Saturday, January 22, 2022

2021-22 NFL Divisional Playoffs: Packers vs. 49ers Preview and Prediction

Well, here we go, Packers fans: the Divisional Playoffs! After having the lone NFC bye week by virtue of their #1 seeding, the Pack meet up with the San Francisco 49ers this evening at storied Lambeau Field. We welcome the warm-weather visitors to Green Bay for a night mid-January...where there could be a bit of snow in the air...the game time air temps in the low teens or single digits...and with the wind chill perhaps even dipping below 0 degrees. Have a nice visit!

The Preview

Not really sure how much of a preview to even bother with. The Pack last played in Detroit two weeks ago in a game that meant nothing in their standing, and resulted in a loss. Big whoop. Still finished with a tied-for-league-best 13-4 record.

Some players that had seen limited action this season will be available tonight, among them Za'Darius Smith and Whitney Mercilus who will boost the Pack's pass rush capability and QB sack potential. Also available will be offensive tackle Billy Turner and possibly CB Jaire Alexander, although the later is listed as questionable on the injury report, as is LT David Bakhtiari. The only player on the Packers' injury report listed as doubtful for the game is WR Marquez Valdes-Scantling. However, WR Randall Cobb was activated off IR, so QB Aaron Rodgers will have one of his most trusted receivers available to him, especially in the slot.

For the Niners, two of their top two defensive players, Nick Bosa and Fred Warner — both injured in last week's win over the Cowboys — are cleared for play. QB Jimmy Garoppolo will start once again despite his right thumb and shoulder issues; it will be interesting to see how well he holds up if the Packers can shut down the Niners running game and force him to have to pass to win. Would rookie backup QB Trey Lance see playing time tonight? Possibly. The Packers defense should have prepared for both this week, with Jimmy G the primary consideration at QB. 

But the Packers also have to be concerned about holding phenom WR/RB/Everything Deebo Samuel in check. He's going to get some yards, one way or another. But the Pack can't let him be the difference in the game.

If the Packers defense — line, linebackers and secondary — play to their capability, they should be able to generate a turnover or two. And when they have done that in the past, they typically come away with a win.

Still, we hope (and pray) the Packers special teams don't give the game away. With the special teams' overall league performance at the bottom of the barrel, we're at the time of the season where breakdowns and mistakes just can't happen. Because if they do, even one such instance can be the difference between a win and a loss.

While Packers QB Aaron Rodgers will be wearing the home green jersey,
he will still be signaling that the Packers are Number 1
after they beat the 49ers at Lambeau Field tonight.
(Photo by Mark J. Rebilas / USA Today Sports)

The Prediction

This game and how it concludes is all within the Packers grasp. They worked hard to get the number 1 seed, the bye week, and the home field advantage. They have the MVP leading not just the offense but the entire team. They have the winningest head coach in NFL history through his first three seasons. They have talent on both sides of the ball. Yes, the game still has to be played and the weather conditions will be brutal for both sides. But the Packers have something to prove this season after two consecutive losses in the NFC Championship Game. They need to come out fast — something they typically haven't done after bye weeks — and force the Niners to pass. Turnovers will come if they are able to do that.

My good friend Billy Da Bearz Fan even called earlier today to give me his prediction: 28-27. He wouldn't say who comes out on top because, as a Bearz fan, he would spontaneously combust if he said the Packers would win ... but I know what he meant: Packers. Of course.

My brother-in-law (and 49ers fan) texted me with his call: 28-20 Packers. Remember, this is from a Niners fan.

The Packers are favored by 5-1/2 points at the time of this writing. In a game such as this, not being a betting person, I don't care about whether the Packers cover the spread or not; I care that they win the game.

We're calling it Packers 27 - 49ers 24. Hope it's not that close but, again, just get that win. Get to the NFC Championship Game and make the third time (in a row) the charm.

Go Pack Go!!!

Sunday, January 09, 2022

2021-22 NFL Week 18: Packers vs. Lions Preview and Prediction

The Preview

Today's the day, Packers fans: the season finale of the longest season in NFL history ...17 games over 18 weeks. And through the first 16 games, the Green Bay Packers have the best record in the league at 13-3. Which, as everyone has to admit, is remarkable given the number of starters and key backups that have been out for varying lengths of time. If head coach Matt LaFleur doesn't receive Coach of the Year honors something is definitely wrong. 

And today, the Pack winds up its regular season play vs. the Lions in Detroit. With the #1 seed in the NFC playoffs already wrapped up, along with its first-round playoff bye, the biggest question isn't whether Green Bay will win or lose — doesn't really matter in the big scheme of things — but how long the star players will be on the field. Common sense, from a fan's point of view, says don't expose Aaron Rodgers, Davante Adams, Kenny Clark and others to injury, especially on the artificial turf in Detroit. But, apparently, those players and Matt LaFleur say they want to and need to play so there is not such a long gap in seeing the field between last week and their first playoff game after the bye. a series, a quarter or a half...but, please, no more. Don't risk it.

We will see, however, a few folks playing today that we haven't seen in a while and that need to get some work in before the playoffs. Chief among them, LT David Bakhtiari. He's finally been activated following his ACL injury that took him out of play about a year ago and, perhaps, whose absence then might have cost the Pack a trip to the Super Bowl. Who knows? Also seeing action today will be rookie center Josh Meyers. While it will be great to see those two players back on the offensive line again, we have to acknowledge the absolutely remarkable job the backups on that line have done over the course of this season. Amazing. Getting this added depth back for the playoffs can only be a plus.

Packers fans will likely see a good dose of backup QB Jordan Love
against the Lions today. It will be a chance for fans and coaches alike
to see how much progress he's made since his full-game debut vs. Kansas City.
(Photo by Charlie Riedel, Associated Press)

Packers fans will also get a chance to see more play out of their backups...although with all the injuries, Covid-related absences, etc., some of these players have already seen a good amount of play. Today, we'll get a good dose of backup QB Jordan Love with Rodgers' playing time rightly limited. It will be a chance to see how much progress he has made since his full-game debut earlier against the Chiefs. Of course, when he enters the game he probably will be without WR Davante Adams who should see no more action today than does Rodgers. Have to keep those two healthy. It was also announced today that RB Aaron Jones is inactive, so that means A.J. Dillon and Patrick Taylor will likely see the majority of reps at running back.

The Prediction

This is a very difficult game to predict, despite the Packers receiving the oddsmakers' nod as 3-1/2-point favorites. The Packers don't need to win this game, although it would be nice to become the first 14-3 record-holder in NFL history (given the first year of the 17-game schedule). The main goal, as noted elsewhere here, is to get out of Detroit without sustaining any major injuries to key players. For the Lions, despite their 2-13-1 record, they have played tough all season long. Just because this game is meaningless for the Pack and the Lions are heading to the off-season, don't expect Detroit's coaches or players to lay down. They'd like nothing more than to finish strong and notch a win against Green Bay.

We're calling this game Packers 24 - Lions 20.

Go Pack Go!!!

Sunday, January 02, 2022

2021-22 NFL Week 17: Packers vs. Vikings Preview and Prediction

Since the last time the Green Bay Packers and Minnesota Vikings met (a win by MN), the Pack's defense has seen its excellent performances leading into that game drop off, allowing for some finishes of late that were a bit too close for comfort. Tonight's game at Lambeau Field, however, should — in theory — be one with a little breathing room when all is said and done.

That's due in large measure to the Covid-19-related absence of ViQueens starting QB Kirk Cousins. He was ruled out late in the week. Minnesota will now have backup QB Sean Mannion under center. He came out of Oregon State and was drafted by the St. Louis Rams (yeah, that's right, the St. Louis version of the Rams!) in the third round of the 2015 NFL Draft. He's been with a few teams, has seen limited action, and has yet to throw a TD pass in his NFL career. This is why the line on this game went from about 6-1/2 points in favor of the Pack earlier in the week to one at the time of this writing being 12-1/2 points in the Packers' favor. In a game where the Packers could lock up the #1 seed (with a win and a Dallas loss), the lone first-round bye in the NFC, and home field advantage throughout the playoffs, we appreciate the favor of this change at QB.

Thankfully, there will be no change at QB for the Pack. While he still is bothered by his broken pinkie toe, Aaron Rodgers will be ready to go. Yay!

Packers QB Aaron Rodgers will once again lead his team
at Lambeau Field tonight against the Minnesota Vikings.
(Photo by Mark Hoffman/Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)

The Preview

A couple things play into the game tonight.

First and foremost, the Packers are looking to lock up the #1 seed in the NFC, as noted above. With a win and a loss by the Cowboys, the Pack will have that secured. They'll know the outcome of that Dallas game before they take the field. That may change how they play the season finale at Detroit, but it won't change anything about the importance of tonight's game.

Secondly, without ViQueens QB Kirk Cousins at the helm, it would seem likely that Minnesota would ride the coattails of RB Dalvin Cook as much as possible. He's had some big games against the Pack. The defense will need to slow him down. They will also need to make sure WR Justin Jefferson doesn't go off on the secondary the way he did in the teams' last meeting in Minnesota. That seems less probable with Cousins out, but apparently Mannion, his replacement, has a strong arm that could stretch the defense if nothing else. He's also reportedly more of a pocket passer than a run-and-gun type of QB so if the Pack can contain Cook and get pressure on Mannion that will go a long way to skewing the game in Green Bay's favor. Make no mistake: Minnesota is still playing for a wildcard spot and need to win out in order to even stay alive in that hunt. There will be no let up by head coach Mike Zimmer's squad, that's for sure. The Packers need to come out ready to go because the ViQueens sure will.

Third, the Packers will have WR Marquez Valdes-Scantling available tonight which give Rodgers a downfield threat that he's come to rely on. TE Mercedes Lewis can also provide Rodgers with a security blanket in those short and mid-range situations that occur so often.

Finally, it's going to be cold ... single digits they say at game time. Brrrr. Especially brrrr for the skill-position players who need to keep hands, fingers and toes warm to do what they need to do. If the passing game becomes less reliable than usual due to the conditions, the Pack's thunder 'n' lightening running back duo of A.J. Dillon and Aaron Jones will be relied upon to keep moving the chains ... and to hang on to the ball.

The Prediction

As noted earlier, this game went from 6-1/2 points in the Pack's favor to 12-1/2 once Cousins was ruled out. You'd like to think, if one were a betting person, the Pack could cover that spread. They haven't done so the last few weeks. But a double-digit spread is still a tough nut to crack.

So, yes, this would be a good time, ramping up to the playoffs, for the defense to resume its former productive ways. And for special teams to be, if not spectacularly special, at least reliable enough not to lose a game the Packers should win. In that regard, the Pack dodged a bullet with the activation off the Covid list of punter Corey Bojorquez for the game. (The Packers also got back linebackers Oren Burks and Ty Summers and made a number of other roster moves ahead of the game you can read about here.)

We're calling this game Packers 27 - ViQueens 17.

Go Pack Go!!!