The Packers and Patriots Headed In Opposite Directions Ahead of Week 4 Matchup

While both franchises have been the model for consistency over the years, they are headed in opposite directions. 

Let's rewind to Week 13 of the 2014 season. The Tom Brady-led New England Patriots, 9-2 coming in and winners of seven straight contests, traveled to the Frozen Tundra to play the Packers, one game back of the Patriots in the win-loss column. Two of the top teams in the league. The Patriots were coming off yet another AFC championship game appearance (a loss to the Denver Broncos), while the Packers lost yet another heartbreaking playoff game to the 49ers in the wild card round. The Week 13 matchup was a potential Super Bowl matchup, and a home-run matchup at that, and it lived up to the hype and then some.  

Aaron Rodgers was en fuego, throwing for 368 yards and two touchdowns en route to a 112.6 passer rating. Davante Adams, a then-rookie, caught six passes for 121 yards. Randall Cobb led the team in receptions (7) and chipped in 85 yards. Jordy Nelson, covered by Darrell Revis, was held to two catches for 53 yards, but he broke free for a 45-yard touchdown reception, almost all of the yards being after the catch, right before halftime to give the Packers a nine-point lead, 23-14.

The Patriots scored early in the fourth quarter to pull within two and after the Mason Crosby made a 28-yard field goal, New England faced a crucial third down from the Packers' 20-yard line with a little over three minutes remaining. Mike Daniels and Mike Neal combined for a sack on Brady, the team's lone sack on the day, to force fourth down. Stephen Gostowski missed a 47-yard field goal, and the Packers would run out the clock to seal the 26-21 victory, outgaining the Patriots, 478 to 320, in the process.

SB Nation dubbed the Packers as "the new kings of the mountain." Bill Belichick, after the game, "said all week they had good skill players. They have good everything." Rodgers acknowledged that the team had "some big goals, and we're getting into December football now with a chance with everything right in front of us." 

Everything surely was right in front of the Packers and that home-run Super Bowl matchup almost came to fruition, if it was not for the Packers completely peeing down their legs against the Seahawks in the NFC title game. (No need to rehash that game for obvious reasons.) The Patriots went on to beat the Seahawks in the Super Bowl courtesy of a game-sealing interception by cornerback Malcom Butler at the goal line.

The franchise added another Lombardi Trophy in the 2016 season (vs. the Atlanta Falcons) and 2018 season (vs. the Los Angeles Rams) and made the Super Bowl in the 2017 season. The Packers, meanwhile, got smoked by the Falcons in the 2016 NFC Championship Game and then missed the playoffs the following two seasons before hiring Matt LaFleur. 

Altogether, since 2008, the Patriots and Packers are No.1 and No.2, respectively, in regular season winning percentage, per this week's Dope Sheet. They have been model franchises for consistency, but ahead of the Week 4 matchup, they could not be headed further in opposite directions. 

First, since letting Brady enter free agency in 2020, the Patriots have not won a playoff game as they missed the playoffs in 2020 and got their doors blown off against the Buffalo Bills a season ago as a wild card team. Conversely, over that same time period, the Packers were the top seed in the NFC, only to lose at home in the NFC Championship Game and lose in the Divisional Round last season. 

In addition, the bread-and-butter for New England in terms of roster management during their dynastic run with Tom Brady under center was, for the most part, draft and develop. The franchise took a hard turn in that regard during the 2021 offseason, backing up the Brinks truck to the tune of a record-breaking $163 million in guaranteed money. To acknowledge that it has not worked out for them would be an understatement. The Patriots are third in positional spending for the wide receiver position in 2022 (~$35.9 million), according to OverTheCap, but the unit only has one touchdown reception (Nelson Agholor). They are also first in positional spending for the tight end position (~$23.6 million), but Jonnu Smith and Hunter Henry have combined for a measly 10 receptions (16 targets) for 86 yards, with no touchdowns, through the first three games. 

Adding to that is the quandary at the quarterback position. While Mac Jones turned in a solid rookie year -- ~3,800 yards, 22 TDs, 13 INTs, 67.6% completion percentage, and a 92.5 passer rating -- he has struggled mightily to start the year. (It does not help that the two coaches heavily involved in the offensive game planning and game calling are Matt Patricia, a former defensive coordinator, and Joe Judge, a former special teams coordinator, but that is an article for another day.)

The former Alabama gunslinger has only thrown two touchdowns against five interceptions, including three interceptions last week against the subpar Ravens' pass defense, and has registered a 76.2 passer rating. His 76.2 passer rating ranks 31st. There is a lot of season left for him to turn it around, though who knows how much of that he will play after reportedly suffering a high ankle sprain in Week 3 that could cause him to miss "multiple games," per ESPN's Adam Schefter. NFL Network reporters Tom Pelissero and Ian Rapoport added that the injury was "pretty severe." (Assuming Jones misses Sunday's game and any subsequent, Brian Hoyer is set to start.) 

Patriots have some young talent, including but not limited to DT Christian Barmore and RB Rhamondre Stevenson. However, that did not instill all that much confidence in ESPN's panel of experts prior to the season as they ranked New England 13th in terms of projecting how the next three seasons will go. 

Yes, the Packers might soon face a quandary of their own at the quarterback position, depending on how long Rodgers sticks around, but they are still littered with young talent on both sides of the ball. That prompted that same panel of experts described above to rank the Packers tied for third. How does the 2022 draft class play into that? Thus far, it has yielded some positive returns as my CheeseheadTV colleague Andy Herman discussed here.

LaFleur's squad also appears to be in the driver's seat for their fourth straight division crown, courtesy of a stout defense, a more-than-competent (!) special teams, and at this point a good enough offense. On the flip side, the Patriots, sitting at 1-2, could very well finish in third place in the AFC East. 

If the Patriots walk into Lambeau Field and hand the Packers an L on Sunday, I might as well take an L, too, for writing this article. But if the Packers dominate the Patriots, which I think will be the case with Hoyer under center, then consider it a microcosm of the trajectory of both teams going forward.   

__________________________

Rex is a lifelong Packers fan but was sick of the cold, so he moved to the heart of Cowboys country. Follow him on Twitter (@Sheild92) and Instagram (@rex.sheild). 

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Comments (15)

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Thegreatreynoldo's picture

September 30, 2022 at 03:01 pm

One might wonder if the Packers are just 3 years behind the Patriots. The Packers probably are in better shape at some of the other positions, though I don't really remember how bare the cupboards were for NE back in 2020. The Patriots were 7-9 in 2020, and 10-7 in 2021 without Brady. How will the Packers fare when the time comes? 7-9 and 10-7 look pretty good to me.

On defense, they might need a starting safety in short order, perhaps two. Looking at depth, maybe another edge rusher and another defensive linemen. On offense, they probably need two TEs in short order, another WR, and a QB. I think it's likely they need an IOL and a RB, but they could decide to muddle through without those, and they could give Love a full year. Might as well, IMO.

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Coldworld's picture

October 01, 2022 at 08:28 am

Similar thoughts came into my mind in reading this. I think the difference is perhaps is that this is a roster seemingly constructed for the post Rodgers era in terms of age profiles at many key positions and then a few old retainers. Obviously that’s most obvious at the WR position. The Pats really hit the end of the era without that and had to regroup and retool heavily afterwards, not just at QB.

The difference is that we have LaFlrur and they have Bellicheck. I have a lot of difficulty saying this, but I know who I’d rather have getting any team ready to play. Perhaps LaFleur will blossom with a younger QB and a free hand to do things his way. One day soon we will find out, but the more I see of him the less acute I have found him to be.

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PatrickGB's picture

October 01, 2022 at 10:50 am

Cold, you, again, make good points. Belicheck is a superior coach. And it’s him not his assistants that shine in coaching. And it’s interesting that Matt’s assistant’s, also, have yet to do much when they have moved on. Matt’s record is quite good as HC these last years. But one has to wonder how much of that is based on the play of Rodgers. Matt LaFlour has the support of his locker room and Bill might not factor that into his coaching style. It will be interesting to see what the Green Bay Packers look like after Aaron Rodgers is gone. I suspect that Matt is trying to make us look something like the 49ers.

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canadapacker's picture

September 30, 2022 at 06:48 pm

One cannot argue against the Pats and their ownership - and I wouldnt write them off quite yet. They may have their franchise QB and one should always remember that they seem to develop QB's - Garapalo Brissett and a few others. They also dont tie up a whole bunch of money in players - they let them walk if they demand too much money. Bill B doesnt seem to do a good job at developing his subordinates as the jury is still out in Vegas and we know why his OC is back after a bad time in Detroit. Will Pederson succeed in Jacksonville - first overall supposedly the next great one - Maybe but otherwise??
Now will GB hit the same slump as the Pats once AR moves on? Probably - it would be hard to imagine a franchise getting 3 HOFers in a row. The game is also changing as well - one thing that I believe - Lafleur has not impressed me with anything innovative or super creative - he has just been a steady and consistent quality coach and allowed AR to succeed as the MVP trophies prove.

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PatrickGB's picture

September 30, 2022 at 07:10 pm

The article stated “ The franchise took a hard turn in that regard during the 2021 offseason, backing up the Brinks truck to the tune of a record-breaking $163 million in guaranteed money. To acknowledge that it has not worked out for them would be an understatement.”

So they HAVE spent (wasted) money. I think that a lot of time FA is a crapshoot.

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wildbill's picture

October 01, 2022 at 12:38 pm

Good point. When receiving a big FA contract some step it up and some put it on cruise and there are always injuries to count for. That’s why in the long run home grown talent wins out if your QB position is solid. They are cheaper and easier to part with.

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Thegreatreynoldo's picture

October 01, 2022 at 09:19 pm

IDK. They went 10-7 with Mac Jones at QB. Not the worst result. The Patriots are tight on the cap for 2022 but have a comfortable situation in 2023. So, it wasn't that terrible. Almost all of the guaranteed money is from a decent but not obscene signing bonus with guaranteed money in year two. Good and bad, as it makes dumping any non-performing players easy after year two.

Signing Jonnu Smith and Hunter Henry $87.5M ($56M guaranteed) seemed excessive. Yet Hunter had 603 yards but with 9 TDs, and both can block.

Judon is a stud ($56M/$32M guaranteed). Gadchaux and Deatrich Wise ($8M and $7.5M AAV) were acceptable at that cost. Wise is having an excellent 2022.

Agholar at $13M AAV and $15M guaranteed seems steep. More of a #3 than a #2. Doing okay in 2022, though.

NE is good in the trenches. Not going to be a pushover tomorrow. Should beat Hoyer (or Mac Jones), but GB will have to beat them.

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GregC's picture

September 30, 2022 at 08:22 pm

To say that the Packers and Patriots are headed in opposite directions implies that the Packers are headed up while the Patriots are headed down. But the Packers aren't headed up. They are already near the top and appear to be maintaining their position. And a steep decline is likely any year now, whenever Aaron Rodgers leaves.

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NitschkeFromTheGrave's picture

September 30, 2022 at 08:53 pm

Before we get too far ahead of ourselves with the bravado chest thumping and swagger lets try to remember the Packers have a very bad habit of PLAYING DOWN TO WEAKER OPPONENTS.
I would love to jump on the band wagon and put the W in place but the bite of these scars still sting.
As they say, "That's why they still play out the game."

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Tundraboy's picture

September 30, 2022 at 09:20 pm

Sage advice. We've been down that road way too often, to feel any unshakeable confidence. MLF vs Bill? polar opposites when it comes to in-game adjustments has me a bit leery. GPG nonethe less!!

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croatpackfan's picture

October 01, 2022 at 07:53 am

I agree with your concern. Only hope I have is that Bill B is very esteemed HC, so some adrenalin can be found amongst Packers regarding this game...

How serious are we will see with game inactives hour before the game. I would like to see Toure as active, as there is no film of him, so he might be small surprise for their D.

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PatrickGB's picture

October 01, 2022 at 10:55 am

Aaron Rodgers commented on “Trap Games”. He said that they do not exist in the locker room. That may be true but, for whatever reason, it still happens. Perhaps that’s just the NFL. But maybe it’s due to an under appreciation of the opponent. Matt sure emphasized it after wins. But it’s up the the players to own it.

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egbertsouse's picture

October 01, 2022 at 07:23 am

Unlike a lot of Packer fans I like Belichick, in all his grouchy old fart glory. Instead of the insipid coach-speak that MLF and most other head coaches spout Belichick is dismissive of the whole process and basically tells them to get off his lawn before he blasts them with the garden hose. Gotta love anyone who doesn’t play by King Roger’s rules.

In the interest of transparency I must disclose that I, too, am a grouchy old fart so that colors my opinion. In fact, just last week I visited Wabasha, MN, the Mecca for grumpy old farts. Even the guy in the coffee shop was grumpy. He had a sign that said “No containers containing liquids may be place on counter.” In a coffee shop! Everybody had to stand and hold their coffee cups because you couldn’t set them down. Now that’s one grumpy old man. Even I was impressed.

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PatrickGB's picture

October 01, 2022 at 11:02 am

I like Bad Bill too. And I can relate to that mindset. But as far as those coffee shop rules, my guess is that coffee must be pretty good and the owner indulged by the customers. 😉

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wildbill's picture

October 01, 2022 at 12:41 pm

I’m also a big fan of BB, love his press smack downs

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