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5 things to watch as the Chiefs play the Packers on ‘Sunday Night Football’

A matchup in a historic venue comes at an important time for both Kansas City and Green Bay.

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Green Bay Packers v Kansas City Chiefs Photo by Kevin Sabitus/Getty Images

It has been more than eight years since the (8-3) Kansas City Chiefs have traveled north to play a regular-season game against the (5-6) Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field. But that’s what we’re getting in the Week 13 episode of “Sunday Night Football” on NBC. Kickoff is set for 7:20 p.m. Arrowhead Time.

Heading into the weekend, DraftKings Sportsbook has Kansas City as a six-point favorite — just a one-score difference because Green Bay has recently been coming on strong. After a 2-5 start, the team has won three of its last four matchups — including a controlling victory over the Detroit Lions on Thanksgiving Day.

The momentum the Packers have gathered is coupled with 10 days of rest, giving them an ideal opportunity to get to .500 — and be firmly in the NFC playoff picture. But on the flip side, the Chiefs know that any loss could be the difference between homefield advantage throughout the postseason — and making road trips.

I have five things to watch in this primetime contest:

1. Trying to rattle Jordan Love

Green Bay Packers v Kansas City Chiefs Photo by David Eulitt/Getty Images

After the Chiefs’ defense had a spotty performance against a rookie quarterback in Week 12, the unit will face another first-year starter: Green Bay’s Jordan Love, who will be making only his 13th career start.

His first came during his rookie season in 2021: a 13-7 loss to Kansas City. Even in that defeat, though, he made a positive impression on Chiefs’ defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo.

“I was impressed with him coming out of that game,” Spagnuolo reflected to reporters on Thursday. “I never thought he got rattled. We played really well defensively; we had some success... I came out of that game saying that he had something — [so] that you really couldn’t rattle him... Now I think they’re hitting their stride.”

This season, Love hasn’t had many chances to be rattled: among starting quarterbacks, he’s been sacked at the seventh-lowest rate — and has been pressured at the fifth-lowest rate.

The Packers’ scheme sets him up for success with quick releases and rhythm throws — but the longer he holds onto the ball, that changes: on dropbacks longer than 2.5 seconds, Love has completed only 53% of his passes — and eight of his 10 interceptions have come on such plays.

The Kansas City defense will be focused on disrupting his timing.

2. A repeat for Rashee Rice

Kansas City Chiefs v Las Vegas Raiders Photo by Candice Ward/Getty Images

The career day that the second-round rookie wideout had in the 31-17 victory over the Las Vegas Raiders was exciting — and should be setting up a stretch where we consistently see Rice used like he was in Las Vegas: 10 targets, eight catches and 107 yards.

Against the Raiders, the team relied on Rice in important situations — on two third downs, he had the primary route — and expanded its playbook for him: Rice played on the outside more often than he had all season.

Since the receivers around him have yet to prove worthy of more than complementary roles, the Chiefs essentially have no excuse: in the passing game, they must lean on Rice (and tight end Travis Kelce) as their predominant targets.

The Packers’ cornerback Jaire Alexander has been a limited participant in practice this week — and is questionable to play after missing three games with a shoulder injury. Even if he plays, the vulnerable Green Bay secondary might give Rice the opportunity for a big game.

3. Defending downfield throws

Kansas City Chiefs v Minnesota Vikings Photo by Kevin Sabitus/Getty Images

The Packers’ passing game wants to work the ball downfield: among starting quarterbacks, Love has the league’s highest average depth-of-target (9.6 yards) — and is tied with Buffalo Bills’ quarterback Josh Allen for the most attempts at least 20 yards downfield.

Green Bay’s deep-threat group is led by second-year wide receiver Christian Watson — but so far, rookie wideout Jayden Reed has outproduced Watson on deep passes. Rookie tight end Luke Musgrave has four receptions on deep throws.

While it is a young unit, it’s one in which Spagnuolo is recognizing gradual improvement.

“I was telling our defensive back group this yesterday: their wide receiver corps is a little bit like our defensive backs were last year,” said the coordinator. “Everybody was saying they were young, they were rookies, and as the season went... The quarterback and the wideouts, as the season has gone on, [are] getting better and better.”

4. Winning up front on offense

Miami Dolphins v Kansas City Chiefs Photo by Mario Hommes/DeFodi Images via Getty Images

The Kansas City offense has looked its best when the offensive line is winning in the trenches, paving the way for chunk runs and giving quarterback Patrick Mahomes time in the pocket. Two weeks after facing the challenge of the Philadelphia Eagles’ front, the Packers’ defensive line can also cause problems.

“They’re lengthy,” Chiefs’ offensive coordinator Matt Nagy told reporters on Thursday. “They have bookends on the edge with [Rashan] Gary and Preston Smith — then with [Kenny] Clark on the inside... Those are vet guys that have been there. It starts there, with stopping the run and creating pressure for the quarterback.”

Gary has amassed 8.5 sacks this year, while Smith and Clark have combined for nine. Green Bay’s defensive line will challenge Kansas City’s pass protection.

5. Managing the running back’s workload

Kansas City Chiefs v Las Vegas Raiders Photo by Candice Ward/Getty Images

With running back Jerick McKinnon designated as questionable for the game, starting running back Isiah Pacheco is trending for more and more touches. It’s deserving — and many times, it’s what the offense has needed to get going.

There is, however, a lot of season left for a position group that seems as thin as it ever has during the last few years. Running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire has been running hard — but not effectively enough to spell Pacheco. That’s why I believe running back La’Mical Perine needs more snaps — sooner rather than later.

That could happen against the Packers, who have faced the third-most rushing attempts per game — and have allowed the eighth-highest yards per rush (4.4).

It's Game Time.

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