Sunday, January 19, 2020

2020 NFC Championship Game: Green Bay Packers vs. San Francisco 49ers - Preview & Prediction

Quick review: The Packers beat the Seahawks in Green Bay in the Divisional round of the NFC playoffs last weekend, 28-23. It was a battle, as was expected. The Pack played one of their better games in all phases of the game. And they closed it out by never giving the ball back to Seattle late in the game due to timely and needed third down conversions. Packer fans breathed a collective sigh of relief.

Of course, that was temporary. Because next up, for the NFC Championship, was and is the San Francisco 49ers who the prior day had dispatched the Minnesota Vikings.

Which brings us to today.

Packers QB Aaron Rodgers will need to be "in a Superman cape", according
to former Niners QB Steve Young, for the Pack to have a chance to win today.
(Photo: Stan Szeto, Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports)

Preview by way of review

Outside of Packers fans, of course, not many are giving the Packers a chance today. The Niners are favored by 7-1/2 points going into the game. Much of this, or at least a good deal of it, has to due with the Week 12 blow out that the Niners won by 29 points on their home turf, 37-8.

Well, here we are once again, on their home turf in Santa Clara. But while home field is important, typically 3 points to the favor of the home team, that doesn't explain the dismissiveness with which the Packers are considered in this game. Frankly, the Pack just didn't show up at the earlier game. They were lethargic, playing-calling was mediocre, and they allowed themselves to get beat in every phase of the game. Yes, there were some horrible penalty calls that didn't help matters, as well as turnovers that set up the Niners in great position to score. And they did. When the Niners had to go a long ways they usually did so passing to receivers who had no defenders within the same zipcode. It was horrible defense and the offense did nothing to help mitigate the damge. By all measures, it was a throw-away game.

But the Packers learned from that loss. The defense had a closed-door players-only meeting after they returned to Green Bay from that game. They wouldn't be as porous or soft in a game since. And the Packers haven't lost since, either. They tightened up. And with the Packers offense finally getting more in sync, albeit still not seemingly firing on all cylinders for lack of receiving threats other than Davante Adams, the team learned how to battle for a full 4 quarters, right down to the wire. In the end, a 13-3 record was the result...the #2 seed...only missing the top seed by virtue of about 12 inches and a TD on a stop in a game in which they were not participants. Oh, and their opponent is also 13-3. Seems pretty even doesn't it?

Not if you listen to the pundits. They emphasize the strength of the Niners defense, particularly the front four, who were able to dominate the Packers O-line in the last outing, a line which, by the way, lost RT Bryan Bulaga early on and had to replace him with Alex Light who was an unmitigated disaster in a backup role. Bulaga is back and is also now backed up most capably by veteran lineman Jared Veldheer.

The Niners offense will have its trio of running backs — Tevin Coleman, Raheem Mostert and Matt Breidain — in gear. They ran and ran on the Vikings last week and wore down that defense. The Pack's defense must find a way to minimize the Niners rushing attack in order to force young QB Jimmy Garoppolo to beat them. Given time and porous coverage, Garoppolo can certainly do damage; he's got a good arm and, admittedly, a winning record in his young career. His offensive line has protected him well, which accounts for a good deal of his success; defenses this season, with few exceptions, haven't made life difficult for him in the pocket. Somehow, someway, the Packers defense has to make him uncomfortable. A few sacks and lots of pressure by the Smith Brothers, Kenny Clark and others would go a long way to making a Packers win more of a possibility. That, and somehow also finding a way to tackle TE George Kittle when he gets the ball in his hands. He could single-handedly do some big damage if left unchecked. Not going to be easy to do.

The Packers offense, has shown signs of being on the same page in the last six games or so. Even QB Aaron Rodgers has said, “The last six weeks, I’ve felt really locked in on the preparation, and I think that’s helped us on offense to really be on the same page.” What else has helped are receivers and tight ends stepping up and making clutch catches instead of drops. Having a solid running game behind Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams is going to be key to opening up the passing game for Rodgers and keeping the Pack in the game. Special teams also needs to come up big. The pick up of Tyler Ervin and his insertion as returner and occasional running threat has been a boost, as well.

Bottom line: all the pressure is on San Fran as no one expects the Packers to win. But the Packers can match up with the Niners.

The Prediction

This game will not be a reprise of Week 12's blow out loss for the Packers. This will be a 4-quarter game, likely down to the wire as has been the case for the Pack throughout much of the season. The Packers have nearly perfected into an art form this season the "bend-don't-break" defense. They should be able to get at least one turnover that will be converted into points. We think they'll also give up more field goals than touchdowns today. Finally, in a close game, who would you rather have with the ball: Garoppolo or Rodgers? Yeah, us too.

We're calling this game Packers 27 - 49ers 26.

Go Pack Go!!!

Sunday, January 12, 2020

Divisional Playoff vs. Seahawks: Preview & Prediction

We've done our now infamous "twofers" for the entire season, Packers fans. The last being a review of week 16's win over Minnesota and a preview of week 17, which was the win over Detroit. Seems like forever ago, doesn't it? Amazing what a week off will do. So, rather than waste time on reviewing the Detroit game, let's move right along to this afternoon's Divisional Playoff game at Lambeau Field vs. the Seattle Seahawks (eeeewwwww!!!).

The Preview

The Seahawks make their way to Lambeau Field today by virtue of their win last weekend in Philadephia over the Eagles. Many didn't see that one coming, most of all the Eagles. Of course, losing their starting QB, Carson Wentz, after an obvious cheap shot helmet to helmet hit early in the game by DE Jadeveon Clowney (not penalized and also no fine...go figure!) didn't help. The Packers O-line better make sure Clowney doesn't get anywhere close to QB Aaron Rodgers today to make a play like that even possible...or the tide could and would turn quickly in favor of Seattle.

Still, it nearly goes without saying that any team with Russell Wilson at quarterback is a team to be feared. He is, in the estimation of many pundits, if not currently the best and most dangerous QB in the game right now one of the top two or three. While he'll be playing behind an offensive line that may feature several backup players (starting LT and LG may not play today), Wilson's legs can still rip off big gains when he breaks the pocket, which can happen at any time. He also has a legitimate deep threat receiving target in rookie wideout DK Metcalf. Wilson can throw one of the best deep balls in the game and the Packers secondary has been known to be susceptible to the deep ball most of the season. Throw in RB Marshawn Lynch now in his third week back at running back and it gives the Packers defense a lot to worry about. Despite being without their top three running backs, top two tight ends and starting center, Seattle can still put up points, and quickly, if you let them get rolling.

Prime objectives for the Packers defense: contain Wilson in the pocket, don't let Lynch regain his former glory, and don't let Metcalf get behind you deep. Simple, right? A big help in this effort will be Kenny Clark dominating in the middle, the "Smith Brothers" getting plenty of pressure on Wilson in the pocket without letting him break containment, the secondary covering receivers tightly, and everyone making sure tackles when they get their shots. Oh, and getting a turnover or two wouldn't hurt either; Wilson has had his problem throwing interceptions in his games at Lambeau...let's hope that problem continues today.

Defensively, the Seahawks will likely be in a Cover 3 defense most of the game. Nothing too fancy, but they are very solid at what they do. As a result, nothing for the Packers offense will be a gimme, especially in terms of the offense's general out-of-sync-ness most of the season, at least in terms of the passing game. We should expect a big dose of RBs Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams today, with QB Aaron Rodgers making key throws to WRs Davante Adams and Allen Lazard, with TEs Jimmy Graham and Marcedes Lewis getting a few reception opportunities. WR Jake Kumerow could also pick up a big catch or two, along with TE Robert Tonyan. It will take a solid effort from the Pack's offense, with no turnovers, to come out on top today.

That's funny. I don't care who you are...that's funny!
Fan-sponsored billboards with this message appeared around Green Bay this week.

The Prediction

As the billboard above says, "The Gum Stops in Green Bay!", a reference to Seahawks coach Pete Carroll's infamous gum-chewing ways. An enterprising Packers fan had several of these electronic billboards put up this week around Green Bay. They express every Packer fan's wish for today: the gum-chewer's — and Seattle's — playoff run stop in Green Bay. Can I get an "Amen"?

The Packers are favored by 4-1/2 points coming into this game. The Seahawks haven't won at Lambeau Field since 1999, losing eight straight. Russell Wilson is 0-3 here. Those streaks should continue today.

We're calling it Packers 27 - Seahawks 24.

Go Pack Go!!!