If you wanted to see an epic clash out of a bye week, than this is it. The Packers and the Broncos go head to head in the battle of the unbeaten.
The NFL Game of the Year to this point takes place Sunday night in Denver. The Packers, at 6-0, are riding the top scoring defense in the NFL as well as the reigning MVP. The Broncos, also 6-0, are second in defense, and have a 5-time MVP on the tail end of his career. The game has all the expectations of being a low-scoring affair, but never count out either quarterback leading their team to a big point total and a shootout. And with that possibility, let’s look at this week in 3…2…1…
For those who don’t know, this system looks at every week from this countdown perspective. I will countdown 3 key matchups, make 2 bold predictions, and highlight 1 key stat that the Packers need to win against Denver.
3 KEY MATCHUPS
- David Bakhtiari & Bryan Bulaga vs. Von Miller & Demarcus Ware
- This is the matchup that could ultimately decide the game. After missing a week and then having their bye week, Ware looks to be healthy and will go after Bakhtiari on the blind side. Miller is one of the top sack artists in the league and is a special player attacking right tackles. If the Packers bookend can take down the Broncos pass rushers, Aaron Rodgers will not only have more time in the pocket, he can then buy time outside and get some big plays down the field.
- James Jones vs. Aqib Talib
- Denver’s corners aren’t going to be placed on islands for the entire game, but it’s likely going to be Jones who draws the coverage of Talib more often than not. Chris Harris is a better slot guy than the veteran, so he’ll see more of Randall Cobb. Talib has two interception returns for touchdowns this season and is great at jumping routes. Conversely, Jones has been great at sealing off corners this season. If he can maintain that form, Talib can be neutralized and the Packers can have a rejuvenated passing game.
- Julius Peppers vs. Ty Sambrailo
- Now this one is up in the air given that Sambrailo is listed as doubtful. If he can’t go, Michael Schofield is listed as the backup left tackle. Schofield is a second year man from Michigan who is built more like a right tackle, making him more susceptible to dominant pass rushers like Julius Peppers. The veteran is quietly having one of his greatest seasons with 5.5 sacks through 6 games. He has been a silent assassin in the pass rush and wants to feast on the Bronco offensive line. If he can get to Peyton Manning a couple of times, even if they’re not sacks, he will throw off the entire rhythm of the Denver offense.
2 BOLD PREDICTIONS
- Packers score a special teams touchdown
- Now I know that I’ve predicted this a lot this season with no results, but this week is different in my thought process. First, playing in Denver is a crapshoot and you can never expect anything. That being said, the Packers have incredibly smart returners who are great at finding a lane. Micah Hyde is always good for at least one return touchdown a year and with Ty Montgomery likely to play, we’ll probably see Jared Abbrederis, one of the top returners in Big Ten history taking back kickoffs. It’s also worth noting that Denver is very aggressive on special teams which can hurt them when facing returners with exceptional vision.
- Packers win the turnover margin by 3.
- Denver needs to generate turnovers to win. Their offense is the lowest scoring in the NFL and their defense has scored multiple touchdowns to win games this season. So for them this is a nightmare matchup. A quarterback who doesn’t throw picks and running backs who are pretty good at hanging on to the ball is not a good thing for Denver. And on the other side, the Packers also have been very good at forcing turnovers, and Peyton Manning is throwing picks at a career high rate (10 this season already). With the offensive line struggling and Peyton’s arm at less than top strength, I look for two interceptions and a fumble from the Packer defense and nothing from the Packer offense.
1 KEY STAT
- Passing hang time.
- This is a weird stat that I’m not even sure exists, but let’s say it does. Peyton Manning at age 39 doesn’t have the arm strength that he did back in 2005 and his passes tend to flutter, especially when he can’t step into his throws. That give more time for the Packers to recover if they are behind by a step or so. Guys like Damarious Randall, Sam Shields, and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix are great at closing on the ball and if they have that extra beat to get to it, they can make some plays. And on the other side, no quarterback is better at generating velocity down the field than Aaron Rodgers. He can drive the ball at an incredible speed and has no problems squeezing the ball into tight windows. That extra second or so that each pass is in the air may decide the turnover battle and hence, the game.
Mike Wendlandt is originally from Iola, Wisconsin and graduated from Drake University in 2015 with a degree in History. With a significant journalism background both in writing and broadcasting, Mike can be heard as the play-by-play voice of Central Wisconsin High School sports on WDUX FM 92.7 and on Twitter @MikeWendlandt.
Mike Wendlandt is a writer covering the Green Bay Packers for PackersTalk.com.