By Matt Dolloff, 985TheSportsHub.com
The New England Patriots take a bit of a swerve this week. And they don’t even get a full week. Just six days after a dud in Buffalo, which they won with defense and timely scoring over the lowly Buffalo Bills, the Patriots get the NFL’s marquee matchup in Week 9. Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers come to Foxboro for the first time since 2010, and this time they finally have their future Hall of Fame quarterback under center.
Thanks to the NFL’s funky scheduling rotation, the Patriots and Packers haven’t played each other since 2014. Both teams are almost entirely different, but perhaps all that matters is that the quarterbacks are the same. The location, however, is different from four years ago, and that could play a major role on Sunday night.
Here are three things to know about the Packers that could give Patriots fans more confidence ahead of the matchup.
1. They’re winless on the road
The Packers’ next road win will be their first of the season. It may be hard to believe that it will come against the Patriots in Foxboro. Then again, they came damn close to upsetting the still-undefeated Rams in Los Angeles in Week 8. But even that game was played in an L.A. Coliseum filled with Packers fans, and it ended in disaster. Emblematic of a team with (at best) inconsistent situational awareness and discipline, Ty Mongtomery decided to run the ball out of the end zone on a kickoff when the Packers had a chance to win the game with a last-second field goal.
Rodgers almost certainly would’ve made enough plays to get the Pack into field goal range for Mason Crosby – if Montgomery just took a knee. But he put the drive at risk by taking the ball out of the end zone in the first place, and ended up giving the ball back to the Rams, Game over. If Green Bay makes those kinds of boneheaded mistakes at Gillette Stadium, they won’t give themselves much of a chance of upending the Patriots.
Like New England, Green Bay also lost to the Detroit Lions on the road. And their worst road performance came in a 31-17 loss to the Washington Redskins, who at 5-2 might be better than it seemed at the time. They’ll need to play better on the road immediately, because winning in Foxboro is tough for anyone. But speaking of Montgomery…
2. They just made two significant trades
Well, moving Montgomery to the Baltimore Ravens for a 2020 seventh-round pick might be far from earth-shattering. But the beleaguered back had been the subject of rumors that he was a problem behind-the-scenes with the offense. So maybe removing him from the equation will smooth things out for what’s been a relatively down year for the group.
However, that wasn’t the big move the Packers made on Tuesday at the trade deadline. They also moved safety Ha-Ha Clinton-Dix, a first-round pick in 2014, to the Redskins for a 2019 fourth-round pick. Clinton-Dix was one of two Packers defenders (the other being linebacker Blake Martinez) that had played 100 percent of snaps through their first seven games.
So even if the Packers feel good about who they have behind behind Clinton-Dix (undrafted safeties Kentrell Brice and Jermaine Whitehead), there’s going to be an adjustment period there. And the first week of it comes against Tom Brady. Their defensive backfield will be something to watch come Sunday night.
3. Their offense has been good, but not great
Since leading the NFL in points per game in 2014, the Packers offense has been a bit up-and-down by their standards. This season has been a little better than last season in terms of scoring, but it’s been far from perfect. So far, they’re 13th with 25.0 points per game (the Patriots are fourth at 29.9), fifth in passing yards per game (308), and fifth in yards per rush (4.8).
However, the aggregate numbers look better than the Packers’ performance in crucial situations of games. They’re 20th in red zone touchdown percentage at 52.2 percent, so if the Patriots lock down the red zone like they typically do on defense, they should be able to give the Packers trouble in that area. Green Bay is also 20th on third downs, converting just 38.5 percent of the time. That tends to correlate with the fact that they’re 26th in the league with 24 sacks allowed. Rodgers and the Pack could have a long night if the Patriots defense can get off the field on third down and hold them to field goals in the red zone.
Numbers don’t mean much once the teams take the field, and Rodgers (100.4 passer rating, 10th in the league) is always dangerous. but we’re looking at a Packers team that has not performed well on the road, in the red zone, or on third down. That can’t possibly be sustainable if they expect to win a lot of games, and it’s certainly no way to play against the Patriots at Gillette.
Matt Dolloff is a digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.