Friday, January 19, 2024

2023 Season Divisional Round Playoff Game: Packers vs. 49ers Preview & Prediction

While all the attention is rightly on Saturday evening's NFC Divisional Playoff game between the Green Bay Packers and the San Francisco 49ers, we have to take a moment to acknowledge what is — factually — the biggest upset in NFL history: the 7th seed Packers beating the 2nd seed Dallas Cowboys last Sunday. Not just beating the 'boys, but smokin' them. 27-0 in the 1st half. A final score of 48-32 with Dallas' final two scores coming in garbage time. Never before had a 7th seed won a playoff game. Well done Jordan Love, Aaron Jones, Matt LaFleur, Joe Barry (?) and everyone in the Packers organization. Wow. Just wow.

Now, let's get to the game in Santa Clara, shall we?

If Packers QB Jordan Love continues his lights-out performance
Saturday evening, the Packers have a chance to pull off another
upset win and find themselves in the NFC Championship game.
(Photo via the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)

The Preview

As it turns out, with this game, the Packers and Niners will now have faced each other 10 times in the playoffs, more than any other pair of teams in the NFL. Amazing. Of the prior 9, San Fran has a 5-4 edge, with the Packers having lost four straight. Meh. Time to change the script, right, Packers fans?

There is admittedly a degree of difference in the overall team talent level at present between these two teams. Yet, all the young Packers don't seem to care about that. If they did, they would have likely lost in Dallas last weekend. All this Green Bay team knows how to do at this point is to play hard and to play for each other. It doesn't matter who gets the ball, who has to block, who has to tackle or cover. And head coach Matt LaFleur's wide-open play-calling has launched a first-year starting quarterback (i.e., Jordan Love) into the stratosphere of quarterbacking, and has solidified his status as "The Guy" not just this year but going forward. And not just going forward but, to the horror of Bears' fans and others, perhaps for the next decade or more. (On a related note, and particularly for my great friend Billy Da Bears Fan, Jordan Love has thrown for more than 4,000 yards in his first year as the starter; in the entire history of the Chicago Bears they have never had a single QB throw for more than 4,000 yards. Just in case you want to know.)

The Niners are solid on offense and defense, hence their number 1 seed and the reason they are currently favored to win by a wide margin. And, if the Packers do not match San Fran's physicality, they won't be in the game. The game will ultimately be determined, as has so much of the Pack's season, by the defense. If they show up — as they have for the last month or so — they can stay in the game. If they can create a turnover or two, they can help win the game. That's no throw-away comment: when the Niners have no turnovers, they were 8-0 this season; when they had one or more turnovers, they were 4-5 this season. If the Packers want to increase their chances for a win, they need to get to QB Brock Purdy and help create a turnover or two. Do that, and the odds of a win go up; don't get near him and ... well, it makes things more difficult.

The Niners defense also presents its challenges, as all football fans know. The O-line will really need one of its best games of the season to protect Jordan Love as well as to make an opening now and then for RB Aaron Jones. As all Packers fans know, the return of Jones and his 100+ yards rushing per game over the last three games has been a key to the Pack's win streak. Getting 100 yards rushing in this game will be a challenge. But if Jones can get 100+ yards combed rushing and receiving, that would be a significant boost to the Pack's chances.

Which Packers receiver will get 100+ yards receiving? Who knows. Over the span of the past three games, three different receivers have accomplished that feat. The Packers have a lot of weapons for the Niners to worry about. If the play-calling and scheming are in sync, the Pack can keep San Francisco if not exactly on their heels at least giving them a pause now and then ... which might be just enough.

Now, another factor to consider in this game is the weather. Yes, yes, we're not talking cold and snow; the game is in the Bay area (as the San Fran locals say) not the Green Bay area. That means, this time of year, rain. There is an 80 percent chance of rain throughout the day and into the evening, although it seems from the various forecasts that the heaviest rain will take place Friday evening and Saturday morning. Then, it's hit and miss. But at least one local forecaster is advising those attending the game to bring some rain gear, just in case. Winds of 10 to 15 mph at game time are expected, but again, a bit of a moving target forecast-wise. Not horrible winds if that's indeed the case, at least in dry conditions.

As former Carolina Panthers (and Wisconsin Badgers) punter, Brad Nortman, said on his radio show Friday, these wet conditions actually will act as a bit of an equalizer for the Packers. It tends, in his experience, to help the defense as offensive skill players — running backs, returners and receivers — need to think a bit more about whether or not they can make a particular cut, for example. The QB needs to think about whether he can make a certain throw (btw, QB trivia: Jordan Love's hands are larger than Brock Purdy's making for a better grip on the ball). And place kickers need to be sure of their plant when making kick attempts. The argument could be made that the Packers are probably more used to playing in adverse weather conditions than are the Niners. Who knows? All we do know is that the wet field, rain and wind conditions will likely play a role in the game. To which team's advantage, and to what degree, we will have to wait to see.

We also can't forget the referees in this game, especially given how poorly the NFL refs performed overall this season in getting calls right...which includes not making calls when none were needed. Unfortunately, the crew referring this game will be that of referee Alex Kemp, whose regular-season crew led the NFL with an average of 15.3 flags per game. And guess what? Both the Pack and Niners finished in the top third of the NFL for most flags this season. What are the odds that some bad and game-changing calls will be made? Oy. But both teams will have to play with this crew calling the shots. Let us pray.

The Prediction

Depending upon who you are looking at, the Niners are favored by 9-1/2 to 10 points over the Pack at the time of this posting. The Packers are used to being the underdog most of this season, and certainly in the playoffs. In other words, we've got 'em just where we want them.

There are so many story lines at play in this game, as there were against the Cowboys. The weather and the referees are outside factors that will affect both teams in various ways. If the Packers play at the same level they have over the last month-plus, they can stay in the game and win. Against any team. If they don't get off to a fast start and get beat physically, they will have a hard time pulling out the win.

We are of the view (gold 'n' green-colored, of course) that the Packers will keep things rolling. San Fran has been sitting and didn't look exceptional in their last few games. Of the two, the Packers are the hot team. And you gotta go with who's hot.

We're calling it Packers 31 - 49ers 30.

Go Pack Go!!!

Saturday, January 13, 2024

2023 NFL Season Recap & Wildcard Game: Packers vs. Cowboys Preview & Prediction

Who'da thunk it, Packer fans? The youngest team in the NFL this season, with a first-year starting QB by the name of Jordan Love and loads of first and second-year players, made NFL history by becoming the youngest team ever to make the playoffs. And how was it done? By turning their season around at mid-season and going 6-2 in the final eight weeks of the season to finish at 9-8 and gain the seventh playoff spot. And, lest we forget, finishing things off in fitting fashion last weekend by beating Da Chicago Bearz at Lambeau Field in the final game of the regular season. Sweet.

By way of a very quick recap, if you go back to our preseason preview in September, we had the Pack finishing at 10-7 ... so close. Especially when few were projecting the team to win more than 6 or 7 games in this changeover season. Given the Packers could have / should have beaten at least one or more of the Falcons, the Raiders, the Broncos, or the Steelers, our prediction can be said to be ... not too bad.

Anyway, with all that said, let's take a sneak peek at the Wildcard game vs. the Cowboys down in Jerry World, shall we?

Packers QB Jordan Love has put together remarkable
and historic performances over the second half of the 2023
season. Fans are hoping that trend continues in his Wildcard 
playoff game against the Dallas Cowboys Sunday.
(Photo by Mark Hoffman/Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)

The Preview

The Packers come into this game riding high. Too young, some say, to know they aren't supposed to win this game against the highly favored Dallas Cowboys. They did what they had to do in the second half of the season to turn things around and give themselves a chance at making the playoffs.

This required epic performances from their first-year starting QB, Jordan Love (including back to back weeks as NFC Offensive Player of the Week, something neither Brett Farve or Aaron Rodgers did in their careers), solidifying the play of the offensive line, getting the young first and second-year receivers in sync with their quarterback, having RB Aaron Jones get healthy at the right time, and getting at least occasional "This is how you should be playing every game" performances from the Joe Barry-led defense, which was also missing the highest-paid cornerback in the NFL for a good chunk of the season (and who also might not be able to play in this game because of an ankle, not shoulder, injury).

It really is remarkable. And regardless of how the game turns out, this is already a successful season, Packer fans. One that sets things up very well for the future.

With Aaron Jones in the backfield to take some of the pressure off Love, with the O-line protecting against very good defenses, and the receivers and tight ends running great routes, making contested catches, and gaining valuable yards after the catch, the Packers can score points. Which is something we said last week, too, that actually didn't play out in the final score, although to be fair the Pack left at least 6 points on the field with a missed field goal (a growing concern with K Anders Carlson) and running out of time at the end of the first half without even having a field goal attempt ... plus there were those two touchdown-catch drops that would have put points up, as well. The offense will need to be near-perfect against the Cowboys to stay in the game and win.

That's because the Cowboys come into this game undefeated at home this season and putting up something like 37 points on average per game in their home wins. Yowzers.

The Dallas defense is one of the best in the league. So a creative offensive game plan, perfect execution, no turnovers, and scoring touchdowns instead of field goals (or having missed ones) in the red zone will be essential to a Packers win. Simple. No? One indication of how Green Bay will be feeling is if they take the ball if they win the coin toss. We're saying if that happens, the Pack will go on offense first. They'll want to get out front if at all possible.

The big question — as it has been most of the season — has been which Green Bay defense will show up? Is it the one that made Steelers QB Tommy Devito and Buccaneers QB Baker Mayfield look like All-World players with zone coverages where no one was even in the same area code as the receivers? Or will it be the one that helped win against the Lions and the Chiefs and also held even Da Bearz to only field goals? We don't know. But it seems that after the embarrassment of the game against Tampa Bay, when head coach Matt LaFleur indicated he was taking on more of a role with the defense, there has been a change from zone coverages to more man, as well as more blitzing ... and that has made a difference. A huge difference.

The Packers defense and their veteran front and linebackers, along with over-achieving players in the secondary, will need to contain Cowboys QB Dak Prescott, WR CeeDee Lamb and their other weapons to keep the Pack close.

The Prediction

Not many are giving the Packers much of a chance in this game. The oddsmakers, at the time of this writing, have the Cowboys favored by 7 points over the Packers. That's a pretty big spread.

We haven't even gotten into the various storyline aspects of this game including the big one: Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy coaching against his former team with, rumor has it, his job on the line if he loses. But that translates to this: the real pressure is on Dallas to win, not the Packers. The Pack, as some have said this week, are playing on "house money": they're there and shouldn't be so win or lose, it's OK. It's experience for a very young squad they can build on next season.

But, you know what? This season isn't done yet. The game is afoot, as Sherlock Holmes used to say.


We're riding the vibes with our heart and not our head and calling it Packers 24 - Cowboys 23.

Go Pack Go!!!

Sunday, January 07, 2024

2023 NFL Week 18: Regular Season Finale — Packers vs. Bears Preview & Prediction

Happy New Year, everyone!

Here it is Packers fans: the 2023 regular season finale against that team from south of the border. You know. Da Chicago Bearz. As you'll recall, the Pack started the season in Chicago and left with a win in QB Jordan Love's first start. Would be a nice way to bookend the regular season games with another win in Lambeau Field, wouldn't it? And, even better (well, really, is there anything better than beating Chicago?), a win gets the Packers into the playoffs as the number 7 wildcard.

Getting to the playoffs: what a great way to put a highlight on Love's first season as the starter, something neither Brett Favre or Aaron Rodgers was able to do, by the way, in their first seasons as the starter. They managed pretty well anyway overall, but wouldn't this just be the icing on the cake as the Pack seems to have found — again — their franchise quarterback going forward? Indeed. It's been 30 years of misery for NFC Central/North opponents with those 2 under center. May it continue thusly with Mr. Love.

Packers QB Jordan continued the ownership of Da Bearz in
his first meeting with them in the first game of the 2023 season in Chicago.
Fans hope to see that ownership continue in today's game at Lambeau Field.
(Photo via the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)

Anyway, what does this game look like? Let's see ...

The Preview

Both the Packers and Da Bearz (the latter, believe it or not) come into this game on a bit of a roll. The Pack has certainly been a different team offensively the second half of the season as Love has taken command, complemented, as we know, by a group of gritty and talented first and second-year players at the skill positions. Plus a solid offensive line. It's been impressive. As for the Packers defense ... well, that's been hit and miss. When they miss, as in tackles or coverages, for example, it hasn't been good. Defeats snatched from the jaws of victory in some cases. On the other hand, when they play as they are capable of (as in last weekend's dominant victory against the ViQueens in Minnesota) they can hold their own against any team. Which will show up today?

LATE EDIT: The Packers will NOT have WR Christian Watson available; TE Luke Musgrave is, albeit limited given his recent injury status. There may in fact be 7 wideouts active today, not including the tight ends. (And, hey, what about recently-activated practice squad player WR Bo Melton setting a record in last week's game? Wow.) RB Aaron Jones will have to play a key role in keeping Chicago's top-rated run defense from shutting down that aspect of the game. Unfortunately, RB A. J. Dillon is not active today due to a stinger he sustained in the game against Minnesota so RB Emanuel Wilson was activated off the practice squad. He had actually been performing well before a shoulder injury sidelined him.

On defense, Jaire Alexander is coming off his 1-game suspension and, by all accounts, was perhaps a bit humbled by that experience. He may take out his angst on Chicago's top receiver, D. J. Moore. That would be perfectly appropriate. And helpful. LB De'Vondre Campbell will be active today and that should also help, as long as defensive coordinator Joe Barry doesn't ask him to cover receivers.

The main task for the Packers defense will be keeping Chicago QB Justin Fields from shredding them with his legs. He has admittedly been throwing better in recent games, but if the defense can make him hold the ball (statistically, he holds the ball longer than any other QB) and contain him, they could get sacks and, even better, generate some turnovers. But they better keep Fields from running free or they will be in trouble and the game will be closer than it should otherwise be.

We're not concerned about the Packers offense given what they have demonstrated lately. Love was named the NFC Offensive Player of the Week for his game against the Vikes. He has arrived, arguably, as a legitimate top 5 QB at this point. Not bad for his first season as the starter.

Granted, Chicago's defense is actually playing as well or better than any defense in the league lately, not only against the run but in terms of interceptions. They have been a take-away factory. Now, supposedly their top d-back is out today (remains to be seen) which will help. But with the plethora of weapons the Packers have on offense, and if the O-line can hold up against a good defensive front and create a running lane once in a while, Green Bay should put up points.

The question, as unfortunately we have asked every game this season, is what the defense and special teams will do. Which D will show up today? Will they cover? Will they tackle? Will they keep Fields in check? Will special teams minimize breakdowns and will K Anders Carlson be perfect in his PATs during this game (he has missed 5 this season...not good).

The Prediction

The oddsmakers have the Packers favored by 3 points, the home field advantage. Some are surprised it's not more than that. But, OK, it's seen going in as a close game with the Packers sitting at 8-8 and Da Bearz at 7-9. Got it.

The Packers are playing for the playoffs: win and they're in (but they can still get in, with help, even with a loss). Chicago is playing to be the spoiler, as Detroit was in the final game of last season. They are also playing, perhaps, for Fields' career in Chicago and the survivability of the coaching staff. They already have the number 1 pick in the upcoming NFL Draft, so not much too lose at least in terms of the franchise regardless of whether they win or lose today.

Normally at this time of year, we also start to factor in the weather and how it may impact the game. Here's the current forecast:

  • Expected Temperature: Low-30s
  • Showers: <10% chance of precipitation
  • Wind: 8 mph westerly
So, cold, yes, but snow or rain and winds should not be a factor.

Now, I did request predictions from some of our buddies about today. Gonzo (a loyal Packers fan and PackerFansUnited reader in AZ) says 27-24 Packers. Our token Bearz fans friends are split. Billy Da Bearz Fan says it will be Da Bearz on top 21-19. Stan the Realistic Bearz Fans says, while he hopes it would be 40-0 Bearz, he sees the game going in the Packers favor 28-24.

We're calling it Packers 31 - Bearz 24.

Go Pack Go!!!