out to prove he and his different personnel can show up in a playoff game after last year’s notorious 51-45 desert debacle in the OT. As an Anquan Boldin fan – though sometimes an apologist and closet fan of diva receivers – , I am not impressed by speedsters. The receiving corps of the Eagles is a dynamic, if not very deep group. As much as I think Jeremy Maclin is their best target, he seemed to struggle with Desean hurt in the Minnesota game (though finishing with good stats). Vick will benefit from the extra time off and – whether they limit is throws or not – will still make enough plays that he won’t be the reason they lose. This match-up of one of the elite offensive-playcallers in Andy Reid against the best defense in the NFL is one of the reasons it’s a shame this game is happening so early in the postseason. Edge: Even.
When Philadelphia is running: This Packers front seven is probably third only to the Steelers and Ravens. In the most important rushing statistic, they are just 1 TD behind the Steelers and Ravens with just 6 rushing TDs allowed. Simply put, Lesean McCoy has made his strides but I’m counting on the Packers winning the battle at the line of scrimmage. Edge: Green Bay.
PREDICTION: Barring injury, the Packers are the better team. The Eagles will need big scores but the Packers will force turnovers and have some big plays of their own. Despite what happened last week against the Cowboys, I think both teams can survive an injury to their quarterback but not at any other positions. Everyone is tuning in to see the match-up of Clay Matthews chasing Michael Vick. I’m a huge Michael Vick fan but the Green Bay offense is going to put him in a bad situation, down early. I expect long drives from Aaron Rodgers and company to limit the possessions of Vick. He’s taken a beating all year and this game will re-energize their search for new offensive linemen. Packers 31, Eagles 10.