Packers vs. Patriots: Performances to watch

Special teams could be a difference-maker


FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Two of the greatest quarterbacks to ever play go head-to-head on Sunday night at Gillette Stadium.

So what else is there to this game?

1. Special teams: The impact of special teams in the Packers' last two road losses can't be overstated. The punt snafu and missed kicks in Detroit. Getting two punts downed inside the 5, and then hitting a bad punt and fumbling a kickoff down the stretch in L.A. Impact for the Patriots has been evident, too. Two weeks ago in Chicago, New England return man Cordarrelle Patterson (who hurt the Packers in the past while playing for the Vikings) fumbled a kickoff before returning one for a score. Later, the Patriots blocked a punt for a touchdown. Eight years ago in this Sunday Night Football matchup, a Patriots offensive lineman nearly ran a kickoff back for a touchdown. Any big play on special teams could make the difference.

2. Key matchup: Packers receiver Davante Adams has routinely drawn the opponent's top cover corner, which means he'll likely get a full evening of Patriots CB Stephon Gilmore. Four years ago at Lambeau Field, the marquee matchup was Jordy Nelson vs. Darrelle Revis, and a quick slant that Nelson turned into a long TD just before halftime was a pivotal moment.

3. Pressure up front: Last week the Packers rattled Rams QB Jared Goff with a hodge-podge of pressure calls that seemed to confuse him at times, and Green Bay recorded five sacks. Tom Brady will have quicker answers, but can the Packers cover long enough to get to him anyway. For a QB who rarely escapes the pocket, Brady is amazingly mobile and has been sacked just 11 times in eight games this season. On the flip side, the Patriots have recorded just 12 sacks of their own on defense. Just one or two sacks from either side could matter a lot.

4. Emerging hero: A pair of rookies at the time, Adams turned in his first career 100-yard game and tight end Richard Rodgers hauled in a TD pass to help the Packers beat the Patriots in 2014. Do the Packers have another emerging hero this time? Rookies Marquez Valdes-Scantling and Equanimeous St. Brown have come up big lately. Green Bay's tight ends have been quiet in the red zone all season. Stay tuned.

5. Primary backs: The Packers' three-headed running back group was reduced to a 1-2 punch this week, with Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams ready to seize the day. Jones' 33-yard TD run on a draw play at the end of the third quarter last week against the Rams was a game-changer. For the Patriots, James White has been Mr. Everything to Brady, and Packers defensive coordinator Mike Pettine called him New England's MVP aside from the quarterback. White's team-high 55 receptions are almost double the next best for the Patriots, Rob Gronkowski's 29, and White's eight total TDs (two rushing, six receiving) lead the squad by a longshot, too.