On one side, Matthew Stafford. Statistically, the most prolific passer to ever play the sport. Barring disaster, he will reach the 40,000 passing yard mark faster than any other quarterback within the coming month. A quarterback that has dragged his team through the mud to salvage late wins that leave the hearts of opponents shattered.
On the other, Aaron Rodgers. Potentially the greatest quarterback of all time. A magician with a bag of tricks that has perplexed even the greatest defenses over the years. A seemingly unstoppable force that exposes any chinks he finds in his opponent’s armor.
The two meet again on “Monday Night Football,” with the top spot in the NFC North up for grabs. It is a huge early season tilt that usually turns into a highlight reel of amazing quarterback play. In each of the last six meetings, at least one team has eclipsed 30 points. A team has scored at least 27 points in 13 of the 18 matchups between the teams in the 2010s.
This year should be different, though. While both quarterbacks are still around, the teams have been playing more different than ever in 2019.
The Packers have become a defensive force. The additions of both Preston Smith and Za’Darius Smith this offseason look like hits. Blake Martinez looks like a top five linebacker. The young secondary has grown up, and rookie Darnell Savage is looking like a great pick up late in the first round (though he has been ruled out this week).
Detroit has found a new identity, as well. Matt Patricia has turned the defense into a unit that is much better than the sum of its parts, and they have already grinded out victories over the Philadelphia Eagles and Los Angeles Chargers. There are still great players on the field too, with Darius Slay and Justin Coleman both playing well at corner, and one has to figure that defensive end Trey Flowers is bound to show up.
While the quarterback duel narrative will dominate the ESPN pregame show—and we will see a ton of graphics throughout the game comparing the two—this game will most likely not be the wild west shootout we have come to know and love. The deciding matchup may not be the quarterbacks, but instead how well Slay does compared to Jaire Alexander in the defensive backfield, or whether Flowers and Devon Kennard can match their counterparts in green.
Patricia has a chance to earn another signature win on prime time this week. Last year, a masterful gameplan found his Lions knocking off the future Super Bowl Champion New England Patriots in front of the national audience. A win on Monday night will send another signal to the league that this team can beat anyone, even the Packers squad that has been rolling through the seasons early weeks.
Once again, the faith of the division lies in the hands of these two teams. But this time, the stars of the show are not the ones we have come to expect.