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Patriots-Packers 5 Things to Watch: Gronk, Jordy, and the Deep Ball

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Regular season non-conference games don't come much bigger than this

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As two of the league's best, most evenly matched teams, it's only fitting we find ourselves discussing the Packers and Patriots on perhaps the most competitive day of the year - Black Friday! This is a day capable of turning normally harmless soccer moms into ravenous, sale-hunting savages willing to tear each other to shreds in the name of cheap Tupperware. And while today will undoubtedly produce some of the weekend's most exciting stiff arms, swim moves and hard hitting tackles, it's the ones on Sunday we're here to discuss. So grab yourself some turkey leftovers, another sweet potato and hell, some cranberry sauce (because who's judging?) while we dive into this week's 5 things to watch:

GRONK VS. EVERYONE

This is kind of the 6'6", 260-pound turkey in the room for the Packers. Dom Capers has likely spent many nights this week devising a game plan to neutralize the Patriots tight end, but let's be honest - it might not matter. Gronkowski is back to being one of the league's most dominant weapons on offense. What makes Gronkowski so terrifying isn't just his size, or speed, or his penchant for throwing defenders into sideline cameras, either. It's the way Bill Belichick utilizes him. Micah Hyde will likely be the primary defender tasked with covering Gronkowski, but if Belichick gets his way (and he usually does), he won't be the only one.

BRADY'S DEEP BALL

During last season's Super Bowl, the Seahawks' game plan versus Peyton Manning was clear: Make him go deep. Tom Brady has a bit more connective tissue in his upper extremities and thus, more gas on his deep throws, but that shouldn't prevent the Packers from taking a similar approach. The reason for this has been a dirty little secret of the Patriots for some time: Brady has been seriously inaccurate on his long ball, something we noted this week in our GMC Playbook article as well. While his receivers can still gobble up plenty of yards up the seams and along the sidelines, tighter coverage should make that a bit harder to come by.

THE SIDELINES

Was I the only one who actually got more concerned after hearing Bill Belichik gush about Aaron Rodgers at this week's press conference? Whether he as some Aaron Rodgers kryptonite up his sleeve remains to be seen, but it's clear that both Belichick and Mike McCarthy will play important roles in this one. The two teams are too evenly matched for them not to. And while I typically think coaches are more or less just turkeys who stand on the sideline and call the plays, this one promises to be much more of a chess match. Let's hope Mike McCarthy is up to the challenge.

CLAY'S USAGE

Ever since Matthews started playing inside linebacker, he's been running around the field like a turkey with its head cut off. He's not just flailing about though. He's making tackles, blowing up running backs and has even shown to be fairly serviceable when dropping back into coverage. So here's the big question - how will Dom Capers deploy his most explosive defensive player this Sunday? Matthews is still at his most destructive when rushing from the outside, but his production inside has been so good (or at least, so much better than anyone else on the team) they almost have to keep him there. And with the aforementioned Rob Gronkowski attacking the middle of the field, they'll almost certainly need their most athletic linebacker there to try and stop him.

COVERAGE ON JORDY

It's a cliché that announcers love to throw out, but the old, "Belichick takes away what you do best" does have some truth to it. Sure, all coaches try to do that. Some are just better at it than others. The Packers, as we all know, do lots of things really well, but the Aaron Rodgers to Jordy Nelson connection might be this season's most lethal. That means Belichick will have some decisions to make. Darrelle Revis can still cover with the best of them, but that offers no guarantees against Nelson who has torched plenty of good corners this season. And while Brandon Browner is a solid corner himself, his game is more about roughing guys up at the line of scrimmage than lockdown coverage. Regardless of who covers Nelson, his effectiveness (and the ripple effect it has across the rest of the offense) will likely have a big impact on how well the Packers move the ball. Also, turkey.

My prediction: Pats, 31 Packers, 27

Enjoy the game, everyone

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