Sunday, January 24, 2021

2020 Season NFC Championship: Packers vs. Buccaneers

I took a deep breath as I began writing this preview and prediction, Packers fans. Because while we have all shared dreams of heading to the Super Bowl this season, and winning it, of course, there remains one little detail that needs to be taken care of first: beating the Tom Brady-led Tampa Bay Buccaneers and a really good defense that dominated the Pack in the teams' first meeting earlier this season. (Deep breath...)

Packers QB Aaron Rodgers and his offense will need to up their game today against
a Buccaneers defense that dominated them in the earlier meeting this season.
(Photo by Mark LoMoglio, AP)

Obviously, the main storyline is that of quarterback Aaron Rodgers vs. quarterback Tom Brady. And this will no doubt play itself out throughout the course of the game, perhaps down to the very last play.

In the first meeting, Rodgers threw 2 of his 5 interceptions during the regular season, including a pick-6. He was sacked, if memory serves, 4 times, and was under pressure most of the game. And that was with LT David Bakhtiari. Buccaneers defensive coordinator Todd Bowles had the Pack's offense out of sync. It was unquestionably the Pack's worst game of the season.

Hopefully, lessons will have been learned. The Packers also need to take advantage of being at home in Lambeau Field. Granted, there may only be a fraction of the number of fans present that would otherwise be there in non-Covid times, but you can be sure all those present will represent Packer fans around the world who are there in spirit today.

In addition to a stout defensive line, the Bucs linebackers are fast. Hopefully, the slower turf — especially in the winter weather of Green Bay — will slow them down a bit.Thankfully, the full complement of the Packers running backs will be available, as will the receiving corps. When opportunities for runs and especially catches are present they need to be made; no drops or turnovers that could take the momentum away and flip the game to Tampa's favor. The Bucs defense is a takeaway machine and, in last week's win over the Saints in New Orleans, their 3 takeaways wound up leading to 21 points ... and, ultimately, the win. The Packers can't allow that to happen today or they could be this weekend's Saints.

As for the Packers defense against the Bucs offense, the defense must hold down the rushing game that serves to open up the passing game for Brady. He doesn't really need any help in that regard, does he? The defense also needs to get to Brady...quickly. While Rodgers is known for how quickly he can get the ball out, Brady is no slouch either. The Pack will need to get pressure on Brady and keep it on, while the D-backs and linebackers will need to be as tight as glue on Tampa receivers.

The Packers defense has been getting better and better over the last half of the season. They've got some mojo going. And a few days ago, Packers defensive coordinator Mike Pettine made the entire defense watch the replay of last season's NFC Championship game loss to the 49ers, where they played more like the Little Sisters of the Poor than the Green Bay Packers. The effect on those who were part of that defense, which was nearly all of those present, was as desired, according to reports: they were embarrassed, upset...P-O'd. Good. Perhaps that will be a motivator today.

The opportunities to play in championship games with the right to go to the Super Bowl on the line doesn't come along that often. The Pack will have now played in 2 in a row, the fifth in Rodgers career with only 1 winning trip to the Super Bowl to show for all the effort.

With Aaron Rodgers having one of his best season's ever and likely securing his third MVP award, and at age 37, we don't know how many of these opportunities will be there in the future for a Rodgers-led team. As the late Hall of Fame LB and Packers coach Kevin Greene said to a young Clay Matthews during the last Packers' Super Bowl win, "It is time." Indeed.

The Prediction

The Packers have received roughly the home field advantage spread of 3-1/2 points. The over-under has gone up from 51 to 52 or 53 depending upon your info source.

We don't expect the weather to be that much of a factor in today's game. Snow has already fallen this morning. No snow is predicted during the game. Temps will range from about 29° F at kickoff to 25° F at the end of the game. Winds are expected to be light and not a factor. Brady played all his career except this year for a cold weather team, and played his college ball at Michigan, so this weather will have no impact on his game. We can only hope it might have an effect on some of his teammates.

We expect this to be a hard-fought game by the two top teams in NFC. The Packers have experienced heartbreak in their last three trips to the NFC Championship with Rodgers at the helm. With the bad taste of last year's loss in mind (made fresh by Pettine's video session for the defense), and with knowledge gained from the earlier loss in Tampa, we expect the Packers to continue their winning ways today.

We're calling it Packers 31 - Buccaneers 27.

Go Pack Go!!!

Saturday, January 16, 2021

2020 Season Divisional Playoff: No. 1 Seed Packers vs. No. 6 Seed Rams

Fellow Green Bay Packers fans, today's the day our rested number 1 seed Pack take on the number 6 seed LA Rams at Lambeau Field in the first of this weekend's divisional match-ups.

And a good one it should be. We have the league's number one offense — the Packers — vs. the league's number one defense —  the Rams. Something's gotta give.

The Preview

The Packers have home field advantage, including the added benefit of about 6,000 fans in the stands today, a first of this size for the season. That should help give a little extra juice to the game, something some of the players say they have missed, understandably. The Packers have, of course, the upcoming three-time MVP QB Aaron Rodgers, world-class receiver Davante Adams, a three-headed running game with Aaron Jones, Jamaal Williams and A.J. Dillon. There's a downfield threat in the form of Marquez Valdes-Scantling, admittedly a 50-50 proposition, but even one of those plays today could be a difference maker. And the Rams defense has to pay attention to MVS whether or not he catches the ball, which opens things up for other receivers regardless of the coverage on Adams. We also have a top offensive line, albeit without its All-Pro LT David Bakhtiari.

The Packers defense will be counted on today to limit
the Rams time of possession.
(Photo by Dan Powers/USA Today Network - Wis)

In addition, we have seen a defense progress from mediocre earlier in the season to now an actual top 10 defensive unit, including great defensive ends and a nose tackle that can stuff the run and get at the quarterback, serviceable linebackers, and really a great secondary, led by Jaire Alexander, up-and-coming second-year DB Darnell Savage and veteran Adrian Amos. All the pieces are there to take this all the way. If they play up to their ability, of course.

But first, the Packers have to get past the Rams. Their defense, led by DT Aaron Donald and CB Jalen Ramsey, can shut down most offenses. (Of course, we don't have a typical offense in the Packers.) Donald is coming off an injury but will play. Something to keep an eye on during the game. Ramsey is going to be counted on to shutdown Adams; he gave up only 2 TDs all season covering the opposition’s best receiver.

The key for the Rams offense in a few of their latest wins was winning time of possession by converting third downs. The Packers defense, in a few of its most recent games, had a hard time getting third and even fourth down stops. The Rams will want to help their already fine defense by keeping Aaron Rodgers on the sidelines as much as they can. The Packers defense will need to step up its game and not allow that time of possession battle to swing heavily in favor of the Rams by getting those big stops on third and fourth down. If they can stop the run and force LA to go to the air that would seem to work in the Packers favor today.

That's because Jared Goff will get the start for the Rams, a few weeks removed from thumb surgery. He had to come in relief last week after his backup went down in the first quarter and performed well. He led the team to a 30-20 win over the Seahawks, although it was not one of Seattle's better games, to be sure. Don't expect Goff to go deep often because of the thumb issue. But those underneath throws can keep the chains moving. The Packers defense will need to get to him to make him uncomfortable. In pre-game warm ups today it is reported he's wearing gloves on both hands. While the temps are reasonable for this time of year in Green Bay, they are certainly colder than what the LA guys are used to. That might become a factor with a bad thumb still healing.

The Prediction

With about an hour to go before kickoff, the Packers come into this game as 6-1/2 point favorites. We think the oddsmakers have that about right.

We think this will be a hard-fought game start to finish. But the edge has to go to the Packers to outscore the Rams, particularly at Lambeau Field.

We're calling it Packers 27- Rams 20.

Go Pack Go!!!

Sunday, January 03, 2021

2020 NFL Week 17: Packers vs. Bears Preview and Prediction

Happy New Year, Packers fans! Welcome to 2021. May this year be better than the last. Hard to imagine it being worse. Let us pray...

The last game in 2020 saw the Pack trounce the Titans at a snowy Lambeau Field. Tennessee was supposedly the team that would be the toughest challenge for the the Packers until they (hopefully) reach the Super Bowl. RB Derrick Henry would reportedly run roughshod over a Packers defense that has been less than stellar for a long time against the run. Despite the weather, despite Henry (who was held to under 100 yards rushing), despite it all, the Pack triumphed 40-14. It was not the game we, or many expected. And for that we were grateful.

The game was a coming out party of sorts for rookie RB A.J. Dillon who rushed for 124 yards and his first 2 TDs of the season. QB and soon-to-be three-time MVP Aaron Rodgers threw for 4 TDs and 1 INT, while all-world receiver Davante Adams had 11 catches for 142 yards and 3 TDs. It was also a coming out party for a Packers defense that we hadn't seen in a while. As noted, they shut down arguably the top running back in the league and that left the offense in the hands of QB Ryan Tannehill, who had been having a pretty good season. But against the Pack he was picked off twice, only his sixth and seventh interceptions of the season, and wound up throwing for just 121 yards with a completion rate around 45 percent.

Game, set, match ... Packers.

Now, on to Chicago and our neighbors to the south, Da Bearz.

QB Aaron Rodgers will have to deal the rest of this season and likely
to mid-season next year without starting LT David Bakhtiari. Bakhtiari
suffered a season-ending freak ACL injury during practice on Thursday.
(Photo via Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)

The Preview

The first item of note is that starting LT David Bakhtiari is lost for the rest of this season and into the next as a result of a freak ACL injury that occurred during practice on Thursday. Not great. At all. But the Packers O-line has been dealing with injuries throughout the season and is used to shuffling players around. It's likely that Billy Turner will play LT, Rick Wagner will play RT and Lucas Patrick will play RG. Thankfully, starting center Corey Linsley returned last week to return stability to the middle of the line. Elgton Jenkins also give the Pack a lot of flexibility in case anyone else goes down on the line. Let's hope not.

Secondly, with RB Jamaal Williams returning today, head coach Matt LaFleur has indicated that he'd like to find ways to use all 3 running backs — Aaron Jones, A.J. Dillon and Williams — on the field at the same time. He even said he'd be challenged not to overdo that formation. So let's see if that happens today. We'd think it would give Chicago's defense fits, as all 3 cannot only run the ball aggressively but can catch the ball, as well. Then throw in the Packers corps of receivers. Can you imagine trying to defend that? Oh, and did we mention that Da Bearz will be without 2 of their starting defensive backs? (In best Seinfeld voice) That's a shame.

Chicago has a good running back of their own in David Montgomery who has already surpassed 1,000 yards on the season. In order for the Packers to enhance their chances for victory today the defense will need to shut down Montgomery the way they did Henry last week. That means  Za’Darius Smith, Preston Smith and Rashan Gary will need to once again protect the edge and funnel things inside as much as possible. That was a key to success last week and will be so again today. Oh, and lest we forget: the Packers signed NT Damon "Snacks" Harrison this week and he was able to practice. It will be interesting to see how much the Packers work him into defensive schemes today and how he plays. He should be a valuable pick up for the playoff run.

Back to Da Bearz. QB Mitchell Trubisky has been having a better end to the season than start. After being benched for Nick Foles, he's responded well to the challenge. But it's also been against so-so defenses, to say the least. The Packers defense has been getting better as the season has progressed. If Chicago's chances rest in his hands...good luck with that.

The Prediction

The Packers are 4-1/2 to 5 point favorites depending upon who's making that call. I consulted my good friend, Billy Da Bearz Fan, to get his take on the game. He told me that I'm not supposed to say that he really thinks the Pack will go up by 3 or 4 touchdowns early and then start resting players. Instead, he says since its in writing, I should say that he's calling it 28-27 Bearz.

So there's one point of view. Or two, if you're counting.

Here's a third. Despite the hard hit incurred with the loss of Bakhtiari, we think the Packers are on a roll right now and things are gelling at the right time. We expect Da Bearz to put up a spirited game — after all, they are playing for a potential playoff spot. But the Pack is playing for the #1 overall seed, a bye, and home field advantage throughout the playoffs. If they play for 4 quarters, they'll win with room to spare. If they let Chicago hang around, well, if it comes down to Rodgers or Trubisky making a play to win the game, c'mon.

We're calling it Packers 34 - Bearz 24.

Go Pack Go!!!