THERE'S A CHANCE that if you've seen the Green Bay Packers play more than once this season, you've seen them play really well and also really, really poorly.
The Packers looked amazing in last Sunday night's 55-14 dismemberment of a bitter rival, the Chicago Bears. But remember that Thursday night game at Seattle, the league's season opener, that ended with the Packers losing, 36-16? Every NFL pundit rushed to his Twitter account to proclaim that the Seahawks were going to repeat as the Super Bowl champs.
There was a 19-7, Week 3 loss at Detroit, and just 3 weeks ago, Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints hung 44 points on the Packers in a 21-point beatdown.
So why are the 7-2 Eagles, who have won 14 of their last 17 regular-season games, five-to-six-point underdogs to the 6-3 Pack this weekend? The Birds' two losses this season came by a total of nine points, on the road, to San Francisco and Arizona, and in both games, the Eagles controlled their fate near the end, deep in opposition territory.
Two reasons: Aaron Rodgers and Lambeau Field. Separately, they aren't that scary - Rodgers threw for 162 yards and finished with an 88.8 passer rating at Detroit, the Eagles won at Lambeau just last season, 27-13, with Seneca Wallace and Scott Tolzein quarterbacking the Packers.
If you cover Jordy Nelson and swarm the pass blockers, Rodgers doesn't start shooting laser beams out of his eyes or anything. And Lambeau is just a big bowl with bleacher seats and a nice museum, when the QB goes 0-for-4 in the red zone, as Tolzein did against the Birds last year.
But put Rodgers and Lambeau together, and they're really formidable.
Over the last five seasons, Rodgers is 29-3 at Lambeau in games he has started. He is 19-14 on the road. This season, the differential is especially striking. Green Bay and Rodgers are 4-0 at home, 2-3 on the road, and the Packers are scoring 41.5 points per game at home, 22.2 per game on the road. All three of Rodgers' interceptions have come on the road.
In a conference call with Philadelphia-area reporters this week, Rodgers noted that Seattle and Detroit are the two best defenses Green Bay has faced this season, and the Packers happened to play both teams on the road.
"Our defense has forced a lot of turnovers at home . . . we're doing a good job scoring on first possessions [at home]. We've had a couple of blowouts at home. That's kind of the only reason [for the big difference in scoring]," Rodgers said.
What he stopped short of spelling out was that the teams the Packers have played at home are the Jets, the Vikings, the Panthers and the Bears, who have a combined record of 12-25-1. Green Bay's road opponents - Seattle, Detroit, Chicago again, Miami and New Orleans - are a combined 25-20.
The Eagles are easily the best team to visit Lambeau so far in this, its 58th football season.
But none of this explains the 29-3 vs. 19-14 stat over five seasons. Green Bay doesn't play bad teams at home and good teams on the road year after year.
"There's a lot of reasons, but the one we think, we know we're going to get the hard count. That's the one that matters to us," Eagles outside linebacker Connor Barwin said yesterday. Barwin said Rodgers gets a quieter setting at home with which to try to fool other teams with his snap count.
If you're not trying to jump the snap, you're becoming a tiny bit less aggressive defensively, Barwin conceded, but that's "not nearly as bad" as getting drawn offside.
There are other things about Rodgers that have impressed Barwin, as you might think, given that Rodgers is the league's dominant quarterback right now, the only QB to ever post a passer rating over 100 for 5 years in a row.
"The darts that he throws. His ability to get the ball where he wants to get it, throw it into tight windows, and how quickly he can get it off, just snap it out there," Barwin said, when asked to enumerate.
Eagles dime corner Nolan Carroll said he feels a big key to the Packers is the connection between Aaron and Nelson, who has 56 catches for 889 yards and eight touchdowns in nine games.
"Especially at home, they're pretty explosive, and especially 87, Jordy Nelson . . . I think every game this year, he's had some type of explosive play at home . . . in the first half, the first quarter. [Rodgers] is always trying to get him the ball," Carroll said, before promptly remembering other things to worry about. "Also, with Randall Cobb, and their screen game is something that they do a lot of. We have to be aware of situations, be aware of where everybody is lining up, and we have to disrupt the timing of the routes. It's a lot of rhythm timing and passing."
Carroll recalled when he was with the Dolphins, playing Tom Brady's Patriots twice a year, how they'd have a plan, and Brady would quickly figure it out and neutralize it.
"That's the same thing you see with Aaron Rodgers," Carroll said. "He knows exactly what you're in most of the time, so for us, they don't do a lot of motion stuff, so we have to disguise well on defense and not just show what we're in right away . . . He'll see it and check into another play.
"He can throw the ball, man. He can throw the ball with both feet off the ground. He's got an arm. He's accurate."
Carroll said Rodgers is tougher to defend than Brady "because he's more mobile."
"Everything that you do wrong, he's going to find it, and expose it," Eagles safety Nate Allen said of Rodgers.
Eagles offensive lineman Allen Barbre, out for the season with a foot injury, was a fourth-round Packers draft pick in 2007 who spent 3 years in the locker room with Rodgers.
"Standout team guy. Not a selfish guy," Barbre said yesterday. "I really enjoyed playing with Aaron. One of a kind, first-class guy."
Eagles quarterback Mark Sanchez, who will play at Lambeau for the first time Sunday, called playing there a "bucket list" item for a QB. But playing there and winning last year, even against an injury-hobbled Green Bay team, might have taken away a bit of the mystique for the Eagles who remain from 2013.
"It's a very historic atmosphere," inside linebacker Emmanuel Acho said. "You've got to understand all the history that's been there, all the great football that's been played in that stadium.
"But the football field's gonna be 120 yards long and 53-and-a-third wide. Nothing really changes. Grass is grass."
I THINK THE Eagles will score points Sunday, in whatever weather. If I could convince myself they would handle Aaron Rodgers and stop the Packers every now and then, I'd take the Birds to win. But I can't quite get there.
I want to. I don't think the Packers, outside of Rodgers, are real special, especially on defense. There will be holes to run through and receivers getting open. But for that to matter enough, the Eagles will have to get the ball and keep it, develop some offensive rhythm. I see long stretches of Mark Sanchez blowing on his hands on the sideline, LeSean McCoy huddled within one of those hooded cape things, while Rodgers converts a third-and-19 to sustain yet another drive, the pass rush close but not quite getting there.
If I'm wrong, and the Eagles can go into Lambeau and win with Sanchez making just his second start and Casey Matthews and Emmanuel Acho trying to be DeMeco Ryans, well, then this whole thing gets scary. Everything truly becomes possible this season, not just after Chip drafts his quarterback or they upgrade the corners.
I think the Eagles will acquit themselves well enough to again be rehashing some late-game misstep all next week. But they aren't going to actually win this game. Are they?
Packers 31, Eagles 27