Any time two of the greatest players in NFL's history square off in a primetime game, it's something that demands attention. That's exactly what's happening this Sunday night as Tom Brady and the Patriots host Aaron Rodgers and the Packers on Sunday Night Football.

Brady and Rodgers does not want to be on the field at the same time, of course, but watching them. We only get to see this happen once every four years, after all. (Which is a shame, by the way.)

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The fortunes of the two quarterbacks' teams seagulls in different directions this season, as the Patriots have once again reasserted their dominance in the East after a slow start AFC, while the packers have stumbled with them Losses in two of their past three games. Mike McCarthy and the Packers just traded away for each side of the ball. Meanwhile, Bill Belichick and company have barely been at full strength and just keep winning.

What will happen Sunday night (8:20 p.m., NBC, Stream on FUBOTV)? We're glad you asked.

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When the Patriots have the ball

Green Bay's defense is an interesting study. The Packers is now ranked high in yards allowed per game (12th), but check in about average in points allowed per game (17th) and solid below-average in efficiency (20th in Football Outsiders' DVOA). Considering the packers just traded one of the NFL's best safeties (Ha Ha Clinton-Dix), it would be reasonable to expect them to drop off in certain areas over the rest of the season. That drop-off may well begin on Sunday night, as the Patriots are becoming vulnerable.

For years Tom Brady's No. 1 passing game option, volume-wise, has been slot receiver Julian Edelman. Edelman sat out all last season with a torn ACL but during the four priority campaigns he averaged at least 6 catches and at least 66 receiving yards per game. Edelman has picked up where he left off, averaging 6.3 catches for 62.8 yards per game during his first four contests while once again operating primarily out of the slot. And would not you know, the slot is one of the weakest areas of the packers' defense. On the year, according to Sports Info Solutions, players have caught 66 passes for 951 yards and nine touchdowns against the Packers. They've allowed a 113.9 passer rating on throws to slot wideouts, via SIS, which ranks 24th in the NFL.

Green Bay's overall pass defense is most vulnerable over the middle of the field. It has allowed 76 completions on 116 attempts, for 963 yards, 10 touchdowns, and two interceptions on throws over the middle, via SIS. That works out to be a 112.8 pass rating against – second-worst on the NFL ahead of only the Buccaneers. James White that isolate linebackers, safeties, and corners in space, and when Brady can fire over and over the middle where nobody can catch it except for his short, quick pass -catchers, it's almost impossible to defend. Clinton-Dix, who played a big role in that. The Packers have been in the passing game against running back and tight ends this season. It's reasonable to expect that the Pats will have more success throwing to James White and Rob Gronkowski than previous opponents did throwing to their backs and tight ends.

Where things could get interesting on Sunday is in the running game and in the perimeter passing game matchups.

The Patriots had been running the ball for just a while, but Sony's injury has put them on a cramp in the style of last week. With only White and Kenjon Barner running, the Pats actually turned to Cordarrelle Patterson for the majority of their claims against Buffalo, and that strategy was not exactly successful. The packers do not necessarily have a dreadful run defense, but they have been somewhat vulnerable on the ground, allowing 4.4 yards per carry. They've also allowed a ton of rushing yards in their past two games, allowing the 49ers and Rams to gain 309 yards combined. If the Pats do not have Michel, however, it's difficult to see them finding much success with the run. (Michel has been practicing on a limited basis this week and is expected to be listed as questionable.)

They view the ball, they make it up. Barner, who just received two carries last week, is one of only two active running backs. And Patterson is not a running back. They need Michel in order to access that aspect of their offense.

On the perimeter, the Packers may have found a real star in cornerback Jaire Alexander, for whom they first traded in the first round of the 2018 draft. A stud at Louisville with great athleticism (eighth among all 2018 corners in SPARQ, with an athleticism degree in the 92nd percentile), Alexander has emerged as a potential shutdown option, and is arguably his best game of the season. Alexander has limited quarterbacks to a 72.3 passer rating on throws in his direction and keeps up with the extremely hard to cover Brandin Cooks and Robert Woods last week. Josh Gordon this week, hoping to stop New England's premier outside receivers making an impact on the game.

When the Packers have the ball

Last Week, Aaron Jones is the best running back on their team. Jones and Jamaal Williams are now the only game left in town for the Green Bay backfield. The coaching staff still clearly trusts Williams more as a pass-blocker and perhaps pass-catcher, but would this week be lean on Jones against a New England defense that is extremely fundamental and misses tackles. The Pats have had the lowest broken-tackle rate in football. Williams, meanwhile, has forced 14 missed tackles on only 44 rush attempts, while Williams has forced only seven on 63 attempts.

Rodgers is important against a defense that has been vulnerable to third downs. The Pats have allowed 43 percent of their third-down opportunities, 26th in the NFL. The Pats have forced more third-and-long situations than almost any team in the NFL, however, and have allowed conversions on only 28 percent of third-downs with six or more yards to go have needed six or more yards for a first.) Converse, opposing teams are 26 of 37 on three downs with five or fewer yards to go against the pats. That 70.3 percent conversion rate is the second-worst in the NFL, ahead of only the Bengals.

When Rodgers goes to the air, he has a plethora of goals from which to choose these days. Davide Adams was still the leading man, but Geronimo Allison, Randall Cobb, and Marquez Valdes-Scantling all worked out as the essential parts of a no. 2/3 time-share. The same arrangement should be expected to continue on Sunday night against the Pats.

Adams wants to presumably see a whole lot of Stephon Gilmore, who has taken his game to new heights during his second season in New England. The former Bills corner has been down in the last few years, 26th among 140 players who have been targeted in coverage 20 times or more. Of course, Adams has dealt with shadow coverage this season from players like Xavier Rhodes, Tre'Davious White, Darius Slay, and Marcus Peters, and he has had huge days against pretty much all of them. Rodgers trusts him as much as any quarterbacks trusts any receiver in football, and he adopts the ball in a small window that he adopts , Adams himself has over the past three games for 24 catches, 405 yards, and three touchdowns, at an average of 8-135-1 with a 69 percent catch rate.

If and when Rodgers sees Adams lined up from a non Gilmore corner, he should just fire the ball his way every time. Eric Rowe is now in jail for the year with a major injury, Jonathan Jones is working on a full-time starting role. Jones has just finished this year, but Adams has more than that. Considering the types of throws Rodgers tends to go to Adam's (slants, fades, digs, etc.), the size advantage should help him see success in that matchup.

Whether Allison, Cobb, Valdes-Scantling, and Jimmy Graham can make a fortunate impact on Belichick and company's game plan for the Packers. Belichick loves shutting down versatile tight ends like Graham who can make plays downfield over the middle, but doing so requires devoting extra resources to places they might not normally, and that can open up the slot for Cobb or some deeper, double-move type plays for Allison or Valdes-Scantling. Rodgers with good protection so they can hang back in the pocket and wait for them to develop.

Prediction: Patriots 31, Packers 27


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