The Green Bay Packers get set to hit the road this weekend for the first of two straight games away from the comforts of Lambeau Field. First up? The Buffalo Bills in western New York. The Packers have never won there. Ever. History may have nothing to do with this current Packers team, but to me, it counts for something. Buffalo is hardly any type of juggernaut this season, but there still lies a bit of mystique to getting your franchise’s first win at a particular venue. Given that this rivalry dates back 40 years, a first win is nothing to scoff at.
But on to the things that really matter: This game. This Packers team. Another big test on the road against a very good defense. Another big opportunity for Green Bay to set themselves up for a top playoff seed. All they have to do is exactly what the “experts” are predicting that they will: win. Spoiler alert: if you haven’t already visited our ALLGBP.com Predictions post for tomorrow’s game, I didn’t predict the same thing that many did. I took Buffalo to win. More on that in a bit. Here’s a bit of a diatribe on this Packers team and the varying opinions on where they’re headed.
The Packers got a bit of good news and bad news on Friday. The good news: Running back Eddie Lacy is listed as probable and while he won’t likely be 100% by kickoff, his presence is still something the Bills have to be aware of. Lacy on one leg is still dangerous enough to keep an opposing defense from playing off all day long. That said, if Lacy isn’t productive early and if Buffalo has little trouble keeping him under wraps, it will immediately impact the Packers’ offense. Behind Lacy is James Starks, who played his college ball in Buffalo. I don’t know much about Starks personally, but I’m hoping he’s one that turns it up a notch when he’s back where he came from. Now for the bad news: Cornerback Davon House’s shoulder injury is likely to keep him out this week as he was not able to practice all week as of Friday. House isn’t a starter but he does see time most every week and he did a decent job in relief of Sam Shields last week. The term “decent” is a relative term, given the insane numbers Atlanta Falcons receiver Julio Jones dropped on the Packers. By “decent”, I mean House didn’t allow every single ball thrown at Jones to be a completion. With House out, that means we’ll see more of Casey Hayward, who has a knack for getting around the ball with increased time on the field. Hayward has seen the fewest number of snaps among the corners over the last three games, however, so can he step up and make an impact when called upon?
The win over Atlanta was due, in large part, to the Packers’ offensive efficiency in the first half. That offense is led by Aaron Rodgers and at times when the defense hasn’t been all that it can be, Rodgers has done enough to bail them out. I have seen a lot of comparisons of last week’s defensive performance to what we saw every week during 2011. The “bend but don’t break” defense that sat back in a cover-2 shell and allowed anything in front of them to roam as free as a buffalo in Montana. The worrywarts are out in droves wondering if the defense is primed to let us down at the worst possible time and with playoff spots and seeding on the line. The “fire Capers” guy is alive and well and wondering if Capers cares enough to admit his scheme doesn’t work and reinvent the defense to some magical thing that no one has ever seen and romp their way through January. I doubt it. The part about Capers reinventing the defense, that is. I don’t doubt that this defense is good enough to beat really good teams and certainly can again.
Back to Rodgers. So he bails the team out at times. So he gives the Packers an edge no other team has because there’s simply no other quarterback in the game like him. Are we, as Packers fans, supposed to apologize and agree that the Packers are “lucky” just because they have a special human being playing the most important position on their beloved team? A win is a win, however it happens. As has been said, this Packers team (unlike the one in 2011) is finding ways to win games using different methods. To me, that’s evolving and growing. It’s hard to ask for a whole lot more, although I know many of you can and will. But before you do: 35 touchdowns. Three interceptions (and not all of them were on the quarterback). One was thrown in week one. Rodgers has two interceptions since week one.
There may be some parallels to 2011 in that the Packers are winning a lot, Rodgers is a MVP candidate and the team is poised for a deep playoff run, but this 2014 team just has a different feel to it, doesn’t it? Some of the veterans are a few years wiser, including Rodgers. There are more veterans like Julius Peppers and Letroy Guion to throw in with Clay Matthews, Josh Sitton, Jordy Nelson, Tramon Williams and Sam Shields. The Packers are winning at home. 7-0 to be exact, including wins over the Philadelphia Eagles and New England Patriots. The story is still unwritten but it seems like we haven’t seen it all yet, doesn’t it?
What exactly “it” is begins with this game against the Bills. They’re 7-6 and have lost three games at home this season. On the surface, that doesn’t sound like much to fret over. The Packers are favored and on paper, are the better team. Buffalo may be a tough place to play, but the Packers are one of the best in the NFL right now. Eventually, that has to rise up and get Green Bay a win in this tough venue, as long as the Packers play their game, right? The Bills offense may not have a ton to say about it, but it’s their defense that will do most of the talking. Most quarterback sacks of any other team and a top-five-ranked defense overall. Sounds like they can pressure with four and drop the rest into coverage. Sounds like exactly the type of defense that can and has stifled the Green Bay offense before this season. In that scenario, the offense doesn’t need to be great and with Kyle Orton at quarterback, I don’t know if “great” is in the cards, but they need only be adequate. I’m still having flashbacks to that horrific day in Kansas City when Orton led a Chiefs team to the only regular season victory over the Packers and spoil their bid at a perfect 16-0 record. The same Orton the Packers beat up on earlier that season when he was with the Denver Broncos. To be clear, I’m not afraid of what Orton is. I’m afraid of the very little Orton may be required to be to get past the mighty Pack in this game. A low-scoring game in which the Packers offense struggles all day to move the ball and score and in which the Bills squeak out one or two more big plays than Green Bay does and all of a sudden, there’s a logjam in the NFC with two weeks to go. Please let the Matthews pictured above come out and play this week. Pretty please!
It’s expected to be 37 degrees and overcast in Buffalo tomorrow. I’m not sure what the wind will be like. That’s Packers weather and as is usually the case on the road, there will likely be many Packers fans in attendance. Not quite like home but not totally unfamiliar.
I don’t have the magic matchup to watch for or the best offensive game plan to beat the Bills defense. It’s going to come down to the guys up front. The big uglies. Keep Rodgers on his feet and take Orton off of his every chance you get. Bills receiver Sammy Watkins is no Julio Jones, but let’s not cover him as such, OK guys? The defense has to take advantage of opportunities and take the ball away when they can. More importantly, they have to get off the field on third down and don’t let the Bills gash them with the run, setting up easy second and third down opportunities.
A win keeps the Packers in the thick of a division title race and a chance at a top seed. With the Arizona Cardinals beating the St. Louis Rams already this week, the pressure is on in the NFC to keep pace and hope they eventually succumb to the carousel that their quarterback position has become. Arizona has games against the Seattle Seahawks and San Francisco 49ers remaining. Seattle is chasing a top seed and appear to be playing some of that 2013 style of football we are all still trying to forget. Beat Arizona, but then chill, OK ‘Hawks? A Packers loss isn’t catastrophic and there is still a good chance that they win the North or get a wild card berth, but if Seattle finishes with the same record, another trip to CenturyLink could be in Green Bay’s future. The Detroit Lions face the Minnesota Vikings and Chicago Bears over the next two weeks so there is a good chance they come into that week 17 game in Green Bay with a chance to win and they’re in.
Oh the drama! I’m hoping the only drama I see is everyone telling me what a fool I was for picking against the Pack.
Jason Perone is an independent sports blogger writing about the Packers on AllGreenBayPackers.comFollow Jason Perone: