This game probably looked pretty good back in May when the NFL released its 2022 schedule.
Aaron Rodgers, the two-time defending league MVP, taking his Green Bay Packers up to Highmark Stadium to face possible future league MVP Josh Allen and the explosive Buffalo Bills in the NFL’s top prime-time TV slot, Sunday Night Football.
The folks at NBC must have been thrilled, and hey, maybe it still will be a classic matchup. But seven weeks into the season, the 3-4 Packers have played so inconsistently and, really, so disappointingly, that they are 11.5-point underdogs in a game that could be ugly if the Bills – coming off their bye – aren’t rusty and play to the level they have all season on both sides of the ball.
Everything seems to favor the Bills, which of course makes this potentially dangerous if they take the Packers lightly, but based on some of their comments this week, they aren’t.
“It’s Aaron Rodgers, man,” safety Jordan Poyer said. “I don’t care what their record is, I don’t care if they’re struggling. That’s still Aaron Rodgers. Any time he’s lining up back there at quarterback you better be on your stuff because that’s a Hall of Fame quarterback, arguably one of the best quarterbacks to ever play the game. We’re going to have to play well on defense to win.”
Here’s what you should know about the game, followed by my prediction:
Buffalo Bills on offense: Passing game will be challenged
The Packers rank No. 1 in the NFL in pass defense, allowing just 168.9 yards per game. However, there is some nuance to consider.
These are the quarterbacks they have faced in the first seven weeks:
No Josh Allen’s in that crew, and certainly not the depth of talent on any of those offenses that Buffalo possesses. This will be the first time the Packers’ pass defense will truly be tested as Buffalo ranks No. 1 in the NFL in passing.
Still, that’s not to say the Packers aren’t up for the challenge. This is a defense that features seven former first-round draft picks: linemen Rashan Gary, Kenny Clark, and Devonte Wyatt, linebacker Quay Walker, and defensive backs Jaire Alexander, Eric Stokes and Darnell Savage.
Green Bay’s pass rush has a sack percentage of 7.54%, 10th in the NFL. Gary is a presence on the outside with six sacks and 28 pressures and Pro Football Focus grades him as the sixth-most effective edge rusher. LB Preston Smith has been productive as a blitzer, and LB De’Vondre Campbell, the Packers leading tackler, has the fourth-best coverage grade among all LBs. For comparison, Matt Milano is second in that category.
In the secondary, Alexander remains one of the best coverage CBs in the league and versatile Rasul Douglas, who can play outside and in the slot, is allowing just 6.6 yards per reception. Allen should be able to get favorable matchups and if the Bills have any success running the ball, things could really open up in the passing game. Paramount against a desperate team like this is that the Bills avoid the types of mistakes that could keep the Packers hanging around.
Buffalo Bills on defense: Beware of Packers run game
The most glaring thing about Green Bay’s offense is the lack of playmakers in the passing game since they allowed WRs Davante Adams and Marquez Valdes-Scantling to leave in free agency. And Sunday, Rodgers will be without his top two holdover WRs, Allen Lazard and Randall Cobb, so he is left with ex-Bill Sammy Watkins, Amari Rodgers, and three rookies – Christian Watson, Romeo Doubs and Samori Toure.
Those five have combined for just 45 catches, with 26 of those from Doubs. The player the Bills may have to be most concerned about is TE Robert Tonyan, who leads the Packers with 30 catches. Also, RB Aaron Jones has been a favorite target out of the backfield and has 26 receptions because Rodgers, with no downfield threats, is throwing nearly 80% of his passes within five yards of the line of scrimmage.
As difficult as it may be for Rodgers to swallow his ego, the Packers may want to try relying less on him and more on their run game with the 1-2 punch of Jones and 247-pound bruiser A.J. Dillon. The Packers ran for 203 yards against the Bears in Week 2 and 199 against the Patriots in Week 4 and won both games, but over the last three they have ignored Jones and Dillon. Green Bay has just 192 rushing yards during its three-game losing streak.
The Bills’ run defense is No. 1 in the NFL with a yield of just 76.2 yards per game, but let’s also remember this: They won three games in blowouts when the Rams, Titans and Steelers were in pass mode throughout the second half. Overall, teams are running just 36.2% of the time against Buffalo, and those two factors greatly enhance the Bills’ run defense ranking. If for no other reason, the Packers should try to run more in order to control the clock and keep Allen off the field.
Buffalo Bills vs Green Bay Packers: Extra points
▶ Third downs should be interesting when the Bills are on offense. They lead the league having converted 52.7% on the money down, but the Packers’ defense has been very good on third down, allowing a conversion rate of just 30%.
▶ This is the first time in Rodgers’ career where he has gone the first seven games of a season without throwing either for 300 yards or three touchdowns in any of them.
▶ Green Bay has been outscored 44-16 in the second halves of the last three games. For the season, the Bills have won the second half 84-17.
▶ Despite the early struggles, Packers head coach Matt LaFleur still has the third-highest winning percentage (42-14, .750) in NFL history, minimum 50 games.
▶ The Packers have won 13 consecutive prime-time games, the longest such streak in the NFL since 2000.
▶ Under Sean McDermott, the Bills are 3-0 in Sunday Night Football games, and they are 5-0 coming off their bye week.
▶ This is quite a QB matchup. Allen has the highest passer rating (108.6) among all quarterbacks with at least 300 pass attempts in prime-time games since 1970, while Rodgers ranks second (106.5), albeit with way, way, way more attempts.
▶ Allen’s 2,237 yards of total offense are more than nine NFL teams have compiled this season.
▶ Stefon Diggs now has the most 10-catch games (7) in Bills history, one more than Andre Reed.
Rodgers has never been a heavier underdog in his career as he comes to Buffalo, and he was playing that card big time this week, saying that no one besides the folks who wear cheese heads will give the Packers any chance to win.
And he’s right. When you look at these two teams, man for man, the Bills have the superior roster. The Packers defense is stout and I don’t think the Bills will light them up, but I also think they’ll score more than enough to win the game.
As great as Rodgers has always been, the glaring lack of viable weapons around him, and going against a superb Buffalo defense on the road is probably even too much for the future Hall of Famer to overcome.
2022 Buffalo Bills schedule
Sun. 10/23 Bye week
Sun. 11/6 at Jets, 1 p.m.
Sun. 11/13 vs. Vikings, 1 p.m.
Sun. 11/20 vs. Browns, 1 p.m.
Thur. 11/24 at Lions, 12:30 p.m.
Thur. 12/1 at Patriots, 8:15 p.m.
Sun. 12/11 vs Jets, 1 p.m.
Sun. 12/18, vs. Dolphins, TBD
Sat. 12/24 at Bears, 1 p.m.
Mon. 1/2 at Bengals, 8:30 p.m.
Sun. 1/8 vs. Patriots, TBD
Sal Maiorana can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @salmaiorana.To subscribe to Sal’s new twice-a-week newsletter, Bills Blast, please follow this link: https://profile.democratandchronicle.com/newsletters/bills-blast
This content was originally published here.