This Sunday, the Green Bay Packers will return to Lambeau Field and take on the New Orleans Saints. This will be the first meeting between these two teams since 2014 when the Saints won a 44-23 shootout. The Packers are currently 4-2 are tied for the division lead in the NFC North. The Saints are currently 3-2 and look poised to compete for a division title in the NFC South. This should make for an entertainingly competitive contest that should come down to the wire.
There are three specific matchups that can decide this game:
1. Brett Hundley vs. the Saints’ Secondary
Last week, the Packers suffered a crucial blow to their Super Bowl and even playoff chances. In the first half of last week’s game against the Vikings, quarterback Aaron Rodgers broke his collarbone after being hit by linebacker Anthony Barr. Replacing him is third-year quarterback Brett Hundley. Although Hundley lacks experience, he has looked strong in his preseason career which shows that he has the capability to put up decent numbers with additional reps. However, Hundley looked awful in relief last week as he only completed 54.5% of his passes and threw for three interceptions. In his defense, Hundley was put in one of the worst positions possible. He had to come in off the bench against an elite defense on the road. Hundley was obviously overwhelmed and will look to improve against the Saints due to his added reps in practice.
Entering the season, the Saints had one glaring concern that could potentially ruin their season. That concern was the team’s defense. However, the Saints defense has looked really solid that last few weeks and their defense now looks like an above average unit. What makes this unit so good is its ability to force turnovers. The Saints are tied for ninth in the league in takeaways and will look to force a couple from new quarterback Brett Hundley.
2. The Packers’ Defense vs. Drew Brees
With Aaron Rodgers out for the season, The Packers’ defense will have to step up in order to compensate for the reduction in offensive production. Unfortunately for them, their first game without Rodgers will be against the potent New Orleans offense led by future Hall of Fame quarterback Drew Brees. So far this season, Brees has 10 passing touchdowns and only two interceptions along with over 1,300 passing yards.
Brees’ job this season has been relatively easier than in recent years due to their effective running game. Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara has been an effective tandem and they will look to keep the Packers off-balance for the duration of this contest. Brees also benefits from the return of wide receiver Willie Snead, who missed the first four games of the season with a suspension. With Michael Thomas, Snead and Ted Ginn in the same receiving corps, the Saints have the ability to put points up in bunches against the young secondary of the Packers.
3. The Packers’ Offensive Line vs. The Saints’ Defensive Line
Every week, I have mentioned the Packers’ offensive line as part of a key matchup due to its unpredictability. Until the Packers solve this crisis, it could potentially ruin their season. Now that Aaron Rodgers cannot save this unit from even worse statistics, this has to be considered a key matchup. Although Brett Hundley does possess a ton of mobility, the lack of experience could be a huge concern on Sunday. The Packers currently are tied for first in the league in sacks allowed with 23. The offensive line needs to improve drastically within the next few weeks or it is highly unlikely that the Packers will return to the playoffs by season’s end.
The reason for the offensive line woes are the injuries to both starting tackles on the roster. Both David Bakhtiari and Bryan Bulaga have missed a large portion of the season already are are both listed as questionable for Sunday’s game. Both tackles, when healthy, are above average and would solve the team’s protection issues almost instantly. However, until that happens, Brett Hundley might find himself on his back more often that an average quarterback should.
Prediction: New Orleans Saints 27, Packers 23