Super Bowl in Week 1?

America’s Game of the Week
Za’Darius Smith, courtesy of Getty Images

Ask any Vikings fan “What are your expectations for this season?” and it’ll be fake-sounding response about a “deep playoff run,” or “contend for the Super Bowl.” Yet, at the end of the season, they’re all overcome with joy upon the Packers’ inevitable January demise, which tells you everything.

Because Minnesota is the only team to host a Super Bowl every year (each time the Packers visit the Vikings), Za’Darius Smith decided to join them as they’re a match made in Heaven — they share the same dream, Beat Green Bay.

Kevin O’Connell, the Minnesota Vikings’ 11th, and new Head Coach

After Minnesota departed with Mike Zimmer, they chose to take the Offensive Coordinator from the defending Super Bowl champion LA Rams. Kevin O’Connell has served as the OC for the Rams underneath Head Coach, Sean McVay, for the last 2 seasons, so he’s been involved in some solid offenses. O’Connell has two of the best skill position players in the entire NFL in HB Dalvin Cook and WR Justin Jefferson. QB Kirk Cousins, while I call him Captain Average, does put up solid numbers over the course of a season, and has had a few good games vs. Green Bay. Let’s see if Joe Berry and the Packers’ D can pick up where they left off last year, with a dominating performance – there’s no reason to think they can’t.

David Bakhtiari

The Packers are still dealing with injuries on the offensive line, and unfortunately with their best 2 linemen…David Bakhtiari and Elgton Jenkins. There’s also another injury that could change things quite a bit: Wide Receiver #1 Allen Lazard. This means Green Bay will feature a combination of Sammy Watkins, Christian Watson, Randall Cobb, Romeo Doubs, and Juwann Winfree. The only ones to even catch a pass in a Packer uniform are Cobb and Winfree.

This means the run game will be even more important, and with the unlikelihood of Bakhtiari and/or Jenkins suiting up, that could prove extremely tough, and let’s not forget Za’Darius Smith signed with Minnesota ONLY to play against Green Bay…

With these injuries, the QB will have to execute, which he’s great at in regular season games, and Matt LaFleur will likely lean on the legs of Aaron Jones and A.J. Dillon.

If the Packers win the turnover battle and are able to run the ball, they should prevail.

Packers 27 (-1.5)
Vikings 23

Season: 0-0
Overall: 81-42

Quite a Bit Has Happened…

Recapping the off-season, quickly, There were 3 main things the Packers did since the choke vs. San Francisco.

  1. Trading Davante Adams
  2. Moved on from team leader, Za’Darius Smith
  3. Major restructuring of current players to fit the cap

The return on Adams should be quite helpful, fairly soon too. Drafting Quay Walker (22nd overall from UGA, pick from LV). Then using the 2nd round pick from Las Vegas to package it in a trade to Minnesota to move up in the 2nd and draft WR Christian Watson (North Dakota St.).

Za’Darius Smith has made some headlines the last 2 days, essentially talking about his entire reason for signing with Minnesota was to beat the Packers. Really shooting for the stars there 🙂

All of the cap restructuring, while clever, can really come back to bite the team as that money will eventually count against the cap. For example, Drew Brees is counting $11,500,000 against the Saints’ cap this year, and he has been gone for two seasons now. It’s coming Packer fans, so be prepared, and even more of a necessity to WIN NOW.

As I covered in my last entry, the season predictions will look a bit different this year, but the same process was used.

I have the Packers finishing 12-5, taking the 3rd seed in the NFC. The Buccaneers taking the 1 seed and San Francisco taking the 2nd. Again, these are essentially all guesses, but let’s have a look:

Wild Card

Packers beat the defending champs at Lambeau Field. The Rams come in as the 6th seed and fall to a tough, balanced Packers team in a great game on the first weekend of the NFL Playoffs.

Divisional Round

Being the 3-seed, the Packers will travel to the 2-seed San Francisco 49ers. Aaron Rodgers will finally finish off San Fran in the postseason and advance to his 6th NFC Championship game in his career.

Championship Round

On Championship Sunday, the Packers will travel to Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, FL to take on the Tom Bradys. Unfortunately, Green Bay will come up short, probably on a missed Field Goal, losing by 1 or 2 so that the blame can be deflected from the actual issue…once again.

In this matchup in Glendale, AZ, the Buffalo Bills will take on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. This is a matchup of 2 of the best 3 teams in the NFL. I believe the Packers have the best roster in the NFL. However, this is Josh Allen’s time and he’ll bring a Lombardi Trophy to Buffalo, well-deserved and that city has thirsted for one. It’d be a terrible time to be a folding table.

Let’s Put a Bow on it…

To keep (any) integrity with picking/predicting, one should reflect on passed selections.  For my season predictions, I went through the entire schedule grid for each team, picking each winner thus counting it as a loss for those other teams that, well, lost.  In doing so I correctly selected 10 of the 14 playoff participants.  I missed three in the AFC: Pittsburgh; Cincinnati; Las Vegas.  I only missed one in the NFC: Philadelphia.

As for the Super Bowl, I had Cincinnati finishing last in the AFC North with a record of 4-13.  The Los Angeles Rams were picked to go 9-8, get the 6th seed and lose to the 3rd seeded Packers at Lambeau Field in the Wild Card round. 

Speaking of those Green Bay Packers, I missed their overall record by 1 game, concluding 12-5 (instead of 13-4, although if needed, they likely win Week 18 and go 14-3).  I missed by 2 seeds.  The odd thing is I did have them losing to the San Francisco 49ers in the Divisional Round- had I gone back and looked prior to the matchup, I still likely pick the Packers in my weekly pick, but that’s a pretty close hit.

All in all, I fared better than I initially thought once the playoffs commenced and especially once the Super Bowl match up was determined.

Reags | Barstool Sports

I’ve been close before on picking Super Bowl participants, but this year was filled with much parody – it’s resulted in us living in a world where “Going For It” or “All In” carries more weight than every before…oh, and Matthew Stafford is now a Super Bowl Champion.  Very odd.

Typical “Strength” of a Super Bowl Champion

What does the typical Super Bowl champion resemble?  Let’s take a dive into what it takes to win a World Championship.  Since the NFL has 2 to 3 different timelines, let’s use the most-recent one; Free Agency (1993 season). 

What happened to the NFL's Super Bowl logo?
YearSB ChampionOffDefPt. Diff.Seed
1993Dallas Cowboys2221
1994San Francisco 49ers1611
1995Dallas Cowboys-23321
1996Green Bay Packers1111
1997Denver Broncos1614
1998Denver Broncos-22821
1999St. Louis Rams1411
2000Baltimore Ravens14124
2001New England Patriots6672
2002Tampa Bay Buccaneers18122
2003New England Patriots-212112
2004New England Patriots-34212
2005Pittsburgh Steelers9452
2006Indianapolis Colts32393
2007New York Giants1417135
2008Pittsburgh Steelers-220152
2009New Orleans Saints12011
2010Green Bay Packers-210226
2011New York Giants-2925194
2012Baltimore Ravens-21012114
2013Seattle Seahawks9121
2014New England Patriots-44811
2015Denver Broncos-3194101
2016New England Patriots-53111
2017Philadelphia Eagles3411
2018New England Patriots-64752
2019Kansas City Chiefs5742
2020Tampa Bay Buccaneers-23845
      
 Avg.7742

Since the beginning of the 1993 NFL season, the eventual Super Bowl Champion has ranked 7th in scoring offense, 7th in scoring defense, 4th in point differential, and has had an average postseason seed of 2nd – a bye.

Including this season, 70% of Super Bowl champions had a bye from the wild car round, which makes sense for two reasons: 1. Better teams earn a bye; 2. A full game less chance to be eliminated.

Again, the most indicative ranking of team strength is the point differential ranking; 4th.  Including the 2021 season, 66% of eventual champions, or roughly 2 of every 3 are ranked 4th or better. 

Aaron Rodgers' surprising request as he looks to win another Super Bowl |  Marca
Clay Matthews and Aaron Rodgers celebrate their only Super Bowl victory on Feb. 6, 2011.

How does Green Bay compare?  The Packers have ranked 7th or better in scoring offense 18 times.  The defense has ranked 7th or better on eight occurrences since 1993.  The opportunities have been there for the Packers to capitalize on their True Team Strength, yet this has led to heartbreak after countless heartbreak.  Green Bay has lost on the final play in the postseason 8 times since the 1998.

What does this all mean?  The Packers have had a “good enough” defense to win more than 2 Super Bowls in this time frame, assuming Quarterback is as important as everyone says it is – meaning either the Quarterbacks Green Bay has had since 1993 aren’t nearly as good as many have claimed OR the position really isn’t that important.  It can’t be both, or can it?

What’s the Definition of Insanity Again?

Matt LaFleur says he doesn't 'know what pass interference is anymore'  following Packers' loss to Eagles - CBSSports.com

Adding yet another season-ending gut punch to Packer Nation’s ever-growing inventory of sickening playoff losses, this one might be the tipping point for Packer fans on their desire to keep Aaron Rodgers as starting quarterback.

Like most (all) fan bases, this one will likely continue to overreact as well.  Maybe its deserved. 

Game Recap~ I won’t cover the obvious (special teams or Rodgers’ missed read on everyone not named Adams) in detail.  I will cover just how great the Defense was and why that should be cause for optimism moving forward, regardless of who’s under center in 2022. 

Defense~ before San Francisco’s final drive before the end of the 1st half, they had a total of -15 yards.  Yes, you read that correctly NEGATIVE FIFTEEN YARDS OF TOTAL OFFENSE.  Then, once they actually put a drive together, Adrian Amos came up with a clutch interception on the GB 4-yard line.  The Packers gave up a total of 212 yards of offense.  106 passing yards on 11/19 passing to only 4 different pass catchers.  It seemed like Jimmy G was under duress the entire game, and he was, yet took less sacks (4) than Rodgers (5) for less yards (24 v 29). 

The eye test tells the story that Green Bay’s defense dominated, while Aaron Rodgers and the Packers did not take what San Fran was giving them.  Which would’ve netted them 21-31 points and an easy win when coupled with Joe Barry’s defensive gameplan – even with the special team blunders. 

I think that’s enough, after having 7-8 days to settle, let’s review the season.  From last week’s article, the “true strength” showed the Packers were the 5th strongest team in the NFC, and that just may be more accurate than their 1 seed. 

While this was one of Green Bay’s strongest teams, and (arguably) their best chance at reaching a Super Bowl (keep in mind the goal is to win the Super Bowl, not just get there), the Packers squandered another opportunity.  Will this be the off-season to make the final change(s) to completely overhaul the roster since their last World Championship?  Maybe, some have been calling for that for some time…now is the time (again). 

If you want an optimistic view of watching the games as a Packer fan, think of it from a realist’s perspective: Better to have lost in the Divisional round than in either of the next 2 games; especially the Super Bowl. 

Season: 12-6
Overall: 81-42

1-Seed is the Underdog, That Makes Sense.

NFC Divisional Playoff Prediction and Preview: San Francisco 49ers vs.  Green Bay Packers - AthlonSports.com | Expert Predictions, Picks, and  Previews

With the divisional round getting under way in just a few hours, let’s see how the Packers matchup against the (somehow) feared San Francisco 49ers.  While, as a fan, it’s considered taboo to “take an opponent lightly,” the perception of the Packers is that they’re somehow the underdog when they’ve:

  1. Already beaten the 49ers this season.
  2. Proved to be the best team in the NFL for the entire season.
  3. Have the 1 seed and have only gotten healthier.

Hopefully this gives Green Bay added juice to motivate them to come out and execute.  Since San Fran is coming off a decent win in Dallas, where they tried to give the game away but Dallas had other plans, they have some momentum, but at the same time, their worries outweigh the Packers’.

 SF Def.GB Off.
Rush103.2 (7)111.8 (18)
Pass206.5 (6)253.8 (8)
Total310.0 (3)365.6 (10)
Points21.5 (T-9)26.5 (T-9)
   
 SF Off.GB Def.
Rush127.4 (7)109.1 (T-10)
Pass248.3 (12)219.1 (10)
Total375.7 (7)328.2 (9)
Points25.1 (13)21.8 (T-13)

As we can see, based on pure yardage, San Francisco has ranked higher all season, and in points both teams are identically matched up.  Which should lead one to believe that’s it’s an even matchup, kind of like their week 3 meeting.  While in my last article, “Re-Seeding the NFC playoffs” the 49ers technically are the 3rd strongest team in the conference, with Green Bay ranking 5th.  The item that those rankings doesn’t take into account is pure record of wins and losses; the most important. 

The media is quite focused on WR #19 Deebo Samuel, as well they should be, the Packers feature a better WR (#17 Davante Adams) and actually are better at every single position other than DE, TE, and K.  If the game does come down to kicking, at least Mason Crosby has been there in the past and delivered each time in the postseason.

Oh, and yeah, he kicked a game-winning 51-yard field goal as time expired to beat these same San Francisco 49ers.  However, I don’t believe the game will be that close.

49ers 17
Packers 27

Season: 12-5
Overall: 81-41

Wild (stress free) Card Weekend

road-to-sb-56-v1

The season has come and gone.  While it was the longest season in NFL history, when your team is winning, it sure seems to go by quickly.  While the game was about as meaningless as a preseason game – there’s still some things from it to draw. 

Review~ Week 18 @ Detroit

                Offense: 1st team offense obviously came into this week to work on timing and a few basic formations.  That first drive, it was apparent, they were going to incorporate Davante Adams as much as they could to get him the Packers single-season receiving yards record, which they should’ve done.  However, they didn’t really get into their true offense until the 4th possession.  A possession with a nice mix of 4 rushes and 3 passes, totaling 76 yards in 4:26, resulting in an Allen Lazard 29-yard TD.  While it was against the Lions, it should’ve been indicative to most that had Green Bay come into this game “having to win,” they may have put up 6 to 7 touchdowns. 

I also seem to be in the growing minority (oxymoron?) that I still need to see more of Jordan Love before I’m ready to move on from him.  However, that doesn’t mean to pass by a quarterback (whether in the draft or otherwise) should one be available you think could help.  Of the 2 interceptions, one was on him (the last one to seal the game) as he just let it fly, which was better than taking a sack in that situation – the 1st one (while tipped) hit disappointing rookie Amari Rodgers in the bread basket.  Those two turnovers, coupled with the lost fumble by Juwann Winfree on the Packers’ first possession of the 2nd half led to a 3-0 turnover advantage for Detroit.  Something not seen by a Packers offense since the Week 1 blasting at the hands of the New Orleans Saints.  Again, this game counts (technically) and should for the final statistics as every team has games like this, but it’s not telling of who the Packers are – at least let’s hope not.

                Defense:  while Adrian Amos stated they practiced all week in preparation for Detroit, and the gameplan was to come out to play well and win, what else was he going to say when asked?  It was also revealing that the defense came out and displayed a very vanilla game plan.  There were 2 goals and one was to “not get hurt.”  While I don’t like that mentality, as that’s a good way to actually get hurt, putting guys in positions to not make plays will result in less collisions and ultimately limit the chances of injury – hence almost no blitzing from the Packers defense. 

The Packers’ defense may not be top 2 in scoring (which has been my claim in order for Aaron Rodgers to hoist a Lombardi Trophy), but they certainly are good enough to win a Super Bowl.

The main stat for the defense, aside from scoring – Green Bay finished T-13th giving up 21.8 points per game.  That’ll be more than enough for the naysayers to claim “Green Bay’s defense is the issue, yet again.”  While maybe that’s a case, plenty of other teams with far inferior QB-play (allegedly) have won with worse defenses.  Green Bay did take the ball away 26 times to rank T-8th.  Couple that with them blitzing only 21.3% of the time (25th) however generating a hurry rate of 11.3% (9th) which seems to be a direct correlation to Opponent Passer Rating (86.9 to rank 10th), that’s the encouraging stat line.  While I love running the ball and stopping the run, to win playoff games and ultimately championships it comes down to quarterback play (hence why they’re judged on rings) and making clutch throws at clutch times – the Packers seem to be very efficient in that department, on both sides of the ball.

Wild Card Weekend~ what’s become a Matt LaFleur annual tradition, the Packers will be resting and watching the Wild Card games with no stress to the fans.  Green Bay will face one of 4 opponents: Philadelphia; San Francisco; Arizona; Los Angeles.  As noted in my other article for www.wisportsheroics.com the Packers may not be the strongest team in the NFC, however they do have the best record in the NFL vs. current playoff teams at 5-1, with the sole loss coming at the hands of the Kansas City Chiefs in Arrowhead with Jordan Love starting in place of Aaron Rodgers. 

To attempt to find the “strongest” team, I’ve alluded to point differential, turnover margin, scoring ranks, etc.  I figured combining all of those ranks and dividing them evenly – while maybe not being the best method – would give a bit more accurate of a depiction of a team other than their record.

Rush O.Rush D.Pass O.Pass D.Total O.Total D.Pts O.Pts D.T/OPt. Diff.Sched.Avg. Rank.
1GB181081010910133102211.2
2TB263121213256447.9
3Dal9162201191712319.9
4LAR256522917815136111.5
5Ari102010781111114929.4
6SF77126731310221259.5
7Phi1925111410121816133014.5

When re-ordering based on the “Avg. Rank,” it would re-seed the NFC like:

  1. Tampa Bay
  2. Arizona
  3. San Francisco
  4. Dallas
  5. Green Bay
  6. LA Rams
  7. Philadelphia

The one thing that’s tough to account for is each team’s true homefield advantage.  The Packers went 8-0 at Lambeau this year, mainly because they’re a good team.  They also beat San Francisco and Arizona on the road while besting Los Angeles and Pittsburgh at home.  There’s something to be said for “knowing how to win,” I’m just not so sure that’s measurable, aside from, well…record.

Until we find out Green Bay’s opponent, have fun watching Wild Card Weekend.

Season: 12-5
Overall: 81-41

Season Finale– Get Reps!

Review~

Offense: the HB production was solid once again.  The halfback production was very solid.

  • #33 Jones: 13 touches; 106 yards
  • #28 Dillon: 16 touches; 83 yards; 2 TDs
  • Total: 29 touches; 189 yards; 2 TDs. 

That’ll do.  Do that in the postseason, and the offense should have success and keep the defense off the field, while controlling the line of scrimmage. 

Another non-surprising statement, Davante Adams is the best Wide Receiver in franchise history.  While he may not possess the statistics showing so, it’s clear he’s the best mismatch since Sterling Sharpe, and has a superior skill set AND rapport with his QB.  He’s also the best WR in the NFL.  I thought Tirico covered it brilliantly (and I’ll paraphrase) “While Cooper Kupp may win the wide receiver triple crown, the nuance with Adams and Rodgers separates these two from any others.”

The offensive line still needs improvement, but has held its own all season.  They didn’t give up a sack the last 2 games now – and keep in mind they faced Myles Garrett last week and a tough, well-coached Zimmer defense this passed Sunday.  While Bakhtiari and Myers practiced today (Wed, Jan 5th), who knows if they’re just prepping for the Divisional round game, but there’s hope of possible help coming.  However, they’ve shown to be good enough and not the reason the Packers won’t win the Super Bowl.

                Defense: a very good showing vs. a bad OL & backup QB.  However, we shouldn’t harshly judge them for literally doing their job.  They didn’t generate any turnovers, but did get 2 sacks, held Minnesota to 206 total yards, and most-impressively, held all-world HB #33 Dalvin Cook to 13 total yards on 12 touches.  Absolutely incredible, even with a backup QB.  As my cousin stated (he’s a coach) during the game, “If I’m coaching, Dalvin Cook touches the ball 40 times vs. this run defense.”  That should’ve been the plan, but that’s on them (Minnesota).

Safety #26 Darnell Savage has had a rough few weeks (actually season compared to the last 2 years), but if he’s the “weak link,” the Packers’ D will be ok.  He gave up the TD to Osborne this week, and has been beaten on a few long pass plays this season, but he did have a nice INT vs. Mayfield on Christmas Day to maintain momentum. 

Lastly, #59 MLB De’Vondre Campbell might be a must-sign.  Unless another team gives him stupid money, Green Bay might have to think about retaining him, and yes, that’s with the return of solid MLB #54 Kamal Martin, next year.  Campbell’s play recognition and pass coverage has been absolutely dazzling this season, and has made this defense a top-10 scoring D. 

                Special Teams: it should be pretty apparent that #82 David Moore is the new return man.  He gets away from the ball when it’s too short, doesn’t dance and has the one-cut and go, and experience. 

Mason Crosby (blame me if it fails, I guess) seems to have it figured out.  Like I stated prior, he’s taking a bunch of power off his kicks, but has drilled 9 of his last 10, and made all of his extra points.  Would still love to see him drill touchbacks on every kickoff, but wind is tough to judge from my couch.

Current Standing~

  • Seeding: We know the Packers secured the 1-seed, which is amazing, but now must capitalize on it.
  • Point Differential: +86 which ranks 10th in the NFL.  If the starters played ALL of week 18, that might be closer to +100 – +110, which would put them in the top 8.  I’ve since been added as a contributor to Wisconsin Sports Heroics and will expound on that statistic there. 

Matchup~

 GB Def.(rank)vs.Det Off.(rank)
Rush109.813111.718
Pass213.79205.821
Total323.411317.522
Pts20.98 18.028
 GB Def.Det Def.
Rush111.119 135.928
Pass253.79244.025
Total364.812379.928
Pts26.310 27.330
 
T/O     
Takeaways267th16T-24th
Giveaways101st23T-20th
Diff.16T-1st (7)25th

The Packers hold the advantage in each and every category of this matchup.  The Lions have been playing tough all year, and Dan Campbell (their head coach) has them playing tough…this will be their Super Bowl.  Green Bay will likely have all reserves for the 2nd half, and likely longer than that, especially if the 1st string looks great to start. 

Preview~ Green Bay has a chance to get a ton of 2nd stringers great live snaps vs. NFL competition right before the most-important stretch of the season.  If no one else gets injured, Green Bay can return any or all of the starters that have missed a majority of the season, AND the backups become even more prepared…this could set the Packers up in an ideal scenario heading into the bye week.

Packers 27
Lions 24

Season: 12-4
Overall: 81-40

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: https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2021/upshot/minnesota-vikings-nfl-playoff-picture.html

 Min O.(rank)vs.GB D.(rank)
Rush119.912115.318
Pass255.59216.010
Total375.49331.311
Pts25.612 21.614
 Min D.GB O.
Rush130.528 106.921
Pass248.527250.111
Total379.029357.115
Pts24.823 25.513
 
T/O     
Takeaways2211th26T-6th
Giveaways133rd101st
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

Need some Xmas Cheer?

Review~ the Packers sorely missed DT Kenny Clark (just named to his 2nd Pro Bowl), and it led to the backup QB’d Ravens (which Huntley may be better than Lamar…he’s a better passer, lesser athlete) coming within a 2-point conversion of likely winning.  There wasn’t a ton of pressure put on as the Ravens didn’t have to account for Clark’s presence.  It allowed TE Mark Andrews to tear up the Packers’ secondary (mainly Savage) in man coverage. 

Throughout the game, Baltimore really moved the ball well.  Of their 8 possessions (9 if you include the 1-play kneel down before half), they scored on 5 of them (4 touchdowns and 1 FG).  Remember, on their 1st drive they decided to go for it on 4th and were denied.  So, the Packers did make 2 goal line stands (first drive & 2-point conversion) to ice the game.  True bend-but-don’t-break, scary but effective when it works.

                Offense—the offense hit its stride on the 2nd possession.  The first possession it was close to hitting a home run, when on 3rd down, Adams ran a beautiful sluggo and was wide open, but Rodgers just overthrew him.  After each team had a possession, the Ravens led in Time of Possession, 7:22 v 1:33.  And after Baltimore scored a TD on their second possession, they led in that category, 10:54 v 1:33.  The key is neither team had a turnover, but the Packers utilized the running backs in all facets of the game.  They mainly relied on Rodgers’ arm – as they should, he’s been on fire the last month +.  Aaron Jones & A.J. Dillon combined to produce 105 yards and 2 touchdowns on just 22 touches.  Green Bay finished the game with a 31:10 v 28:50 time of possession lead.  Again, not the best indicator of W’s vs. L’s, but it’s something that really helps the Defense and overall team.  Plus, when your offense has the ball, the other team can’t score (aside from a turnover). 

The one glaring issue, most will continue to focus on special teams, however Mason seems to have “taken some off” on his kicks and has nailed all of them since.  It could render an issue on 50+-yarders, but until then, he’s been closer to normal.  Hopefully that trend continues.  The issue I’m bringing up, is with 12:54 left in the 4th quarter, Baltimore went for it on 4th down from their own 29-yard line.  The Packers got the stop and hit Big Dog for a 23-yard gain on the ensuing play.  With 1st & goal from the 6, Green Bay failed to score a game-winning TD and settled for a FG.  While that proved to be enough, instead of 35-17 with 9:26 left, it was 31-17, a much more realistic score to mount a comeback…

Current Standing~ with Tampa and Arizona both losing, Green Bay finds themselves in great position to earn back-to-back 1 seeds, which is so important with there only being one BYE in each of the conference’s playoff tree.  Green Bay wins out and earns the 1, otherwise would need Dallas to drop one more (which could easily happen). 

Matchup~

 Cle O.(rank)vs.GB D.(rank)
Rush139.64107.913
Pass201.526217.99
Total341.118325.88
Pts20.919 21.610
 Cle D.GB O.
Rush105.69 106.821
Pass216.18253.69
Total321.76360.414
Pts21.814 25.613
 
T/O     
Takeaways1818th228th
Giveaways14T-4th101st
Diff.410th 12T-2nd

Cleveland presents 2 major challenges, one on each side of the ball.  First, the Browns feature one of the NFL’s best offensive lines and running backs, in #24 Nick Chubb.  He’s amassed over 1,000 yards rushing, at a 5.4 yards/carry clip, to go along with 9 TDs.  The key for the Packers’ DL (with the return of Clark) is to slow him down and not let him or their OL takeover.  Again, time of possession may be key.  The other key is turnover differential.  The Packers didn’t take it away vs. Baltimore (although got 2 turnovers on downs), and must not give it away.  The issue on Cleveland’s defensive side is #95 Myles Garrett.  He currently has 15 sacks and is a game-wrecker.  Bill Huber of si.com wrote about how 3rd string LT #73 Yosh Nijman has fared vs. the NFL’s top pass-rushers.  He’s done an incredible job in keeping Rodgers, not only upright, but given him a fairly clean pocket.  If Green Bay needs to shift help, that could spell trouble, but I trust the best coach in the NFL (Matt LaFleur) to run the ball and operate an efficient offense based off the run schemes.

Win the Turnover battle and/or time of possession and win the game, keeping the 1-seed.  Oh yeah, also GO COLTS in the night game tonight vs. Arizona.

Browns 27
Packers 31

Season: 10-4
Overall: 79-40