Sunday, November 17, 2013

Week 11: Packers vs. Giants Preview and Prediction

Well, this is certainly a fine mess. The Green Bay Packers are sitting at 5-4, looking up at the Detroit Lions and the Chicago Bears in the NFC North, and with a two-game losing streak at work. Yowza. Today, the Pack travels east to meet the New York Giants, who are on a three-game winning streak after starting the season 0-6.

The Packers' skid is certainly due to the plethora of injuries finally catching up with them, particularly the injury two weeks ago to QB Aaron Rodgers. The Pack started a total of three different quarterbacks over the past 20 years; now, in the last three games, they have had to start three different quarterbacks. Today, it's former University of Wisconsin QB Scott Tolzien. Tolzien acquitted himself quite well in last week's loss to the Eagles, completing 24 passes in 39 attempts for 280 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions. Especially considering he'd only been promoted from the practice squad earlier that week and was forced to come into the game after the first series when Seneca Wallace was forced out with a hamstring injury. With virtually no game preparation, he led the team up and down the field very effectively.

Packers QB Scott Tolzien
(Photo: Jeff Hanisch, USA TODAY Sports)

Followers of the University of Wisconsin football team when Tolzien was the quarterback there a few years ago know that he may not be flashy, but he is an extremely capable and smart quarterback who has a stronger arm than folks generally give him credit for. Tolzien won the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award in 2010, given to the nation's top senior quarterback. He led the nation that season in completion percentage (74.3) and ranked fourth nationally in quarterback rating (169.8). Tolzien holds UW team records for career completion percentage (68.5) and career pass efficiency (154.4). John C. Unitas, Jr., president of the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Educational Foundation, said in a statement about Tolzien at the time of the award: "Scott Tolzien personifies everything that my father stood for. He is not simply an outstanding quarterback, but an outstanding individual who is a leader both on and off the field, tirelessly devoting himself to his team, to his community, and to being a mentor for others."

So, should Packer fans be nervous today? It's Tolzien's first NFL start, after all. The answer is a clear "No." As a headline in today's USA Today said, "Packers 'still dangerous' even with Scott Tolzien under center". Indeed. Read that one for yourself here if you care to.

Defense is the key
Tolzien and the offense will be able to keep the Packers in the game with a chance to win. That's not going to be the problem today. The big question is really the Packers' defense, which has failed to perform well in each of the team's last two losses, fading especially late in the game. The defense has to perform the way it is capable of doing, the way they were performing when the Pack went on its own three-game winning streak.

LB Clay Matthews will be playing, it is anticipated, without the club he wore to protect his surgically-repaired thumb last week. That really took away from his productivity. Whether the new set up will allow him to use his hands the way he is accustomed to remains to be seen. Also, whether Packers defenders, particularly in the secondary, can cover Giants' receivers and don't give up the big play over the top the way they have recently -- and tackle! -- is another question today. If the defense could generate a couple turnovers today -- something they have not been able to do well this season -- that would also go a long way to helping the Pack to victory.

Bottom line: the defense needs to take charge today. Giants QB Eli Manning is prone to throwing interceptions when pressured, as was the case when they were off to their 0-6 start. If there is no pressure, it could be a long day in the Packers secondary.

Most pundits are picking the Giants to beat the Packers today. The oddsmakers favor the Giants by 3.5 points, with an over-under total of 41.5 points.

This is one that my head tells me the Giants will win. They are on a hot streak, they have three good receivers and a very good quarterback when he's not under pressure. And they have a defense licking their chops to get a go at a young quarterback getting his first NFL start…on the road.

But the Packers need this game right now. The offense -- the team! -- needs to show that it can win without Aaron Rodgers…he doesn't play defense, after all. And that will likely be the make-or-break of the game today: the Packers defense. If they play like they did earlier in the season, the Packers can win this game; if they play like they have the last two weeks, the Packers will lose.

This is a tough one to call, Packer fans. I did my part today: I put on Packers gear I haven't worn yet this season…gotta get some good mojo going today. You do your part. And then let's pray the Packers do their part.

I'm calling this 20-17 Packers.

Go Pack Go!!!