This game had the chance to be one of the best of the year. The most physically-gifted quarterback many had ever seen was Aaron Rodgers, right up until last year, when Patrick Mahomes seemed to take that title away from him. They were supposed to square off in a marquee matchup on Sunday Night Football.
Mahomes' unfortunate knee injury (that thankfully is not quite as bad as it looked) took that away from us. Even though Mahomes has already miraculously returned to practice, he is not taking first-team reps, and he is unlikely to suit up in this Week 8 game. But the Packers and Chiefs still have to play their Sunday night game, so that means we have to take a look at the matchups. Let's break things down.
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When the Packers have the ball
The monster performance that many had predicted was just around the corner for Aaron Rodgers finally came last week.
Through the first six games of the Packers' season, Rodgers' performance could have been considered at least mildly disappointing. He completed just 62.6 percent of his passes, averaged 7.3 yards per attempt, and had just eight touchdown passes and two interceptions. His passer rating was 92.8, more than 10 points worse than his career average. (His best passer rating in any single game was 101.0, which is also worse than his career average.) And then there was last week against the Raiders, when he became the first quarterback in Packers history (!) to record a perfect passer rating: 25 of 31 for 429 yards and five touchdowns, plus another score on the ground.
The Chiefs rank a surprising fourth in pass defense DVOA this season, per Football Outsiders, but it's looking very possible that they could be without several key contributors for this game. Chris Jones, Frank Clark, and Kendall Fuller have all not practiced yet this week. Neither has Darron Lee. Tanoh Kpassagnon missed a practice due to illness earlier in the week as well, though it's a good sign that he was back to being a full participant on Thursday.
But while the Chiefs are banged up, the Packers are also still dealing with injuries of their own on offense. Receivers Davante Adams continues to sit out practices with a toe injury and seems incredibly unlikely to play. Marquez Valdes-Scantling and Geronimo Allison managed to play through injuries last week but it took right up until game-time for them to be ruled in. Bryan Bulaga, Jimmy Graham, Allen Lazard, and Rodgers himself were all limited in Wednesday's practice, though it's expected that all will play.
With Fuller likely out, Rodgers can expect to see Bashaud Breeland and Charvarius Ward working on the outside, with Rashad Fenton in the slot. Breeland and Ward have each played quite well this season, and Fenton has acquitted himself nicely in somewhat limited snaps. Given the way the Packers align their receivers, it's likely that Fenton will see a lot of Allison in the slot, while Breeland and Ward largely tangle with MVS, Lazard, and Jake Kumerow. Rodgers appears to trust all of these receivers now, and will likely be unafraid to test any of the defensive backs.
With Kansas City's injuries up front, the Packers should be able to keep Rodgers well-protected. The Chiefs rank just 24th in pressure rate to begin with, and Jones and Clark are two of their best pressure players. When Rodgers has time, he tends to tear defenses apart, so this combination could prove deadly.
The Chiefs have been dreadful stopping the run as well. They rank 29th in the league in rush defensive DVOA, and the past several opponents have been able to control the clock by grinding it out on the ground. The Packers have a strong one-two punch in Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams, and given the way this game figures to shake out, they should each be able to contribute to said clock-grinding on the ground.
When the Chiefs have the ball
Andy Reid has done an admirable job pretending there is a chance that Patrick Mahomes will play in this game. The dude dislocated his knee literally last week. If the Chiefs let him step on the field on Sunday, they're nuts. I don't think they're nuts, so we're going to proceed as if Matt Moore will make the start.
Before last week, Moore had not thrown a pass since 2017. He was out of the league last year and as recently as this offseason was doing a scouting internship with the Dolphins. He's been an adequate backup throughout his career, and when asked to start, has largely been ... fine. Moore is 15-15 in 30 career starts, with a 60.4 percent completion rate, a 7.0 yards per attempt average, 41 touchdowns, 26 interceptions, and an 85.4 passer rating. So, he's not Patrick Mahomes.
It's tempting to say the Chiefs will look to Establish The Run without their starting quarterback, but their running game has been an outright disaster for most of the season. LeSean McCoy, Damien Williams, and Darrel Williams have combined to carry the ball 120 times for just 468 yards, an average of 3.9 per carry. The injuries to Eric Fisher and Andrew Wylie along the offensive line have certainly contributed to that lack of success, but with the exception of a few vintage McCoy scampers, the backs have just not looked very good.
The Packers have looked like one of the best defenses in the NFL this season, and specifically along the defensive front. General manager Brian Gutekunst's spending spree including big splurges for Za'Darius Smith and Preston Smith, and those guys are balling. Green Bay ranks seventh in defensive DVOA, eighth in Football Outsiders' Adjusted Sack Rate, and fifth in pressure rate. So expecting Moore to stay under control and calmly deliver the ball to Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce and company down the field is probably expecting too much as well.
This just boils down to an incredibly bad matchup for Kansas City on both sides of the ball. They're running into Rodgers and the Green Bay offense at the wrong time. They have an offense that does not necessarily match up well with this excellent defense, and they don't have Mahomes to paper over the shortcomings. Andy Reid can scheme things up with the best of them so it would not be surprising if he found a way to put Moore in position to succeed, but it seems more likely that he'll struggle.
Prediction: Packers 27, Chiefs 17