Bleeding Green Nation’s 2020 Philadelphia Eagles opponent preview series continues today with their Week 13 enemy: the Green Bay Packers. (Previously: Week 12 preview.)
You’ll recall that last year’s Eagles versus Packers matchup at Lambeau Field came down to the wire. Down seven points with 28 seconds to go, Green Bay had the ball at 2nd-and-goal from the 3-yard line. Fortunately for Philly, Aaron Rodgers’ pass for Marquez Valdes-Scantling was deflected into the air by Craig James (!) and intercepted by Nigel Bradham to seal the deal.
That was a really impressive come-from-behind win for the Birds. Rodgers was previously 58-0-1 when leading by 10+ points at any point at home. The Eagles handed him his first-ever loss in such a situation.
At first glance, the prospects of escaping Lambeau with another win this year might not seem so favorable. The Packers are coming off a 13-3 season and they still employ one of the league’s best quarterbacks in Aaron Rodgers. The Eagles also can’t count on getting bailed out by Davante Adams — who shredded Jim Schwartz’s defense for 10 receptions and 180 yards in just 69% of the offensive snaps played — having to leave the game early due to injury again.
Upon closer inspection, however, I think this game should be fairly winnable for the Birds. The Packers are a prime regression candidate in 2020. This isn’t to suggest they’ll suddenly be awful ... but they did overachieve last year. Despite winning 13 games, they ranked just ninth in point differential and 10th in DVOA. They were more of a good team masquerading as a great one.
Defensive performance isn’t so sticky year-to-year and the Packers jumped up big time from 29th to 15th in DVOA last season. That unit also clearly had issues stopping the run, as the Eagles knew and were able to take advantage of. Green Bay’s season ended in the 2020 NFC Championship game, of course, when the San Francisco 49ers were able to put up 285 rushing yards (6.8 per attempt) and four rushing touchdowns on that Packers defense.
As for Rodgers, well, one can’t help but wonder about the 36-year-old’s outlook. On one hand, he’s coming off a mere four-interception season and is arguably the best player at his position when he’s at the top of his game. But Rodgers’ best football just might be behind him at this point. I can’t help but shake how awful he looked in Week 17 last year when the Packers needed to beat the Detroit Lions to clinch a first-round bye. He repeatedly missed easy throws that were there to be made. His struggles went beyond that, too, as he finished his final three regular season games with a 72.5 passer rating.
The Packers’ surprising decision to draft Utah State quarterback Jordan Love in the first round of the 2020 NFL Draft indicates they have at least some level of concern about Rodgers’ viability. The veteran probably isn’t going to entirely fall off a cliff and it wouldn’t shock anyone if he had a strong day against the Eagles’ secondary, though Darius Slay covering Adams now should help out. But Rodgers isn’t the immortal being he once was.
The Eagles should have a fighting chance to win this game that could be important for NFC playoff seeding purposes.
Will the Eagles beat the Packers?
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Read on for more Packers insight from our SB Nation colleagues over at Acme Packing Company.
Notable free agency additions: ILB Christian Kirksey, RT Rick Wagner, WR Devin Funchess
Notable opt outs: WR Devin Funchess
Over/under 10 wins? Push. The Packers overachieved in 2019, going 13-3 but with an 8-1 record in one-score games. That suggests a team due for some regression. Even if the team is objectively better, they could well have a worse record, particularly with what looks to be a tougher schedule in 2020. However, this is still a squad with a young, ascending defense and very good top-end talent at all of the critical positions on the roster, so ten wins sounds about right.
Rookie I’m most excited about: Packers fans desperately wanted a wide receiver in this year’s draft, but the team didn’t take a single one. Instead, they moved up in the first round for a quarterback, Jordan Love, who won’t play for a year or two if all goes well. That leaves bruising running back AJ Dillon, the team’s second-round pick, as the most exciting prospect as a rookie in 2020. Dillon is a hulking 6-foot and 247 pounds, but he’s not just a bruising power back; he posted one of the best overall workouts at the scouting combine in Indianapolis, and his quick feet belie that label. He should be an intriguing complement to Aaron Jones, and a good rookie season could convince the Packers not to pay the veteran next offseason when his contract runs out.
Best position battle heading into training camp: Before Devin Funchess opted out for the 2020 season, it might have been WR2, but that will almost certainly belong to Allen Lazard (see below). Instead, inside linebacker becomes one of the few spots where a starting position is legitimately up for grabs. Christian Kirksey will undoubtedly hold down one of the two jobs, given his experience with Mike Pettine’s defense. The other spot is a complete unknown, however. Third-year pro Oren Burks would seem to have the best chance, given his time in Green Bay, but preseason injuries each of the past two years robbed him of chances to earn the job. Look out for second-year players Ty Summers and Curtis Bolton plus fifth-round rookie Kamal Martin to also be in the mix.
Biggest storyline heading into training camp: Who will catch the football? The Packers have a great WR1 in Davante Adams and a solid stable of running backs, but the tight ends and receivers behind Adams are all uncertainties. Allen Lazard had a nice second half in 2019, but can he maintain WR2 status? Devin Funchess arrived after missing almost all of last season to injury, and now he’s opted out of the 2020 season. There’s only one true deep threat in Marquez Valdes-Scantling, but he became a complete afterthought by the end of last year. And can Equanimeous St. Brown, perhaps the most naturally gifted athlete of the group, rebound from missing 2019 with a high ankle sprain? At tight end, the team appears ready to make second-year pro Jace Sternberger the starter, despite missing the first half of last year on injured reserve and not catching a single pass in the regular season. It’s up to Aaron Rodgers to figure out how to work with these young, unproven pass catchers.
Under-the-radar storyline heading into training camp: The Packers have several critical players scheduled to become free agents in the spring of 2021. That list starts with defensive tackle Kenny Clark, the league’s best pass-rushing nose tackle, then moves on to David Bakhtiari, the best pass-blocking left tackle in the game. Running back Aaron Jones, center Corey Linsley and cornerback Kevin King are all up as well, so the Packers will surely try to come to agreements on extensions with a couple of these players before they head into contract years.
Notable injuries heading into training camp: Funchess, Equanimeous St. Brown and linebacker Christian Kirksey are all coming off season-ending injuries last fall but appear to be ready to go for training camp — or at least they were before Funchess chose to sit out 2020.