8:25 PM EST, NBC – Line: Redskins -3 Over/Under: 48.5
Classic NFC powers meet in the Nation’s Capital tonight, as the Washington Redskins host the struggling Green Bay Packers at FedEx Field. Of course, the Packers (4-5, 3rd in NFC North) have fond memories of this particular venue, for it was most recently the site of their last Playoff Victory, a 35-18 win over the Redskins in the 2015 NFC Wild Card Game. Limping into the Postseason a year ago, many thought that Mike McCarthey’s charges would roll over against the upstart hosts, and early on that certainly appeared to be the case; Washington scored the first eleven points of the contest, sacking Aaron Rodgers for a Safety on the visitors’ first drive, before a Field Goal and a Touchdown established their advantage. However, momentum changed dramatically as Green Bay ran off seventeen unanswered points, outscoring the home side 35-7 the rest of the way. Fast-forward nearly twelve months, and Rodgers and Co. find themselves in a very similar position, in dire need of a spark to change their trajectory; losers of four of thier last five outings, including three straight, times are indeed tough in Green Bay, Wisconsin these days. Injuries have ravaged this team on both sides of the ball, laying waste to a number of different Position Groups, including the Offensive Line, the Backfield, and most prominently the Secondary. The Packers have been killed in the passing game this year, largely due to the fact that they’ve been playing without thier top-three Cornerbacks for over a month now; Sam Shields (Concussion) hit Injured Reserve weeks ago, while Micah Hyde (Shoulder) and Damarious Randall (Groin) have been out for a number of games with various ailments. So is it any wonder they’ve been getting gashed for 7.2 Net Yards per Attempt, fifth-most in the league? Over their last four losses, the Defense in general has experienced all sorts of problems, relinquishing 35.3 points on 398.0 Total Yards per game, while only managing to create four takeaways. It all came to a head last weekend at Tennessee when the surprising Titans blew the doors off the affair early, scoring twenty-one unanswered points in the First Quarter alone, before taking a commanding 35-16 lead into Halftime. The 47-25 debacle was NEVER close, as the home side rung up 446 Total Yards, while Green Bay shot themselves in the proverbial foot repeatedly, wasting 402 Total Yards with three turnovers and 107 yards in penalties. As ever, the weight of thier success was on Rodgers’ shoulders, as the two-time MVP completed a stellar 31-of-51 passes for 371 yards, a pair of touchdowns and a pair of interceptions, while also rushing for twenty-seven yards and another score. If it seems like the 33-year old has been carrying this team on his own since the beginning of the campaign, that’s because he has, as the Packers have been playing musical chairs in the Backfield too with the perpetually underwhelming Eddie Lacy (Ankle) on Injured Reserve and the newly acquired Christine Michael (469 yards, 6 TD in seven games with Seattle) claimed off Waivers earlier this week. t shouldn’t be interesting to see how quickly Michael acclimates himself to the Playbook, given how productive he was earlier with the Seahawks. In our opinion, he became expendable due to suddenly crowded Backfield, so there’s a good chance he stays in Green Bay a bit longer than Knile Davis, who was picked up after Lacy’s initial injury, only to be released a week later. Adding to those woes are the absences of a pair of important cogs on the Offensive Line, as Left Guard TJ Lang (Ankle) and Center JC Tretter (Knee) have both been pronounced as Out for this particular game. With that said, cheer up Aaron, for Tight End Jared Cook (Ankle) and Wideout Randall Cobb (Hamstring) are each due to return tonight after a brief hiatus with injuries of their own.
Meanwhile, after earning their first NFC East Title since 2012, (and just their second since 1999) the Redskins (5-3-1, 3rd in NFC East) are finding their defense of said honors far more difficult than they could have imagined. Granted, most of that is attributed to the improvement in competition in the division, as everyone in the East is currently over .500, which unfortunately leaves the margin for error for Jay Gruden’s charges rather slim. However, Gruden and his Staff in all likelihood can’t help but sit back and think of all the opportunities their team has left on the table. In addition to their marathon-esque 27-27 Tie with the Cincinnati Bengals over in London, the losses suffered by this team have been of a very NARROW sort; a four-point loss at home to the hated Cowboys and a three-point defeat at the Lions provides evidence that Washington is probably a lot better than their record says they are. Then again, in the immortal words of Bill Parcells, You are what your Record says you are. This team has been for lack of a better term, carefree with the football thus far, committing a dozen turnovers (15th Overall), which explains their wide margin between Points Scored (23.6, 16th Overall) and Total Yards (418.5, 4th Overall). Essentially, these guys have fielded a Top-5 Offense this year, but hasn’t reaped the full benefits due their perplexing knack of turning the ball over. Under Center, Kirk Cousins hasn’t been as effect as he was in his first as the undisputed Starter in 2015, completing 66.9% of his passes for 2,716 yards (301.8 yards/game) fourteen touchdowns and seven interceptions, all the while posting a QBR of 58.2, which is a steep drop-off from the 70.05 he registered a year ago. The Redskins were understandably reticent to off the former Fourth Round Pick a massive contract last Summer, wisely choosing instead to franchise the fifth-year veteran in an attempt to take a longer look at just what they’re investing in. This season, Cousins is throwing the ball more often (up to 39.3 attempts per game from 33.9 in 2015), while attacking downfield more frequently (up to 7.16 Net Yards per Attempt from 6.99 in 2015), and proving effective in the clutch, racking up a trifecta of Fourth Quarter Comebacks and Game Winning Drives. The turnovers remain an issue though, as his seven interceptions and six fumbles have prematurely ended a number of promising drives. Is it appropriate to say that Washington wants to LOVE him, but in reality only LIKE him? Either way, Management is doing a solid job of building around him, with a much improved Offensive Line and no shortage of weapons in the passing attack; the aforementioned Reed (44 catches, 456 yards, 3 TD) has continued his emergence into a playmaker at Tight End, while the unheralded Jamison Crowder (44 catches, 545 yards, 5 TD) has taken receptions away from his more higher profile teammates such as DeSean Jackson (30 catches, 416 yards, 1 TD) and Pierre Garcon (42 catches, 477 yards, 1 TD). Seriously, when these guys spread you out with three and four Receiver Sets, they’re downright scary with all that speed. The returns on Defense have been a bit slower given the volume of injuries this side of the ball has sustained as veterans such as DeAngelo Hall (Knee) and Junior Gallette (Achilles) are out for the season. Outside Linebackers Trent Murphy (7.0 Sacks) and Ryan Kerrigan (7.0 Sacks) have developed into a very formidable tandem of Edge Rushers, while their marquee Offseason Acquisition, All-Pro Cornerback Josh Norman (1 INT, 11 PD, 1 FF), has begun to get more settled in his new digs. With that said, the Redskins get pushed around far too much at the Line of Scrimmage, for opponents have averaged 4.6 yards per carry on the ground (28th Overall), and have relinquished a hefty thirteen rushing touchdowns, the second-most such scores in the league to this point. It’s a good thing the Packers are pulling guys off the street to carry the football these days..
Predicted Outcome: Packers 28, Redskins 24