The Green Bay Packers and Baltimore Ravens last faced each other in 2009. Both quarterbacks Aaron Rodgers and Joe Flacco were in their second seasons as the full-time starter, though Rodgers had been in the league for four more seasons stuck behind Brett Favre.
Rodgers and the Pack won that ugly game 27-14, but four years later each has guided their teams to a Super Bowl title, and are considered two of the best quarterbacks in the NFL.
When they meet on Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium, both teams are itching to find some semblence of their mid-season flow.
The Packers are third in the league with 29.5 points a game, and Rodgers is the fifth rated passer in the NFL, but facing three playoff teams from last season resulted in a 1-2 record before the Week Four bye.
Last week, the Packers got back on track with a 22-9 win over NFC North rival Detroit, a good sign for a defense that’s struggled to defend the pass. Rookie running back Eddie Lacy returned to the lineup to net 99 yards, and the Green Bay defense held the Lions high-octane attack to 286 total yards and one touchdown. The frontline also record five sacks on the afternoon.
Repeating that performance could prove difficult. Linebacker Mike Neal will fill in for the injured Clay Matthews, who required surgery on his broken thumb. Neal is not lacking confidence, but isn’t getting a big head either ahead of Sunday’s pivotal game.
"You know what? It's best for me to keep myself below the clouds," Neal said Wednesday to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. "I don't like to get a big head about anything. If I'm a secret weapon to teams, then I'm that. If they have to scheme against me, then that's on them."
Meanwhile, the Ravens have won three of their last four games, and would have won all four if it wasn’t for a three-point letdown on the road against Buffalo two weeks ago. Baltimore is still first in the AFC North, but should be wary of playoff contender Cincinnati and upstart Cleveland lurking.
Last week, Flacco got some relief on offense, with running back Ray Rice looking like his old self, garnering 74 rushing yards and two touchdowns in a 26-23 win over Miami. It also took a 44-yard field goal from Justin Tucker with less than two minutes remaining to make up for a 25-yard interception return tossed by Flacco.
The six-year veteran Flacco didn’t throw a touchdown pass for the second game this season, and has totaled six picks in his last two games. Flacco is tied for fourth in the league with eight interceptions, and is on pace for the worst passer rating of his career.
Despite Flacco’s woes, third-year receiver Torrey Smith has emerged as one of the NFL’s best all-around receivers. He’s third in the league with 556 yards, eighth with 52 receptions, and second in yards per catch.
Baltimore’s defense has also contributed the second most sacks in the NFL thanks to Terrell Suggs and newest addition Elvis Dumvervil. The Ravens have tallied 21.0 total sacks, including 7.0 from Suggs and 3.0 from Dumervil.
But the Ravens defense could miss several key players this week. Safety Michael Huff is currently listed as questionable, and nose tackle Terrence Cody is doubtful.
The kick off is set for 1 p.m. ET, and will be broadcast by FOX, or watch a live online stream by purchasing NFL Game Access here.
Betting Odds: Green Bay favored by 2.5 points.
Over/Under: 48.5 points.
Prediction: Green Bay 31, Baltimore 27