October 22, 2014

The Green Bay Packers' slow start to the season seems like ancient history. The New Orleans Saints still haven't gotten over the hump.

The two teams match up Sunday night in their first meeting since 2012.

Behind the play of Aaron Rodgers, the Packers (5-2) have rolled to four consecutive victories and erased the memories of their 1-2 start. Rodgers has thrown for 977 yards and 13 touchdowns without an interception during the win streak, and he posted the second-highest passer rating of his career - 154.5 - in last week's 38-17 rout of Carolina.

To his teammates, Rodgers' performance is nothing new.

''It's funny. I talk to old friends who have been here and are with other teams, and they don't really realize how good Aaron is until they go and play for someone else,'' guard Josh Sitton said. ''It's hard to realize, I guess, when he's all I've known. I expect that week in and week out.''

Jordy Nelson has been the primary beneficiary of Rodgers' success. Nelson ranks second in the NFL with 712 receiving yards - only seven behind Pittsburgh's Antonio Brown - and fourth in receiving touchdowns with six.

Teammate Randall Cobb is second in touchdowns with eight.

Green Bay's passing attack may be in store for another successful game, facing a Saints defense ranked 28th in passing yards allowed at 270.5 per game.

A loss Sunday would give the Saints (2-4) their worst seven-game start to a season under Sean Payton, who was suspended when they started 2-5. It would also match their loss total from last season, when they finished 11-5 and lost to Seattle in the divisional round.

Even with the poor start, however, the playoffs are still very much within reach since Carolina leads the NFC South at 3-3-1.

"That's a ton of football," Payton said. "Basically we're finished (with), I believe a third of the season, a little bit more than that. But the focus for us will be right on Green Bay."

New Orleans has allowed 27.5 points per game, ranking fifth-worst in the NFL, but the bigger concern is closing out games. The Saints squandered a fourth-quarter lead for the third time last week as Detroit rallied for two TDs in the final 3:38 of their 24-23 loss.

"We did a lot of good things and yet, we have to finish. We have to finish, especially today," Drew Brees said Sunday. "It's not like this thing was back and forth. We had a 13-point lead with however much time was left."

Brees completed 28 of 45 passes for 342 yards and two touchdowns, but he also threw a costly fourth quarter interception that led to Detroit's go-ahead score.

Wednesday, he shifted focus from the loss to the task of upending the Green Bay and the sixth-best passing defense in the NFL.

"Just know that when you got Aaron Rodgers on the other side of the ball, and that offense and the way that they execute, the way that they score points, it just makes you feel like you have to be that much more precise and execute that much better," said Brees, who is 2-3 versus the Packers despite throwing for 1,904 yards and 14 TDs with only two interceptions.

"Take advantage of every opportunity you get. All the details become that much more important."

Jimmy Graham didn't have a catch in the loss to Detroit. The tight end is still dealing with a shoulder injury that limited him in practice Wednesday.

The Packers edged the Saints 28-27 in their most recent meeting. Brees threw for 446 yards and three touchdowns, but Rodgers threw a go-ahead touchdown to Nelson with seven minutes left.

''I would like to think our whole team clearly understands we're getting ready to go into a hotbox down there in New Orleans," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. "I mean, this is going to be a big-time environment, big-time game. These are the kind of games you love to play in. Everybody wants to go get this one and get to 6-2, especially after where we were four weeks ago.''

Green Bay leads the all-time series 16-7.

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