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Scouting the Matchup: Brady vs. Rodgers showdown

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WHEN THE PATRIOTS RUN

Advantage: Packers

The list of injured New England running backs seems to grow by the week. Rookie Sony Michel, the Patriots leading rusher, became the latest name on that list when he suffered a knee injury during a Week 7 victory over the Bears. He did not play last week against Buffalo. The Patriots will have the edge if Michel is anywhere near 100 percent, but that won’t be the case even if he’s able to suit up. If he can’t go it will be interesting to see if Bill Belichick and Josh McDaniels stick with return specialist Cordarrelle Patterson in the lead back role. He carried 10 times for just 38 yards in Buffalo, while James White and Kenjon Barner filled secondary roles in the ground game. The Packers have allowed 135 yards or more on the ground in four of their seven games, including a season-high 174 yards in a 33-30 victory over San Francisco a couple of weeks ago. Green Bay surrendered 114 yards to Todd Gurley in a victory over the Rams last Sunday. Michel’s status will have a huge impact on this matchup.

WHEN THE PATRIOTS PASS

Advantage: Patriots

With the exception of a Week 2 tie against Minnesota when Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins completed 35 of 48 passes for 425 yards and four touchdowns, the Packers have done a good job defending opposing passing attacks. No other team has thrown for more than 253 yards in a game against the Packers this season. Green Bay ranks fifth among NFL teams in pass defense and is coming off a week in which it did a nice job of containing the high-flying Rams aerial attack. Things won’t get any easier for the Pack as they head to Foxborough to take on what looked like a passing game that was hitting its stride prior to Monday’s night’s sluggish outing in Buffalo. Tom Brady still managed to throw for more than 300 yards but did not find the end zone so he’ll be looking to bounce back, and Josh Gordon, Julian Edelman and Rob Gronkowski present a formidable group of pass catchers. Rookie corner Jaire Alexander returned to the lineup for Green Bay last week and played well in limiting Brandin Cooks to three catches. The X-factor for the Patriots is White (six TD receptions), who has dominated virtually every week as a matchup nightmare for opposing linebackers.

WHEN THE PACKERS RUN

Advantage: Patriots

The Packers run nothing close to a balanced offense. Through their first six games this season, Green Bay running backs were averaging 19 carries per game, and the Packers were dropping back on more than 70 percent of their offensive snaps. The Patriots allowed an average of at least 4.0 yards per rushing attempt in six of their first seven games. They surrendered 5.5 yards per rushing attempt against the Chiefs and 5.4 yards per carry against the Bears. Aaron Jones may be Green Bay’s best option in the running game. He enters Sunday night’s game averaging 6.2 yards per carry but hasn’t been given the ball more than 12 times in a game this year. He’s averaged at least 5.1 yards per carry in each of the five games in which he’s played since returning from a two-game suspension for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy. He ran well against the Rams last week but he’ll be dealing with a Patriots front that is coming off its best outing of the season in limiting LeSean McCoy to 13 yards on 12 carries. Can New England continue that solid play against the run?

WHEN THE PACKERS PASS

Advantage: Packers

Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers is a two-time MVP who has thrown for 2,283 yards (13 touchdowns) and has been intercepted just once this season. He suffered a sprained left knee during Green Bay’s opener against the Bears, but his health appears to be improving by the week. Wide receivers Randall Cobb and Geronimo Allison returned to the Green Bay lineup last week after missing time with injuries, but Davante Adams has been Rodgers’ go-to receiver this season. Adams has 690 receiving yards and six touchdown receptions in seven games. The Patriots have struggled in coverage and have had a hard time generating consistent pressure on opposing quarterbacks this season. Tight end Jimmy Graham is averaging 13.2 yards per catch on 28 receptions and gives Green Bay another top receiving threat. Green Bay’s offense isn’t as productive as it’s been in recent years but Rodgers alone is enough to keep defensive coordinators awake at night.

SPECIAL TEAMS

Advantage: Patriots

Green Bay placekicker Mason Crosby has been consistent throughout his career but missed four field goals and an extra-point attempt during a 31-23 loss to Detroit in Week 5. He rebounded to make each of his four field goal attempts, including the game-winning kick, against San Francisco the following week. The Patriots have been subpar in kick coverage this season, but Green Bay ranks near the bottom of the league in punt-return average and kickoff-return average. Ty Montgomery fumbled a kickoff late in the fourth quarter last week, costing the Packers a chance to beat the Rams. He was subsequently traded at Tuesday’s deadline. New England’s special teams provided a spark in a 38-31 victory against the Bears when Patterson returned a kickoff 95 yards for a touchdown and Dont’a Hightower blocked punt for another score.

OTHER FACTORS

Advantage: Patriots

Based on results from this season, the fact that this game will be played at Gillette Stadium could be more of a factor than the home-field advantage is in a typical NFL game. Both of New England’s losses this year have come on the road. New England dropped a 31-20 decision at Jacksonville and suffered a 26-10 loss at Detroit. The Patriots are 4-0 at home and have scored at least 27 points in each of those four victories, including at least 38 points in each of their last three home games. Green Bay has also played its best football at home this season. The Packers fell to 0-3 on the road following last Sunday’s 29-27 loss to the Rams, however. Green Bay has also suffered losses at Washington (31-17) and at Detroit (31-23). Sometimes the intangibles are simple and the home field is one such edge for the Patriots.

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