New Year — New Team?

Review~ the team is doing just enough to win.  Based on True Strength (point differential ranking) Green Bay ranks 11th in the NFL.  That feels a little low, as it’s a bit skewed from that week 1 35-point loss, but still should count somewhat. 

Defense- while getting gashed in the ground game, they did come up with 4 turnovers and a 2-point stop.  Also, on a 2nd & 7 with 13:36 left in the game up 24-15, Eric Stokes dropped an INT that would’ve given the Packers the ball at about midfield with a 2-score lead.  That momentum swing might’ve clinched it there, tough to speculate, but definitely wouldn’t have hurt.  There was a tweet put out this week that the 5 games leading up to the BYE, Green Bay shut down the opposing run game (which is true).  Then since, the last 3 games have been torched (also accurate).  If you dive into that a bit deeper, you’ll see the matchups are a bit off – Arizona was 5th, KC 14th, Sea 25th, Min 9th, and LAR 24th.  Hardly focused on running the ball.  The opponents since all ranked in the top 8 in the NFL.  Not an excuse, but something to keep an eye on.  To win in the NFL, you must pressure the passer.  Green Bay ranks 12th in pressure % (pressuring the QB on 11.2% of dropbacks), and 8th in opposing QB rating (84.6).  Those stats, are more important than team rush defense, at least when January rolls around. 

Lastly, the addition/production of Rasul Douglas cannot be overstated.  He’s somehow improving with each week, and coming up with primetime interceptions at the biggest points of games.  It’s truly remarkable – and has been a far better addition than JJ Watt (another season-ending injury), Stephon Gilmore, and Odell Beckham Jr. 

Offense~ Aaron Rodgers has compiled impressive stats, once again, and actually came up with a big time throw on 3rd and 6 from GB’s 42-yard line with 2:19 left.  The rare (not strong enough of a word) drop by Devante opened the door for Cleveland.  That throw is promising as the Packers will need 1-3 of those per playoff game if they want to advance.  Defense came up and made the stop, so another good team win vs. a desperate team.  Rodgers did say that they need to (and I’m paraphrasing) “put teams away.”  He’s right, however over the course of his career, in each loss in the postseason the defense gets the automatic blame (not entirely inaccurate), but the offense struggled as well in key moments – him too.  He seems different this year than almost any other year – maybe that’s my fandom leaking through, maybe not.  Either way, he seems about as focused as ever and not as pouty, but rather truly frustrated vs. casting blame – all speculation obviously coming from a distance, just how I see it.

Special Teams~ what seemed like vast improvement over the last 2 weeks, there are still some items to clean up/figure out.  However, the nice thing is that Mason Crosby has been 3-of-3 on Field Goals and 13/13 on extra point attempts since the BYE.  So maybe he figured out how to correct the issue.  It sure seems like he’s a bit more methodical and “taking some juice off” his kicks to ensure accuracy.  Points are premium, and fine by me if that shortens his range – only allows the offense to stay more aggressive.  Then, if we find ourselves in a situation before the half or end of the game and need a bomb, he’s capable. 

Matchup~ speaking of desperate, the Minnesota Vikings are as desperate as possible.  With only an 18% chance of making the playoffs (according to some statistician at the NY Times, good interactive article:

 Min O.(rank)vs.GB D.(rank)
Pts25.612 21.614
 Min D.GB O.
Rush130.528 106.921
Pts24.823 25.513
Diff.96th 161st

Preview~ Each team’s offense will have the upper-hand, which doesn’t bode well for Green Bay, considering the struggles vs. good running backs, and Minnesota returns a fresh-legged Dalvin Cook.  In addition, Justin Jefferson had a career day vs. Green Bay in Week 11 (Green Bay’s last loss).  Jefferson had 8 catches for 169 yards and 2 TDs.  That’s some serious production.  The weather may play a factor, meaning to keep and eye on the ground game for both teams.  The Vikings feature a solid combo of #33 Dalvin Cook (certifiable stud) and #25 Alexander Mattison, a worthy 2nd stringer that’s a solid spot-starter.  Mattison has 685 yards and 4 TDs this season (rush + receiving), combined with Cook’s 1,288 yards and 6 TDs, creates a monumental test for Green Bay heading into the postseason.

Both teams feature decent offenses (by production) with some serious artillery, defenses that can be had – Green Bay’s been giving up 27.3 points/game since the bye, but have done just enough to win by creating turnovers and stopping two key 2-point conversions the last two weeks and creating a boatload of turnovers. 

It’s a Pick Your Poison – focus on Cook or Jefferson (#19 Adam Thielen is out for the season).  While I normally like stopping the run, this is a passing league and stopping the huge chunk plays seems to dictate the outcome more than yards per carry.  Minnesota is desperate, they play every game close, and are coming in with a “Nothing to lose” attitude.  With that, Green Bay has a chance to seal the 1-seed should Arizona best Dallas earlier on Sunday.

Vikings 24
Packers 31

Season: 11-4
Overall: 80-40

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