[Update: The Packers beat the Patriots 26-21 in Green Bay]
Only five weeks remain in the 2014 NFL season and the field of playoff hopefuls continues to narrow.
The AFC remains in a log-jam as 11 teams with six wins or more are fighting for only six spots. In the NFC, the Dallas Cowboys and San Francisco 49ers are on the outside looking in despite being multiple games above .500, while in the NFC South, a team with a losing record will likely stumble their way to a playoff berth.
Sitting at the top of their conferences, the New England Patriots and Green Bay Packers seem likely to make the postseason, but have their eyes set on securing a coveted first-round bye. Their match-up is the must-see game of Week 13.
The Packers and Patriots enter the game this Sunday as the most potent scoring offenses. The Patriots narrowly edge out the Packers by 0.3 points per game in scoring. However, in their last three games, the Packers have averaged 44 points to the Patriots' 39.7 points. An even stronger indicator of the team’s successes have been their margins of victory. Per Team Rankings, the Patriots have the highest margin of victory, 11.8 points while the Packers sit second at 9.8. Over the last three, the two teams have been blowing teams away, with the Packers outscoring opponents by 25.7 points and the Patriots by 23.0.
Over their seven-game win streak, the Patriots have used a unique, game-by-game approach that has exposed the opposition’s weaknesses. Two weeks ago, the Patriots handed the ball off to Jonas Gray and several others 44 times and scored four touchdowns, wearing down the Indianapolis Colts front seven in the process. In that game, Brady only threw the ball 30 times en route to a 22-point victory.
Compare that performance with last week’s in which the Patriots abandoned the run for much of the game, throwing the ball 53 times for 349 yards and blowing out the Detroit Lions by 25 points. If the Packers are trying to get a sense for what New England team they will see Sunday, they should look no further than their own defensive shortcomings.
The Packers recent three-game winning streak has come off the strong play of Aaron Rodgers and their first quarter scoring offense. Rodgers has thrown 11 touchdowns and no interceptions in his last three games and the team has scored 12.7 points on average in the first quarters of the last three.
Not surprisingly, Rodgers credits much of his success to Brady and likes to borrow from the future Hall of Fame player, as he told NESN.
“I don’t want to date him too much but he’s always been one of my favorite guys to watch on film. If we have a common opponent I always enjoy putting on film when he played them to see what he did against them.”
This game might come down to whether or not the Packers will have success with big plays. Rodgers and company have created 12 plays of 40 or more yards this season, most coming through Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb outside the numbers. The Patriots, conversely, have only given up four such plays of 40 yards or more, tying them for second fewest in the league.
If the Patriots remain stingy and keep everything in front of them, they will have a better chance of slowing down Rodgers and forcing mistakes. Although the Packers will be at home and in front of a boisterous crowd, the Patriots have been playing flawless football on both sides of the ball. Expect a back and forth contest, but give a slight edge to Tom Brady and head coach Bill Belichick.
The Packers and Patriots can be seen on CBS, beginning at 4:25 p.m. Eastern time Sunday.