(CBS Chicago) — The Green Bay Packers have once again jumped out to an early lead in the NFC North race. Aaron Rodgers is in his usual elite form leading a balanced Packers attack. Most recently they disposed of the Bears, who are still finding their way with Justin Fields. Elsewhere in the division, Kirk Cousins is making plays and generally giving the Minnesota Vikings a chance to win. Jared Goff, like the rest of the Detroit Lions, are stuck in football purgatory.
Rolling into Week 7, the Packers face another favorable matchup, when the Washington Football Team comes to town. The Lions look for that elusive first win against the Rams in Los Angeles. And the Bears travel to Tampa Bay to face the defending Super Bowl Champion Buccaneers. The Vikings have a bye.READ MORE: Crisis Inside The Classroom: Baltimore County Teachers Rally, Demand Change
All times listed are Eastern.
Washington Football Team @ Green Bay Packers, Sunday, October 24, 1:00 p.m.
Since their opening week disaster, the Packers have reeled off five straight wins. Their recent owning of the Bears made it the third time in a row they’ve opened the season 5-1. Next up is a Washington Football Team that was supposed to have one of the NFL’s best defenses. It hasn’t turned out that way. Now 2-4 after falling to the Kansas City Chiefs, Washington has allowed the most points and second-most yards of any team in the league. And if that weren’t enough, the injuries are starting to pile up.
“Washington [is] completely decimated with injuries,” Hartstein said. “Antonio Gibson is playing hurt. McLaurin is playing hurt. They’re missing Scherff on the offensive line. And they’re giving up the most points in the league at 31 points a game. So traveling to Lambeau, you would think this is a great spot for the Packers.”
And normally it would be. But the Packers, comfortably ahead in the NFC North, could have their eyes on something bigger. “They have a massive game on deck, Thursday night football at Arizona,” Hartstein pointed out. “Arizona will be 7-0 after likely demolishing Houston this week. So that is a tremendous look-ahead spot. And that’s really the main hesitation I have with laying the points.”
Washington is capable of keeping the Packers honest, even if they don’t always show it. Taylor Heinicke has proved to be a competent playmaker filling in for the injured Ryan Fitzpatrick. And he has Terry McLaurin, one of the game’s best young receivers, to throw to. The defensive line, while disappointing so far, is capable of getting after Aaron Rodgers.
Being capable and actually winning are two separate things, of course. Rodgers has continued playing at the level that won him MVP last season. And he’s experience enough to know a let-down game when he sees one. Davante Adams is averaging 14.5 yards per catch on his 46 catches, best in the league. And Aaron Jones is picking up 4.6 yards per carry so far in an offense that can also beat teams on the ground. AJ Dillon has also been productive.
Detroit Lions @ Los Angeles Rams, Sunday, October 24, 4:05 p.m.READ MORE: COVID Outbreaks At Baltimore-Area Schools Raises Concerns For Parents
Both Matthew Stafford and Jared Goff will get their first chance to play the team that traded them away this past offseason. Stafford, who toiled in Detroit for the first decade-plus of his career, is now leading the high-powered Rams offense. And his stats — 306 yards per game, 16 touchdowns — put him easily among the NFL’s top five passers so far this season.
“Matthew Stafford, we are seeing what he can do in a great offense, averaging 9.3 yards per attempt, completing almost 70 percent of his passes,” as Hartstein sees it. “Against this Lions pass defense — which is abysmal, giving up 9.8 yards per attempt, easily the worst in all of football — even though this line is over two touchdowns, there’s only one way to play this game. You’re either laying it with the Rams or you’re staying off.”
Goff started with the Rams and led them to a Super Bowl appearance in his five seasons there. But just as the Lions defense is outmatched, he doesn’t have much to work with on the offensive side either. “They have had some competitive games, the Lions,” Hartstein noted. “And then everything fell apart Sunday against the Bengals, completely outclassed from start to finish. I feel bad for Jared Goff. He’s 0-13 when Sean McVay is not his coach. He has nothing around him in terms of wide receivers, [who] are all injured. T.J. Hockenson, the best target, is nursing an injury. He’ll probably play through it, but will be blanketed by the Rams.”
There’s little to suggest that the Lions can keep up with the Rams. Then consider that Goff will face a Rams defense that’s already tallied 18 sacks. It seems unlikely that Detroit will find their first win in Los Angeles.
Chicago Bears @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Sunday, October 24, 4:25 p.m.
Tom Brady is having another MVP-caliber season at the age of 44. He’s averaging a league-leading 344 yards per game, with 17 touchdowns against just three interceptions. His counterpart, Justin Fields, who is half his age, is still learning the ropes in his rookie season. He’s passing for just 105 yards per game, with 2 TDs and 3 interceptions so far. While this will be the biggest age gap between starting quarterbacks that the NFL has ever seen, the gap in performance is what will affect the outcome of this game.
It’s unfair to compare Brady and Fields at this point in their careers. And there is quite a difference in the offensive skill players they have at their disposal. “He has so many weapons, when you look at Antonio Brown and Godwin and Evans,” said Hartstein of Brady’s receiving core. “And look how well Leonard Fournette is playing, not to even mention the tight ends they have. And on the other side, Justin Fields, the passing game just isn’t there yet. Under 200 yards the past two weeks. He’s not really on the same page yet.”
Further highlighting the difference, one of Brady’s favorite weapons, tight end Rob Gronkowski, has been out recently with rib injuries.
Fields will have the opportunity to make plays this week. The Bucs pass defense gives up 280.8 yards per game, which is one of the worst averages in the NFL. Tampa is also dealing with multiple injuries in the secondary. Cornerbacks Carlton Davis and Sean Murphy-Bunting are on injured reserve, while Richard Sherman suffered a hamstring injury early in last week’s game. Safety Antoine Winfield started off the week in concussion protocol.
The Bears need to run to have any hope of success. With David Montgomery out with a knee injury, Khalil Herbert and Damien Williams have proved capable replacements. “But the Bucs don’t let you run the ball,” Hartstein pointed out. “They only give up 3.4 yards per carry. Most teams don’t even try to run the ball against the Bucs.”MORE NEWS: Preventing Mass Shootings: Seizing Guns Under ‘Red Flag’ Laws From Baltimore To Buffalo
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