5 Down, 5 To Go!

Since Rodgers’ Run the Table quote, the Packers have rallied off 5 in a row.  They’re halfway home.  For anyone that may say, “Nick, you know he was referring to the final 6 games in the regular season.”  My response is, “What’s the point of making the playoffs if you’re not going to win the Super Bowl?”  If this season doesn’t result in a Super Bowl victory, it will have been another failure and choke — how much more can we take?  I’m beginning to think that Packer fans are quite alright with postseason failure, so as long as they can say that other teams haven’t been in consecutive years like Green Bay.

Review – I was fortunate enough to attend the game, and see this display in person, what ended up being a warm Christmas Eve.  The Packers took the first drive, getting a few first downs, but ultimately resulting in a punt…however, after that it seems like Jacob Schum could’ve hit the showers.  Aaron Rodgers is playing to his expected level and has full control of this offense.  Also, the short-passing game has almost replaced the running game – which could be dangerous for opposing teams as the Packers have shown they can run the ball.  Ultimately, if everything is clicking, this team should be able to post 38-40+ points if need be.  The main concern, as has been since 2010’s title run, is the defense being able to hold up and get a stop late in the 4th quarter.  That, and Rodgers playing to his level for the entire game, but more on that next week.

Last week I mentioned to keep an eye on Min’s WR Stefon Diggs.  Diggs had 4 catches, for 29 yards and a garbage-time TD.  Adam Thielen on the other hand had a career day, with over 200 yards and 2 TDs.  Again, the main concern is the defense giving up 12 fourth quarter points.  The other two players I mentioned to watch didn’t even play: Adrian Peterson and Randall Cobb.  So that’s easy.

To no one’s surprise, Aaron Rodgers led all players with a PFF grade of 93.1.  He was essentially perfect again, and that’s where he needs to be.  Here are the rest:

Clay Matthews 87.7
Jordy Nelson 86.1
Damarious Randall 80.2

Preview – There’s not much I really need to say…Detroit is well-known and everyone, by now, knows what’s on the line.  The Lions’ story has been told at nausea all year about how they’ve trailed in the 4th quarter in 8 of their 9 wins.  This could set up to the Packers’ defense actually having to play and play well throughout the entire game and finish.

The last meeting between these two teams, the Packers jumped out to a 31-3 lead and saw Detroit score a quick TD before half, then cut it and finally lose 34-27.  This game could easily sway that way again, but if memory serves me right, Ziggy Ansah (#94, and Detroit’s best defensive player, Defensive End) missed that game.  Also, Detroit’s best cover man, Darius Slay (#23), is expected back this week and will be tasked with covering Jordy Nelson.  In the week 3 meeting, while covering Nelson, Slay allowed 3 grabs on 4 targets and a TD.

Overall— The Lions bring the 23rd ranked offense and 15th defense matching up against the Packers’ 10th ranked O and 20th D.  The Lions are in a tough spot as they’ve lost their last 2 and likely thought the whole 2nd half of the season “Please don’t blow this.”  Well…the Lions have a chance to not be the Lions and win this game and potentially kick the Packers out of the postseason.  Either way, if Dallas can hang 42 points on Detroit with essentially nothing to play for, the Packers and Aaron Rodgers shouldn’t have any issue moving the ball and putting it in the end zone.  Many believe he’s the MVP, those “many” are Packer fans, and while he’s played great the last 5 games, where was this all of 2015 and 2016???

Around the League—the game to keep an eye on is the Giants @ Redskins on Fox at 325p.  If the Giants win, then both the Packers and Lions clinch a playoff spot.  That’s about it!  In an unlikely scenario, the Packers could clinch the 3 seed with a Seahawks loss, but win and the Packers will face the Giants next Sunday.

Packers 31
Lions 27

 *20-13 is the record now, hopefully we keep this train rolling.*

Christmas Miracle?

Should the Packers somehow win the Super Bowl, it can be argued…

Review – Pretty nerve-wracking of a game, but after consecutive 3 & out drives once the Bears completely seized momentum and eventually tied the game at 27 the Packers – most notably Aaron Rodgers and Jordy Nelson – made a money play in money time to seal the victory.  As stated before, the mission was to get out of Chicago with a W and as healthy as possible.  It seems as though the mission was accomplished.

Chicago: HB Jordan Howard – 17 carries, 90 yards, 1 TD (13 yards was his longest carry).  WR Alshon Jeffrey – 6 receptions, 89 yards, 1 TD (longest play, 27 yards).  Last week I said Green Bay needed to keep Howard under 100 yards (accomplished) and Jeffrey out of the end zone (nope).  Once Jeffrey got going, the Packers almost had no answer except to bench Damarious Randall and take Quinton Rollins off Jeffrey and put bracketed coverage (man and zone along with safeties over the top and linebackers shading inside for protection) and the Bears never completed another pass after the switch, to Jeffrey.

Green Bay: QB Aaron Rodgers – 19/31 (61.3%), 252 yards, 0TD, 0INT, 87.0RAT.  Rodgers had a great game outside of a few throws (most notably the decision to dance in the pocket again, but only on the 2 drives that went 3 & out in the 4th.  Made up for it by making a great toss to Jordy).  WR/HB Ty Montgomery – 16 carries, 162 yards, 2 TD, 2 receptions, 1 yard.  Monty had his best game of his short career.  Time will tell if he can truly carry the load of an NFL running back, but then again he may not have to.  Just the threat of him in the backfield, coupled with a red hot Rodgers could be enough to keep racking up wins.

Here’s a look at who Pro Football Focus rated as their top performing Packers from Week 15:

-LT Bakhtiari 87.8; SS Clinton-Dix 87.6; QB Rodgers 84.5; C Linsley 83.5; TE Cook 83.3; WR Nelson 82.5; RB Montgomery 80.0.  Others were rated, but if it’s not an 80+ I won’t list them.  However, it’s nice to see Bakhtiari continuously rank amongst the top O linemen.

Preview – Minnesota Vikings, 7-7.  After beginning the season 5-0 have now found themselves in a position of a must-win AND getting help to keep their playoff hopes alive.  The Vikes hold the 31st (2nd worst) offense in the NFL, but possess the 3rd overall defense.  The showcase matchup will be Min’s 3rd ranked pass D v GB’s 10th rated pass offense.

Minnesota- WR Stefon Diggs.  Let’s see if the Packers are up to the challenge of not allowing another career day to this young, talented receiver out of Maryland.  That’s it.  He’s the main player to watch.  Adrian Peterson is a shell of himself, as most running backs are after the age of 30.  If you’re a Packer fan, be thankful the Vikings didn’t trade him when his value was its highest…they could’ve gotten a very nice return.  Instead they traded a 1st and 4th round pick for Sam Bradford…but I digress.

Green Bay- Randall Cobb.  Yep, another receiver. Cobb I don’t believe was even targeted last week in Chicago, but who’s to say that the Bears didn’t decide to just take him out of the game?

Overall— the key matchup is Min’s pass D v GB’s pass O.  The weather looks to be ideal (34 degrees with some overcast and minimal wind).  Again, winner of the turnover battle will likely win this game, however keeping Vikings pro bowl return man, Cordarrelle Patterson, from breaking big returns will be paramount.  Minnesota isn’t terrible, but it sure seems they’ve forgotten how to win and the Packers are in prime position to take full advantage.

Around the League— with Detroit losing last week to the Giants, Green Bay now controls their own destiny to win the division.  Should Green Bay stumble and lose at home, they will be rooting heavily for the Dallas Cowboys to upend the Lions on Monday Night Football.  However, with the Giants losing to the Eagles on Thursday Night Football, the Cowboys have nothing to play for because they now have clinched the 1 seed and homefield advantage throughout the playoffs.  Meaning they may rest players or remove players from the game since its outcome is meaningless for Dallas.

Vikings 17
Packers 24

 I’m now 19-13 in “predicting” Packer outcomes.  Let’s hope this weird/crazy ride continues with a Christmas Eve W!

Doing your Job = Enough to Win

Review – Obviously that was an incredible game!  I’m writing this a full 7 days later, so I could allow all emotions to settle to give as good a perspective as possible.  The Packers came out with a bang on the 3rd play of the game and hit Adams for their longest play of the season (a 66-yard TD pass).  The initial design on the 3rd and 2 was to hit Randall Cobb on a 3 yard quick slant and Aaron Rodgers decided to extend the play and look for something better, lucky he found #17 and made a brilliant throw.

The major factor in the outcome of the game was the defense and the 6, yep six, takeaways.  Sure Russell Wilson was “off,” however, credit the Packers’ defense for enticing him to make some bad decisions.  It didn’t hurt that Wilson just flat out isn’t an accurate passer.  He missed two easy touchdowns which would’ve swung this game in a much different direction.  Just like defending Cam Newton, keeping Wilson in the pocket and forcing him to make an accurate throw v man coverage is the way to give yourself an opportunity to halt their offense.  They’re a much different team without Marshawn Lynch setting the tone and punching teams in the mouth.

Speaking of tough, it was evident the Packers were the tougher team.  Richard Sherman took a cheap shot on Davante Adams and Adams responded by pushing him back and not backing down.  I believe that set the tone for the entire game, and hopefully the remainder of the season.

There weren’t any specific players I highlighted to watch v Seattle, however moving forward I will 🙂

Here’s the listing from Pro Football Focus on the 10 highest-graded Packers from last week:

DE Mike Daniels 88.8
SS Morgan Burnett 88.3
CB Damarious Randall 87.4
CB Quinten Rollins 87.1
QB Aaron Rodgers 85.8
WR Davante Adams 81.4
DE/OLB Datone Jones 80.2
RT Bryan Bulaga 77.9
RG TJ Lang 74.1
WR Jordy Nelson 72.9

Once again the defensive backfield has vastly improved and again the Packers are a much better team from it!  If Randall and Rollins continue to improve and keep up this play, and the offense holds up their end of the bargain, this team has a chance to actually accomplish something (I think I said that last week).

Preview – After the Packers choked away a chance to tie the all-time series record against Chicago last year, they now have their chance again.  The Chicago Bears boast one of the worst records in the NFL: 3-10.  Based on rankings of total offense and defense (rankings by total yards), the Bears have the 17th overall offense and 8th overall defense.  Their strongest piece of all is their pass defense, which is a good matchup v Green Bay’s 10th rated pass offense (also its best).

Players to Watch (Chi) – RB Jordan Howard (#24). He’s the Bears leading rusher with 969 yards on 194 carries (5.0 yards/carry).  Keeping him under 100 rush yards will be crucial in this cold-weather game.  Another is WR Alshon Jeffrey (#17).  He’s been out the past four games due to suspension from PEDs, but he’s an extremely talented, big bodied, wideout that can make plays and be a thorn in the side of any defense.  It’s paramount to keep him out of the end zone as it’s my guess the Packers will continue to play a lot of man coverage and try to force backup quarterback, Matt Barkley, to make consistent accurate passes in this frigid cold.

Players to Watch (GB)—Aside from the obvious, Aaron Rodgers, I think because his calf and hamstring are limiting  his movement it’s forcing him to make the quick read and keeps the offense in rhythm.  An interesting perspective and player to keep an eye on is running back (now official) Ty Montgomery (#88).  He has sickle cell anemia and it’s effected by high altitudes and cold weather.  If he’s unable to go, the Packers will essentially be down to Christine Michael – you’ll remember he gaffed on a few plays and was benched for it – and Aaron Ripkowski, a fullback.  Both can be effective however, there’s not much depth and neither are as dependable, for multiple reasons, as Monty.

Overall— The weather will likely really affect this game in the sense it’ll be tough to throw and catch the ball on schedule and with the Bears likely focused on running the ball and shortening this game…it could set up for a close, low-scoring affair.  Ultimately the Packers are the better team, with the better coach, and better quarterback.  The only advantage Chicago has is this is their Super Bowl and they’ll be doing everything in their power to win.

Around the League—the main game Packer fans need to keep their eyes on is Detroit @ New York (Giants).  Each team is 9-4 and the Packers need a loss by Detroit prior to week 17 if they want a chance to win the division.  So root for the Giants to up-end Detroit and pull the Packers to within a game of the Lions.

The only other key game in the NFC is Sunday Night Football, where the somewhat surprising 8-5 Buccaneers head to Dallas to take on the 11-2 Cowboys.  In case Detroit beats New York, Green Bay fans should want Dallas to beat Tampa, bringing the Bucs’ record to 8-6, ultimately tying them with the Packers in the wild card standings.

Packers 21
Bears 13

*After last week’s victory, and correct prediction, my record has improved to 18-13*

This is a Playoff Game

Review – This was one of the more complete games, again, by the Packers.  There was a time where it was in doubt, when it was tied 7-7, Houston had the ball and was driving on Green Bay’s side of the field late in the 3rd quarter.  A Hopkins dropped pass keyed a defensive hold and prompted all-world punter, Shane Lechler, to pin the Packers at the 2 yard line.  If the Packers go on to do anything of relevance this year (aka win the Super Bowl), this will be looked at as the Drive of the Year, potentially.  The defense showed up in a defensive-type game – the weather conditions proved to help, but it was very encouraging to see the secondary have their best game.  The two TDs were a bit alarming, but Rollins was pushed off by TE Ryan Griffin, and the other was Micah Hyde reverting to his old/bad self.

The players I said to look out for, didn’t really factor into this one…Lamar Miller (Hou’s HB) actually played, but didn’t make much of a difference.  The other key was to watch Clay Matthews, who still shows to be worthless.  It’s alarming and very worrisome that Julius Peppers is light years more productive than #52.

From my eye, there were quite a few players that stood out, most notably: Jordy Nelson.  He didn’t show speed or great route running, but incredible hands and body control that he can still produce in a tight-end style where he’s a mismatch v smaller corners and speedier than most safeties.  Because its objective and they tie numbers to it…let’s take a look (ranked according from highest grade to lowest).

CB LaDarius Gunter 92.0
WR Jordy Nelson 87.3
DE Mike Daniels 84.6
LG Lane Taylor 84.2
LB Joe Thomas 83.0
CB Quinten Rollins 82.7
FB Aaron Ripkowski 82.3
RT Bryan Bulaga 80.7

There were more listed, but any grad at/above 80.0 is a solid performance.  Anything above 90 is truly an incredible performance, and Gunter was a much-needed sight for sore eyes.  If he can continue to improve, I’m not expecting him to be the next Richard Sherman, to a point where he can be a reliable #2 corner – that would help give this defense the boost they’ve been looking for!  Rookie DL Dean Lowry made a burst with a sack and a solid game as well…again, not expecting him to continue, but any production he gives should be treated as a bonus.

All in all, just a great game where the defense held and offense that a good defense should when at home in those conditions.

Preview –Seattle Seahawks…we’re familiar with them by now, aren’t we?  Seattle comes in with an 8-3-1 record, in 1st place of the NFC West, and holding the 2nd seed in NFC playoffs.  They can lock up the NFC West with a Win and an Arizona Loss.  They possess the 15th overall offense and 8th overall defense.  As many know, the Seahawks have the best home-field advantage (based on record of recent years)…however, can be had when playing on the road.  The biggest factor I’ve been struggling with is their road record (2-3-1).  They don’t look good away from Seattle, but there’s 1 victory I can’t figure out: week 10 @ New England.  So I dove deeper and compared their road victories versus their road losses.

In Seattle’s wins (2- week 4 at Jets, week 10 at Patriots) they have a +5 turnover ratio.  In their 3 losses they’re -2.  As is the time with 80% of games in the NFL, the team that wins the turnover battle should win the game.  Meanwhile, the Packers are +3 in their six wins and -8 in their six losses.  Again, Green Bay MUST win the turnover battle, not tie it, if they want to come out on top.

Seattle isn’t great running the ball, especially on the road.  They eclipsed the 100 yard mark once on the road, and it was 2 weeks ago at Tampa, 127 yards rushing.  But Tampa showed the blueprint how to slow, and damn near shut down Seattle’s offense.  Keep Russell Wilson in the pocket, play tight man coverage and if you do get pressure, make sure it’s from the middle and your ends keep contain.  Essentially the same defense one would want coming into a game v Aaron Rodgers.  The 2nd key to the game is generating pressure from within (Mike Daniels) and keeping contain (Julius Peppers and Jayrone Elliott).  It’s a HUGE, an absolute HUGE loss that Nick Perry will miss with broken fingers.  He’s had a great season v the run and a solid season pass-rushing.  Considering Seattle’s weakest spot on their team is the Offensive Line, where the Seahawks are 20th in rush offense and their leading rusher is currently wearing #32 on the Packers…Christine Michael (10 rushes, 23 yards with GB).  I think the key matchup will be the Seahawks’ pass defense (9th in the NFL) against the Packers’ 10th rated pass offense.  I’ve been critical of Aaron Rodgers, and the entire fan base should be as well…he’s been his old self, which is what he should be doing weekly.  Rodgers has been completing passes at a 72.5% clip, avg. 261 yards, and 2TDs in the past 2 wins, with no turnovers.  That’s key b/c the Packers’ offense lives through #12 and is aided by, arguably, the 2nd best offensive line in the NFL (behind Dallas).  The Packers have 3 offensive linemen rated in the top 25 of the NFL, the only other team that can say that are the Oakland Raiders.  Those Packers are LT David Bakhtiari (88.8), RT Bryan Bulaga (85.9), and RG TJ Lang (83.3): 6th; 19th; 22nd respectively.

Around the League – the only game that really matters to Green Bay is at Noon at Ford Field: 3-9 Chicago at 8-4 Detroit.  The Packers need Detroit to lose at least 1 more game before their week 17 matchup.  The Lions are favored by 8, so for Chicago to go into Detroit and get a W is a bit far-fetched.  Either way, it’s a game for Packer fans to watch before the 325p kick.

Other great matchups around the league are Dallas (-3) at New York.  If Dallas wins, they clinch the NFC East and a BYE in the playoffs.  Other than that, Monday night is Baltimore at New England (-7), where the Ravens have given the Patriots fits over the past few seasons.

Overall— if you’re still with me, after all that “analysis,” here are things I watch for and how I think it’ll go down.  On Kickoffs, if it’s not a touchback I hope the Packers return it past the 25 (touchback) and that it’s Ty Montgomery or Trevor Davis as the return man.  If the other way, I hope for a touchback or a tackle prior to the 20.

Hold on to the ball.  Any possession that ends in a kick, for the Packers, should be considered moral victory.  I’m not condoning 3 & outs, but punts, field goals, and extra points will be essential to winning this game…along with taking the ball away from Seattle.

Seattle is average, at best, on the road.  They’re missing their vocal defensive leader, Earl Thomas, and in order to generate pressure, they’ll need to bring linebackers which should open up the middle of the field for Jared Cook, Davonte Adams, and Randall Cobb.  Hopefully Green Bay can run enough to utilize play action and keep Seattle off balance.  Russell Wilson, over the last 2 matchups v Green Bay, has been downright bad.  Combining for 33 of 59 passing (55.9%), 405 yards, 3TD and 5INT.  Look for GB’s defense to key on Baldwin (#89) and Graham (#88) and holding them under 120 yards combined.

Seahawks 20
Packers 23

 *Record is 17-13*

I was Wrong, yay!

Review: Packer fans should feel as confident as possible after playing their most complete game in years.  It had been some time since the Offense, Defense, and Special Teams all played an A-game.  Aaron Rodgers looked crisp in getting the ball out on time.  Receivers looked to be open quick enough for a 3-step drop (they have been for a few weeks now), and the defense held Philadelphia under 300 yards of total offense.  Cris Collinsworth made a big deal about Green Bay’s kickoff coverage, and the Packers responded with great tackling and coverage on well-placed kicks.  Overall, it’s a pretty easy recap – the Packers did everything well.  Now let’s see if they can keep it rolling against, what Mike McCarthy likes to call, an uncommon opponent.

Preview: The Houston Texans come in to Lambeau with a 6-5 record, losing their last 2 games.  The Texans seem to be similar to the Packers in which they’ve beaten bad teams and have lost to good ones.  Aside from the Packers’ week 4 victory of the New York Giants, that’s how the Packers typically roll.  The Texans’ QB, Brock Osweiler, is a huge man (6’8” 235lbs) and is pretty athletic for a guy his size, has no issue seeing over his offensive line.  However, even with good weapons in DeAndre Hopkins (#10) and Will Fuller V (#15), he’s been off all season – 59.5%, 12TD, 13INT, and a 72.2RAT – although he’s missing a couple of targets: CJ Fiedorowicz TE; Jalen Strong WR; Lamar Miller HB.  Based on what the Packers showed at Philly last Monday night and how the Texans are struggling as of late, it makes sense to think the Packers have the upper-hand (Packers are favored by 6.5) heading into this match.

It’ll be interesting to see if Clay Matthews can play, and actually be effective instead of being a non-factor like he’s been for quite some time.  Also, keep an eye on rookie Defensive lineman, Kenny Clark, who’s had a fairly productive season up to this point.  Now’s about the time rookies his the proverbial Wall, but there’s a chance #97 could be productive with him not being asked to play each and every play.  Damarious Randall’s (#23) return sparked a bit of improvement in the defensive backfield.  Throughout the year, even though he’s been beat a few times, he’s always been in the hip pocket of the receiver he’s covering.  Look for the Packers’ now 1st corner to cover the Texans’ #1 threat, DeAndre Hopkins.

With the Vikings losing to Dallas on Thursday night, they now sit at 6-6 and should Green Bay beat Houston that would pull them to a 6-6 record as well (Green Bay would still be behind Minnesota for losing their head-to-head matchup in week 2).  If you’re convinced the Packers can Get In and Get Hot and get all the way to Houston for Super Bowl LI, then you best be rooting for the Saints to beat Detroit.  How I see it shaking out, come Monday, December 5th, the Packers will be one game behind Detroit – ultimately controlling their divisional destiny.  Meaning, should Detroit lose to New Orleans and Green Bay beat Houston, then with Green Bay still playing all three divisional opponents and if IF the Packers win out they’d, at worst, have the same record as Detroit (but hold the head-to-head tiebreaker 2-0) and Minnesota would have, at best, a 9-7 record while Green Bay would be 10-6.  But let’s not get too far ahead…I’m glad I was wrong last week, however if the Packers don’t finish the season hoisting the Lombardi trophy I fear making the postseason as the brain trust may believe injuries were the major factor in failure v the play of the players, quality of the coaching, or quality of the roster.

Pick: record now is 16-13.

Texans 24
Packers 30