8:30 PM EST, NBC – Line: Packers -7, Over/Under: 48
Two of the most decorated Quarterbacks in the game meet tonight at Lambeau Field, but it’s a Wide Receiver that’s dominating the headlines as the Green Bay Packers host the New York Giants on Sunday Night Football. If you’ve been frequenting the airwaves of the Sports World over the past week then it would be impossible for you to avoid the chatter on Odell Beckham Jr., the mercurial yet ridiculously talented young Wideout for the Giants (2-2, T-Last in NFC North), who has made waves behind some underachieving play and a maelstrom of soundbites. The 24-year old has struggled this season, finding it very difficult to meet the lofty expectations while playing in the Big Apple; through four games, Beckham has amassed 303 yards and zero touchdowns, which is a rather stark contrast in comparison to the 2,755 yards and twenty-five touchdowns he logged throughout his first two seasons in the league. Hell, his 108.8 yards per game as a rookie led the NFL in 2014, which must seem like ages ago when you consider he’s only averaging 75.8 yards in Year Three. So what’s the problem for this kid, you ask? Well, part of the problem is of his own making; due to his antics on the field (see last year’s broo-haha with Josh Norman), the referees are paying extra close attention to him, and ready to penalize him at a moment’s notice. As a result, Defensive Backs are trying to bait him into going out of control, effectively taking him out of the game, which was the case in Monday Night’s disappointing showing in Minnesota where Beckham caught just three passes despite nine targets for a scant twenty-three yards. Afterwards, he’s only exasperating the issue by proclaiming to the media that he “isn’t having fun anymore” and such, which as you can imagine becomes only magnified in the hands of the New York Media. The Front Office isn’t helping matters proposing that he see a Sports Psychologist, with the likes of former Head Coach Tom Coughlin reaching out to advise him. The other part of the problem, is that unlike in year’s past, there is some real competition in the Receiving Corps; the healthy return of veteran Victor Cruz has provided Quarterback Eli Manning with a reliable target in the slot, while Second Round Pick Sterling Shepard has impressed on the opposite flank. The former, who had missed all but ten games in 2014 and the entirety of 2015 with series of injuries, has hauled in sixteen balls on twenty-four targets for 245 yards and a touchdown, while the latter has reeled in an efficient twenty receptions on twenty-six targets for 263 yards and team-high two receiving scores, as BOTH players have benefitted greatly from their opponents’ preoccupation with Beckham. So why isn’t this group more formidable than they look on paper? Well, that would be in large part to turnovers, which have once again reeled their ugly head in New York; Ben McAdoo’s charges have made more than their fair share of mistakes in the early goings of the 2016 campaign, committing NINE turnovers (27th Overall) in the first four games, which coupled with their defense’s startling inability to create them themselves (ONE Takeaway), has left this team with a dreadful minus-8 Turnover Differential. That’s one way to negate the sixth-most prolific offense in the league in terms of yardage (390.3). This is not what Management envisioned when they spent a fortune on that particular side of the ball, especially given the lucrative signings of Cornerback Janoris Jenkins (5 years $62.5 million, $28.8 million guaranteed), and Defensive Lineman Damon Harrison (5 years, $46.25 million, $24 million guaranteed) and Olivier Vernon (5 years, $85 million, $52.5 million guaranteed).
Meanwhile, the Packers (2-1, 2nd in NFC North) have surprisingly flown under the radar, as they look to take advantage of an early Bye Week and the ensuing chaos that has seemingly engulfed their opponent. Much was expected of this team, who coming into this season at full strength were marked as one of the true contenders in the NFC, but at the quarter pole of the campaign it’s rather hard to get too excited about Green Bay. Through three games, the offense has been shockingly lethargic, averaging just 306.0 yards per game, third-worst in the league. To compound matters, the vaunted passing game, led by perennial MVP candidate Aaron Rodgers, has been the main culprit totaling a meager 205.7 yards per contest (29th Overall) on a mere 5.7 net yards per attempt (29th Overall). If you recall, this group’s sudden inability to stretch the field was a HUGE problem last year. Most of that was chocked up to a decimated Receiving Corps, ineffective play-calling, and a makeshift Offensive Line that was shuffled on a weekly basis. However, with the return of veteran Receiver Jordy Nelson (missed all of 2015 with an ACL Tear), this unit was SUPPOSED to return to the form they exhibited in 2014, when they led the league in Net Yards per Pass (7.5). In the words of Lee Corso, “Not So Fast, My Friends…”. First and foremost, Rodgers’ protection has been shoddy at best (DO NOT discount the surprise release of longtime Guard Josh Sitton during Training Camp), as the two-time MVP has rarely looked comfortable in the pocket. He’s been sacked eight times in three games, which has had a dramatic effect on his completion percentage, which is down to 58.5%, his lowest since ascending to the starting job back in 2008. In fact, if you take away his 15-of-24, 205-yard, 4-touchdown showing in the Packers’ 34-27 victory over the Lions, Rodgers is only 40-of-70 (57.1%) for 412 yards, three touchdowns and an interception, which is in a word, very in-Rodgers-like. For his troubles, the aforementioned Nelson has played well after missing the previous campaign, catching seventeen of twenty-seven targets for a team-high 206 yards (12.1 y/c) and four touchdowns. On the other side of the ball, Mike McCarthy has seen his charges prove absolutely hellish against the run, permitting a league-best 42.7 yards per game on the ground on a miniscule 1.8 yards per carry. However, that’s in large part due to their ineptitude against the pass; the Packers have been shredded in the passing game to the tune of 307.3 yards (29th Overall) on 7.6 net yards per attempt (29th Overall). Don’t expect that to improve so much, even after their Bye Week, as injuries have ravaged this unit thus far; Cornerbacks Sam Shields (Concussion) and Damarious Randall (Groin) are both likely to miss tonight’s game, while Safety Morgan Burnett (Hamstring), Linebackers Clay Matthews (Ankle) and Datone Jones (Knee), and Defensive End Letroy Guion (Knee) are all listed as Questionable. That’s six starters that could be absent, which could leave this unit in a bad way against Manning and his cadre of Receivers.
Predicted Outcome: Packers 24, Giants 21