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Green Bay Packers vs. New Orleans Saints Preview and Prediction

Aaron Rodgers

Aaron Rodgers

Two of the NFL’s best quarterbacks will share the spotlight tonight when the Green Bay Packers take on the New Orleans Saints on NBC. Aaron Rodgers and the Packers (5-2) are in the midst of a four-game winning streak, while Drew Brees and the Saints (2-4) hope a return to the Mercedes-Benz Superdome will produce better results on the field.

Tonight marks the fourth head-to-head meeting between Rodgers and Brees, who have a combined 175 regular-season wins, 78,868 yards passing, 580 touchdown passes, 11 Pro Bowl invites and two Super Bowl MVP awards between them. Rodgers holds a 2-1 edge, as the home team has won each time. The last meeting took place at Lambeau Field during Week 4 of the 2012 season. Green Bay won 28-27, as the two quarterbacks combined for 765 yards and seven touchdown passes.

Green Bay Packers at New Orleans Saints

Kickoff: 8:30 p.m. ET

TV Channel: NBC

Spread: New Orleans -1

Three Things to Watch

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1. Red-Hot Rodgers

Following Green Bay’s uncharacteristic 1-2 start, Aaron Rodgers had a simple message for the Packers’ passionate fan base: R-E-L-A-X. Turns out the MVP and Super Bowl-winning quarterback knew what he was talking about. Since losing 19-7 in Detroit in Week 3, Green Bay has won four in a row with only one of those victories coming by less than 21 points. Not surprisingly, Rodgers has been at the forefront of this hot streak, completing 71 percent of his passes for 977 yards, 13 touchdowns and no interceptions over the last four games. Besides blowing out the Bears on the road and the Vikings and Panthers at home, Rodgers tossed the game-winning touchdown pass with two seconds remaining to beat the Dolphins in Miami in Week 6. In short, Rodgers has done it all during this streak and trying to slow him down will New Orleans’ main priority. Easier said than done, however, as the Saints enter this game ranked 28th in the NFL in passing defense (270.5 ypg). 

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2. Saints in a Rush?

New Orleans’ offense begins and ends with Drew Brees, but the Saints also have had success running the ball this season and it’s a strategy they may want to stick to tonight. New Orleans is second in the NFL in total offense (437.0 ypg), and while the passing game is doing its usual thing (314.0 ypg, 2nd), the running game also has been getting the job done. The Saints are 13th in rushing at 123.0 yards per game, which is a far cry from the 92.1 they averaged last season. Mark Ingram got off to a strong start (143 yards, 3 TDs) before breaking his hand in Week 2, but he returned last week. In Ingram’s absence, Khiry Robinson picked up the slack and the second-year back is leading the team with 330 yards on a 5.2-yard-per-carry clip. Pierre Thomas also has chipped in with 133 yards (4.4 ypc) and two touchdowns on the ground, but he’s expected to miss 2-3 weeks after injuring his shoulder in last week’s loss in Detroit. As a team, the Saints are averaging 4.9 yards per carry with seven rushing touchdowns, compared to 3.8 and 10 for all of 2013. This success on the ground may very well continue tonight, as Green Bay is second to last in rushing defense. The Packers are allowing close to 150 yards rushing per game and have yet to hold an opponent to less than 108. New Orleans may not be known for running the ball, but head coach Sean Payton may want to stay grounded tonight, especially if it gives the Saints their best chance of winning.

3. Jimmy Graham’s Supporting Cast

Graham is without question one of the hardest players to cover in the NFL and his numbers back this up. Over his last three seasons, Graham has averaged 90 receptions for 1,169 yards and 12 touchdowns. Those numbers are impressive for a wide receiver let alone a tight end. Graham is once again leading the team in receiving (34-376-3), but he’s also dealing with a sprained shoulder that basically turned the All-Pro into a decoy last week. Playing through an injury that reportedly was going to keep him out several weeks, Graham was targeted twice, but didn’t catch any passes in the loss to Detroit. Graham’s injury underscores the need for other pass-catchers to step up their production. After all, even though the Saints have had success running the ball, they also have an offensive mastermind for a head coach in Sean Payton and a future Hall of Fame quarterback in Drew Brees. They should be able to beat defenses through the air too. Wide receiver Marques Colston is the veteran and he has had his moments with two 100-yard games already, but he also posted a bagel in the Week 2 loss in Cleveland. First-round pick Brandin Cooks was supposed to be Payton and Brees’ new favorite toy, but the speedy Biletnikoff Award winner from Oregon State has just one touchdown and is averaging only 8.2 yards per reception, despite being tied with Graham for the team lead in catches (34). Kenny Stills has big-play ability (16.3 ypc), but an injury slowed him early on, although he is coming off of his best game (103 yards vs. Detroit). Even with the injury to running back Pierre Thomas, who is second on the team with 26 catches, Brees doesn’t lack for options to throw to. He just needs those not named Graham to be more consistent and make a few more big plays, especially with his most trusted and productive target a little banged up at the moment.

Final Analysis

Green Bay is one of the hottest teams in the NFL right now, winning its last four games by an average of 19.3 points per game. Aaron Rodgers is once again putting up MVP-caliber numbers, which have been needed since the Packers have had their issues both running the ball consistently and on defense. New Orleans is reeling somewhat after letting one slip away in Detroit last week. The Saints play four of their next five games at home so they can ill afford to let any of these opportunities pass by. While things have been going Green Bay’s way lately, it’s really hard to pick against New Orleans in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Sean Payton’s team gets back to the basics, including a heavier dose of the running game than usual, and Drew Brees chips in with some big throws late, as the Saints defend home turf and start their march back to playoff contention. 

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Prediction: New Orleans 30, Green Bay 27