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Keys to the Starting Lineup presented by CarMax: Two legends passing in the night!

New England returns home to Gillette Stadium to host the Packers in a matchup of future Hall of Fame quarterbacks Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers.


NBC used NBA Michael Jordan to promote Sunday Night Football's matchup between the Patriots (6-2) and Packers (3-3-1) at Gillette Stadium as a battle of NFL quarterback GOATs.

With all due respect to NBC's creative team, his Airness and Green Bay passer Aaron Rodgers, the promotional attempt was a little overzealous and probably a bit off-putting to New England fans.

There is little doubt that Rodgers is a supremely talented quarterback and future Hall of Fame inductee.

But the reality is that five-time Super Bowl Champion Tom Brady is the reigning GOAT and will remain so until proven otherwise. Win or lose, that won't change on Sunday night.

That said, this is clearly a big game and unique opportunity for football fans. Due to schedule and circumstance, this is just the second time Brady and Rodgers will do battle. Less than a month removed from Brady's Sunday night shootout win over rising star Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs, this one also has all the makings for an entertaining display of modern pass-happy NFL action.

And though the quarterbacks won't actually be on the field together at any point, they will indeed likely key the way the game plays out. Both coaches know they are facing a special talent.

"He's a great player. He does everything well," Bill Belichick said of Rodgers. "He reads coverages well, very accurate throwing the ball. He's got a great touch down the field, short, intermediate. They get a lot of catch-and-run plays. A lot of that is because of his great accuracy. He puts the ball right on the receiver and doesn't have to break stride and can just keep running with it. Very mobile in the pocket, extends plays, really good vision down the field, uses the cadence well, is a good situational player. I mean, he's one of the great quarterbacks in the National Football League; no question about it. He does everything good."

"You just see the consistency. He's had total command of the offense forever, it seems like 20 years – just their ability to get in and out of personnel groups and just the awareness of everything going on around him. He's competitive, he's obviously so competitive, but he just keeps rolling. We've been very impressed with the tape," Packers head coach Mike McCarthy said of Brady, before talking about the matchup itself. "I think it's really about what they do at the quarterback position. Obviously, what they've done from an accomplishment standpoint stands for itself, but if you just break down how they play the position, just the ability to be totally involved in every aspect of the offense, whether it's the runs, the protections and the pass game, that's not normal. I know Aaron is as dialed in to the run blocking schemes as he is with the passing game concepts. I think when you're at that level and their competitive nature is really a part of the greatest characteristic of both of those guys. They're just warriors and it's part of who they are as players.

"I think for the fans and for everybody alike, you have to – if you truly love football, this is a fantastic opportunity to see two great players line up. They don't compete against each other, but I think these games are always great for football," McCarthy concluded.

As you enjoy the extra hour of sleep as you turn back the clocks this weekend and the extra time before kickoff Sunday night, here are some of the keys to this matchup of two legends passing in the night.

12 x 12, far from gross – As Brady talked about this week, No. 12 is a prototypical quarterback number. He and Rodgers are adding to its Hall of Fame history. While we were spoiled by so many meetings between Brady and Peyton Manning, these battles with guys like Drew Brees and Rodgers are to be cherished due to their rarity. Rodgers is making big plays and avoiding turnovers with 13 touchdowns and just one interception, having hit a play of 43 yards or longer to each of his top six targets. He obviously can be a challenge for a defense in so many ways. Brady, likewise, is having a good but not great season and can still stress a defense as well as anyone with his reads, vision, decisions and throws. This is a Hall of Fame matchup. Now, let's hope it lives up to the expectations. Either way, enjoy!

(Better) Controlled rush – The Patriots pass rush has been suspect most of the year. Not only are the Patriots 30th in sacks per pass play, but they had issues losing contain on Mitch Trubisky a couple weeks ago in Chicago. Rodgers is certainly every bit as dangerous and versatile as the Bears passer, so Trey Flowers and Co. need to show they can be better in terms of a contained pass rush. If guys loss their rush lanes or outside contain Rodgers will extend plays and make a defense pay. Of course, if the rush does its job against the QB who's dealt with a knee injury it can pay off as he's been sacked 22 times for 160 lost yards in seven games.

New pass pro – The continuity of the Patriots offensive line is being challenged of late. Marcus Cannon has missed two games to a concussion and remains questionable. Shaq Mason has already been ruled out. So Ted Karras could be called upon at right guard while right tackle will either be a returning Cannon or LaAdrian Waddle for the third straight week coming off a shaky performance in Buffalo. The Packers have notched 23 sacks in seven games, with three different guys leading the way with four apiece for a unit that ranks second in the NFL in sacks per pass play. Part of the success of the Packers No. 5 pass defense comes through a front with known commodities like Mike Daniels and Clay Matthews as well as guys like Blake Martinez. Coordinator Mike Pettine throws a lot at an offensive line and a quarterback. New England has seen his (and Rex Ryan's) scheme in the past, but must be up to the task against on Sunday night.

GTFB! – Rodgers is completing just 61.3 percent of his passes, ranking 27th in the NFL, but he's making big plays. Top target Davante Adams is averaging a solid 13.3 yards per catch and has a 51-yard grab. In addition to the seven total guys with receptions of 43 yards or longer, six different guys have notched a touchdown catch. Devin McCourty and the Patriots back end will need to get deep and tackle well after the catch. You aren't going to shut down Rodgers' attack but limiting the big plays would go a long way to limiting points.

Turnovers and touchdowns – Sometimes the simple keys are the most important keys. Turnovers and touchdowns will probably decide Sunday's game. New England can't settle for field goals as it did early in last Monday night's win in Buffalo. If it does, Rodgers will probably make you regret it. The Patriots did play a relatively clean game in Buffalo, which will be important again. You can't give the Packers extra chances to move the ball and score points. While New England is now plus-3 in turnovers on the season the Packers are even, with their latest coming on a Ty Montgomery fumble that cost his team a shot at a win and him his job in Green Bay. Score touchdowns and avoid turnovers and you'll leave this one with a win. Can't put it much more simply than that.

Prediction: With New England's limitations in the backfield and Green Bay's limited commitment to the running game, this certainly feels like a game that will be decided through the air. The Packers are No. 5 in both passing offense and passing defense. New England is 13th in passing offense and 27th in pass defense. On paper that should mean a win for Green Bay. Not so fast. The Patriots are at home and the passing attack is probably better than given credit for, although Rob Gronkowski's health and lack of production are a concern. Still, Brady at home on Sunday night is a formidable challenge, even for Rodgers and his troops. The safe bet is for Brady to move the ball well and finish with touchdowns, unlike last week. My gut tells me Gronkowski not only plays but finds his way back into the end zone, maybe more than once. That will help jumpstart the offense and the home crowd. It says here that New England gets a late touchdown to pull away for the 38-27 win in another fun, shootout-style game in Foxborough.

What do you think of our keys and prediction? Let us know with a comment below!

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