After what can only be described as a disaster against Denver, it’s time to move on for the Packers. However, that means another trip to face an undefeated team. This time, it’s the Carolina Panthers, the lone undefeated team in the NFC and the chief rival currently for the top seed in the playoffs. With a lot on the line, this shapes up as the most important game of the season in the NFL to date.
And since the Packers look to rebound from a lackluster performance on the field, so do I in the written page. I was off in every area last week and hope that my predictions and matchups work for the Packers this week. Here is this week’s version of 3…2…1…
For those who don’t usually read my work, every Saturday (and occasional Tuesday) I will use this countdown format to highlight 3 Key Matchups the Pack needs to win, make 2 Bold Predictions, and highlight 1 Key Stat that isn’t usually talked about for the team to achieve victory. Here we go:
3 KEY MATCHUPS
- Josh Sitton & TJ Lang vs. Kawann Short & Star Lotulelei
- This is the easiest matchup for me to highlight, as this matchup could decide the NFC. Lotulelei is the high draft pick who has lived to that status so far in his career, but he isn’t even the best player on his line. This year, that would be Kawann Short. The Purdue product had concerns about his effort when he was drafted, but under Ron Rivera’s tutelage, he has thrived and has been the most disruptive tackle not named Aaron Donald. On the other side, the Packers have Sitton and Lang, arguable the best guard combo in football, and they can hold their own. They need to move those guys in the running game and hold their ground against the pass for the Packers to have any chance at victory.
- Davante Adams vs. Charles Tillman
- This one is a little trickier, as I don’t want to short-sell Randall Cobb in any way. Quite the contrary, I think he’ll have a solid game, but he’s facing the man who has been the best corner in football so far in 2015. On the other side, Davante Adams needs to show the ability that he showed last season now that he is healthy and he gets to face an old friend in Peanut Tillman. Tillman doesn’t have that deep speed that he used to, so look for Adams to stretch the field against him.
- Clay Matthews vs. Cam Newton
- This one sounds obvious, but Matthews was moved to the middle to cover for the speed of some quarterbacks like Newton. Cam loves to tuck it and run right up the gut if his first couple reads aren’t open, and Matthews has the speed to contain him better than most linebackers. He will have that assignment early and often in this game, and if he shows that he can stop Cam’s runs, that frees up his pass rush and the rest of the defense.
2 BOLD PREDICTIONS
- Carolina will be held to under 150 rushing yards
- 150 yards seems like a lot, but Carolina is the #1 rushing team in football with power backs like Jonathan Stewart, Mike Tolbert, as well as Cam Newton. They will all get yards, but the Packers first priority has to be the run game, as Denver showed what can happen if you struggle to stop the halfbacks. Cam can thrive on play action if the pass rushers have to hesitate at all, and he has a great weapon in Greg Olsen to exploit any weaknesses.
- Aaron Rodgers will throw for 300 yards and Eddie Lacy will run for 100.
- The offense has been a disaster so far since the middle of October, and with division games coming up in rapid succession, this is the week to get back on track. The offense is too talented and too well coached to lay another egg on the field, so I look for an early dose of Eddie Lacy to get the team going before Aaron Rodgers exploits some deep threats against a secondary more known for physicality than pure coverage. I expect 3 completions of 30 yards or more and two 20+ yard runs.
1 KEY STAT
- Yards After Catch
- This is a stat that is referenced a lot by broadcasters (Cris Collinsworth loves it), but it is something that has been vital to the Packers for years. Rodgers get the ball to his receivers in the right position to make plays afterwards, but they haven’t done that this year. Part of that was Adams’ injury, but it’s time for the vintage Packers to show their faces in getting 5-10 yards after each catch. Cobb especially needs to bring out his elusiveness against Carolina to open up the field.
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.