Green Bay Packers (7-6 SU, 7-6 ATS) vs. Carolina Panthers (9-4 SU, 8-5 ATS)
NFL Week 15
Date/Time: Sunday, December 17 at 1PM EST
Where: Bank of America Stadium
by Evergreen, Expert Football Handicapper, Predictem.com
Point Spread: GB +2.5/CAR -2.5
Over/Under Total: 47
Great quarterback matchups usually make for great games and we are probably in for a great one Sunday when Aaron Rodgers returns to lead the Green Bay Packers against Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers. It has been eight weeks since we have seen Rodgers in action and the question of rust is always attached to a player making a comeback after a long layoff. Green Bay stayed in the playoff hunt, going 3-5 without their MVP QB but at 7-6 overall, the Packers are likely facing a scenario where they have to win out to make the playoffs. Their postseason chances dwindle to 4% according to Nate Silver should they lose this weekend so it will not be enough just to have Rodgers back, he will have to play well or his return may be for nothing.
Rodgers wasnt cleared to play until late Tuesday so we all had to wait before the online betting sites hit the board with Carolina as 2.5 point favorites. The Panthers are 5-1 against the spread in their last six overall and the home team has won four of the last five ATS in this series. The Packers are 4-1 ATS in their last five on the road but are just 1-4 ATS in the last five against an opponent with a winning record. The Sagarin metrics have Carolina as the 6th best team with Green Bay at #16 but much of that ranking is weighed on their performance without A-Rod. After a 4-1 start with Rodgers, Green Bay was a top-5 Sagarin team. Those computers are predicting a 25-17 Carolina win.
The injury news in Green Bay is overwhelmingly positive in regards to the quarterback but the defense is dealing with some key issues. Rookie CB Kevin King is already out for the season and now CB Davon House is doubtful for Sunday. That leaves the Packers awfully thin in the secondary and they are already in the bottom-10 in pass defense with their preferred starters in the lineup. Carolina is averaging less than 200 yards passing per game but a depleted secondary can make any pass offense look good. DeShone Kizer of the Browns was able to set a career-high with three touchdown passes last week against this Packer pass defense. Carolina is a bit better off on the injury front but they could be without C Tyler Larsen. The center can be overlooked until he is not there making the coverage calls for the line. The Panthers are the 5th best run team in the league and a lot of that success starts in the middle of the O-Line as well. LB Shaq Lawson is also not a guarantee to see the field Sunday and Carolina would like to see as many bodies available to help limit Rodgers.
I think it is pretty clear that Rodgers will get right back on track with his receivers considering Adams, Cobb and Nelson all have plenty of experience with Rodgers. Their running backs are rookies so perhaps their transition back to Rodgers may be a little problematic. Rodgers like to make adjustments at the line so it will be incumbent upon Jamaal Williams and Aaron Jones to get the right calls on those audibles. Those backs can clearly take care of business with the ball as the duo has combined for 774 rushing yards and eight touchdowns in just over six games. Jordy Nelson has been a bit of a forgotten man with Brett Hundley at the helm. Look for Rodgers and Nelson to recapture their near legendary comfort level and make a few plays this weekend.
Carolina looks good for the playoffs at 9-4 and are fresh off a great win against the Vikings. They are tied atop the division with New Orleans but after losing both meeting with Saints, the Panthers need to finish strong if they want to win the NFC South. As usual, most of the offense goes directly through Cam Newton. He is hitting on 60% of his passes and thrown for 17 touchdowns, adding five more rushing scores. He is a bit turnover-happy with 12 interceptions but that is part of the process with Cam and those turnovers are often offset with big plays on the other side. Jonathan Stewart is a thumper of a back. He will attack the 18th ranked Green Bay run defense while Christian McCaffrey (67 rec, 4 rec TD) will provide a matchup problem for the Packer linebackers in coverage. Green Bay has been hurt by pass-catching backs in recent weeks so look for McCaffrey to be a factor. Greg Olsen is back from a foot injury that sent him to the IR but he just one catch for ten yards since returning and has yet to play in back-to-back games since coming off the injured reserve. Devin Funchess leads Carolina with 762 receiving yards and seven touchdowns. He will be especially useful in the redzone where he can utilize his big body to outmuscle smaller defenders.
A secondary matchup key for this game is the Carolina rush against Green Bays offensive line protections. The Packers have allowed the third most sacks in the league and there will probably be some extra help held back to protect Rodgers. If that takes receivers out of the routes, Carolinas job will be made easier by eliminating potential targets. The Panthers are already a top-10 pass defense and they have posted those marks in the pass-happy NFC South. If Carolina can get to Rodgers consistently, it may heighten any timing issues Green Bay has in the pass game. With both teams healthy last season, Carolina was able to gain a 37-29 win against Green Bay at Bank of America Stadium. That Packers defense was statistically better than the one taking the field this Sunday and that could spell trouble if Carolina is going to push the 30 point threshold again.
Green Bay surely loves having Mr. Rodgers back but this is not a great spot for him to make a return. Carolina is 5th in yards allowed, 10th in points allowed and has held opponents to less than 90 rushing yards on average. That is a tough assignment for a team that is hitting on all cylinders and we simply do not know how long it will take for Green Bay to get things going. Green Bays defense has fallen to 26th in yards allowed so it is hard to expect them to hold Carolina down. It sounds odd to say but Green Bay may not want Rodgers to have to go out and win this game with his arm. Maybe there will be no issues for the Packers offense but this feels like one of those games where they score 24 while Carolina moves into the 28-30 range. Take the home team and lay the modest 2.5 this time around.
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