By: Jeffrey Newholm
This week’s matchup between the Green Bay Packers and Carolina Panthers has about everything you could want from a week nine game. The only thing missing is it’s not a matchup of unbeatens after the Pack’s ugly loss to Denver on Sunday. But it will still count as two huge games towards precious home-field advantage in the NFC playoffs: the game itself and the head-to-head tiebreaker. Women’s basketball may be my main sport, but this game is so important that it deserves a proper preview for fans all across the NFL. So let’s take a look at this game from both sides of the ball:
When the Packers have the ball
If one were to look at Aaron Rodger’s raw numbers, they would probably assume the Pack is scoring tons of points again this year. With a fifteen to two TD to pick ratio, 67% completion rating and an excellent QB rating of 110.9 (good for second in the league, behind only Tom Brady), Rodger’s numbers certainly seem to indicate his team’s offense is on pace to break records yet again. But this could not be further from the truth. With Green Bay’s wide receiving corp limited by injuries (Jordy Nelson is out for the year and Davante Adams and Ty Montgomery are battling injuries too) and running back James Starks also battling injury, Rodgers has been pretty much a one-man band on offense. Believe it or not, the Pack is only 28th in total offense. Twenty eighth! Against an excellent Bronco Defense, Rodgers had arguably his worst day as a starter in the NFL, throwing for a pitiful 77 yards—twenty fewer than Cowboys backup Matt Cassel had on Sunday! Sometimes in football one can’t blame the QB for having a bad game if he is pressured relentlessly from the front seven. But on Sunday, Rodgers had ample time to throw-some plays for more than ten seconds-and he still couldn’t find anybody open. The Panther game could be more of the same, as Carolina ranks fifth in the league in fewest passing yards allowed, while picking off twelve passes and giving up only seven TD passes. Rodgers is a great QB, but last week showed he’s still only human. He needs some of his teammates to step up if the Pack wants to keep up in this one.
When the Panthers have the ball
Despite his team’s undefeated start, Cam Newton has actually put up pretty pedestrian numbers this year, with an eleven to eight TD to pick ratio, a measly 54% completion percentage, and only 1,523 yards passing, “good” for 25th in the league. But Newton could still be a nightmare matchup for coordinator Dom Capers and his defense. That’s because Newton is, of course, a dual-threat QB, rushing for more than 500 yards every year of his career and on pace to do so again this year. One of the most embarrassing defensive meltdowns for the Pack was the 2013 divisional playoff game against San Francisco when Colin Kaepernick had an NFL record (all games, not just playoffs) 181 yards rushing, and the offense couldn’t hope to keep up. Capers allegedly used a “spy” on Kaepernick in the second half, but that spy must have been a double agent, because the Pack didn’t even slow him down! But scheming too much to stop Newton may be a waste of time as the Panthers have other weapons on offense. Carolina runs the ball a league-high 50.6% of the time for 144 yards a game, also a league high. Jonathan Stewart leads the team-and is 13th in the league with 505 yards rushing, although he has scored only three times. The Panthers certainly miss wideout Kelvin Benjamin (lost for the year due to injury), but tight end Greg Olson is fourth among TE’s with 518 yards receiving, picking up where he left off last year when he had over 1,000. Carolina may only be 19th in the league in total offense, but in my opinion they are more diverse than Green Bay, who has been too reliant on Rodgers.
So not only are there plenty of things to look out for, the game itself is also very important. Green Bay plays very well at home and would love to play at Lambeau throughout the playoffs. Also, Minnesota is only one game behind the Pack, so with a loss even the division title would be in question. Carolina still has many doubters, and a win over one of the premier teams in the conference could help silence them. Carolina would be two games clear of the next closest teams in the NFC with a win and would be halfway through the schedule without a single blemish (and anyone who claims to have seen that coming is a liar). The winner establishes themselves as the team to beat in the NFC playoffs. For week nine, it doesn’t get much bigger than this.
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