Episode 121 - Week 9 Preview: A GOAT Fight in Foxboro?

As a rookie, Davante Adams posted his first career 100-yard game in the Packers’ 2014 game against the Patriots.

As a rookie, Davante Adams posted his first career 100-yard game in the Packers’ 2014 game against the Patriots.

There is nothing more exhausting in sports than discussing who is the greatest of all time at a particular position, so this will be the one and only time I bring it up at any length.

We’ve had a heaping helping of talk about what this game means for the two quarterbacks widely considered to be contenders for the title of (ugh) GOAT, so let’s settle it once and for all:

It doesn’t matter. At all. And here’s why.

For something to be the “greatest,” you have to have some kind of objective measure, otherwise your comparisons will break down pretty quickly.

“No problem,” says the pundit or the guy on the barstool, it doesn’t really matter which. “Tom Brady has five championships. That’s more than any other starting quarterback. Even Aaron Rodgers says that usually ends the debate on its own.”

Wrong. Bart Starr also has five titles to his credit, but there’s a bigger problem with that comparison. If rings are the only thing that matters, does that mean that Tom Brady only recently became better than Terry Bradshaw? I don’t think anybody wants to make the case. And further, do all championships count the same? Why does Tom Brady’s first Super Bowl count for his total when he only threw for 145 yards and completed less than 60% of his passes? Bart Starr threw for more yards than that in all but two of his career postseason games and he played in the stone ages of the passing offense.

So if championships aren’t a perfect metric, what about volume stats? Or efficiency numbers? Aaron Rodgers beats Brady in a lot of those categories, if not all of them when you adjust for games played. Does that give him the win?

No, because Rodgers isn’t even the best of his own era in many of those numbers. Drew Brees is as good or better, to say nothing of other stat compilers like Peyton Manning or Matt Ryan or Philip Rivers. And besides that, the game has changed so much that it’s practically like the quarterbacks of today are playing a different sport than many of their peers from the past.

All that leaves us with, then, is comparisons between what the two do on the field, the way they actually carry out their duties as quarterbacks. And once you’ve reached that point, it’s really about personal preference as much as anything. Tom Brady’s pocket discipline and almost robotic efficiency make him as much an act of nature as a quarterback when he’s leading a key drive. Stopping him is like trying to hold back the tide. He will overwhelm you in the end. And while Rodgers certainly can’t match Brady in terms of pure discipline, he can make throws that Brady would think were unrealistic if he did them in his own dreams.

What’s clear about both these quarterbacks is this: if you have one of them on your team, you have a chance to win every single game no matter what just by the sheer fact of what they are as players.

In a lot of ways, they’re like great artists. You can debate for hours if Rembrandt was greater than Picasso, but if you have a painting by either of those two on your wall, you’ve already won. It’s better to just appreciate them for what they are than try to figure out what minute differences there are between the two.

So sit back, relax, and get ready for a show on Sunday night.

Five Things to Think About During Sunday’s Game

1 - The Patriots were a defensive juggernaut when Tom Brady began his career in New England, but that’s not so much the case this year. In raw numbers, the Patriots have the 27th ranked pass defense. The advanced stats aren’t much better: according to Football Outsiders’ DVOA metric, they’re 17th.

In fact, the aggregate totals against the Patriots pass defense actually look a little bit better than their own quarterback. Ten different quarterbacks have thrown a pass against the Patriots defense this season – Deshaun Watson, Blake Bortles, Matthew Stafford, Ryan Tannehill, Brock Osweiler, Andrew Luck, Patrick Mahomes, Mitchell Trubisky, Derek Anderson, and Nathan Peterman. These quarterbacks have completed the same number of passes as Tom Brady (199) and have thrown for more yards (2,218 against 2,133), more touchdown passes (17 against 16), and more first downs (119 versus 107).

2 - The new coordinators for the Packers – Mike Pettine on defense and Joe Philbin on offense – have plenty of experience against the Patriots. Pettine was the defensive coordinator from 2009 to 2013 with division rivals New York and Buffalo, while Philbin was the Dolphins’ head coach from 2012 to 2015. Pettine’s teams were 3-8 against New England, while Philbin was 3-5. Neither has faced New England since the 2015 regular season.

3 - Aaron Rodgers started his season with a legendary comeback performance on Sunday Night Football, beating the Bears on one leg and posting a passer rating of 130.7 in the process. Turns out, that was actually an impressive prime-time performance, even for the two-time MVP.

Rodgers has a passer rating of 106.2 in road games on Sunday Night Football since Super Bowl XLV, 10 points higher than his passer rating in all road games (98.8). Rodgers would need to throw 65 consecutive touchdown passes to raise his passer rating in all road games to match his passer rating on the road on Sunday Night Football.

4 - If wide receiver Davante Adams finishes Sunday’s game with over 100 yards receiving, he will tie a Packers franchise record by reaching the century mark in four consecutive games. Don Hutson was the first to do this in franchise history in 1945, and James Lofton did it in 1982-1983. If Adams gets over 130 yards, he will hold the franchise record with four consecutive games, breaking Lofton’s mark of three straight games set in 1984. He’s one of just four players in the NFL this season with three 130 yard games to his credit.

5 - The Patriots are one of seven teams who have yet to win a game started by Aaron Rodgers. His only start against New England came the last time the teams met in 2014 when the Packers won 26-21 at home. The quarterback did appear in relief of Brett Favre in November 2006 in a 35-0 loss at Lambeau Field but was recovering from a concussion when Green Bay last traveled to New England in 2010.

Who Could Be an X-Factor This Week?

Facing Tom Brady, a defense’s secondary is always a question mark, but that’s especially true for the Packers this week. Brian Gutekunst made a major move when he traded safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix to the Washington Redskins and left the Packers with a bit of ah ole in the back end of their defense. That hole will be filled by Tramon Williams, at least for this week. Williams is a corner by trade but previously played safety for defensive coordinator Mike Pettine as a member of the Cleveland Browns. He’ll be a player to watch as the Packers try to slow down the Patriots’ passing attack.

What Happened the Last Time the Packers and Patriots Played?

The Packers went 12-4 in the 2014 regular season, and the crown jewel of their pre-playoff efforts had to be their 26-21 win over the New England Patriots on November 30.

The Packers outplayed the Patriots in all three phases. Aaron Rodgers was a masterful 24 of 38 for 368 yards and two touchdowns, one of which was a spectacular 45-yard catch and run by Jordy Nelson after he shook loose from Darrelle Revis. Eddie Lacy piled up 115 yards from scrimmage, including 98 yards on the ground against the league’s 9th ranked run defense. Davante Adams, a rookie at the time, posted the first 100-yard game of his career with 121 yards on six catches. The defense, meanwhile, largely contained Tom Brady and finished the game with a pulverizing sack which all but ended the Patriots’ last push for points.

Who’s Going to Win?

The Patriots are 6-2, but like the Packers, they’re not necessarily what their record shows them to be. Three of their six wins have come against teams with sub-.500 records and they were roughly handled by the Jacksonville Jaguars early in the season when people still thought the Jaguars were good.

That’s not to say they’re not dangerous. At 41 years old, Tom Brady went toe to toe with Patrick Mahomes and came out on top, and then had another solid game against a very good Chicago Bears defense a week later.

But I can’t shake the feeling that the Packers can win this game — and maybe even win comfortably — if they play like they did a week ago. That’s a big ask, but this team seems ready to get over the hump. Give me the Packers on top, 28-24.

Survey Updates

Let’s talk for a second about how we’ve done these polls. We’ve made some behind the scenes tweaks to the way we’ve sorted the data, so they’re going to come across a little more like true approval ratings than they have in the past.

For wins, we’re going to call our newly tweaked metric “win confidence.” And to that end, our voters’ confidence in the Packers is currently a 59 out of 100. That’s the second-lowest mark of the season, but still significantly higher than last week’s mark of 45 against the Rams.

As to the approval ratings, everybody got a bump last week but Brian Gutekunst jumped the most. He’s currently sporting a weighted approval rating of 87.5, up about eight percent over last week. Mike McCarthy’s rating is still the lowest at 54.5.

We also asked voters to give their thoughts on the Packers’ two trades this week. 94% of voters agreed with the decision to trade running back Ty Montgomery. And while the move to send Ha Ha Clinton-Dix to Washington was a bit more controversial, 80% still agreed with the decision.

One Last Thought

We’ve harped on the Packers’ backup center spot for almost two years now, and this could be when the problems really pop up in that area. Corey Linsley was limited in practice today, and although he says he’s going to play on Sunday, any missed time could be disastrous. The Packers carry no other centers on their roster right now, and even if Lucas Patrick can do the job, he almost certainly won’t be the player that Linsley is. Linsley hasn’t missed a single offensive snap so far this season. Now would be an especially bad time to start.