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Why They Win: Can Short-Handed Patriots Upset Aaron Rodgers, Packers?

The New England Patriots' back are slammed against the wall. How will they pull off an upset at Lambeau Field?

What: New England Patriots (1-2) @ Green Bay Packers (2-1) 
Where: Lambeau Field, Green Bay, WI
When: Sunday, 4:25 p.m. ET, CBS
Who's Won: Series tied 6-6 (Last: 31-17 NE, 11/4/18)

Gut check time in Foxboro has come earlier than usual. 

Trapped in a division with one of the two remaining perfect teams in football and not even having their chosen franchise quarterback to comfort them, the road gets no easier for the Patriots. They now face a vengeful Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers, who apparently took things personally after some left them for dead after a Week 1 loss to Minnesota. New England will do so without the services of Mac Jones, who is dealing with an ankle injury sustained last weekend in the home opener against Baltimore. 

So, yes, the odds are stacked against the Patriots as a visit to the midwest looms. But there is indeed a path to victory ...

It's a Trap!

It probably says more about your team's opening fortunes and trajectory if you're in a position to administer a trap game in early October. Alas for New England, it's a reality and might be one of the few things working in their favor as they land in Wisconsin. 

Every sign points to Green Bay securing this game in one-sided fashion: Rodgers has found a groove, Aaron Jones is averaging nearly seven yards a carry, and the defense isn't allowing scores despite a lack of eye-popping stats. A fair amount of viewers will likely assume that the one way the Patriots pull this off is if the Packers are caught looking ahead to the week after, where Sunday's late afternoon contest gives way to international duties against the New York Giants. 

Green Bay, fresh off a win against you-know-who in Tampa, is destined for bigger and better things; one almost couldn't blame them if they took a meandering Patriots team looking for answers lightly. Goofy as it sounds to label a Week 4 contest a trap game, it's hard to make a case against it from a Patriots perspective. 

It Takes Two to Make a Game Go Right

Things look extraordinarily dire, but the fact of the matter is that it's still only Week 4, giving the Patriots time to salvage their season. If that's the approach ... and do you really see Bill Belichick and Co. voluntarily signing away games? ... it'd be foolhardy to place that burden entirely in the hands of Brian Hoyer and/or Bailey Zappe, those tasked with picking up the pieces in the wake of Jones' medically-induced departure.

If there was ever a time for New England to truly break out and utilize the dual rushing attack, this is it. Damien Harris and Rhamondre Stevenson have been clock eaters at worst, efficient at best, averaging 4.8 a carry, which would rank as the seventh-highest tally in the league. It stands to reason that they'll be called upon for larger duties with the primary offensive facillitator gone for the next few weeks. 

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Harris and Stevenson previously afforded Jones a security blanket in the red zone, scoring three of their four ground touchdowns (they stand as one of only six teams with at least four). Now they'll have to open the run game up on all areas in the field, and perhaps the new thrower could use them in the receiving game as well. Stevenson, for example, was finding such a niche during his final shortened season at Oklahoma, earning 211 yards on 18 receptions over six contests.

Green Bay's defense has generated moderate pressure and run defense, allowing 4.9 yards a carry, a number partly inflated by the Chicago Bears putting up 180 on 27 attempts during Week 2's Sunday nighter. If the Patriots can keep the ball moving on the ground ... and, by association, keep Rodgers and compatriots off the field ... they may be able to pound the Packers into submission. 

(Lack of) Star Wars

The ultimate X-factor in this matchup is Rodgers. Both sides boast sizable defensive talents: the Packers retain De'Vondre Campbell and Kenny Clark, while the Patriots have enjoyed increased production from Kyle Dugger and Deatrich Wise. 

But Rodgers is the difference in this tale of two developing offenses, ones where newcomers are still finding their footing (Nelson Agholor, Kendrick Bourne, DeVante Parker in New England) or prior reserve options (Green Bay's Randall Cobb, Allen Lazard) or late-round rookies (Romeo Doubs). The one who makes the football world go round is Rodgers, who seems poised to at least be making yet another MVP run (Aaron Jones certainly deserves his props as well). 

The Patriots' defense did a solid job of keeping them in games over the first two weeks, allowing only one touchdown each against Miami and Pittsburgh. Rodgers can do a lot, but even his prescience alone won't win the Packers ball games. After all, they mustered only 14 against the Buccaneers last week, prevailing in a defensive struggle.

Even without a healthy Mac Jones, the Patriots seem capable of primarily winning ugly games. If the veteran defenders can force Green Bay's fledgling playmakers into more uncomfortable situations against the Packers, they can linger in the game and pave a path to victory under an experienced coaching staff.  

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Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags