Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Packers 2014 Schedule - Play NFL Kickoff Game at Seattle

At long last, Packers fans, we have the official NFL release of the 2014 regular season schedule. And finally, something for yours truly to write about.

Home opponents are shown in all CAPS and all times shown are Central Time. Times with an asterisk (*) may shift, along with TV carrier, due to NFL flexible scheduling.

So, without further ado...

Thurs. Sept. 4 at Seattle Seahawks 7:30 p.m. NBC
Sun. Sept. 14 NY JETS 3:25 p.m. CBS
Sun. Sept. 21 at Detroit Lions Noon Fox
Sun. Sept. 28 at Chicago Bears Noon Fox
Thurs. Oct. 2 MINNESOTA VIKINGS (Gold Pkg.) 7:25 p.m. CBS
Sun. Oct. 12 at Miami Dolphins Noon* Fox
Sun. Oct. 19 CAROLINA PANTHERS Noon* Fox
Sun. Oct. 26 at New Orleans Saints 7:30 p.m.* NBC
Sun. Nov. 2 BYE WEEK
Sun. Nov. 9 CHICAGO BEARS 7:30 p.m.* NBC
Sun. Nov. 16 PHILADELPHIA EAGLES (Gold Pkg.) Noon* Fox
Sun. Nov. 23 at Minnesota Vikings Noon* Fox
Sun. Nov. 30 NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS 3:25 p.m.* CBS
Mon. Dec. 8 ATLANTA FALCONS 7:30 p.m. ESPN
Sun. Dec. 14 at Buffalo Bills Noon* Fox
Sun. Dec. 21 at Tampa Bay Buccaneers Noon* Fox
Sun. Dec. 28 DETROIT LIONS Noon* Fox

What's the initial take?

Immediate reaction: the first eight weeks before the bye will be key to setting up the second half of the season for the Packers. Nothing too revelatory about that statement. Applies generally, doesn't it? But this first half is going to be extra tough as the Pack plays only three of their first eight games at home. Yikes. Of course, the second half of the season gives the team the flip side of that arrangement: five games at home and three on the road. Guess that's the way you'd prefer things, all things considered.

Starting on the road against the Super Bowl Champion Seattle Seahawks is going to be a tough one. But perhaps it's better to get them early. Plus the Packers need to get revenge for the "Fail Mary" game the last time they played in Seattle. At least the referees will know what they are doing this time. (Bitter? Moi? Over that game two years ago? Darn right!)

Then back home to meet the Jets before heading out for back-to-back games against divisional opponents and then back to Lambeau Field for a third consecutive divisional game.

As noted earlier, only three home games in the first eight. The bye comes at a very good time. But any rest advantage against Da Bearz is out the window as Chicago also has its bye during that same Week 9.

If the Packers get things rolling and can emerge fairly unscathed from the first half of the season, the second half should set things up for a good divisional run...and beyond.

More thoughts will no doubt emerge with further reflection. But for now, let's say it together: GO PACK GO!!!

Monday, March 24, 2014

Packers get two compensatory picks

Today was the day that the NFL in its generosity handed out -- assigned, actually -- compensatory draft picks to teams who lost players in free agency last season. The Packers got an additional third round pick for Greg Jennings and another fifth round pick for Erik Walden.

Here's how the Packers go into the upcoming NFL Draft:
  • R1: 21
  • R2: 53
  • R3: 85
  • R3: 98 (comp)
  • R4: 121
  • R5: 161
  • R5: 176 (comp)
  • R6: 197
  • R7: 236
You can see the full draft order here.

Now, we all know that "Trader Ted" Thompson likes to move around and pick up more picks, if possible. That usually involves trading down somewhere along the way. There's been some speculation, because of the depth of the draft, that the Packers might trade out of the #21 position. It's possible that Thompson might move down a few spots to pick up an additional draft choice if he feels he can meet his needs with one of the players high on their draft board. I think it's equally likely that if "the guy" is there they want Thompson will select at #21 and then worry about other moves later. Time will tell.

In a related note, it now turns out that with compensatory picks included, the 49ers now have six picks in the top 100. The rich get richer.

Don't you just love that we're really starting to get into football talk again, Packer fans? Oh, yes. Yes, indeed.

Go Pack Go!!!

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

...And now for something completely different: #MarchMadnessVIP

While the frenzy of NFL free agency is still in full sway (see our prior post), as a sports fan we also have to weigh in on NCAA® March Madness. It is that time of year, after all.

Who ya got?
That's the question du jour.

Everyone's filling out their brackets. I've used the convenient Sports Illustrated version pictured above (without all my picks save me from eternal embarrassment). But whatever you use, jump on in and start guessing, er...making your selections. I've got Florida, Michigan State, Michigan and Wisconsin in the Final Four®. Delusional? I know. Three Big 10 teams? Could happen. Some pundits have said throughout the season that the Big 10 Conference is arguably the best conference in men's college basketball right now. For the championship game, I'm picking Wisconsin over Michigan State as the eventual champion. A homer? You bet. If you care to share your picks here, feel free. We don't normally open things up for comments, but if you care to chime in on this one, we'll give it a go.

Whether you buy that scenario or not, you can still buy tickets. In fact, if you're interested in getting tickets you can do so from PrimeSport, which is the premier vendor of choice for March Madness tickets by the NCAA®.

In fact, PrimeSport is the Official Ticket and Hospitality Provider of the NCAA and a fan's one-stop shop for NCAA Tournament Tickets, private suites, pre-game hospitality, and travel to every round of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship and Men’s Final Four®. Follow your team from the very first tip-off, all the way to the Final Four at ATT Stadium in Dallas. You can also score yourself a VIP Experience via PrimeSport: an opportunity to be a VIP at the Final Four with premium game tickets, private suites, and access to the official VIP in-stadium hospitality party hosted by Bill Walton and John Salley. VIP in-stadium hospitality includes upscale food presentations, open premium bar, live entertainment and much more. Just click on any of the links in the paragraph and you can learn more about PrimeSport and your ticket, travel and VIP options.

However you participate in this wild time of year, enjoy!

Packers re-sign James Starks, add Letroy Guionlose; lose Evan Dietrich-Smith and James Jones

In the same week in which Green Bay Packers GM Ted Thompson arguably has his biggest impact free agent signing since Charles Woodson in the form of DE Julius Peppers, Thompson pulled off another surprise by re-signing unrestricted free agent RB James Starks to a two-year deal.

The general line of thought toward the end of last season -- despite the good performances by Starks down the stretch -- was that with Offensive Rookie of the Year sensation, Eddie Lacy, being the primary running back, and with a number of other options for third-down type backs in the fold, Starks might be the odd man out. He's had a history of injuries and not being on the field as a result. Always lots of potential on display but never enough longevity over the course of even a season.

But many Packer fans, including yours truly, thought that in those games where Lacy and Starks were both able to play, the Packers' running game took on an awesome capacity to punish defenses and open up the air attack for QB Aaron Rodgers and company. It would be nice to be able to keep Starks to spell Lacy, the thought was, and also to pair them up in the same backfield on occasion. Wow.

Well, apparently Thompson and others within the Packers brain trust must have been thinking along similar lines.

Now we'll have to see how this affects others in the backfield, including unrestricted free agent FB John Kuhn, who has been such a key cog in the offense for the last several seasons. Will the Pack re-sign him? Hope so. But don't count on it. It might be the case that you see the powerhouse Lacy blocking for Starks on those occasions when Kuhn may have been doing that job.

Thompson, as we noted in a prior post, also signed NT B.J. Raji for about half of what was in front of Raji last Fall in a one-year deal. A good re-signing in our opinion. He also locked up LB Mike Neal for a few years. Another good signing.

Thompson wasn't done trying to beef up the D-line, however. He also signed free agent and former ViQueens defensive tackle, Letroy Guion.

Being near the bottom of the defensive standings apparently was wearing a bit thin around 1265 Lombardi Avenue. Have to give Thompson and crew their due for their attempts to shore up the defense.

But the Packers also lost two good players this week, as well. Center Evan Dietrich-Smith signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and WR James Jones signed with the Oakland Raiders. Word leaked out yesterday that apparently Rodgers wasn't happy that the Packers let his center depart; for at least the fourth time in as many years, Rodgers will be lining up behind a new center come this season. No doubt he wishes the Packers would settle on somebody in the middle and let him develop a rhythm with his center. Not this season anyway. James Jones was, in the view of some (including this writer) a bit under-appreciated in Green Bay. He wasn't flashy, and he could have frustrating lapses of concentration, especially on easy catches. But he was generally clutch, including in his yards-after-the-catch performances. I think the Packers will miss him more than they will admit to when it's all said and done.

Stay tuned, Packer fans. Perhaps Mr. Thompson still has got a few free agent signing tricks in his bag.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Packers surprise everyone and sign DE Julius Peppers

Was it really any surprise to anyone that the Green Bay Packers hadn't picked up any free agents -- except a few of their own -- during these first few days of free agency? If you are a true Packer fan, no. You know how GM Ted Thompson likes to roll: keep your own free agents (at least the ones you think are worth it), let the dust settle on the market, and perhaps -- perhaps! -- pick up an outside free agent at a bargain for a year or two.

Well, Packers fans, that all changed moments ago when reports started emerging that the Packers have signed veteran Pro Bowl DE Julius Peppers to a three-year deal.

ESPN reports that Peppers signed a three-year deal totaling a maximum of $30 million, including $7.5 million guaranteed. The first-year salary is $8.5 million. The way the deal is apparently structured basically makes succeeding years dependent upon performance, so it can likely be viewed as a one-year trial of the 34-year-old defensive end. The salary cap hit is reportedly around $3.5 million, which is very reasonable indeed.

How big could this be for the Packers and its woeful defense? Huge. HUGE! Even if Peppers is only a situational player at this stage, the impact on the field and in the locker room cannot be overstated.

Stay tuned for more on this story as it develops.

Now, back to our regularly-scheduled post...

What has Ted done so far (in addition to reportedly signing Peppers)?
  • Kept LB Mike Neal around for two more years.
  • CB Sam Shields is also in the fold for a while with a fairly sizable deal (although it is back-loaded on the contract dollars, according to reports).
  • Re-signed TE Andrew Quarless for a reasonable amount.
  • Got NT B.J. Raji for another half the price of the offer on the table last fall.
Center Evan Dietrich-Smith was signed by Tampa Bay, so for the fourth consecutive year QB Aaron Rodgers will have to line up behind a new center. Speculation is that young and untested J.C. Tretter will be given every opportunity to win that job. But don't be surprised if the Packers try to pick up a veteran center...just in case.

The Packers also let safety M.D. Jennings -- he of the infamous Seattle "Fail Mary" game -- walk away. Just down the road, though. Chicago signed him, which should bring much delight to Rodgers and his receiving corps for those divisional games. (And really, how sweet is it that in exchange we pick up Peppers, whom Da Bearz released? That's one of the best non-trade "trades" we can think of.)

Speculation today is that TE Jermichael Finley is close to signing a deal with Seattle, despite not officially being cleared to play. Will see how that works out. The Packers always seem skittish -- perhaps rightly so -- with players coming back from what can be career-ending injuries. They are more willing to let some other team take the risks and the rewards. In their estimation, the downside to re-signing Finley is greater than the upside. He's had a hard time staying on the field the last couple seasons. Great potential and performance. But apparently no longer worth the money and the risk.

Here's the other remaining Packers' unrestricted free agents still available:
  • WR James Jones
  • FB John Kuhn
  • RT Marshall Newhouse
  • RB Kahlil Bell
  • QB Matt Flynn
  • ILB Rob Francois
  • DE Johnny Jolly
  • ILB Jamari Lattimore
  • DT Ryan Pickett
  • RB James Starks
  • QB Seneca Wallace
  • DE C.J. Wilson
Obviously, it would be great if the Pack could re-sign a few of these players. In this writer's view, none are indispensible, obviously, or they would have already been re-signed...or signed elsewhere by now. Keeping Matt Flynn as a back-up to Rogers would be a nice safety blanket, but Scott Tolzein obviously showed enough last season to warrant keeping around and developing. That might be the way the Packers go. Keeping veterans James Jones and John Kuhn would also be a plus overall. Having Johnny Jolly around, who reportedly has made great progress in his injury recovery, is something that would be a feel-good story. But with the signing of Peppers, that might no longer be a realistic hope.

There is still a lot to play out. And don't forget the draft...or the young players who had to sit out portions of the last year or two with injuries. Get some of those players back, especially on the defensive side of the ball, and the Packers could once again have as good a defense as anyone in the league.

Wow. It's been an interesting few days, Packer fans. And it just got a whole lot more interesting with the addition of Peppers to the Green 'n' Gold.

Go Pack Go!!!

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Packers and Free Agency: An Oxymoron?

Many fans of the Green Bay Packers were chiming in on social media yesterday as the Packers sat on their hands during the start of the NFL's free agency signing period. Other than holding serve, so to speak, with their own CB Sam Shields, GM Ted Thompson hasn't done much. At least, not on the surface. Thompson likes to work quietly, so the fact that we haven't heard much doesn't necessarily mean nothing is going on.

Thompson's M.O. is usually to let the big money fly on the first day and then see who is available after the dust settles. Usually, that's any number of good players, whose price drops as the hours and days go by. The Packers have a lot of salary cap room, but one thing Thompson will not do is sign players who eat up that cap and offer little in return in terms of impact. Given the draft-and-develop philosophy that Thompson has relied on -- for good and bad, both -- we can expect him to look for strategic signings.

For example, could DE Jared Allen bring anything to the mix? Could he be a situational pass rusher opposite Clay Matthews? Think about that package for a moment. Could be good...if you could get Allen at the right price, of course. Julius Peppers and DeMarcus Ware were also released by their respective teams yesterday. They are older players who still have something to give, but not at the salaries to which they have become accustomed.

Thompson will let other teams overpay. He'll do things his way and, with perhaps a few key veteran signings and a good draft, will keep the Packers atop the NFC North and once again establish the Pack as a true contender for the Super Bowl.

Go Pack Go!!!

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Packers Scuttlebutt

Where to begin, Packer fans? It's been a while since we've made a post. Heck, it's the offseason. But, things are starting to pick up a bit from the football front once again after the post-Super Bowl hiatus.

In no particular order of importance, here's a few of the rumors and realities (perhaps) of what's going on in the world of the Green Bay Packers right now.
  • The Packers are supposedly working on a contract extension for WR Jordy Nelson, who will be going into the last year of his existing contract. On the "Is this a good thing or a bad thing?" line of measurement, this is a good thing.
  • Speculation is rampant, especially following some of head coach Mike McCarthy's comments and the free agent status of both B.J. Raji and Ryan Pickett, that neither defensive lineman will be re-signed. Pickett is getting a bit long in the tooth at age 34. Raji has been a big body but over the last season especially (some might argue, two) didn't seem to have much of an impact one way or another. McCarthy has said he still wants big bodies on the defensive line. But it just might not be these two big bodies any longer.
  • The agent for WR James Jones is telling folks at the NFL Combine that he doesn't think GM Ted Thompson wants Jones back. The Packers do have some good young receivers in the fold right now. Jones has been a solid and clutch performer for the Packers. But they may not want to pay what he probably wants to get. Plus with the abundance of really good and really fast receivers coming out in the upcoming draft, the Packers may just wish to add to their depth that way.

  • There's more, of course. But at least want to catch up a bit on the goings on.

    Keep Calm and Carry On!

    Monday, February 03, 2014

    Does Seahawks' Super Bowl Win Mean a Paradigm Change in the NFL?

    Defense wins championships.

    That adage certainly was on full display in yesterday's 43-8 Super Bowl victory by the Seattle Seahawks over the Denver Broncos. The Seahawks dominated the trenches on both sides of the ball. The late great Vince Lombardi, and virtually every other coach on the planet, preach the simplicity of the game: block and tackle. Oh sure, there's a few other bits and pieces in there, too, but generally the team that blocks and tackles their opponent the best will be the victor. The NFL's number one defense -- Seattle -- beat the league's number one offense -- Denver -- like a rented mule in those key phases of the game.

    Of course, another key phase is turnovers. The Broncos turned the ball over four times, six if you include the two fumbles they recovered for themselves; Seattle had no turnovers. At least 14 Seattle points (more?) came directly off of those Denver turnovers. Let's not forget the safety, as well, that opened the game. Special teams often seem to have a role in games such as this, as well. Percy Harvin's 87-yard kickoff return was basically the dagger 12 seconds into the third quarter, putting Seattle up 29-0.

    Photo by Associated Press
    Second-year QB (and former University of Wisconsin Badger) Russell Wilson was 18 of 25 passing, for 206 yards and two touchdowns. He outperformed veteran Peyton Manning by light years. (Congrats also to former Badgers S Chris Maragos and LB O'Brien Schofield, as well as offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell; sympathies to Denver RB Montee Ball.)

    What does it mean?
    It seems with every Super Bowl, or at least ones where there is such blowout, the question arises: does this mean some kind of paradigm shift in the NFL? Has the type of offensive play shifted to young and versatile quarterbacks who can move out of the pocket and even scamper for 15 or 50 yards at a crack if needed? Has the defense shifted style to larger cornerbacks and faster and more mobile defenses in general?

    Time will tell. Certainly in the NFC, we'd have to consider Seattle and San Francisco at the head of the game based upon the above criteria. When comparing the Packers, especially the defense, to what both the Niners and Seahawks bring to the field, the Pack comes up lacking, which we saw throughout the season. Injuries weren't the full story. Personnel was. As Troy Aikman (?) said during the telecast last night about Seattle GM John Schneider, when he was with the Packers he saw that the team tended to go with smaller cornerbacks and when he became head of the Seahawks operation he made a concerted decision to bring in larger corners. Seems to have paid off. Perhaps Packers GM Ted Thompson can take a few lessons from his former protege.

    If the Packers are to compete with the likes of San Francisco and Seattle next season and beyond, a re-thinking about the defense has to take place. In last night's game, for example, how often did you see missed tackles by Seattle defenders? Rarely. How often did you see missed tackles by Packer defenders this past season? Often.

    The quickness and toughness of the Seattle defense was at a level the Packers haven't displayed in recent years. Yes, I'd put up the Packers offense against any other team, no problem. But the defense? That's the Achilles Heel for the team right now. The Packers brain trust better do some major re-working of that defense in the off-season to be able to make it past the first round of the playoffs next season. It will not be easy. But it must -- and can -- be done.

    Go Pack Go!!!