Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Packers beat Bears in ChiTown Chiller Thriller

By now, you and all the football-following world know that the Green Bay Packers defeated the Chicago Bears 33-28 Sunday in a classic, down-to-the-wire battle for the NFC North Championship. The win was in doubt until the last 38 seconds when QB Aaron Rodgers found a wide open Randall Cobb, running past a flat-footed defender, heading toward the endzone. They connected on a nearly 50-yard touchdown pass that sealed Chicago's fate.

What kept the last half-minute of the game in doubt, however, was the fact that the Packers failed to convert on a two-point attempt that would have made the lead 7 points. Up by 5, and Da Bearz still having a shot to win it with a touchdown, the hearts of Packer fans were racing. No doubt years have been taken off the life spans of many Packer fans this season. This was just one more instance of the "Cardiac Pack" in action. However, thanks to a last-ditch Hail Mary pass by Jay Cutler and an endzone interception by Sam Shields, the victory was secured.

NFC North Division Champions, baby! For the third consecutive year! (Shouldn't they just rename this the Packers Division?)

There were key plays aplenty, not only by Rodgers, but by FB John Kuhn (with a key block on the final TD pass to prevent a sure sack), Jordy Nelson (as always), Jarrett Boykin (picking up a Rodgers' fumble and finally taking it in for a TD), and Eddie Lacy and James Starks pounding Da Bearz' defense. There were missed opportunities, as well, especially early on. The Packers defense? Well, doing what they have pretty much done all year: doing what they need to do at the last moment, at least in victories. Much has been said about all this and that elsewhere already. Don't need to tell you what you already know by now.


Next up: the 12-4 San Francisco 49ers at Lambeau Field on Sunday. More on that game later. For now...Go Pack Go!!!

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Week 17: Packers vs. Bears Preview and Prediction

It's now less than two hours to kickoff of the final game for the Green Bay Packers' 2013 NFL regular season. In fitting form, it's against the Chicago Bears. Unfortunately, it's at the "Mistake by the Lake," otherwise known as Soldier Field. Fortunately for the Packers, however, for the first time since the last meeting between these teams seven games ago, QB Aaron Rodgers will return to the field. Oh, yeah! And, despite going 2-4-1 without Rodgers, both Da Bearz and the woeful Detroit Lions conspired to hand the Packers a chance to still win the division. Imagine that! And believe it or not, whether the Packers or Bears win today, this will be the first time in 30 years that the division will be won by a team without double-digit victories. Yowza. A down year for the NFC North -- primarily due to injuries to the two top teams -- would be an understatement.

Still, here we are, Packer fans: poised on the brink of winning the division and hosting a Wild Card game at Lambeau Field next week should the Packers win today. If things go as expected, that would mean the Packers would likely host the San Francisco 49ers, or perhaps the New Orleans Saints. (OK, Niners wouldn't necessarily be a good match up, but first things first...win today, that's the goal.)

Photo of Randall Cobb by Rick Wood, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

In other good news for the Pack, WR and returner Randall Cobb was activated to the 53-man roster for the first time since breaking his fibula earlier in the season. How much playing time he gets remains to be seen. RB Eddie Lacy is still nursing his sprained ankle but is ready to go, as is James Starks. For the first time in a long time, the Packers will have many of their offensive weapons in play, albeit with some rust in a few spots.

Defensively, however, the loss of LB Clay Matthews in last week's game after re-injuring his surgically-repaired thumb, certainly doesn't help the Packers' anemic pass rush. Somehow, someway the Pack's defenders need to get pressure on Bears QB Jay Cutler. Make him uncomfortable, he'll get happy feet, pout, and start throwing picks. That's what we can hope for. Because we don't want him to have time to throw to Chicago's big receivers. There will be match up problems for the Packers today, no doubt, in the secondary. The way to mitigate that is with pressure on Cutler, and holding RB Matt Forte down. Defensive coordinator, Dom Capers, has always seemed to come up with something to create problems for Cutler, who is just 1-7 against the Pack with Capers commanding the defense, and just 1-8 overall, including playoffs.

The Prediction
We could and perhaps should say more about this game. It's a biggie. But let's cut to the chase: the Packers have their best shot at resurrecting an injury-filled season today, if they can protect Rodgers and open lanes for Lacy and Starks.

Make no mistake, both defenses are shadows off their former selves at this point. Points will be scored. Who scores more? The oddsmakers have the Packers favored by 3 points, courtesy of the return of Aaron Rodgers.

Me? I'm calling it 34-24 Packers over Da Bearz.

Go Pack Go!!!

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Packers lose to Steelers, still alive for NFC North Champs

As John Lennon sang, "So this is Christmas...". Yes, it is. Merry Christmas to all our loyal readers around the world. We appreciate you stopping by to read what we have to say about all things Packers.

Because of holiday commitments, getting out a timely post-game Packers vs. Steelers review was all but impossible. I even had to watch the game on DVR hours after the game was over, all the while trying to avoid learning about the outcome. Great game...well, not great...but it certainly kept one's attention down to the last second. Literally. Anyway, I'm sure you are also familiar with having to time-shift things around holidays and other special occasions. Not always easy. But, finally, I'm getting a few moments here this morning to catch up a little bit. Apologies for the lateness of this for those who have come to expect a more timely review of things from yours truly.

Back to the Packers vs. Steelers...

The final score was not what we had projected (24-20 with the Packers winning}. For the past two weeks I had picked against the Pack and they had won. They restored my faith, only to once again have that dashed on the rocks of defeat. Which leaves me with a big dilemma about Sunday versus Da Bearz. But more on that game later...probably Sunday morning in fact.

This game typified, in my view, what the season has been for the Packers, especially without Aaron Rodgers. The team is so injury-riddled that there is no room for mistakes. Critical penalties and turnovers doomed the Pack to defeat. There is no margin for error. To win, the team needs to play an almost flawless game. Toss in December weather in the Midwest and that adds yet another complicating factor.

As we all know by now, Da Bearz (and the still bumbling Lions) gift-wrapped a second chance at post-season life for the Packers when they also both lost their games on Sunday...Chicago in incredibly humiliating form (as Seinfeld would say, "That's a shame."). But playing for the NFC North title this coming Sunday along the lake at Soldier Field is not going to be an easy task. Can the Packers beat Da Bearz? Of course. Will they? Depends upon which Packers team decides to show up. And that's been a guessing game for about half the season now, not just from game to game but half to half.

While it's expected that the announcement about Aaron Rodgers' availability status will be made tomorrow (Thursday), more than a few are expecting that the announcement will be that he is not yet medically cleared to play. Personally, I don't expect him to see the playing field again this season unless, perhaps, the Packers somehow go deep into a playoff run. Given the injuries, is that likely? No.

There is a lot of heart and never-give-up attitude on this Packers squad, granted. That's to the credit of the coaches and the players themselves. But that's not always enough, especially where other teams are healthier at the key positions. With the likely loss of Clay Matthews again with his re-injured thumb, the already-anemic pass rushing ability of the Pack also took a big hit.

Anyway, I'm starting to do a bit of a Christmas Day ramble here, so will cut this short.

The Packers have a chance. Right now, that's more than most fans thought they'd have at the conclusion of the game against Pittsburgh. The door has been left open a crack. All the Packers have to do is play one of their most consistent games of the season and they will keep on playing. If they let Da Bearz slam the door in their collective face, then it's time to start playing the mock draft and free agency games as the off-season will then be upon us.

In the meantime, let's see what the next few days brings for the Pack. Please check back Sunday morning for our Packers vs. Bears preview and prediction.

Have a very Merry Christmas!

Go Pack Go!!!

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Week 16: Packers vs. Steelers - Another season-on-the-line game for the Packers

In Green Bay, Sunday's game against the visiting Pittsburgh Steelers is pretty much a one-and-done game of sorts. If the Packers win, they continue to control their own destiny going into the final week's game against the Chicago Bears. Lose and the likelihood of any playoff birth is slim and none.

It's simple: if the Packers win their next two games they win the NFC North.

What makes things not so simple is that they will have to do so once again without QB Aaron Rodgers. Of course, after two comeback wins with backup QB Matt Flynn at the helm and RB Eddie Lacy running to daylight, beating the Steelers is certainly within the realm of possibility. (The Packers have a better record than the Steelers, let's not forget.) The much-maligned defense also seemed to get some of its early-season mojo going in the second half last Sunday against the Cowboys; they'll need to continue to play with that same intensity both against the Steelers and Da Bearz if they hope to have any post-season opportunity.

Oddsmakers seem to think the Packers can win with Flynn. Depending upon what source you are looking at, the Pack is favored by anywhere from 1 to 2-1/2 points at the time of the writing of this post. So it's certainly projected to be close, as it no doubt will be. Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger is getting hot and some think that that will be sufficient to beat the Pack. Maybe. But...

Another factor: the weather
Talent and records aside, probably one of the biggest factors in Sunday's game will be the weather. Here's the forecast as it stands now: "Snow with areas of blowing snow before 3 pm, then snow likely after 3pm. The snow could be heavy at times. High near 26. North northeast wind 14 to 24 mph, with gusts as high as 36 mph. Chance of precipitation is 100%. New snow accumulation of around 5 inches."

Sounds lovely, doesn't it? If the weather affects the passing game, that neutralizes to some degree the advantage Pittsburgh has at quarterback. More emphasis will be on the running game. The Steelers have Le'Veon Bell, the Packers have Eddie Lacy. The Steelers drafted Bell ahead of Lacy. Bell's having a very good rookie season. But no rookie running back is having the season Lacy is. Advantage Packers.

The Prediction
This is a tough one indeed, Packer fans. I've picked against the Pack the last two weeks. They've won both times. This week, my faith has been restored.

I'm picking the Packers 24-20.

Go Pack Go!!!

Monday, December 16, 2013

Packers' win over Cowboys a tale of two halves


That was Green Bay Packers head coach Mike McCarthy's first word at his press conference after his team's amazing 37-36 comeback win over the Dallas Cowboys.

No doubt it was also coming out of the mouths of many if not most Packer fans. What fans of the Cowboys might have been saying is probably not fit for print.

After a miserable first half of lethargic and truly uninspired play, and going into the locker room down 26-3, it was a reasonable assumption by most that this game was over and, with it, any hopes of the Packers in the post-season. We don't know what McCarthy said at half, or what kind of magical tea or high octane espresso he served up to his players, but the second half was unlike any we've seen the Packers play in a long, long time. They outscored the Cowboys in the second half 34-10.

Tramon Williams incredible game/season-saving 4th quarter interception
Photo by Rick Wood, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

The season is still alive
This writer has to confess that when the Cowboys went up by 12 points in the 4th quarter I thought it was over. How wrong I was...as I was about my game prediction where I had the Pack losing. Mea culpa. But I've never been so glad to have been so wrong in my lifetime.

In fact, courtesy of two fantastic interceptions late in the game by Sam Shields and Tramon Williams, as well as any number of other dynamic plays on both offense and defense, the Packers were able to snatch this highly improbable victory in Big D.

Where do you start? For one thing, forget the first half. Not worthy of discussion. It's all about the second half. A great Micah Hyde punt return. Four touchdown passes by Matt Flynn. Incredible catches by Jordy Nelson, Jarrett Boykin and Andrew Quarless. Beast-mode running -- including a 60-yard scamper -- by Eddie Lacy, who ran for 141 yards on 21 carries and surpassed the 1,000-yard mark for the season...the first Packers rookie running back to do so since the days of John Brockington. And the defense -- which was really bending the bend-don't-break model in the first half, turned it up in the second half and shut down a potent Cowboys offense. Part of that, one can assert, was the ongoing -- and mystifying -- play-calling help from the Cowboys of continuing to pass rather than run to take time off the clock...and, of course, expose themselves to turnovers, as was the case. How 'bout them Cowboys?!


It's still very possible to win the NFC North
So, here's how it lays out: if the Lions lose at home vs. Baltimore tonight -- or either of their other two remaining games against the Giants or Vikings -- and the Packers beat the Steelers this weekend at Lambeau Field and then win again at Chicago, the Packers win the NFC North. Of course, if Da Bearz lose at Philadelphia on Sunday, the road also becomes a bit clearer.

Incredible. Amazing it's still even a possibility after all this team has been through. If Aaron Rodgers gets his medical clearance this week, the game certainly becomes winnable even after a bit of a turnaround by the Steelers.

This will be a week to watch, Packer fans. All eyes will be on whether or not Aaron Rodgers returns under center. But we do know, based upon the come-from-behind victories these last two weeks, that they can win with Matt Flynn at quarterback. It might not be pretty, but it's possible.

Who'da thunk it? Who'da thunk it?

Go Pack Go!!!

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Week 15: Packers vs. Cowboys

The Green Bay Packers travel to Texas today to take on the Dallas Cowboys. This will be the football equivalent of a Wrestlemania tag-team cage match. How so? Well, both teams literally have their playoff chances hanging on the outcome of this game...the Packers more so than the Cowboys, despite the Pack being only one-half game behind both the Lions and Da Bearz in the NFC North, while the 'boys are a full game behind the Eagles in the NFC East. So this should be a game with some intensity to it.

The Packers will go into this game with backup QB Matt Flynn getting the start once again. The Pack is coming off an important come-from-behind win in last week's game against the Falcons at Lambeau Field. The Cowboys are coming off a dismal loss to Chicago at Soldier Field. If Aaron Rodgers had been back at quarterback, this is a game the Packers likely win. With Flynn and a bad Packers defense...?

On the other hand, it's important to note that as bad as the Pack's defense has been especially in the last month or so (a notable exception was the second half of last Sunday's game), the Cowboys' defense is worse. In fact, statistically, they are dead last in total defense. Plus, a couple other Dallas defensive starters are out for this game, one at linebacker and another at cornerback. The Packers have the possibility of moving the ball against this defense. The Pack will be counting heavily on a slightly hobbled Eddie Lacy to put up some yards on the ground, so Matt Flynn can execute a few passes here and there. Without a running game, it may be a long game despite a porous Cowboys defense.

The pundits have installed Dallas as anywhere from 5 to 6-1/2-point favorites in this game. If all things are even (and they are not, of course), the edge goes to the 'boys because of QB Tony Romo, who is having one of his best seasons. Unless Matt Flynn has a game of Lion-esque proportions (from a couple years go, not Thanksgiving Day), the Pack will be challenged to snatch a win.

The Prediction
We're not going to go into a lot of hemming and hawing about this one. Teams with better quarterbacks win, even with weak defenses; the QB can cover up a lot of sins...as we've seen since Rodgers has been sidelined.

So as much as I hate to do so, I'm calling it 31-24 Cowboys over Packers. I hope I'm wrong, as it turns out I was last week.

With that said...Go Pack Go!!!

Monday, December 09, 2013

Packers win wild one against Falcons

After four losses and a tie, all without starting QB Aaron Rodgers, the Green Bay Packers finally squeaked out a win on the literally frozen tundra of Lambeau Field yesterday against the Atlanta Falcons. In a game which went down to the last few seconds before it was finally decided, the Pack held on to win, 22-21. This game was a must-win game for the Pack to have any chance of post-season hopes.

The players of the game in this writer's opinion: Jarrett Bush, Johnny Jolly, Andrew Quarless, Mason Crosby, and Tim Masthay.

Bush had a large role in preserving the game, breaking up one key pass to TE Tony Gonzales and intercepting another in the closing seconds of the game to secure the win for the Packers. Johnny Jolly was huge (no pun intended) in this game, coming up with a fumble recovery early on and applying pressure to Falcons QB Matt Ryan throughout the game. Andrew Quarless had perhaps his best game as a pass receiver for the Pack. Mason Crosby was three for three on a very rough weather day for kickers. And punter Tim Masthay was exceptional on his three punts (averaged more than 47 yards per punt), including his last which could have been downed at the Falcons' 1-yard line with a little more than a minute left, and which gave the Dirty Birds a long way to go without any timeouts in order to have chance to kick a field goal.

There will be more forthcoming here. But just wanted to get this brief synopsis of the win out to our faithful readers.

After all the angst of the last five weeks, the Packers are only one half game behind NFC North Division leaders, the Detroit Lions. If Da Bearz lose tonight at home against the Dallas Cowboys (the latter favored by 1 point), the Pack will actually be a half game ahead of Chicago in the standings and looking forward to their own match up against the 'boys in Dallas next Sunday when, it is hoped, Aaron Rodgers may be cleared to play.

Things are getting interesting, Packer fans. Even my friend, Billy Da Bearz Fan, is getting nervous. As he rightly does every December when the Packers typically make their late season move.

Stay tuned...

Go Pack Go!!!

Sunday, December 08, 2013

Week 14: Packers vs. Falcons Preview and Prediction

At the start of this current NFL season, the Green Bay Packers vs. Atlanta Falcons game from Lambeau Field was scheduled to be a Sunday evening primetime TV extravaganza. A funny thing happened on the way to this game...

Both the Packers and the Falcons were devastated by injuries. Two teams expected to compete not only for the playoffs but for a possible NFC Super Bowl slot fell off the cliff, so to speak. You can have a talented team but if that talent isn't on the field, what difference does it make? Well, a lot to the TV schedulers, apparently, because this game was "flexed" from the original Sunday evening slot to a noon Central Time start, with limited TV coverage. Oh, how the mighty have fallen.

What do we expect?
The Packers are sitting at 5-6-1 and the Falcons are at 3-9. Atlanta is obviously out of any playoff talk. But believe it or not, the Packers still are hanging on by a mathematical thread to the hopes of at least being in the wild card conversation. It's a long shot, to say the least. Possible? Yes. Probable? No.

Photo by Matt Becker, Packers.com

Not unless there is a bit of a miracle at Lambeau today. With QB Aaron Rodgers still not cleared for play, Matt Flynn gets his second start. His first in Detroit on Thanksgiving Day was, shall we say, less than stellar. When he wasn't under pressure or getting sacked courtesy of a sieve-like makeshift offensive line, his passes had all the zip of a limp spaghetti noodle (is that a mixed metaphor?). He was underwhelming. The fact that the offensive line was unable to open any holes for running back Eddie Lacy put everything on the passing game...which was obviously not a good scenario.

Today, the offensive line has a chance to create some running room against the Falcons. But whether starting center Evan Dietrich-Smith is able to play or not, and if so for how long, will have a big impact on how well that scenario plays out. The Packers must somehow generate the threat of a running game in order to take pressure off Flynn. In temperatures likely to be below 20 degrees, and with a 30 percent chance of snow during the game, the passing game is not going to be much of a weapon. To win today, the Packers need a running game.

The Packers also need defensive takeaways and a score. They got both last game in Detroit (four turnovers and a defensive TD) but the lack of any type of tackling skills, pressure on the quarterback, and no offense made all that moot.

The Prediction
We could take a more in-depth look at the players, the schemes, etc. But why bother? You can find all that elsewhere.

The bottom line for the Packers today is they MUST win this game to have any place in the conversation about a possible wild card slot down the road, when perhaps Rodgers is able to get back behind center (although as yours truly has posted several times, the feeling here is it would be better to shut Rodgers down for the season and give Scott Tolzien the starter's reps; he's got a much stronger arm than Flynn and would be a better long-term fit at back-up than Flynn who clearly has nothing left in his arm at this point). Lose today and I really think the Packers will shelve Rodgers for the rest of the season and let him heal that fractured collarbone...which is obviously already taking longer to heal than he and the team had hoped. There is no sense in exposing your franchise quarterback to further injury with nothing left to play for.

Anyway...back to the prediction...

The Packers are favored between 3 to 3-1/2 points depending upon who you are looking at. The Falcons have their very good starting QB, Matt Ryan, a veteran RB in Steven Jackson and veteran TE in Tony Gonzalez. Those are significant offensive weapons against a Packers defense that has shown nothing in the last five games which would give you confidence of them stopping even a 3-9 team. Compare that to the Packers offense with likely a wounded and or makeshift offensive line and a weak backup QB, and this game looks scary. Even a good portion of local pundits are picking the Falcons.

Given the trend this Packers team has been on, without any indication they are in a position to pull out of their nosedive, I have to say that in my best hopes I'd actually be rooting for another tie game in overtime. But that's not going to happen. There will be a winner. And barring that miracle in Lambeau I mentioned earlier, I just have a feeling the winner will not be our beloved Packers.

I'm regretfully have to call this one in the Falcons favor. I'm calling it 17-13 Falcons over the Packers.

With that said, I hope I'm wrong.

And...Go Pack Go!!!