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Sunday football notes

Fantasy football game: Patriots vs. Packers

By Greg A. Bedard
Globe Staff / December 11, 2011
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Make no mistake, the Packers will go for 16-0.

You can forget about a scenario similar to 2009, when the Colts started 14-0 and then allowed backups to play big roles as they lost their final two games before ultimately falling to the Saints in the Super Bowl.

Packers coach Mike McCarthy will have some long discussions with general manager Ted Thompson - a noted worry-wart - about injuries, but at the end of the day, McCarthy takes very seriously the belief and confidence of his players, especially some key veterans, and that will trump all.

Players like cornerback Charles Woodson, center Scott Wells, defensive tackle Ryan Pickett, and quarterback Aaron Rodgers will push for the immortality that comes with a perfect season.

Woodson and Rodgers, especially.

Woodson doesn’t have anything left to accomplish after winning a Super Bowl last season, and he knows the significance.

Rodgers doesn’t want to just break every record - he wants to obliterate them. Going 19-0 would be something no NFL quarterback has matched. Rodgers is driven by proving anyone who doubted him wrong, and this would be the ultimate “I showed you’’ accomplishment.

If the Packers get past a beat-up Raiders team today, they will travel to Kansas City to face backup quarterback Tyler Palko and the Chiefs before returning home to Lambeau Field to face the division rival Bears and Lions. So it would be a huge upset if the Packers don’t match the 2007 Patriots by going 16-0 in the regular season.

From now until the Packers’ postseason fate is decided, the argument will rage about which team’s accomplishment was more impressive: the Packers’ or the Patriots’?

If the Packers go on to do what the Patriots could not - win the Super Bowl - the argument is over.

While going 16-0 in the regular season is a historic achievement, it becomes merely a footnote if you don’t finish it off with a Super Bowl title.

Which banners in Gillette Stadium do you think Tom Brady and Bill Belichick look at with more pride - the ones from the three world championships or the one from the 16-0 regular season?

Since the Packers are still chasing immortality, let’s take a look at both teams by category.

PASSING OFFENSE: Brady put together an all-time season in ’07 when he threw 50 touchdown passes against just eight interceptions. But Rodgers is on pace to edge most of Brady’s marks. While Brady will have more completions and attempts, Rodgers is on pace to take completion percentage (70.6 to 68.9), yards (5,125 to 4,806), yards per attempt (9.4 to 8.3), and rating (125.3 to 117.2). Rodgers will approach Brady’s record of 50 touchdowns/eight interceptions; he’s on pace for 49/7. Both quarterbacks should have six receivers finish with at least 30 receptions and two with more than 1,000 yards. Wes Welker had 124 catches in ’07 and Randy Moss had 98. Greg Jennings, who is on pace for 87 catches, is the only Packer within reach of 100. Moss had an NFL-record 23 touchdown catches; the Packers will be lucky if Jennings and Jordy Nelson combine for that total. EDGE: Packers.

RUSHING OFFENSE: The Patriots had Laurence Maroney (835 yards, 6 touchdowns) and Sammy Morris (384, 3) as their top two backs. The Packers have James Starks (565, 1) and Ryan Grant (316, 0). Rodgers (53 carries, 207 yards, 2 touchdowns) basically matches the rushing output of Kevin Faulk (62/265/0). No Packer can hold a candle to Faulk’s 47 receptions. The Packers are 29th in the league with 3.8 yards per attempt; the Patriots were 14th at 4.1. EDGE: Patriots.

PASSING DEFENSE: Based on pure talent, this is a close race, but statistically, it isn’t. The Patriots were sixth in passing yards allowed, while the Packers are 31st. The advantage for the Patriots goes across the board. They were sixth at 6.4 yards per attempt; Packers are 23d at 7.7. Packers are 29th with a 44 percent third-down rate; Patriots were fourth at 34 percent. Patriots were second in the league with 47 sacks; the Packers are currently 18th with 26 (projects to 32). The Patriots were sixth with 19 interceptions; Packers are first with 23. That’s Green Bay’s only saving grace on defense right now. That has enabled them to be ninth in defensive passer rating (80.0); the Patriots were 11th at 78.1. If the Packers fail to win the Super Bowl this season, it will be because their pass defense is subpar. EDGE: Patriots.

RUSHING DEFENSE: The teams are very similar in this department because their offenses were so good and put teams behind early. The Patriots were 10th at 98.2 yards per game, but 26th with a 4.4-yard average per carry. The Packers are 13th at 105.1 yards per game, but 29th at 4.9 yards per carry. The Patriots had two potential Hall of Famers on the defensive line in Richard Seymour and Vince Wilfork, with Jarvis Green filling in. The Packers start B.J. Raji, Ryan Pickett, and Howard Green. EDGE: Patriots.

SPECIAL TEAMS: Patriots kicker Stephen Gostkowski made 87.5 percent of his field goal attempts, while punter Chris Hanson averaged 41.4 yards on punts. Mason Crosby has made 90.5 percent of his field goal attempts for the Packers, and Tim Masthay has averaged 45.0 yards on punts. The Patriots had two kickoffs returned for touchdowns; Green Bay’s Randall Cobb has returned a punt and a kickoff for scores. Edge: PACKERS.

ROAD TRAVELED: There is much to be hashed out in the final four games, but based on today’s standings, the Packers would have played four games against playoff teams (Bears twice), including two division winners (Saints, Broncos). There are four additional opponents still in the playoff hunt. The Patriots played six games against playoff teams, including four division winners. Four of the Patriots’ opponents played in the divisional round of the playoffs. The 16 opponents the Patriots faced were 120-136 (.469 winning percentage), including the 1-15 Dolphins twice. The Packers’ 16 teams are 88-104 (.458). If we exclude the ’07 Dolphins, the Patriots’ opponents were 118-104 (.557). If we take out the ’11 Vikings, Packers opponents are 84-84 (.500). EDGE: Patriots.

On paper, the Patriots’ run to perfection in 2007 was more impressive. That’s also backed up by the Patriots having a point differential of plus-315. The Packers are on pace to be plus-211.

That’s where the argument stands right now. But the Packers will have the final say.

QUARTERBACK QUANDARY

Colts facing a difficult call

Spoke with Colts quarterback Peyton Manning in the locker room after the Patriots’ win last Sunday and got the distinct impression that he won’t be playing at all this season, which is something Colts owner Jim Irsay alluded to this past week.

That puts the team in a ridiculously difficult position heading into the offseason.

If Manning were able to come back from his neck surgery to play this season, he could at least give the Colts some clue as to whether he can still perform at a high level.

Instead they will be flying blind.

And we’re looking at a very real possibility that Manning becomes a free agent after this season. You can bet the Jets and/or Dolphins would be among the first in line if he is available.

That would obviously make things very interesting in the AFC East.

The Colts undoubtedly will have the top pick in April’s draft, and there is little doubt that Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck will be the top pick. The Colts will have to decide in March whether to draft Luck, trade the pick, or pick someone else.

The Colts are due to pay Manning a $28 million option bonus for next season before the start of the league year in March. If they pick it up, they are basically on the hook with Manning for another four seasons. They certainly can’t pick up the option and trade him in the next two years because the cap hit would be over $20 million.

In essence, the Colts can’t have both Manning and Luck on the roster. It would be salary cap suicide.

So unless Manning delays his bonus, the Colts essentially have three ways to go: keep Manning, and trade the pick or select a different player first overall; release Manning and move forward with Luck; or keep Manning and Luck on the same team for two years while jeopardizing their ability to re-sign other players (receiver Reggie Wayne, end Robert Mathis, and center Jeff Saturday will all be free agents).

The last option makes little sense.

So the Colts are back at square one: Is it Manning or Luck?

Five personnel executives that were polled said taking Luck is a no-brainer, that you can’t risk the future for a few years in the short term.

If Luck is a sure-fire elite quarterback - as every one of the executives said he is - then we could be looking at a scenario in which Luck is the new face of the Colts and Manning is free to roam anywhere, including the AFC East.

One way or the other, a historic decision is coming in Indianapolis.

HIGH STAKES

It’s do or die for Coughlin

There will be more than the NFC East lead at stake when the Giants travel to Dallas to take on the Cowboys tonight.

We could be looking at the final stand for Tom Coughlin as coach of the Giants.

A win by the Giants (6-6) will keep New York in the battle for the division. A loss essentially means the Cowboys (7-5) win the division and the Giants don’t make the postseason.

In the final three weeks, Dallas travels to Tampa Bay (4-8) and hosts the Eagles (4-8) before closing the season at MetLife Stadium against the Giants.

New York, meanwhile, hosts the Redskins (4-8) and faces the rival Jets (7-5).

So this is it for the Giants.

“Our playoffs start now,’’ said guard Chris Snee. “That’s how you have to look at it.

“We know what’s at stake. Everyone is aware of what’s going on and the circumstance we put ourselves in by not being able to win some of these games.

“But heads are up. We’re not down by any means. We know that we’re still in it. If we take care of our own business, hopefully we’ll be playing in January.’’

The Giants have lost four straight games since beating the Patriots at Gillette Stadium. Another loss would almost certainly make it four straight seasons without a postseason berth, and that would make it tough for Coughlin, the former Boston College coach, to retain his job.

The Giants’ 3-point loss to the Packers last week gave them some much-needed confidence - similar to the 2007 loss to the Patriots, who were also undefeated at the time. If the Giants are to go on a run to end this season, they’re going to have to do it while being very beat up.

They lost backup tackle Stacy Andrews to blood clots last week. Defensive end Osi Umenyiora (knee), center David Baas (headaches), and linebackers Mark Herzlich (ankle) and Spencer Paysinger (hamstring) are all out. Safety Kenny Phillips (knee) is doubtful, and defensive tackle Justin Tuck is still battling through various injuries.

ETC.

Nickel package

1. If they ever remake “Monty Python and the Holy Grail’’ (though they shouldn’t), Steelers quarterback Ben Roethisberger should play the Black Knight. Fractured thumb on his throwing hand? ’Tis but a scratch. High ankle sprain? Just a flesh wound. At this rate, he’s going to have no working appendages by the postseason. He’s invincible.

2. I doubt that Robert Kraft demanded the Patriots-Broncos game Dec. 18 stay at 4:15 p.m. instead of being flexed to Sunday night, but he certainly made his opinion known, and it’s a very influential one at that.

3. That being said, I think the Patriots moaning about potentially having to play Sunday night in Denver before a short week is ridiculous. When did Adrian Gonzalez switch to football? It’s shorter by one day. The Patriots aren’t in a playoff race. They’re returning home to play the Dolphins, a familiar division foe. Contrast that with the Jets, who, after losing on Sunday night to the Patriots, had to go to Denver four days later, chasing a playoff berth, and play against a completely new style of offense. The Jets can complain, not the Patriots.

4. The Packers raised $48 million in just two days when fans forked over $250 to own a share of the team - a share that comes with no benefits outside of a certificate and an invitation to the annual shareholders meeting. Rules forbid it now, but you know other owners are figuring out how they can do something similar.

5. Happy trails to Monique Walker, who after doing excellent work on the Patriots beat for the Globe is going to the Baltimore Sun to manage mercurial writers. We’ll miss her constant smile, and we’ll miss the person more.

New England update

Carolina guard Mackenzy Bernadeau (Waltham/Bentley) got his first extended action of the season against the Buccaneers last week after left guard Travelle Wharton injured his back. “It’s always fun to get out there, but it’s tough to do it because somebody got hurt,’’ Bernadeau said. “But it was nice to get some reps with the guys and try to contribute as much as I could.’’ Bernadeau started 19 games the previous two seasons subbing for injured starters. The 2008 seventh-round pick has also been eligible in several goal-line situations this season, but he hasn’t had a pass thrown to him - yet. “Maybe somebody will throw you the ball,’’ Bernadeau said. “Being an extra blocker in goal-line situations is fun, just to be out there and help the team score.’’

By the numbers

3: Victories in the past three games by the Texans with different starting quarterbacks (Matt Schaub, Matt Leinart, T.J. Yates). The last team to win three straight games with three different starting QBs was the 2003 Titans (Steve McNair, Billy Volek, Neil O’Donnell).

6: Turnovers on kick returns by the Jets, which leads the league. They’ve had one in each of the last four games.

72.5: Rushing yards that Dolphins running back Reggie Bush has averaged the past six weeks, which is third in the AFC behind Tennessee’s Chris Johnson (97.3) and Baltimore’s Ray Rice (83.3).

Short yardage

How far has Brandon Meriweather fallen? The 2010 Pro Bowler, who was released by the Patriots in training camp and quickly claimed by the Bears, wasn’t elevated from the bench when safety Major Wright was injured against the Chiefs last Sunday. Today, Craig Steltz will make his fourth career start for the Bears, while Meriweather is a $3.2 million backup. Wonder if Meriweather will be voted to the Pro Bowl this season . . . Benched after starting at middle linebacker through the preseason and the first two regular-season games, Eagles fourth-round pick Casey Matthews will play in the nickel defense against the Dolphins today . . . Disappointing to see defensive end Aaron Kampman’s season end on injured reserve for the second straight year with the Jaguars. The former Packers Pro Bowler played 11 games the past two years after signing a four-year, $26 million contract . . . Jets coach Rex Ryan said the team will have its offense introduced today, the first home game since quarterback Mark Sanchez was booed in pregame introductions. “I’ll bet you he doesn’t get booed this time,’’ Ryan said. “He’s had two fourth-quarter wins.’’

Greg A. Bedard can be reached at gbedard@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @greg_a_bedard. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.

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