Packers vs. Bills preview: Predictions, 5 things to watch
TEAMS: Green Bay Packers (1-1-1) vs. Buffalo Bills (1-2).
WHEN: Noon Sunday.
WHERE: Lambeau Field.
TV: CBS, with Ian Eagle (play-by-play), Dan Fouts (analyst), and Evan Washburn (sideline reporter).
RADIO: FM-94.5 in Milwaukee, FM-101.1 in Green Bay; Packers Radio Network.
SERIES: Bills lead, 8-4.
LINE: Packers by 9 1/2.
WEATHER: Showers, high of 55.
COACHES: Green Bay’s Mike McCarthy (132-79-2) vs. Buffalo's Sean McDermott (10-10)
LIVE GAME BLOG: Join Tom Silverstein for analysis and lively discussion
5 THINGS TO WATCH
TURNING UP THE HEAT: Bills coach Sean McDermott grew up in the Jim Johnson pressure system in Philadelphia and his defense showed how effective it can be in getting after the quarterback last week against Minnesota. The Bills had Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins off balance from the start and that’s saying something given how many yards (422) he put up in a 38-31 loss to the Rams on Thursday night. The Bills rank tied for 10th in sacks with eight, but also rank 29th in opponent passer rating (108.1), which means there will be openings if the Packers can protect Aaron Rodgers. “They put pressure on Minnesota,” offensive coordinator Joe Philbin said. “Sometimes it was because of an extra defender, sometimes it was because of a combination of different defenders coming than maybe they thought were coming, and sometimes it was just winning a one-on-one matchup. I thought their play speed was really good.”
JUST JOSHING: Rookie Josh Allen, who will be making his third start Sunday, said the quarterback he tries to emulate the most is Rodgers. He’ll have to get his completion percentage up from 55.7 if he ever wants to be as efficient, but one thing the 6-5, 237-pound Allen does share with the Packers quarterback is scrambling ability. His high hurdle of Vikings linebacker Anthony Barr became a video sensation. It was one of 18 times he has run the ball in two games. “This is a big athlete,” defensive coordinator Mike Pettine said. “He's got good vision. He doesn't look at the rush. I think he does a good job with feeling it. And if you give him an open lane, he's going to take it and he can make you pay for it.”
SHOTGUN START: At some point, coach Mike McCarthy is hoping Rodgers’ sprained left knee will feel good enough that he can start playing from under center again. Not wanting to put too much pressure on the knee, McCarthy and Philbin have used just the pistol and shotgun formations. In the shotgun, the defense can generally expect the run to be headed in the opposite direction from the side in which the back lines up. It’s a cleaner hand-off that way. When the back is behind the quarterback, which is often the case in the pistol, it could go either direction. The Packers rank tied for eighth with a 4.5-yard per carry average, but they rank 31st with 59 attempts. “We’ve done a good job mixing in the pistol and using the gun and running both ways out of the gun,” Philbin said. “Obviously under center, that’s just another dimension that right now we haven’t had the last couple weeks.”
EXTRA GEAR: If the Packers do run the ball more Sunday they’ll be doing it against the fifth-ranked run defense in the NFL. The Bills are giving up just 80 yards per game and 3.5 yards per carry. It was obvious last week that Aaron Jones’ return from a two-game suspension added some bite to the run game, and while McCarthy said he likes a three-man rotation, you can bet he’ll stick with Jones if he averages 7.0 yards per carry like he did against Washington. “When you bring '33' back on the field, you kind of forget when he’s out the kind of dynamic abilities he can bring to a game with his running style,” Rodgers said. Jones showed with a couple of nice blocks that he can play on third down if they need him also.
MR. HYDE’S REVENGE: This will be Micah Hyde’s first game against his old team since leaving in free agency after the 2016 season. He is a full-time safety in Buffalo and is coming off a Pro Bowl year. The Packers thought they had two safeties in Morgan Burnett and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and felt like Hyde wasn’t fast enough to play corner. McDermott saw the versatile and intelligent Hyde as a great fit on his defense and stuck him at safety. “I had my eye on Micah for a number of years just watching him on TV when we weren’t playing Green Bay,” McDermott said. “I had a lot of respect for his versatility. But any time you can keep a guy at one position, particularly when the system is new, it helps from a learning standpoint.” – Tom Silverstein
If it rains, the Packers are going to be presented with the same ball-handling challenges they had a week ago. If they handle them the same way, they’re going to lose to the Bills. The fact Aaron Rodgers practiced Thursday matters. There’s a pretty good chance the timing of the offense and Rodgers’ accuracy will be better than last week. Expect Buffalo’s defense to put up a fight. Packers 31, Bills 23
It’s hard to see Buffalo pulling off back-to-back road upsets with a rookie quarterback (Josh Allen), especially against a Packers team looking to exonerate itself after the egg it laid in Washington last Sunday. The guess here is that gimpy Aaron Rodgers has a decent game, and Allen turns the ball over a couple times. Packers 24, Bills 17
This game looks much different than it did in April. No longer can the Packers afford to look at this as a gimme, not after the Bills spanked the Vikings in Minnesota last week. And not after the Packers showed plenty of their own vulnerability in Washington. This will be closer than expected, but in a matchup between Aaron Rodgers and a rookie quarterback inside Lambeau Field, the safe bet is on the Packers. Packers 27, Bills 20
The disappointing performance in Washington coupled with seeing Buffalo upset Minnesota should have Green Bay getting right mentally this week. Physically, that’s another question. But this should be a “get well” game for the Packers' defense at home against a rookie quarterback. Packers 24, Bills 13
The Bills were 16 1/2-point underdogs last Sunday before stunning the host Vikings 27-6. They're still getting no respect from oddsmakers, who favor the Packers by 9 1/2. Buffalo made the playoffs last season, has a stout defense and expects to have running back LeSean McCoy back for this game. Expect a close one. Packers 30, Bills 24