Now, I know what you're thinking. Historically this season, I've been more negative than some of you would care for. I look at it as being more realistic, but at the same time it comes off as having a serious lack of faith in the team.
Allow me to attempt to salvage my reputation by coming out and saying that this is easily the best matchup of the year for the Packers and that they should absolutely roll on the Browns. Why do I say that? The answer is after the jump.
CLE rushing vs. GB defense: Jamal Lewis used to be the workhorsiest running back in the NFL. He's fallen off, to say the least (67 carries, 233 yards, 0 TDs). Jerome Harrison was supposed to be change-of-pace back in the vein of Leon Washington, Chris Johnson, and Darren Sproles. Needless to say, he has not realized that potential yet (61 carries, 228 yards, 0 TDs). Rookie James Davis looked promising, but was lost for the season. The Cleveland stable of running backs, ranked 18th in yardage, is mediocre at best.
The offensive line isn't much better. Joe Thomas (6'6", 312) is a stud at LT, but he specializes more in pass protection. The rest of the line is not nearly as studly. Eric Steinbach (6'6", 295) is an athletic LG who can move in space, but has historically had problems with sustaining blocks and keeping his base. Rookie center Alex Mack (6'4", 311), backup center/starting RG Hank Fraley (6'3", 310), and RT John St. Clair (6'6", 320) are merely average.
Green Bay has surprisingly turned into a surprisingly stout run defense over the course of the season. They're ranked 16th against the run, but the difference between 10th ranked Tennessee and 20th ranked New England is less than 20 yards. Nick Barnett seems to have recovered fully from his ACL injury, Brandon Chillar has continued to excel as a rotation linebacker, Clay Matthews had a small coming-out party last week, and A.J. Hawk has been relegated to the bench for over 75% of the defensive snaps.
Advantage: Green Bay. Having finally settled on a rotation for the front seven, the defense is starting to hit its stride.
CLE passing vs. GB defense: The only bright spot in the passing offense is rookie WR Mohamed Massaquoi. The Georgia product may not be able to recreate Braylon Edwards' production (or drops), but he has already established himself as a productive member of the NFL. Mike Furrey, former St. Louis safety turned receiver, is a homeless man's Wes Welker. From there, it's all downhill in Cleveland.
Derek Anderson once submitted a stat line of 2/17 for 23 yards and kept his job. That's how bad the quarterback situation is in Cleveland. Between him and Brady Quinn, it's hard to declare a winner. Quinn is easily more accurate than Anderson, but Anderson has the arm that can make all the necessary throws. If you somehow combined them into a super-conglomerate-quarterback, they might be servicable. But until then, Eric Mangini will have to continue choosing between dukey and doo-doo.
And by the way, how in the world does Eric Mangini still have a job? The Brady Quinn Era lasted all of 2.5 games. The second-best player on offense (and second-leading receiver) was Braylon Edwards, who's now a member of the Jets. They were reportedly shopping Joshua Cribbs before the deadline, presumably because they don't want to have any success on special teams.
Green Bay finally is starting to figure out a rotation of linebackers that work well with blitz packages, especially on passing downs. The group of Matthews-Barnett-Chillar-Kampman has produced well, especially when Kampman moves onto the line. Al Harris, Charles Woodson, Nick Collins, Tramon Williams, and finally healthy (for now) Atari Bigby are licking their chops this week. It might get ugly.
Advantage: Definitely Green Bay. The only thing preventing this defense from dominating this week is injuries.
GB rushing vs. CLE defense: Cleveland has a defense which has been exploited like a British colony. Their 30th-ranked run defense is anchored by Shaun Rogers. Is it any coincidence that all the teams that the 6'4" 350 lb. mammoth tackle has played for have been awful against the run? Probably, especially now that Cleveland defensive star D'Qwell Jackson is out for the year. But the rest of Cleveland's front seven are non-descript. Robaire Smith and Kenyon Coleman are the main ends, with former Packer Corey Williams rotating in. Eric Barton, Kamerion Wimbley, David Bowens, and David Veikune will have to step up to replace Jackson's leadership.
Meanwhile, rumors abound of Ryan Grant's imminent departure from Green Bay. Well, perhaps "imminent" isn't the right word, but those in charge at 1265 are not pleased and have been looking for ways to improve the position. Whether or not Ahman Green can be considered an improvement is yet to be seen. In any case, Grant is still producing at a slightly-above-average clip (3.8 ypc). Perhaps his numbers are lower because of the offensive line? After all, Grant did finish last year on a relatively strong note, so maybe he is getting primed for a second-half explosion, a la Cedric Benson in 2008.
Advantage: Green Bay, because Cleveland sucks more at stopping the run than Green Bay does at establishing it.
GB passing vs. CLE defense: I played defensive back in high school, and I was good enough to not get burned on a regular basis. One week, I caught the flu, and tried playing in that week's game after starting to get over it. Two long pass plays later, I was riding the pine for the rest of the game and didn't start the next week.
The point is, if any of the Browns' defensive backs were among the players who caught the flu, they will be in for a long day.
The Browns' pass defense is ranked 23rd, a number that would likely be worse if Cleveland weren't constantly losing and having opponents run the clock out against them. The corners (Eric Wright and Brandon McDonald) are actually not horrible players, but they're constantly left alone by the putrid safety tandem of Brodney Pool and Abram Elam. If you thought Derrick Martin and Jarrett Bush were bad, wait until you see Wright matched up against Donald Driver and pass him off to the safety who isn't there.
Speaking of Green Bay's receivers, they have certainly stepped up in the last few weeks. Seven Packers have over 100 yards receiving on the season, and Driver, Greg Jennings, James Jones, Jordy Nelson, and Jermichael Finley are all averaging over 15.0 yards per catch. As long as the drops don't come back, these guys will get open and get yards.
Oh, and Aaron Rodgers is awesome. Let's hope he stays healthy despite his dangerous work conditions.
Advantage: Green Bay by a long shot.
No-longer-so-preliminary verdict: The biggest thing that worries me about this game is the potential for the team to fall into a trap, given the looming November 1st visit from a certain NFC North team. But before we start repeating the Admiral Ackbar message from Week 3, recognize exactly how different this team is in Week 7. With Atari Bigby healthy, a more suitable replacement for Mark Tauscher, and the reunion of Aaron Kampman and the 3-point stance, this Packers team is far more capable than they were in the first quarter of the season.