NFL Game of the Year Preview: Packers v Pats; Aaron Rodgers v. Tom Brady

Rodgers (left), Brady (right)- Mutual admiration society

Must-see TV: Could be final matchup between two of NFL's greatest Quarterbacks in history -- in regular season, anyway

Aaron Rodgers vs. Tom Brady - could there be a better matchup? When the NFL schedule was released in April, everyone in the NFL probably looked forward to the matchup between the game's two best quarterbacks.

Now, it is here -- Sunday, 8:20 p..m. E. T at Gillette Stadium or via NBC TV with Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth.

Curiously, it is the first time Rodgers started a game at Gillette Stadium and only the second time he faces Brady. When the Packers played the Patriots at Gillette Stadium in 2010, Rodgers missed the game with an injury and Matt Flynn started at QB as the Pats defeated the Packers. It was the game OL Dan Connolly had a rumbling, stumbling 71-yard kickoff return.

The Packers lost, but they did not lose another game that season as Rodgers led Green Bay to a Super Bowl victory. It was Rodgers' only Super Bowl appearance. Packer fans have become accustomed to playoff disappointment. In 2014, the Packers beat the Patriots at Lambeau Field, but the Patriots went on to win the Super Bowl.

The Pats will be playing their fourth night game in five weeks Sunday. The Packers have had an up and down year, losing a heart-breaker to the Los Angeles Rams last week when Ty Montgomery ran the ball out of the end zone and fumbled it away. Packer coach Mike McCarthy reportedly told him to take a knee. Of course, if Montgomery ran the ball out to the 50 yard-line, McCarthy would have said "we practiced that on Friday."

Montgomery has since been traded to the Baltimore Ravens in the time honored tradition of throw one to the alligators so they don't eat you. McCarthy could not blame himself for the loss, so he blames Montgomery.

Rodgers was upset after the loss - screaming on the sidelines, "take a knee!" Of course, Rodgers forgets that his offense went three and out on the previous series. The Packers come into Gillette Stadium in a somewhat dysfunctional state with players/coaches criticizing other players. The team is 3-3-1 and one of its wins was against Buffalo.

When the Packers beat Chicago and San Francisco, Rodgers bailed them out after the team was outplayed for most of the game. It still took a phantom pass interference call against 49ers cornerback Richard Sherman in the fourth quarter to win . The zebras gave Green Bay a first down on a play in which San Francisco sacked Rodgers on third and 15.

The call here is that the Pats likely win Sunday Night because they are a mentally tougher team. McCarthy has lost many big games - 2011 Divisional Game against the Giants when the Packers were the No. 1 seed with a 15-1 record; the 2014 NFC Championship game against the Seattle Seahawks when his conservative play calling and a botched onside kick put Seattle in the Super Bowl, the 2016 NFC Championship Game when the Packers spotted the Atlanta Falcons a 24-0 halftime lead and lost 44-21.

Aaron Rodgers was asked Wednesday what it would have been like to play for Bill Belichick. Rodgers never mentioned McCarthy's name in the answer because Rodgers likely thinks with Belichick he would have as many rings as Brady.

Again, that's the call here. Rodgers did not say.

SERIES HISTORY: 10th meeting. The Pats are 5-5 all-time against the Packers, who beat the Patriots in the Super Bowl in 1997. The Packers led 27-14 at halftime, then the Pats opened the third quarter with a well-balanced drive that was capped off by a Curtis Martin touchdown run, making it . 27-21 Packers. Then disaster struck. Desmond Howard returned an Adam Vinatieri kickoff for a touchdown. The Packers led 35-21 after a successful two-point conversion. The Pats never scored again as Reggie White made the Pats offense look silly the rest of the way. Unfortunately, Troy Brown was inactive that day. If Brown, an excellent special teams player, was active he likely stops Howard and maybe the Pats win. Again, that's the call here

The Packers were also the first road team to win at Gillette Stadium in October 2002, defeating the Pats, 28-10.

NOTES, QUOTES:

Bill Belichick on facing Aaron Rodgers, with whom he played golf at Pebble Beach: "Well, he killed us the last time we played him," Belichick said, meaning at football, not golf. "I mean, he's a great player. He does everything well. He reads coverages well, very accurate throwing the ball. He's got a great touch down the field, short, intermediate. They get a lot of catch-and-run plays. A lot of that is because of his great accuracy. He puts the ball right on the receiver and doesn't have to break stride and can just keep running with it. Very mobile in the pocket, extends plays, really good vision down the field, uses the cadence well, is a good situational player. I mean, he's one of the great quarterbacks in the National Football League; no question about it. He does everything good. He can even play golf. He's a good golfer, too."

But the golf part won't matter Sunday.

Belichick on Packers linebacker Clay Matthews: "Yeah, well, Clay's been one of their impact players defensively for quite a while. They put him in different spots, especially on their third-down packages. He's usually on the line of scrimmage. He's played off the ball before but he doesn't play off the ball a lot. They put him inside. Sometimes he's in coverage. Sometimes he rushes, but he's got good quickness. He's got very good speed and a high motor. He comes hard every time. He's good on games. He's got very good instincts. He's a hard guy to fool with screens and misdirection plays, things like that. He reads those well. He’s a good tackler. He's long. He's got good playing strength. Yeah, he does a lot of things well. They have a very good and disruptive front and he's one of the key guys to it. But they have good depth at the end position and their inside guys – [Mike] Daniels, [Kenny] Clark – those guys are really good football players and they have a lot of disruptive plays, too. It's a good group and they're well-coached and they do a lot of different things."

BY THE NUMBERS:

2 - the number of sacks by the great Adrian Clayborn the last two weeks. When it is late in the fourth quarter with the outcome decided, Clayborn says don't forget about me. Clayborn is ready to have a big second half of the season.

55 - the number of catches by James White this season. White is the best friend to any offensive coordinator. When receivers are covered, check the ball down to the running back, James White, and he will make a play - usually a first down. Don't forget the Indigo Girls Song Galileo when it says "King of night vision, king of insight." That is James White

17 - the number of receptions by Josh Gordon with the Patriots since acquired from the Browns. He has taken fewer questions than that from the media. Gordon will not be the 2013 Gordon who caught 87 passes and roasted cornerback Aqib Talib for a touchdown, but if he catches 40 passes and provides a deep threat then it will be a successful acquisition in exchange for for only a fifth round pick. For those Pats fans who loved Talib, he is currently on the Los Angeles Rams and, depending on how things go, they may see him again on the same field with the Patriots -- against them.

0 - the number of moves the Pats made at the trade deadline. Don't think the Pats were ever seriously interested in wide receivers Demaryius Thomas or Golden Tate. The Pats offense has played well and the asking price was not that high to get either receiver.

STRATEGY:

Devin McCourty: New England - yes the Red Sox won a World Series and had a parade Wednesday that featured long stars Pedro Martinez and David Ortiz -- but what you should really be happy about is that McCourty had an interception return for a touchdown Monday Night. What Patriots player besides Sam Gash (great Patriots fullback of the 1990s - probably the most under appreciated Patriots player next to Bobby Hamilton) has been more well-liked than McCourty.? McCourty always has a smile even if he gets yelled at by; a sense of humor and never fails to remind the media that he will not praise his twin brother Jason. Will not do it in the locker room, Will not do it in the meeting room, Will not do it on the field. But the love for each other is on display each day in the locker room.

Trey Flowers; One thing anyone can learn from Flowers is focus. After a game early this season, Flowers was asked about a play in which the Pats brought CB Jonathan Jones into the linebacker spot for a blitz. Flowers said he didn't notice and that his job was to rush the passer. Flowers said he doesn't worry about the linebackers or defensive backs. He just moves forward and rushes the passer. Flowers has become very good against the run, has strong technique and while his burst off the line of scrimmage and moves could improve he has become the Pats best front seven player. Flowers is a free agent at the end of the year.

Trent Brown: Going into the season, some thought the 6-8 380-pound Brown was the Pats biggest worry. Brown was making the transition from right tackle to left tackle (after being acquired from San Francisco) and had to protect Tom Brady's blindside. Good offensive linemen are like good referees - if they do their job well you don't hear about them. Well, fans have not heard about Brown this year because he is playing well. Brown said (courtesy of football analytics geek and all around good Pats reporter Evan Lazar) that he has loved playing for the Pats and it is once in a lifetime opportunity. Note to whatever supermarket Brown shops at - have extra food in stock.

PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Kyle Van Noy keeps improving and had a strip sack last week that led to a turnover. With Dont'a Hightower out, Van Noy had to play many roles in the defenses. Van Noy has been with the Pats for two years and while he can be sensitive to criticism from local talk radio - he has used that criticism as motivation to play better. Van Noy has shown an ability to a leader on defense and make the calls.

GAME PLAN: Offensively, the Pats must play an up-tempo to wear out Packers LB Clay Matthews. The Pats might also attack CB Kevin King and attempt to draw in the Packers middle linebackers (Blake Martinez and Oren Burks) with play action and let Julian Edelman and Chris Hogan catch the 10/15 yard crossing routes. It is also critical for the Pats to block Packers DE Mike Daniels - a very good edge player. The Packers traded Ha Ha Clinton-Dix so they Pats could exploit the coverage skills of the Packers safeties.

Defensively, the Pats must stop wide receiver Davante Adams (52 receptions, 690 yards) and TE Jimmy Graham (28 receptions 370 yards). Adams is almost impossible to cover with one defensive back as Los Angeles Rams CB Marcus Peters found out the hard way in the second half of the Packers loss to the Rams.

The Packers are deep at receiver. Randall Cobb returned last week against the Rams after missing a month and had four catches for 40 yards. My predication is that the Pats bracket Adams with Jason McCourty underneath and either Devin McCourty or Duron Harmon over the top. That would allow Stephon Gilmore to cover Randall Cobb. Aaron Rodgers also likes receiver Geronimo Allison who has 20 catches this season and the chemistry between them is improving.

Quotes on Game: Last week, without RB Sony Michel, WR/returner Cordarrelle Patterson was a key Pats running back. Patterson could play a role in the running game this week if Michel is limited or can't play.

Said James White of Patterson: "He’s a good football player. He’s extremely athletic, fast, strong and physical. I mean, he’s an explosive player. He can take the ball to the end zone at any point he touches it, so I’m sure he’ll get better if he gets a chance to keep doing it."

The Packers defense also has a lot of blitz packages - which the Pats must be ready to cope with on a short week.

"Surmised White: It’s the offense as a whole, not just running backs. Everybody being on the same page and being coordinated. They can throw a lot of different looks at you, so you’ve got to communicate it before the ball is snapped so we don’t create any negative plays."

MATCHUPS TO WATCH:

--Packers RT Bryan Bulaga vs. Pats Trey Flowers. Bulaga is a very good right tackle and Flowers is the Pats best defensive lineman so this should be a fun matchup to watch.

--Pats WRs Julian Edelman/Chris Hogan vs. Tramon Williams. Williams is a really good corner and if the Packers are to have a chance they must limit Edelman, which is not easy. The Bills limited Rob Gronkowski to only three catches, but lost in part because Edelman had nine catches for 104 yards. Edelman has not been rusty since returning in Week 5 - despite not playing in a real game for 20 months since the Pats beat Atlanta in the Super Bowl.

Who will win? Tune in.This is must-see football.

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