Will the Packers Escape Denver With a Victory?
We'll be waiting all day for Sunday night.
In Week 8, Sunday Night Football will feature a truly compelling matchup as the 6-0 Green Bay Packers travel to Denver to face the 6-0 Broncos. Both teams will be well rested coming off their bye weeks.
This game will undoubtedly be the toughest test for each squad, as 11 of their 12 combined previous opponents are .500 or worse. The 4-2 Minnesota Vikings are the exception, losing to Denver in Week 4, 23-20.
Will the Packers be able to move the ball on the vaunted Broncos defense? Can Peyton Manning bounce back from his recent struggles? These are the some of the storylines that set the scene for one of the more highly anticipated regular season games in recent memory.
Green Bay’s Toughest Challenge
According to Net Expected Points (NEP), the Broncos' defense is the best in the league, and it’s not even close. Their -47.02 Adjusted Defensive NEP is so dominant, it’s better than the NEP totals of Arizona, Seattle, and Carolina, combined.
Aaron Rodgers is having a typically excellent season, ranking sixth in Passing NEP among quarterbacks with at least 175 drop backs. His 52.8 percent Success Rate -- measuring the rate of positive plays contributing to NEP -- is on par with his career numbers. However, the Broncos’ passing defense is their premier strength, and this doesn't bode well for the reigning MVP.
Sporting a league-leading Adjusted Defensive Passing NEP of -48.30 (more than double second-ranked Carolina), Denver poses Green Bay’s greatest test to date. Green Bay’s leader in targets, Randall Cobb, ranks 24th in Target NEP, and it will be difficult for him to find open lanes against this shutdown secondary.
With uncertainty surrounding Green Bay’s running back rotation, it’s difficult to project if Eddie Lacy will resume feature back duties, now that his ankle injury is mostly healed. Among running backs with 60 or more carries, Lacy and Starks rank 15th and 16th, respectively, in Rushing NEP, suggesting a timeshare may continue. Leaning heavily on the run game may be Green Bay’s best strategy, as Denver ranks a respectable, but not overwhelming, 11th in against the run per our numbers.
Denver’s Offensive “Attack”
It’s been hard to watch Peyton Manning play this season. Still at the top of his game mentally, his physical skills have deteriorated beyond recognition. On pace for a career low in touchdowns (18.7) and the most interceptions (26.7) since his rookie year, Manning’s -10.72 Passing NEP ranks 28th among quarterbacks with at least 175 drop backs. Only Nick Foles has been worse.
Their rushing offense hasn’t been much better, ranking 29th in yards per carry, and 30th in yards per game. Sporting an almost even timeshare through seven weeks, Ronnie Hillman and C.J. Anderson rank 11th and 37th, respectively, in Rushing NEP among the 37 running backs with at least 60 carries.
The culmination has resulted in a 6-0 team with the league’s least efficient offense, ranking 32nd in all team defensive metrics. Nobody could have predicted that in August.
Enter the Packers’ defense. After finishing 2014 with a 17th-ranked unit, per our metrics, the Packers’ defense has improved to 13th through seven weeks. Like Denver, the Packers’ defensive strength is the pass, ranking 10th overall in NEP. Green Bay boasts a 73.4 passer rating against, to go along with 23 sacks, tied for second in the league.
The Packers’ rushing defense is certainly penetrable, ranking only 24th, per NEP. Surrendering 4.7 yards per carry and over 118 rushing yards per contest, this matchup may prove to be an opportunity for Hillman or Anderson to move the ball, lightening the load for the Denver passing game.
Sporting a total line of 45.5, the Vegas sharps don’t predict this to be the shootout it may have been in seasons past.
Both teams may struggle to move the ball through the air, limiting the fantasy upside of both passing attacks. While it’s nearly impossible to bench Aaron Rodgers, owners’ expectations should be tempered in this daunting matchup. His main wide receiver targets, Cobb and James Jones are both useable in season long formats, ranking 12th and 21st, respectively, according to our projections.
While Manning has been unstartable for weeks, his main targets, Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders, both rank in the top 20 for Week 8 wide receivers. An unseasonably warm evening with minimal wind should provide Manning with the best opportunity to be effective against an underrated Packers’ secondary.
Neither team has relied heavily on its tight ends this season, and this matchup projects to be no different. Richard Rodgers and Owen Daniels each rank below 20th, indicating that both should be ignored in fantasy games this weekend.
This game projects to be controlled by both ground attacks, yet neither team has provided real clarity as to its running back rotation. All four of Lacy, Starks, Hillman, and Anderson rank at or below 20th this week, with Lacy and Hillman providing more upside than their backfield counterparts.
The Green Bay Packers have been installed as 2.5 point favorites this week, which begs the question: When was the last time a 6-0 team was made an underdog at home?
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