Sunday, December 14, 2014

Packers step in big Buffalo chip

This, Packers fans, was not how things were supposed to go today. All indications were that it would not be an easy game, certainly, given the Buffalo Bills defensive prowess. But all things being equal, the Green Bay Packers were surely the better team. Except on this day.

The Packers were mediocre, beginning with league MVP candidate, QB Aaron Rodgers. As he goes, so goes the Pack. He was off early and often. This was not one of his better games. Not just this season, ever. To be fair, his receivers didn't do him or the team many favors when they did get their hands on the ball. Drops were everywhere, including what could have been a 96-yard TD catch and run by WR Jordy Nelson in the second half, had he but held on to the ball.

Eddie Lacy had a good day. And the defense, for the most part, had a good day despite having a lot of missed tackles. Special teams, however, continued to have its problems, giving up a punt return for a TD and then having a long FG attempt by Mason Crosby blocked. That's essentially 10 points right there, the difference in a 21-13 game.

The Packers remain winless in Buffalo. Head coach Mike McCarthy remains tied with Vince Lombardi for career wins as the Packers' coach. And the Packers dealt themselves a serious blow to the prospects of not just a bye and homefield advantage in the playoffs but of first just winning the NFC North.

The game was ugly. If the Packers had to get a clunker out of their system before the end of the season and the playoffs this would be it. Still, this loss hurt. Depending upon how things actually fall, they could be a 12-4 team that doesn't even get a wild card, imagine that!

So, let's hope the Packers regroup this week and do some real soul-searching before the game in Tampa next week. That now becomes a must-win leading into the season finale at Lambeau against Detroit. Everyone thought that might be for the division championship, but now it might just be to secure a playoff spot. A lot to be determined yet today as Minnesota attempts to upset Detroit in Detroit and the 49ers attempt to do the same at Seattle. If one or both of those teams somehow get a win, it will be to the Packers benefit. As much as we may dislike having to root for the ViQueens or the Niners, today we can do so. Nay, must do so.

NFL Week 15: Packers vs. Bills Preview & Prediction

This week the team from the NFL's smallest city, Green Bay, travels to the NFL's second-smallest city, Buffalo. Yes, folks, in a rare meeting between these two teams and rarer still in Buffalo, arguably the league's highest flying offense matches up against arguably the league's best defense.

Here's how Vic Ketchman, packers.com editor, puts it in his game scouting report: "The Bills defense is No. 5 overall, No. 8 against the run and No. 5 against the pass. By comparison, the Packers’ opening night opponent, Seattle, is first, third and first, and Week 3 opponent, Detroit, is second, first and 10th. The Packers lost to those opponents and managed only 23 points combined. Even more impressive is the Bills’ No. 1 ranking in sacks and No. 2 ranking in third-down defense."

Now, the Bills offense has improved a bit since veteran Kyle Orton has taken over at quarterback. (For anyone counting, Orton has actually won one more game against the Packers than Jay Cutler...which still isn't saying much.) If given time, Orton is a reliable quarterback if given time. And he has a great receiver in rookie Sammy Watkins and a good running back in Fred Jackson. If the Packers defense continues its inconsistent performance, as witnessed this last week in the game vs. Atlanta, the game could go Buffalo's way. There needs to be pressure early and often on Orton. Plus, Packers defenders will need to at least be in the same zipcode as the receivers they are supposed to be covering.

This Bills team is good and can beat the Packers if the Packers allow their defense to take command. As Ketchman notes in his scouting report, the Pack hasn't always fared well when put up against great defenses. Now, one if not both of the games he's referencing admittedly were played when the Packers offensive line wasn't configured as it is now. Admittedly, this game will be won in the trenches: the Packers offensive line against the Bills defensive front. If the Packers linemen can keep Aaron Rodgers from being pressured and sacked, and can get some running room for the team's running backs, the Packers will win. And of course, if the Pack can get up big early -- assuming the defense doesn't decide to take the second half off ala vs. the Falcons -- the Pack will emerge 11-3. If, on the other hand, the Bills defenders take control at and through the line, it could be a long day for the Packers. Also figure that the Bills are playing for their playoff lives at 7-6.

Still, we shouldn't minimize the fact that the Packers are also playing for the NFC North Division title, a first-round bye, and home games during the playoffs.

The Prediction
With Packers RB Eddie Lacy probable for today's game after battling a hip injury all week, we should probably expect to see more of RB James Starks. It's a homecoming for Starks, having grown up in the Buffalo area and attended the University of Buffalo. We might expect that he'll want to be at his best today when given his opportunities, just as he did late in the game against the Falcons with the game on the line.


Packers RB James Starks with huge run against the Falcons.
Photo by Mark Hoffman, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

The weather is not expected to be a factor: cloudy and 38 degrees. The Packers are favored by four points.

If the Packers defense plays up to its potential and does so for a full four quarters, that will negate anything the Bills offense might generate. If the Packers offensive line is able to handle the Bills formidable front, and the Packers don't have turnovers, I'll take Rodgers over Orton any day of the week. All of the Packers three losses this season have been road games. I expect this game, however, to be their fourth road win.

We're calling it 27-20 Packers.

Go Pack Go!!!

Monday, December 08, 2014

Week 14: Packers vs. Falcons Preview and Prediction

As the last game of NFL Week 14, tonight's game between the Green Bay Packers and Atlanta Falcons should be a good one. At least by one team. Who could that be? Let's just say the name begins with Green Bay and ends in Packers, shall we?

Now, that's not to say the game is a gimme. Atlanta leads the NFC South. Admittedly, that's not saying much given the woeful state of that division. The Dirty Birds are only 5-7 and stand a chance of making the playoffs as a division winner with less than a .500 record. Oy.

So what does Atlanta bring to Lambeau Field this evening? A quarterback who's hot and cold, a great receiver in Julio Jones, a defense that has big pluggers up front and an overall takeaway count of 24 (third best in the league), an offensive line that will have Clay Matthews' young cousin at left tackle, and an old tormenter in the form of Devin Hester.

Other than that...not...so...much. As long as the Packers do what they do...and need to do.

Prediction
If the Packers can get off to their usual quick start and, unlike last week's game against New England convert their red zone possessions into TDs instead of FGs, the game shouldn't be close. The Pack is favored by 13 points with an over-under total of 56 points. You can imagine how that total is skewed in the Packers' favor.

The weather for the game is at present forecast as 33 degrees and cloudy (but at 7:30 p.m. on Dec. 8 will anyone really notice clouds?). Whether there is any snowfall, we'll have to wait to see.

So what's our call? We just think the Packers are on too much of a roll both offensively and defensively right now. It's almost to the point where we hope they aren't peaking too soon.

We're calling it 38-20 Packers.

Go Pack Go!!!

By the way, according to TipIQ as of a few days ago:
  • "At an average asking price of $112.67 per ticket, this Monday's game vs Atlanta is the Packers' cheapest regular game since TiqIQ.com began tracking the ticket market in late 2009.
  • This is by far the cheapest game of the season, with the next being November 16th vs Philly averaging $206.51. This is also 49.92% below the Packers season average of $224.97.
  • The cheapest ticket available is currently Section 212 Row 24 at $50 each. The most expensive ticket listed is Club Center Section 419 Row 11 at $614 each."

Brett Favre in his playing days.
Photo File/Gannett Wisconsin Media

Favre returns to Lambeau tonight...maybe
At the time of this writing, several media sources are reporting that former Packers (and Atlanta, lest we forget) quarterback Brett Favre is on his way to Green Bay. Whether or not he will actually attend the game this evening is another matter. This will not, as far as seems to be the case, be his number retirement ceremony. But there will sure to be a lot of media coverage of Favre back in GB either way. It will definitely be a little extra incentive to watch this game. Although, if you're a real Packers fan, you'll be watching anyway.

Monday, December 01, 2014

Packers Beat Patriots in Epic Style

Early last evening, the Green Bay Packers held on for a hard-won victory over the New England Patriots at Lambeau Field. With no timeouts left, QB Aaron Rodgers was able to kneel down three times and run out the clock to seal the 26-21 win. In truth, the game was not as tight, for the most part, as the score would indicate.

The Packers racked up a dominant offensive performance, accounting for 478 total yards, the most given up by the Patriots this season, holding a more than 13-minute time of possession advantage over the Pats, and running 70 plays to New England's 50-something. Rodgers threw for 368 yards and two touchdowns. But the Packers also left lots of points on the field, having to settle for field goals rather than touchdowns on early redzone possessions, otherwise they could have put a large point spread between themselves and New England. As many have pointed out, had the Packers gone on to lose this game, that would have been the storyline: how many points the Pack didn't get that they should have.

But on this day, the Packers played in near-championship style against an equally great opponent and coaching staff. They ran Eddie Lacy early and often to force the Pats to bring up a safety nearer the line. While Jordy Nelson was only able to snag two passes on the day because of the tight coverage, one of those two went for a 45-yard touchdown catch and run with 14 seconds left in the first half. It was huge. Rookie wide receiver Davante Adams also had a good day, although he had what could have been a game-changing drop late in the game. It was a pass at the goal line where he was open and failed to make the catch. It was another one of those lost opportunities for points. As was a rare missed field goal by K Mason Crosby.

Patriots quarterback Tom Brady gets sacked late in the 4th quarter by Packers Mike Neal and Mike Daniels
Photo by Rick Wood, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

But let's not focus on the negative here, especially with such a great win. Instead let's give some praise to the Packers defense which stymied QB Tom Brady most of the day. While the Pack only got one sack on the veteran quarterback (which came at a very good time and led to a missed field goal late in the game), the defense had enough pressure on Brady often enough to alter his throws. At times, Brady looked very off. In this battle of number 12's from California, Rodgers was the clear winner.

Give head coach Mike McCarthy kudos for mixing up the game plan, the formations and the personnel. One of the biggest changes was the use of LB Sam Barrington in the middle on the nickel scheme in place of A. J. Hawk. Given this was the scheme for a good chunk of the game, second-year player Barrington received most of the playing time over nine-year veteran Hawk. It's been obvious to many -- including yours truly -- that Hawk's mobility isn't what it used to be...and it used to be slow to begin with. He got exposed badly in Minnesota last weekend and obviously coach McCarthy made the calculation he couldn't have that type of exposure against the Patriots. Barrington performed very well. We may be starting to see the changing of the guard at middle linebacker. See this article for more on Barrington and Hawk.

So, Packer fans, our team sits at 9-3 atop the NFC North and tied for wins in the NFC with Arizona and Philadelphia. Next up is Atlanta which leads the woeful NFC South with a 5-7 record.

Go Pack Go!!!

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Weel 13: Packers vs. Patriots Preview and Prediction

It is the game of the weekend, Packer fans. The 9-2 New England Patirots vs. the 8-3 Green Bay Packers at historic Lambeau Field, with arguably the two best quarterbacks in the game right now and the two best teams going head to head. Over the past two decades, the series is as even as it gets: 5-5. Of course, there was that Packers' 35-21 win over the Pats in Super Bowl XXXI in New Orleans (remember that?).

But that was then. This is now.

Today, we'll see two powerful offenses matched against defenses that will try to keep up and make a stop when it most matters. It could well be one of those games where whichever team has the ball last wins. The oddsmakers are basically seeing the game as a toss-up, giving the Packers the 3-point edge that comes with home field advantage. They're expecting a shoot-out, too, with the over-under set as the weekend's largest point total: 58-1/2.

The Patriots

The Patriots, aside from curmudgeonly head coach Bill Belichick, begin and end with QB Tom Brady. What more do you need to say? If the Pat's win today -- and many suspect they will -- it will be because of Brady. At age 37, and after a slow start to the season, Brady and company are on track. The weapons for Brady are many, going beyond TE Rob Gronkowski, who gets most of the press. Other receivers who can and do cause problems for opposing defenders are Julian Edelman and Brandon LaFell, as well as TE Tim Wright. Lots of receiving targets to cover. To keep a balance to the game, the Pat's have RB LeGarrette Blount who had the best run of career at Lambeau in 2011 as a member of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Blount isn't the starter, though. That distinction goes to Shane Vereen, who is currently listed as questionable for today's game on the injury report. Jonas Gray should also should play extensively. Those are a lot of different running styles to adjust to, especially behind a pretty good offensive line.

On the Pat's defense, they have a very good defensive line, anchored by NT Vince Wilfork and DT Alan Branch. It will be tough sledding for Packers RB Eddie Lacy trying to get yardage up the middle today. In the secondary, the Pats also present challenges in cornerbacks Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browne. Packers receivers had problems getting separation last week against the ViQueens. Against a better secondary this week, at home, the Pack's receivers need to have a better showing in order to stay in this game.

The Prediction
Assuming for a moment that the offenses are similar and of equal scoring ability, who has the edge? It obviously goes to defenses and special teams. Let's set aside the special teams play, although the edge on field goals in this game -- if that's what it comes down to -- should go the Packers way. It comes down to defense. Run-stopping ability may also be a push. While the Patriots have two very good corners, the Packers entire secondary is very good. So it comes to pass rush. The edge there should go to the Pack, particularly with the mobility and come-from-anywhere mode of LB Clay Matthews and the rejuvenated Julius Peppers.

One of the Pack's keys in the past several weeks has been getting out to a big lead early. If that were even the case today, against Brady that's no guarantee of Aaron Rodgers getting the second half of the game off as in those earlier blowout wins.

Much of the buzz about today's game is that this is a preview of the next Super Bowl. That might be a bit premature, but certainly not out of the question. And because this is an interconference game, it's not a do-or-die, late-season situation for either team. Still, we think the Packers need this game more.

We think the oddsmakers have the point spread on this game right. It will be a nail-biter...perhaps down to the last play of the game.

We're calling it 34-31 Packers.

Go Pack Go!!!

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Packers sneak by Vikings, get ready for Lambeau showdown with Patriots

Last Sunday's game between the Green Bay Packers and the Minnesota Vikings probably didn't play out as many Packer fans would have hoped, other than getting the win, of course. Coupled with Detroit getting spanked by New England, the Pack is once again all alone atop the NFC North. Order in the universe is once again restored.

But back to the game against the ViQueens...

The Pack seemed sluggish on offense, ditto on defense, and the perpetrator of a few ill-timed penalties (which begs the question: are there any well-timed penalties? Actually, yes, as it turns out, but that's a conversation for another day). As 8 to 9-point favorites, the Packers escaped Minnesota with a 3-point victory, 24-21. Despite the relative disparity in overall talent level, the game turned out to be -- to the 'Queens' credit -- one of the old smash-mouth divisional varieties. It was a game that was hard-fought on both sides of the ball and, unlike the prior two weeks where QB Aaron Rodgers has sat out most of the second half, the game wasn't secured until RB Eddie Lacy ground down the clock in the closing minutes.

Packers RB Eddie Lacy converts a 10-yard shovel pass into a TD against Minnesota
Photo by Mark Hoffman, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Lacy rushed for 125 yards and a touchdown on 25 carries during the game and had a few key pass receptions, as well, including a nice little 10-yard shovel pass from Rodgers that he turned into another touchdown. On a day when Packers receivers had a difficult time getting separation from the defenders because of coverage schemes, a big day from Lacy was needed. He delivered. Even as he was, we found out later, battling gastrointestinal problems.

Rookie TE Richard Rodgers accounted for the third of the Packers' touchdowns on the day, garnering his first NFL TD reception. He was the recipient of what is officially a 1-yard TD pass, but one that in reality travelled about 34 yards in the air. QB Rodgers scrambled nearly to the far right sideline before throwing back across his body all the way to nearly the back corner of the left side endzone to a wide-open TE Rodgers. The latter Rodgers also is credited on the day with making some key blocks in the running and passing game. He's coming on and, eventually, may be the replacement for Jermichael Finley the team has been hoping for. But we also have to give kudos to TE Andrew Quarless who also had a good day on the receiving front sans a touchdown.

Defensively, the Packers had 'Queens' rookie QB Teddy Bridgewater a bit rattled in the first half; he was very much off on his throws. He did start to put together some momentum in the second half, however, as his line generally gave him good protection. Whereas Packers receivers seemed to be well-covered most of the game, Minnesota receivers often seemed to be wide open, particularly on crossing routes over the middle. LB A.J. Hawk, as this writer noted during the game on Twitter (@packfansunited), seemed as if he was often running in quicksand; he looked very slow...slower than usual.

Still, ultimately, the defense did what it needed to and handed the ball back to the offense to secure the win. The Packers are now 8-3.

Whew!

Next up: the Patriots come to town
We'll have much more to say in our pre-game preview before this Sunday's game. It is the game of the weekend, Packer fans. The 9-2 Pats vs. the 8-3 Pack, with arguably the two best quarterbacks in the game right now and the two best teams going head to head (but don't just take my word for it: even Michael Wilbon proffered as much on yesterday's edition of ESPN's PTI). Over the past two decades, the series is as even as it gets: 5-5. Of course, there was that Packers' 35-21 win over the Pats in Super Bowl XXXI in New Orleans (remember that?).

We'll see two powerful offenses matched against defenses that will try to keep up and make a stop when it most matters. It could well be one of those games where whichever team has the ball last wins. The oddsmakers are basically seeing the game as a toss-up right now, giving the Packers the 3-point edge that comes with home field advantage. They're expecting a shoot-out, too, with the over-under currently set as the weekend's largest point total: 58-1/2. Yowza.

Anyway, more to come on this upcoming game, Packer fans. So please check back. In the meantime, you can keep up on nearly real-time updates about the Packers by checking out our Amazing 2nd Page.

Go Pack Go!!!

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Week 12: Packers vs. Vikings Preview and Prediction

It's about 90 minutes until kickoff between the Green Bay Packers and the Minnesota Vikings in Minneapolis. Gone are the days of playing in the Humpty Dump and its piped-in crowd noise, replaced this season with the outdoor home field of the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers.

But regardless of the venue these days, the Vikings are still the ViQueens. A team with a rookie quarterback, Teddy Bridgewater, who will be good -- perhaps very good -- given a few more years in the NFL. But for now, he's still a rookie and one without many offensive weapons. RB Adrian Peterson is still on indefinite suspension by the league and depth for his replacement is an issue for Minnesota, although rookie third-round draft pick Jerick McKinnon has performed nicely, rushing for 489 yards overall and a 4.9-yards-per-carry average. You have to respect that, and the Packers had better. For receivers, you have to believe Greg Jennings wishes he had stayed in Green Bay. Do you ever hear of him any more? The 'Queens' offensive line is average at best and could be in for a long day if the Packers defensive scheme continues to perform at the same level as the last few weeks.

The 'Queens' defense, at least along the front seven, is probably it's strong suit. RE Everson Griffen may cause Packers LT David Bakhtiari problems. He leads his team in both sacks and quarterback hits. He will have to be accounted for and Bakhtiari will have to be up to the challenge or it could cause problems for Aaron Rodgers and the passing game. WLB Chad Greenway has played every snap and recorded 47 tackles in the last four games since returning from a broken rib that kept him out of the first game against the Pack. He likewise will have to be accounted for and handled. Greenway is a gamer and a good one. At age 31 and after 9 years in the league, he's perhaps not as fast as he once was. But he's still a smart ballplayer and can be a disruptive factor.

The weak spot in the Minnesota defense is the secondary. Some capable, but young, players there. Just the kind that Rodgers and his receiving corps can exploit if Rodgers is given protection.

Randall Cobb grabs a TD pass against Minnesota at Lambeau Field
Photo by Mark Hoffman, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

The other part of that equation, of course, especially in a game where rain is possible, is a sound running game led by Eddie Lacy. We should expect head coach Mike McCarthy to call plays which not only allow Lacy to run from scrimmage, but to get him on the outside for screens and set up opportunities for yardage after the catch, which we have seen in recent games is something Lacy is getting better and better at.

Predicton
The 'Queens didn't play well against Chicago last week, particularly on defense. Expect them to come out fired up, especially in the first half where things could be tight. But over the course of the game, barring injuries or turnovers, the Packers' talent should take over at some point. In some recent games, that has happened very early and other teams have then be forced to try to play catch up. Ideally, that same scenario would apply today. We should get an indication of a fast start or a first-half dogfight early on. If Minnesota has to play from behind...well, good luck with that, Minnesota.

The Packers are favored by either 8 or 9 points going into this game, depending upon who you are looking at. We think this game should be a wider spread than that if things stay true to form. The over-under is 49.5 points. So scoring is anticipated...you have to assume it's skewed in the Pack's favor.

We're calling this 38-17 Packers.

Go Pack Go!!!

Monday, November 17, 2014

Packers' superlative performances at home continue as Eagles play latest victim

The final score of the Green Bay Packers vs. Philadelphia Eagles game at Lambeau Field yesterday was...a bajillion to who-the-heck cares. When a team dominates another -- especially a division leader (7-2 coming into the game) -- like the Packers did, well, scores are pretty irrelevant. Just as was the case a week earlier when the Pack disemboweled an even more pathetic Chicago Bears team. (But just in case you are obsessive-compulsive about this stuff, the final scores were 53-20 and 55-14 respectively.)

The biggest challenge for the Packers over the past two weeks could be said to be having sports pundits and bloggers run out of ways to describe an almost super-human performance on both sides of the ball. We're in the rarified atmosphere of record-setting performances for consecutive weeks. And it doesn't seem to matter whether the Packers are playing a good team, as the Eagles supposedly are, or a division bottom-feeder, such as Da Bearz. We Packer fans better savor these times, because they are rare indeed. Don't ever take them for granted, Packer fans. This stuff is not normal. Really. It is extraordinary.

We won't recount all the stats as your eyes would glaze over. One of note, however, is that for the first time in the looooong history of the Packers the team scored 50 or more points in two consecutive games. In fact, in the history of the NFL, this has only been accomplished four other times. Speaking of four, the Packers are 4-0 when they wear the 1929 Championship team uniforms.

Packers QB Aaron Rodgers in full-on assault mode.
Photo by Rick Wood, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

As fans are also well aware, QB Aaron Rodgers is playing like a man possessed. He has thrown 29 touchdowns at home without an interception (18 this season), the longest such streak in NFL history. He's actually thrown 322 consecutive passes at home without an interception, blowing well past Tom Brady's old mark of 288 and -- wait for it! -- the longest such streak in NFL history. Again, the numbers just become mind-numbing at some point. In the last seven games, Rodgers' passer rating is 132.3. Incredible. He and the Packers offense, with much credit due and given to his offensive line, have been so prolific in the first half of their home games they are outscoring opponents 128-9 over the last four games. This is a good reason why we haven't seen Rodgers play a fourth quarter in the last two games (he did have one series yesterday in the fourth, but still...).

Wide receivers Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb have also been stellar. RB Eddie Lacy is not only a legitimate running threat but has also developed into a trusty receiver this season, actually ranking as the third best on the team in terms of yardage, most of which has come after the catch. Case in point, Lacy's epic screen pass catch-and-run for a touchdown where he would not be stopped.

As good as the offense has been, which we pretty much expected, one of the things we didn't expect was the resurgence of what was a sieve-like defense at the start of the season. They are now dominating other teams, with turnovers a key; the defense has generated 22 takeaways so far this season, including plus-4 in turnover differential yesterday and plus-14 overall (22 takeaways minus 8 giveaways). Also, is it merely coincidence that these last two extraordinary wins have coincided with the move of LB Clay Matthews from the outside to inside where he can freelance a bit more?

If the Packers make a deep run into the playoffs this season, the improved performance of the defense will be key. We know the offense is loaded with talent. They can and will score...big. But 14 points yesterday came directly as a result of a pick-6 and a fumble recovery by the defense. That's huge.

As for special teams...it was a mixed bag yesterday for the Packers: a 75-yard punt return by Micah Hyde, but a muffed extra point hold, a blocked extra point, a missed field goal (long, granted), and a blocked punt. So with all the good bits out of yesterday's game, special teams just shows there is still much to work on. If the Packers ever get back into a tight game -- and reality says they will -- they can't afford those errors; the game and the season could turn on such things.

But for now, Packer fans...let us rejoice and be glad. The Packers are tied for first in the NFC North after Arizona defeated Detroit yesterday. The ViQueens are next up, on the road. Then back home for one of the tougher remaining games on the schedule against New England. There's six games to go. A lot can happen. But what's happening now is the stuff of legend. Yes, it is. And the stats prove it.