Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Packers hold on to beat Lions

With apologies to Charles Dickens...It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. The Green Bay Packers 34-27 victory Sunday over the Detroit Lions was a tale -- if not of two cities -- of two halves.

The Packers' offense was on fire in the first half. When QB Aaron Rodgers plays with a chip on his shoulder, he always has a big game. Ka-ching! You can read about his performance elsewhere if you didn't see it in person or on TV. Ditto for Eddie Lacy who rushed for more than 100 yards for the first time in a long time. Jordy Nelson seems to be getting back into Jordy-shape.
Packers D-lineman Mike Daniels was pressuring
Lions QB Matt Stafford all game long.

Photo by Dan Powers/USA TODAY NETWORK-Wis

The Packers' defense, despite being down five starters, was able to hold on long enough to prevent what would have been a historic collapse.

The Packers were able to get done Sunday something that they didn't get done all last season: beat an NFC North Division opponent at Lambeau Field. Yay. As such, they are able to go into this very early -- but very needed -- bye week with a 2-1 record...which, by the way, was exactly the record we said (in our preseason preview/prediction) that the Pack would have through the first "quarter" of this NFL season.

The Packers need the bye to get a lot of players healthy for what will be a very long haul from here to the playoffs and the Super Bowl run. Within the division, Minnesota's defense and what seems so far to be a rejuvenated Sam Bradford at quarterback are the obstacle to winning the division. But the Packers have the depth and the talent to go far, if they stay healthy.

Go Pack Go!!!

Sunday, September 25, 2016

2016 Week #3: Packers vs. Lions Preview and Prediction

The injury bug is hitting teams throughout the NFL early in the 2016 season; some players are out for the season, others for a few games, others perhaps just a game. The latter is the case and cause for concern today with the Green Bay Packers as the season opener at Lambeau Field versus the Detroit Lions is set for kickoff.

As of the time of this writing, Clay Matthews and Morgan Burnett are reported to have both been declared out after the Packers completed their final practice of the week on Saturday morning. Not helpful. Of course, we know that Sam Shields is also still out because of the NFL's concussion protocol; he won't see the possibility of playing time until after the bye week.

Oh, wait...there's more: Letroy Guion and Datone Jones have also been downgraded from questionable to doubtful, meaning the chances of them playing against the Lions is...not great. So, in case you're counting, that's five defensive starters who will not be playing. Ouch.

Wasn't it suppose to be the Lions that had health issues? So much for that notion. Well, OK, they'll be missing some players, too. And we don't have to worry about WR Calvin Johnson any longer. But enough about the Lions.

Aren't we worried about the Packers offense? The one which has seemed pretty out-of-sync for the first two games? Yeah. And now we have to worry about the defense, too? Oy.

The Prediction
We're going to keep this post short and sweet. The Packers are currently favored by 7 points, with the total points listed at 47.5, the second-highest of the week. So oddsmakers are figuring on a fair amount of scoring with the Pack coming out on top comfortably. How do you feel? Yeah, us too.
Packers QB Aaron Rodgers and Head Coach Mike McCarthy
are hoping the offense gets in gear against the Lions.

Photo by Mike De Sisti, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

But it's the home opener. QB Aaron Rodgers should have a chip on his shoulder after two mediocre games (or more, going back to next season if we're honest about it). The offense needs to get on the same page and start doing what everyone knows they are capable of doing. Especially on a day when the defense -- with all its missing parts -- might be in need of the offense scoring regularly in order to stay in the game.

We're calling it 24-20 Packers.

Go Pack Go!!!

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Packers underachieve in loss to Minnesota

Now that we've had a few days to process Sunday night's 17-14 loss to the ViQueens in the new (fill-in-the-blank-name) Minnesota stadium, what do we understand? Probably, not much. We know what we saw, which was a Green Bay Packers team really out-of-sync. With plenty of opportunities to win, an ineffective offense -- including an erratic and fumble-prone Aaron Rodgers -- and a defense that gave up big pass plays throughout the game, the Pack just couldn't get it done.

The Packers made new Minnesota starting QB Sam Bradford look like an MVP. He certainly played better than Rodgers, who has now gone 14 straight games with a passer rating of less than 100. Yes, as Michael Wilbon on ESPN's Pardon the Interruption will remind us, Rodgers has started seasons slowly before. True. But something seems amiss in Mr. Rodgers neighborhood right now, something that goes beyond slow season starts. His mechanics look off. We're not the only ones who think so; check out this article in today's Milwaukee Journal Sentinel which goes into a good deal of detail on the state of the un-Rodgers-like Rodgers.
Packers QB Aaron Rodgers trying to find some rhythm vs. the Vikes.
Photo by Jim Matthews/USA TODAY NETWORK-Wis

In addition to Rodgers' woes, the formula for the loss was questionable play-calling by head coach Mike McCarthy (including passing up a chip shot field goal in the 3rd quarter to tie the score), questionable wide receiver usage (over-use of Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb to the exclusion of other receivers), and under-utilization of the running game. Play-calling seemed uncreative in the extreme. Contrast this with some of the calls made by Eagles head coach (and former Packer) Doug Pederson last night vs. Chicago using a rookie quarterback. He was unpredictable...which is not an adjective which could probably be easily applied to the Packers right now.

Defensively, Bradford was given far too much time to stand in the pocket and find his receivers. With RB Adrian Peterson being held in check prior to leaving the game with a leg injury, the Packers defense just couldn't hold Bradford or his receivers in check. If the purple-clad receiver happened to be covered by Damarious Randall -- who had a very good game in the season opener vs. Jacksonville -- he would generally either be open or benefit from a pass interference penalty. Not a good night for Mr. Randall.

The final score was 17-14...close. But yet, it felt both as if the Packers could have won this game and, on the other hand, the Pack was lucky to have the score be that close in the end. It was a very odd game. We had called it 20-17 in favor of the Packers in our preview and prediction post. We figured it would be close. Didn't figure on Bradford having his way with the Pack's defense or the Pack's offense being a study in ineptitude on this particular night.

The Packers have a lot of work to do. Luckily, they now get an extended stretch at home in Lambeau Field to try to get things together. Let's hope they do so beginning this Sunday vs. the Lions. 2-1 going into the early Week #4 bye will feel a lot better than 1-2. A lot better.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

2016 NFL Week #2: Packers vs. Vikings Preview and Prediction

Packers fans, game time is fast approaching and neither you nor I have much time right now. We usually provide a fairly comprehensive preview of all the particulars that could affect this game between the Pack and ViQueens in their season and new stadium home opener. But...we'll have to suffice with nothing but the essentials.

The Prediction
Minnesota will have a lot of energy on its side: home opener, stadium opener, Packers as the opponent. And if you read Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Packers reporter extraordinaire Bob McGinn's column today you may have a sinking feeling even before any team takes the field. Some really horrible things have happened to the Packers in Minnesota over the years. Let's hope this new stadium starts a stretch of really good things happening.

That's what we're counting on tonight. We're counting on the Packers correcting some of the problems they had in Jacksonville. They'll need to offensively against a top-notch ViQueens defense. And the Packers will need to crank up the defense against what we expect to be a Sam Bradford-led Minnesota offense. If the Packers can hold RB Adrian Peterson in check and force Bradford to try to beat them, it will go in the Packers favor. Peterson is the key. A-duh.

The Packers are favored by anywhere from 1-1/2 to 3 points depending upon source.

So, long story shorter than usual...we're calling it Packers over ViQueens 20-17 in a hard fought game that will probably go down to the wire. Although we hope not.

Go Pack Go!!!

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Packers down Jaguars 27-23 in season opener, look ahead to Minnesota

So, Packers fans...what do you think of the team's season-opening win? Was it a bit of a "Whew!" feeling at the end? Oh, yeah. But it was a win, albeit one which came down to the defense's only 4th-down stop of the day. Better late than never.

As we said in our game preview and prediction, "Expect some rustiness, some blown plays, and probably more penalties than we'll see later on in the season." Yes, it was all of that, although more so for the first two than the latter.

Rustiness exhibited itself from the start when it took a while for QB Aaron Rodgers and WR Jordy Nelson to get back on the same page; but they did. Blown plays exhibited itself on several key occasions, admitted to by Rodgers, when miscommunications at the line on two occasions perhaps caused the Packers to miss two touchdown possibilities. On one play, the line (or at least a portion of it) blocked in the opposite direction from the run. On another, half the line thought the play was a pass and the other a run. Not. Good.

Then there was the late 4th quarter fiasco when the Packers just needed to get some first downs and run time off the clock. They wound up having to call a timeout because players couldn't get lined up properly. After the timeout, there was confusion as to who was supposed to actually be on the field for the play. Rodgers called a second time out. But guess what? You can't call two consecutive timeouts. So, the Packers were assessed a 5-yard penalty. The result a play or so later was having to punt, which resulted in the only mediocre punt of the day for new punter Jacob Schum.

Sloppy? In the extreme. But, again, first game stuff. Fortunately, the defense was able to make a stop when it mattered most. End result: victory for the Packers 27-23 over the Jaguars. We called it 27-20 in our preview and, not bad, eh?

The play of the game: the Packers defense stops Jacksonville on 4th-and-1 in the final seconds of the game, preserving a victory.
Photo: Rick Wood, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Lane Taylor does his job
After the surprise cut of Pro Bowl left guard Josh Sitton, many were left to wonder how this would all work out now that fourth-year pro Lane Taylor was named the starter. Well, at least for this first game, Taylor proved he could handle the job. He was solid, as expected, on run blocking and with one possible exception also held up while pass blocking. So far so good.

Secondary needs to tighten up
Our game preview stated that the secondary would likely be the strength of this defense. We still believe that. But in this first game? Not so much. The secondary gave up big plays all day long, with receivers in many instances wide open. Now, let's be honest: the Jags receivers are good. Two each had more than 1,000 yards receiving last season. Plus, QB Blake Bortles can certainly do damage when given the time. It is an explosive offense and, for that reason, some felt this could have been a game the Packers could lose. After all, it was on the road, against this explosive offense, and in the heat and humidity of Florida. The Pack not only overcame all that but their own blunders, as well. That bodes well for the future.

Next up: the ViQueens in their home and stadium opener
Minnesota asked to play the Packers in the first regular season game in their new stadium. Remember that old adage: Be careful what you ask for? Let's hope that comes true Sunday night. We're guessing it will. Make no mistake: the Vikes have an excellent defense. In fact, it was in large measure due to the defense's two scores on Sunday that Minnesota emerged victorious in its game on Sunday. With the loss for the season of QB Teddy Bridgewater, the quarterback situation is a bit unsettled. Veteran Shaun Hill played Sunday. But it's possible the Pack may see Sam Bradford under center. That doesn't matter. The game plan should be to hold RB Adrian Peterson to as few yards as possible (a-duh!) and force either King or Bradford to beat you.

The Packers are currently 2-point favorites over Minnesota. Let's hope it's not that close. Just remember how you felt about that 4-point victory of just a few days ago. Yowza!

We'll post our game preview and prediction closer to game time.

For now, we'll just close with the breaking news that LT David Bakhtiari has reportedly signed a four-year contract extension with the Packers. To which we say: Yay!

Sunday, September 11, 2016

NFL Week 1 2016: Packers vs. Jaguars Preview and Prediction

Welcome to the start of the 2016 NFL season, Packers fans! There are high expectations for this team. More on that in a minute, and specifically as regards today's game.

But first, I invite you to take a moment and remember all those lost, injured and impacted with the events of September 11, 2001...

Thank you.

Now, to the Packers. Some oddsmakers and prognosticators are projecting the Packers to not only be in the Super Bowl but to win it; from their stat sheets to God's ears, to turn a phrase if not a theological point. Some, such as the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's great writer, Bob McGinn, don't think the Packers helped themselves in this regard with the shocking release of Pro Bowl left guard Josh Sitton. His article on how the Pack "blew it" with this clumsily handled roster move is definitely worth reading.

Be that as it may, fourth-year player Lane Taylor is now your starter at this position. He's demonstrated his ability as a servicable run blocker, but there is a great deal of skepticism as we start the season about his pass-blocking abilities. He also had what can only be described as a disappointing game, with three penalties including two back-to-back, in the preseason finale. Given that he's one of the two guys essentially protecting the franchise's (that would be QB Aaron Rodgers, of course) blind side, Taylor is going to have to raise the level of his play in that regard quite quickly.
The Packers secondary will be challenged by the Jags receiving corps.
(Photo: Joe Robbins, Getty Images)

How we see it
As game time rapidly approaches, we need to get to the heart of the conversation, don't we?

The first game of the season is a lot like the proverbial box of chocolates: you never know what you're going to get. This will be the first time that starters on both sides of the ball for both teams are called upon to play a full 60 minutes. Expect some rustiness, some blown plays, and probably more penalties than we'll see later on in the season. Having said that, there should be no reason that Aaron Rodgers isn't able to lead the Pack to victory today. He's got a great group of receivers, although the Pack might very well choose to use Jory Nelson sparingly depending upon how he's feeling coming off his injury from last season. Expect to see a great deal of the Packers tight ends, especially Jared Cook. He can stretch the field and coverage in a way we haven't seen since the days of Jermichael Finley. Also expect a heavy dose of Eddie Lacy and James Starks. The running game will have to exert itself early and often in order to allow Rodgers the time he'll need to open up the passing game. One unknown at least at the time of this writing is whether left tackle David Bakhtiari will start or even play at all today; he was listed as "questionable" on yesterday's injury report. Under the new labelling system, this puts him roughly somewhere between 50.1 and 99 percent likelihood to play. If he's unable to go, rookie Jason Spriggs will take his place and then that entire left side of the Packers offensive line will be new...not ideal in protecting Rodgers' blind side, especially against what could be a good Jaguars defensive line and pass rush.

As for the Packers defense, the line is thin for various reasons. The inside linebackers are young -- including rookie starter Blake Martinez who will be relaying the plays called in from Dom Capers et al. The secondary should be the strength of the defense early on and probably throughout the season. The d-backs will be challenged today with a very good corps of Jag receivers. If QB Blake Bortles gets in rhythm it could be a challenging day. If the Packers defensive front can make him uncomfortable, the secondary may have opportunities for multiple interceptions. Let's hope that's the way it plays out.

Our prediction
The Packers are 5-1/2 point favorites. That's a pretty good spread for any time of the season, but particularly on the road in a "Let's see what we all got" type of game. Despite what is reported to be perhaps the third-hottest game the Packers will have ever played in -- and remember, Jacksonville opted for their white jerseys today, making the Packers play in the darker and hence warmer green jerseys -- the Pack is the better team.

We're calling it 27-20 Packers.

Go Pack Go!!!

Leroy Butler: Sports brings us together, the way it should be
We have to highly recommend to you this special article that Packers great Leroy Butler wrote for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel today. Given the current political and cultural environment in which we seem to be immersed, Butler advocates for the lessons we all can learn from sports as a way to be unified rather than divided. Amen. Read it.

Friday, September 09, 2016

2016 Packers Season Preview

Hello again, Packers fans!

It's been a while since we last chatted (in a blogger-bloggee sense, that is). Somehow, four months have elapsed. Holy inactive list, Batman! What's been going on? Well, we've just been doing a lot of watching rather than writing. An extended hiatus...which some might argue we took just to be able to use the word "hiatus" in a sports blog. Be that as it may, let's get on with things, shall we? We're long overdue.

Roster set, expectations high
At least for the first game of the regular season, the Packers 53-man roster is in place. The big surprises -- not only in terms of the who but the when -- came in the form of the release of long-time veterans, punter Tim Masthay and offensive guard Josh Sitton. Sitton, especially, was a surprise. No need to go into the reasons why; any Packer fan worth his or her brat-and-a-beer will know the reasons. But all in all, we have to look optimistically at this deep, albeit young Packers roster. Barring injuries to QB Aaron Rodgers and other key personnel, or a re-injury to Jordy Nelson (yes, he's key too, isn't he?), the Packers are among the favorites to go to the Super Bowl and win. Depending upon whom are reading or what oddsmakers you are following, the Packers are the favorites.
Packers QB Aaron Rodgers and WR Jordy Nelson hope to be celebrating throughout the entire 2016 season, all the way through the Super Bowl.
(Photo: USA TODAY Sports)

Season Prediction
We'll make our Packers vs. Jaguars prediction a bit closer to game time. What we wish to do here is take a gander at the entire 2016 schedule and make our call about the Pack's record at the end of the season and heading into the playoffs. Yes, spoiler alert: playoffs here we come!

We make our season wins-losses call not based upon individual games per se (although that obviously does factor in), but rather we've had a tradition here of breaking down the season into quarters, much as a game itself is played. Having said that, let's look at each quarter and make our calls.

Weeks 1-4: September 11-October 9
In order, the Packers play the Jaguars and Vikings on the road in the first two weeks, followed by the Lions at Lambeau Field. Then...a bye in week 4. Yeah, not ideal to say the least but it is the hand the Pack has been dealt. The tradeoff, overall, is that the Packers actually will play the easiest schedule in the NFL based on 2015 records. So, that's a good thing...considering. While the Pack could have a stumble in the heat in the season opener in Jacksonville against a much-improved Jags team, the Packers should prevail. Minnesota will be playing its first home game in its new stadium and the border rivalry will be on full display. Given that the ViQueens unseated the Packers atop the NFC North last season, this, again, could be a game in which the Packers stumble. Although there's that rather unsettled quarterback situation there these days after the injury to Teddy Bridgewater, so...? As for the Lions at Lambeau, c'mon.

Our call: 2-1.

Weeks 5-8: October 9-30
Three home games following the bye week and then one on the road: Giants, Cowboys and Da Bearz and then off to Atlanta to play the Dirty Birds. The Packers need to do a better job holding serve at home than they did last year, so we'll say this quarter's worth of season games is a sweep.

Our call: 4-0.

Weeks 9-12: November 6-28
The Pack's goofy home-away schedule continues in this quartet of games: Colts at Lambeau, followed by three straight road games at the Titans, Redskins and Eagles. As things get into and beyond the middle of the season, we can see one of these games registering as a loss, particularly given the steady diet of road games.

Our call: 3-1.

Weeks 13-17: December 4-January 1, 2017
OK, technically this isn't a quarter of games because of the 17 weeks (including the bye) needed to actually get 16 games played. I know, it's confusing. Just go with it. This five-game stretch run actually is the most sensible part of the season schedule, at least from a travel standpoint. Three out of the five games are at home. While the final three games are against NFC North opponents, two out of the three -- including the final game on New Year's Day -- are on the road. In this stretch, the Packers play the Texans and Seahawks at Lambeau, then Da Bearz in Chicago, return home to play the ViQueens, and then conclude the season in Detroit against the Lions. Not having a break since week 4, the length of the season -- despite the supposed easiest schedule based upon last year's standings -- will take its toll.

Our call: 3-2.

2016 Season Predication: 12-4. The Packers will once again be atop the NFC North and get a much-needed bye going into the playoffs. They'll need it.

Check back in again for our preview and prediction for Sunday's game against the Jaguars.

Thanks for reading. Go Pack Go!!!