It is now reasonably clear how long the Packers will be without their best defensive leader, best pass rusher, and $66 million dollar man, Clay Matthews. He had successful surgery to his thumb on Monday, and well more than likely miss 4 games while there are pins in his hitchhiking digit. It’s possible, but seemingly unlikely that Matthews will be able to return with a club. The more likely scenario is that Matthews will be asked to allow a game or two to heal before ultimately playing with a club until fully healed. Last season the Packers were forced to play a 4 game stretch without Matthews and were able to muster a 3-1 record. The Packers will be looking to put together a similar run without their star to get a hold on the NFC North division. Fortunately, the combined record of the next 6 Packer opponents is 11-18. This includes games against the disastrous Giants and the lowly Vikings.
The Pack needs to get things going on the road after an 0-2 start after losing in heartbreaking fashion in Cincinnati. The Ravens have struggled in many aspects, but currently maintain a winning record at 3-2. What I will say, though, is that the QB gauntlet that they have gone through after getting shelled by Manning (Weeden, Schaub, Manuel, Tannehill) is not exactly a who’s who of NFL QBs. The fact that the only elite QB who has gone up against the Ravens shredded them mercilessly is a good sign. The Packers need to start winning games on the road against non-divisional opponents, and Baltimore would be a good place to resume Coach McCarthy’s winning ways on the road.
Why the Packers Will Win: The Packers have been made 3 point favorites on the road in Las Vegas because frankly they’ve been playing better football on both sides of the ball. The Ravens have been sluggish moving the ball, and have not been a dominant team defensively despite seeing some pretty pathetic QB play. There is an outside chance that Casey Hayward returns in this game, and his return would allow the Packers to put Sam Shields on Torrey Smith and really cause problems for the other Raven’s receivers (who aren’t very talented). Offensively the way that the Packers move the ball will ultimately come down to two big factors. First is the health of Haloti Ngata. If he is not active, establishing Eddie Lacy is going to be a much easier proposition. The other question is how well the young tackle tandem of David Bakhtiari and Don Barclay hold up against pass rush extraordinaire’s Elvis Dumervil and Terrell Suggs. Baltimore’s secodary is porous and if the Packers young pass protectors, along with an established running game can keep Rodgers upright, the Ravens are going to have a real hard time stopping the Packers offensively.
Why the Ravens Will Win: The Ravens are undefeated at home this season. The Ravens also have two pass rushers that could cause serious problems for the Packers offensive line. The Packers have been very, very good against the run, but have not yet played a running back on the talent level of Ray Rice. Torrey Smith is combining his legendary deep speed with an increased knowledge of his craft and his now the most dependable option for QB Joe Flacco. There is also an outside chance that the Ravens get all-world returner Jacoby Jones back in this one.
Fantasy Packer to Start: Randall Cobb- it pains me because this is an obvious selection. Cobb has been held to under 60 yards receiving in each week since the Packers blowout victory against the Redskins in week 2. While he saved his fantasy value with 72 yards rushing last week, I don’t anticipate him having a lot of problems getting open against the Ravens. I think he’ll find his way back in to the end zone and back over 90 yards receiving. If you’re in a league where you only start 2 WRs, make sure that Cobb is one of those two.
Fantasy Packer to Start: Eddie Lacy- Eddie seems to end up all over these two different calls. I believe very much in Lacy’s talent, as well as Coach Mac’s commitment to running the football. The problem here is that the Baltimore Ravens are allowing the fewest fantasy points to opposing running backs in the entire NFL. I don’t really think he’s going to get it going here unless he finds a way to get a goal line TD.
Packers Stat of the Week: The Green Bay Packers, assisted by the acquisitions of Eddie Lacy and Jonathan Franklin as well as the return of Johnny Jolly are now in the top 5 both running the football and defending the run. Both areas were big areas of concern in 2012 and were not considered to be “comfortable” parts of the team in 2013.
Bottom Line: I keep going back to the Denver game for the Ravens. Whatever you think about the 2013 Green Bay Packers they operate a lot more like the Denver Broncos than any other team on the Ravens schedule. Baltimore’s inability to deal with a stud QB should lead to a Packers victory. This Ravens team did win the Super Bowl, yes, but were far from a dominant squad last year and lost big contributors of that team, including their heart and soul, Ray Lewis. These aren’t last years Ravens. Packers: 38 Ravens: 24