8:20 PM EST, NBC – Line: Eagles -6.5, Over/Under: 46.5
The feast may be over, but the football isn’t, as the fading Green Bay Packers look to salvage their season in the unlikeliest of places, while the Philadelphia Eagles prepare for the stretch run as the NFC’s number one overall seed in this primetime showdown from Lincoln Financial Field. Eleven weeks into the campaign, and there is a growing sense that the Packers (4-7, 3rd in NFC North) may simply be what they are, which according to their record informs us all that they’re nothing more than a mediocre football team. While their history under (four-time MVP) Aaron Rodgers coupled with the record of (Head Coach) Matt LaFleur (43-17) would suggest a turnaround, a late rally just doesn’t appear to be in the cards, much to the chagrin to all the cheese heads in Green Bay. Indeed, this is a team that had won no fewer than thirteen games over the last three seasons under LaFleur, while Rodgers has missed the playoffs only four times since he took over as the starting Quarterback in 2008. Needless to say, there is a sense of anxiety coming out of title town that is stronger than the stench of the smelliest cheese in their local delis. So, what in the name of Bart Starr has happened to the Pack, you ask? Well, though the prolonged cold war between Rodgers (pictured below) and the franchise came to an amicable end for both sides, with the veteran QB signing a LUCRATIVE extension (three years, $150.8 million, FULLY GUARANTEED) at the ripe old age of thirty-eight, there was a pessimism that the cost of keeping him in Eastern Wisconsin for the rest of his career was losing the bulk of his weapons; the club parted ways with (Wideouts) Marquez Valdes-Scantling and Davante Adams, the latter reeling in the most receiving touchdowns of any player in the league over the last five years (69). Compounding matters was a young Receiving Corps and a reshuffled Offensive Line, setting the table for what has been arguably the most uneven season of Rodgers’ stellar career; his completion percentage (64.6%), touchdown percentage (5.1%), interception percentage (1.9%), yards per attempt (6.8), yards per completion (10.5), net yards per attempt (5.97), and QBR (41.8) are the lowest they’ve been in at least three years. Granted, this particular level of play is better than MANY Quarterbacks, but the bottom line is that for this iteration of the Packers to be successful, they need him to be the two-time reigning MVP, not a fringe Pro-Bowler. Losers of six of their last seven games, things are getting uglier by the week in Green Bay, with a 14-point rally to beat the Cowboys in overtime two weeks ago looking more like an outlier than anything else. The Receiving Corps’ lack of experience and persistent mistakes has been a constant talking point, while LaFleur’s play calling has come under fire of late, and now there are reports that Rodgers has been playing with a broken right thumb for weeks, which as you can imagine has hindered his ability be the elite QB that we’ve come to admire. So, what is it going to take for this team to turn things around with just six games left in the regular season? Well, apart from Rodgers’ thumb healing miraculously, the much-maligned Receiving Corps NEEDS to get on the same page as their Quarterback. (Young Wideout) Allen Lazard thrived in a tertiary role behind Adams and MVS last year with a career-high eight touchdowns but has been unreliable as the primary pass-catcher with nearly as many drops (4) as touchdowns (5). (Rookie Receiver) Christian Watson was largely an afterthought until erupting for three touchdowns in that comeback against Dallas, becoming a much more pronounced performer of late, with eight receptions for 155 yards and FIVE touchdowns over the last two contests. Furthermore, (Rodgers’ BFF) Randall Cobb just returned from a lengthy injury, while (another Rookie) Romeo Doubs has been out of action three weeks now with a high ankle sprain. IF the Packers can get a full complement of healthy Wideouts, and Lazard can get his head out of his @#$, and Watson can keep trending upward, then there is a pathway to redemption, particularly in an NFC that is void of many strong teams outside of the Eagles, Cowboys, 49ers, and Vikings. However, time is running out on Green Bay and the margin for error is RAZOR THIN.
When we last saw the Packers, they took all of that good will that they earned from beating the Cowboys and effectively threw it all out of the proverbial window in a listless 27-17 loss at home to the Titans. Apart from a pair of touchdown passes from Rodgers to Watson, the offense was seriously out of rhythm, amassing just 271 total yards on fifteen first downs, with a pair of failed attempts on fourth down. With the problems that they’ve had in the passing game, the rushing attack has had to carry this unit through many stretches of the campaign, though that would NOT be the case against one of the stingiest run defenses in the NFL, with (Tailbacks) Aaron Jones and A.J. Dillon authoring a scant fifty-six yards on nineteen attempts. Rodgers completed 24-of-39 passes for 227 yards and those two touchdowns, though that ailing thumb led to eight poor throws that were wide of their target, equating to an uncharacteristic 21.1% of his attempts on the night. Making matters worse, Lazard and Watson combined for THREE drops, including two of them courtesy of Lazard on back-to-back plays late in the fourth quarter. The Defense also had a rough night at the office, relinquishing 408 total yards, despite keeping Tennessee’s ground game largely in check with eighty-eight yards on thirty-two carries. However, this unit has been hit hard by injuries in recent weeks, and the quick turnaround from Sunday to Thursday did them ZERO favors as Ryan Tannehill torched them for 333 yards and a pair of touchdowns on a surgical 22-of-27 passing, while Derrick Henry even hit them for a surprise passing score at the goal line. Looking to tonight’s trip to Philadelphia, the Packers have won six of the last eight meetings straight-up, while covering the spread in six of the last ten encounters. Given their struggles, Green Bay is wearing the hat of underdog tonight, which has treated them well from a betting standpoint, covering the line in all but two of their last ten such outings. Furthermore, LaFleur’s troops have covered the number in five straight games as a road underdog between 3.5-10 points, along with four consecutive contests as a road underdog within that same range, which is the case tonight. Also, they’ve covered three straight trips to Philly and are 2-1 against the spread in their last three matchups with the Eagles as underdogs. Rodgers has faced the birds seven times in his long career, winning five of them while completing 67.2% of his passes for 250.4 yards per game on a healthy 7.65 net yards per attempt, with fifteen touchdowns opposed to just three interceptions. On the injury front, his thumb remains a lingering issue, particularly as the weather turns colder, though he is far from the only Packer spending time in the trainer’s room; (Offensive Linemen) David Bakhtiari and Elgton Jenkins, (Linebackers) De’Vondre Campbell and Quay Walker, (Cornerback) Eric Stokes, along with the aforementioned Lazard and Jones are listed as questionable with various ailments, though (Pro-Bowl Cornerback) Jaire Alexander is probable with an ongoing groin strain. Indeed, there are MANY people in Green Bay hoping that the extra rest received following last week’s dreadful performance will have provided them with the necessary time to recover.
Meanwhile, sitting atop the NFC with the best record in the league are the Eagles (9-1, 1st in NFC East), who despite appearing vulnerable over the last few weeks have nonetheless managed to keep pace ahead of their bitter division rivals, the Cowboys. After looking like the class of the NFL over the first half of the season, Philadelphia suffered their first defeat in a sloppy performance at home against another NFC East rival, this time the Commanders, who beat them soundly in a 32-21 affair on Monday Night Football. This one was a disaster for the birds, who saw literally everything go wrong for them for the first time in quite a while; (Head Coach) Nick Siranni’s troops were outgained 330-264, outrushed 152-94, and left to possess the football for a mere 19:36! Indeed, Washington came in with a clear game plan, rushing FORTY-NINE times, allowing them to take complete control of the affair, which was only aided by a season worst FOUR turnovers from the hosts. Three of those turnovers were lost fumbles, while the other was an interception tossed by (third-year Quarterback) Jalen Hurts, who prior to this matchup had been enjoying a transformative campaign. 17-of-26 passing for just 175 yards and a pair of scores, Hurts (pictured below) was kept in check rushing despite breaching the end zone on the ground, with only twenty-eight yards on six attempts. (Pro-Bowl Receiver) A.J. Brown, whom (General Manager) Howie Roseman acquired via trade during the 2022 NFL Draft, was held to a scant seven yards on one catch, while (veteran Tight End) Dallas Goedert, who was responsible for one of those fumbles lost, suffered a shoulder injury that will keep him out of action until mid-December, at the least. The question coming out of that debacle was whether or not that was in fact an isolated incident, or had the blueprint for beating them been published? Well, as strong as their pass defense has been this season, particularly with thirty-three-sacks (3rd Overall) and a league-high TWENTY takeaways, they’ve been susceptible against the run, more so without the presence of (Rookie Defensive Tackle) Jordan Davis, who has missed the last three games with what has been described as a badly sprained ankle. Listed at 6′-6″ and a generous 340 pounds, the behemoth has been a massive part of (Defensive Coordinator) Jonathan Gannon’s rotation up front, and the numbers with and without him reflect how much they need him in the trenches; in the first seven games, Philly yielded 114.7 rushing yards on 5.1 yards per carry, but in the last three have seen that former figure swell to 139.7 respectively, with their opponents smelling the proverbial blood in the water, attempting 13.4 more rushes per outing. So, is it any coincidence that after that showing against the Commanders that Sirianni and Roseman immediately added a pair of veteran Defensive Linemen? The Eagles signed Linval Joseph and Ndamukong Suh two weeks ago, with the tandem bringing a combined twenty-four years and 642 pounds to the rotation. One of the more positive thinkers that you’ll find, Sirianni has chosen to look at the situation as a relief from chasing perfection, and now that he and his charges have tasted defeat, they can get back to simply being the best that they can be each week. While we admire that outlook, that run defense needs to set themselves straight, for this NFL has long been a copycat league, and we’ve already seen at least one opponent approach them with a similar game plan, which was the case in last weekend’s narrow escape from Indianapolis, which we’re going to discuss in three… two… one…
When we last saw the Eagles, they very nearly suffered their second consecutive defeat in a 17-16 win over the Colts, which can absolutely be viewed as a spiritual successor to that egg that they laid on Monday Night. Though Philadelphia reestablished their ground game, outrushing Indianapolis 141-99, they still lost the possession battle (29:22) largely because of two more lost fumbles, in the second half, leaving the door open for the hosts to respond. Indeed, Sirianni must have been preaching ball security after these past few weeks, for if not Indy’s own shortcomings, this one could have ended very differently and the angst in Philly would be on par with that in Green Bay. Trailing 13-10 and recovering a fumble from Jonathan Taylor, the aforementioned Brown gave it right back to the home side with a fumble on what should have been a first down at midfield, which would eventually lead to a field goal to stretch the lead to 16-10. Sitting dead in the water on third-and-two and 3:47 left to play, Hurts was bailed out on a 39-yard pass interference penalty, breathing new life into the visitors, who kept the football on the ground with nine straight runs to cap the drive as the Quarterback scampered into the end zone for a 7-yard score to essentially win the game. It was another uneven performance from Hurts, who completed 18-of-25 passes for 190 yards and a touchdown, but really got things going on the ground, killing the Colts with eighty-six yards on sixteen carries and that triumphant score. Defensively, Gannon’s outfit did a solid job of keeping Taylor, who was last year’s rushing champion, to a modest eighty-four yards on twenty-two carries, while putting some serious heat on Matt Ryan, whom they sacked four times and hit on eight occasions with eleven pressures. Looking to tonight’s matchup, this visit from the Packers will hold some significance for Hurts, who ironically took over as the team’s starting Quarterback in a 30-16 loss at Lambeau Field two years ago, completing 5-of-12 passes for 109 yards with a touchdown and an interception. Though 9-1 straight-up in their last ten games, the Eagles are middling 5-5 against the spread in those outings, though they have covered the number in four of their last five contests played at Lincoln Financial Field. They have however, failed to cover the line in three games as a favorite, which is the case tonight. On the injury front, Brown has been battling an illness and is questionable for this affair, along with (fellow Receiver) DeVonta Smith, who has been dealing with a sore knee. With the aforementioned Davis sidelined with that tender ankle, look for Suh and Joseph to get more work within Gannon’s rotation, along with (veteran Edge-Rusher) Robert Quinn, whom Siranni and Roseman acquired at the trade deadline, to start making his presence felt. The three-time Pro-Bowler logged 18.5 sacks thirty-four pressures in Chicago last season but has yet register a sack in four games with Philadelphia with only one pressure.