The marquee matchup for wildcard weekend for many is the Green Bay Packers versus the Philadelphia Eagles. It was a wild regular season for both squads, and in some ways a shame that they must face each other so early in the playoffs, as both are considered serious threats for a run at the Super Bowl. It should be one of the most exciting games of the year though, so let’s take a look at how they ended up here.
The Pack came into the season as a fashionable Super Bowl pick. They had a quarterback just entering his prime in Aaron Rodgers, a solid receiving corps headlined by Greg Jennings and match up nightmare tight end Jermichael Finley, and a decent running back in Ryan Grant. Their defense was also one of the more dangerous in the league thanks to Clay Matthews and Charles Woodson. Then, the injuries began to pile up. Grant went down in the first game, and Finley’s season ended not so long after. The Packers never did get their running game going, as Brandon Jackson has only put together a couple of decent games, and James Starks appears to have been a one game wonder. Finley is impossible to replace, although the rest of the Packers offense have done their best to step up in his absence. Despite the great hopes for this team, Green Bay stumbled out of the gate, and were 3-3 after 6 games. A nice string of 4 games got them to 7-3, as they shut out the Jets, and absolutely crushed the Cwoboys and Vikings. A couple weeks later, at 8-4 after a narrow loss to the Falcons and an easy win versus San Francisco, the wheels came off. Aaron Rodgers was lost to a concussion in the middle of a game against Detroit, and backup Matt Flynn was thrown in, unprepared. The Pack lost that game to Detroit, and suddenly their playoff hopes were in real jeopardy. Rodgers was not ready for the next game either, and although Flynn was far more impressive against the Patriots, New England won it, putting the Packers in a huge hole. With Rodgers back, Green Bay played a must win game against the Giants, with their playoff hopes on the line. The Packers showed why they were considered the class of the NFC at the start of the year, easily disposing of New York and putting the Pack once again in the driver’s seat for a spot in the playoffs. Last week was another must win game, as a loss would have spelled the end if either the Giants or Tampa Bay won (and both of them did). The Packers played the Bears, and seemed to catch a break since Chicago had nothing to play for, already securing a bye. However, Lovie Smith played his starters, but the Packers managed to escape with a hard fought 10-3 win, eking into the playoffs with the number 6 seed.
The Eagles have had an interesting season in their own right. Kevin Kolb started as the quarterback of the future, but after a concussion knocked him out of the first game, Michael Vick took over, almost engineering a come from behind victory against (perhaps fittingly, the Green Bay Packers). Vick would start the next 3 weeks, playing excellent football as teams were struggling to stop his runs, while Vick was also making the plays in the air. Then a rib injury knocked him out of his week 4 game, sidelining Vick until week 9. There was some debate as to whether Kolb would remain the team’s starting quarterback once Vick was healthy, but Kolb had a lacklustre performance in week 7, opening the door for Vick once more. In his first game back, Vick outdueled Peyton Manning, and then put on a record performance on Monday Night Football, throwing for 4 touchdowns and running for 2 more against the Redskins. At this point there was no turning back for the Eagles, as they swept divisional foes New York, and sat at 10-4 with two weeks to play. For all the swagger the Eagles have shown with Vick as their leader, their momentum has now stalled considerably. They lost their last two games, and while they may not have mattered in the standings, it is tricky to simply turn it on and off in the NFL. Another area of concern is the defense, who has allowed at least 17 points in their last 11 games, not counting last week’s meaningless tilt with the Cowboys. While their offense is one of the most dynamic in the league, Philly will need to rely on Asante Samuel and company to keep their opponent to a respectable number if they are to make a charge late into the postseason.
These teams faced each other way back in the first week of the season, with the Packers going over 27-20. Of course a lot has changed since then, and it is difficult to read too much into a game played so long ago. The only thing to really take away from it is that this is a matchup of very evenly matched teams that will be decided simply by who makes the one or two big plays. Although Philly are seeded third and the Packers sixth, they have identical records, so one should not be blinded too much by the seeds. The one big advantage is that the Eagles have home-field advantage, which is huge in the playoffs. The Eagles are hoping that their 12th man will be enough to send Green Bay Packing.
Packers vs Eagles Spread, Line and Betting Odds:
Green Bay Packers +2.5
@ Philadelphia Eagles -2.5
The spread for this game signifies the fact that it is an extremely close matchup, and that the spread is erring on the side of caution and giving a slight edge to the team that gets to play at home. It is slightly surprising to see Philly favored at all though, considering they have lost their last two (even if Kevin Kolb played last week). Meanwhile the Packers have seemingly regained their top form since Aaron Rodgers returned from injury. While one cannot discount homefield advantage, especially in January, the Eagles were an unimpressive 4-4 at home. The bigger advantage actually comes from the fact that they will not have to face Green Bay at Lambeau Field, where the Packers are are virtually unbeatable, but rather will get Green Bay on the road where they are under .500 this season. It would not be a shock to see this line shift even closer to a pick ‘em situation, as Aaron Rodgers and a stout Green Bay defense should be given a fair amount of respect by betters. Therefore, if you are thinking about picking the Packers, you should consider placing a bet sooner rather than later, while if you are leaning towards the Eagles, you are likely best off waiting until closer to game day. The game total sits at 46, which can be looked at in one of two ways: On the one hand, both teams have high flying offenses that can put up some of the biggest numbers in the league. On the other hand, Green Bay has allowed the fewest points in the league, and some respect needs to be paid to them, even against Michael Vick. Still, this number may go up just a slight amount, perhaps by .5 or 1 point, as many are expecting a shootout with both quarterbacks slinging away. It is hard to believe this number falling any further than 46, but if you are planning to bet the over, be advised that you should do so now, because if the line does move, it is only going in one direction, and that is up.
While actual predictions will not be offered until later in the week, here are a couple of trends to consider as you mull over your picks throughout the week: Green Bay is 4-1 ATS as a road underdog, and 6-2 ATS when they are an underdog of a field goal or less. However, they are also 0-4 ATS in their last 4 wildcard games, and 2-6 ATS in their last 8 playoff games, perhaps leading to some questions of if they can perform when it matters most. Meanwhile, Philly is 5-2 ATS in their last 7 following an ATS loss, and 7-3 ATS when they are a favorite by under a field goal. However, they have struggled against the NFC of late, going 1-4 ATS in their last 5 played within the conference, and are also 1-4 ATS in their last 5 as a favorite. The Eagles hold the advantage head to head, going 7-3 ATS the last 10 times these two teams have met. As well, the home team is 4-1 ATS in the last 5 matchups between these two NFC titans. As for the game total trends, the Under is 7-1 in Green Bay’s last 8 on the road, and 5-0-1 in Philly’s last 6 playoff games. However, the Over has been more prominent in Green Bay’s recent playoff experiences, as it has hit 4 out of the last 5 times that the Pack have played on the road in the playoffs.
This should be an extremely exciting and intense matchup, as the winner coming out of this game has a very realistic shot at getting all the way to the Super Bowl. Expect Michael Vick and Aaron Rodgers to both lead their respective armies into battle with guns blazing.
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