Category Archives: Schedule

1

December

Around the NFC North: Bears Hanging in, Lions’ Attitude, Vikings Irrelevent

Caleb Hanie takes over for Jay Cutler in Chicago.

For a while, it looked like the NFC North might send the Packers, Bears and Lions to the playoffs. There’s a chance that still could happen, but it’s a longshot. With the Packers cruising, the Bears and Lions have some work to do if they want to grab a wild card slot.

Meanwhile, the Minnesota Vikings are holding down the bottom of the division while trying to get a new stadium.

It’s time for a trip around the NFC North.

Chicago Bears

Remaining schedule: Chiefs, at Broncos, Seahawks, at Packers, at Vikings.

Biggest issue: Making adjustments. Jay Cutler is out for at least the rest of the regular season, leaving Caleb Hanie to try and lead the Bears to the playoffs.

Analysis: The challenge the Bears face is actually twofold: Is Hanie capable of taking the Bears to the playoffs and is offensive coordinator Mike Martz capable of adjusting his gameplan to maximize Hanie’s strengths and mask his weaknesses?

Hanie was bad last Sunday against the Raiders, but Martz’s gameplan was worse. You know how Mike McCarthy refuses to adjust his gameplan when an offensive lineman goes down, even if the backup lineman is struggling? Martz is the same way, only he is refusing to adjust to a backup quarterback. There’s a big difference between a backup offensive lineman and a backup quarterback.

The Bears have Matt Forte, a great defense and dangerous special teams. They’re more than capable of making the playoffs if Martz does a better job adjusting his offense to the reality of having a backup quarterback instead of Cutler.

Prediction: 10-6. Even if Martz keeps his head buried in the sand, the soft schedule and the aforementioned defense, special teams and Forte result in another playoff berth for the Bears.

Detroit Lions

Remaining schedule: at Saints, Vikings, at Raiders, Chargers, at Packers.

Biggest issue: Attitude. It’s not often you want a football team to relax a little bit, but head coach Jim Schwartz and the Lions need to chill out.

Analysis: When the Lions were rolling early this season, their swagger and bravado appeared to represent a new era of toughness in Motown. No longer were the Lions the doormat of the NFL.

24

November

Packers vs. Lions: 5 Instant Observations from Green Bay’s 27-15 Win over Detroit

Aaron Rodgers rebounded from a slow start, James Jones caught his fifth touchdown pass and the defense played arguably its finest game of 2011 season as the Green Bay Packers took down the Detroit Lions, 27-15, on Thursday at Ford Field.

Here are five observations from the game:

1. Defense states their case

On a day in which the Packers lost Desmond Bishop, A.J. Hawk and Erik Walden at various times, the defense may have played their best game of the 2011 season. Despite giving up over 400 total yards again, the Packers intercepted Matthew Stafford three times and held a shutout into the fourth quarter against an explosive offense on the road. Calvin Johnson, one of the NFL’s best receivers, was held to just four catches for 49 yards and a meaningless garbage time touchdown. Backup inside linebackers D.J. Smith and Robert Francois played surprisingly well in emergency duty. Considering everything involved on Thursday, you could make a strong case this was the Packers most impressive defensive performance of 2011.

2. Suh’s stomp changes game

Terry McAulay’s officiating crew were bad for both sides on Thursday, but they absolutely got it right when they ejected Ndamukong Suh in the third quarter. Not only did he stomp Evan Dietrich-Smith’s arm, but Suh also banged Dietrich-Smith’s head off the ground multiple times before the stomp. There’s simply no place for that kind of behavior in football, and Suh deserves to sit a couple of games, especially considering his history. Luckily for the Packers, Suh’s dirty play gave them a new set of downs at the Lions’ 1-yard-line, and John Kuhn promptly turned the break into a 14-0 lead 9:06 left in the third quarter. It wasn’t the decicing factor in the game, but Suh’s ejection and penalty turned the tides in what was a close contest at that juncture.

3. Rodgers rebounds

Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers started slow on Thursday, but the Lions were unable to hold him down for a full four quarters. After being held under 100 yards passing and failing to convert a third down in the first half, the NFL’s best signal caller caught fire in the second half and finished with another stat line that Packers’ fans have come to expect. By the time the game was over, Rodgers had completed 22 of 32 passes for 307 yards and two scores, including a 65-yard strike to James Jones that put the Packers up 21 points. His 120.2 passer rating extended his NFL record streak for games over 110.0 passer rating to 11 straight. Rodgers was especially deadly on back shoulder throws in the second half. Anytime the Packers needed a big play, he found a receiver being covered by a corner with his back to the play. At that point, it’s stealing for Rodgers and this group of receivers.

10

November

Green Bay Packers Schedule: Running the Gauntlet

When the NFL schedule was first released back in April, the upcoming three games for the Green Bay Packers were of important interest to head coach Mike McCarthy. Because starting on Monday Night Football against the Minnesota Vikings, the Packers will play three games in just 11 days.

On November 14th, Green Bay hosts Minnesota at Lambeau Field. The following Sunday (November 20th), the Tampa Bay Buccaneers travel to the frozen tundra, and on November 24th, the Packers take on the Detroit Lions in their annual Thanksgiving Day massacre- I mean, showdown.

This means that following the Vikings game, the Packers will be on short weeks to prepare and rest for each subsequent matchup.

But it gets better.

All three teams are conference opponents, meaning the outcomes will be significant in determining playoff rankings. On top of that, two of the three games are division opponents, which obviously has a direct affect on the Packers’ standing in the NFC North title race.

After facing off with the Minnesota Vikings a mere three weeks ago, Green Bay will be taking their second and final shot at the rebuilding team for the season. Last time they helped rookie quarterback Christian Ponder make a laudable debut for the purple and gold, eking out just a 33-27 win at the “Humpty Dump.”

This time, the Packers won’t have to deal with the crowd noise, so a win should be well within reach.

Next come the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. They are the final NFC South opponent to take on the Green Bay Packers this season, and they are all that stand in the way of Aaron Rodgers and company sweeping that division. (The Packers already beat the New Orleans Saints, Carolina Panthers, and Atlanta Falcons.)

It will also mark the last NFC North team that the Bucs will face, having already lost to the Lions and Bears, but defeating the Vikings.  That said, I’m sure the Packers won’t forget how Josh Freeman and his creamsicle uniform shocked them for a 38-28 loss back in November of 2009.

Finally, Green Bay will travel to Ford Field to finish their three-game gauntlet against the Detroit Lions.

The Lions were the only undefeated team to run alongside the Packers this year until the San Francisco 49ers derailed them in Week 6. Sitting just two games behind the division lead, this matchup could very easily play a determining factor in who takes the NFC North in 2011.

30

October

Packers: Answering 5 Bye Week Questions on the Defense, Schedule

The Green Bay Packers are undefeated at 7-0, but they still have question marks as they finish up their bye in Week 8. Let’s breakdown some of the most-asked questions I’ve seen about the Packers during the bye. You know you need your fix on this Packers-less Sunday, anyway.

Is there reason to think the defense can improve during the last 9 games?

One thing we know is that any improvement from the Packers defense will have to come from within. Guys like Chris Harris have been released in recent weeks, but Ted Thompson doesn’t typically bite on those kind of re-treads from other teams. So, the question becomes: Can this defense, as it looks now, improve over the next couple of months?

There’s definitely reason to think so. Tramon Williams is finally getting healthy, and we finally saw him bumping at the line against the Vikings and being more physical. That’s a big part of his game that was lost when he hurt his shoulder. A week off can only help that injury. Same goes for Clay Matthews, Charles Woodson, Sam Shields and Morgan Burnett, each of which have dealt with dings early on. Frank Zombo should return. Mike Neal, who we’ll address next, could be back. Healthy ammunition is always dangerous for a defensive gunner like Dom Capers.

But to reach their 2010 level, the Packers are going to need a player or two to step up that isn’t one of the stars. Last season, it was Shields. Someone along the defensive line, like Jarius Wynn or C.J. Wilson might be a candidate. Possibly Neal if he returns soon. Vic So’oto could potentially provide something in the pass rush. Either way, someone needs to emerge as a standout playing next to the established stars.

What’s the deal with DE Mike Neal? Will he play in 2011?

The first week after the bye was always the target date for Neal, but that looks highly unlikely now. His rehab is behind schedule, and you get the feeling that Neal might not make a big contribution this season. Regardless of when he can start practicing again, the Packers are going to take his comeback slow. It’s going to take him awhile to work his way back into the rotation.

28

October

The Contenders: Reviewing the Packers Competition for the Top Seed in the NFC

Could Alex Smith meet Aaron Rodgers in the NFC Championship game?

The Green Bay Packers haven’t hosted a playoff game at Lambeau Field since losing to the Giants in the NFC Championship on Jan. 20, 2008. After a 7-0 start, the Packers have some people whispering about going undefeated.

Barring injury, the Packers are more talented than any of their remaining opponents. But can they go undefeated? That’s a tall task.

The Packers toughest tests will come after the bye when they travel to San Diego, on Thanksgiving against the Lions, at the Giants and at home against the Bears and Lions.

Lets say the Packers end up 13-3. Would that be good enough for the No. 1 seed in the NFC and homefield throughout the playoffs? I think so. The Saints could give the Packers a run, but Green Bay already has the tiebreaker advantage. San Franscisco and Detroit are still…well, San Francico and Detroit. Both are improved, but not at the Packers’ level. The Giants only have two losses, but they face a brutal schedule down the stretch.

Packers fans should plan on skipping their January house payment. There’s a good chance that money would be better spent on NFC Championship game tickets at Lambeau.

49ers
Record: 5-1
Projected finish: 12-4
Even if you don’t think the 49ers are for real, they still could end up 12-4. I guess it depends how you define for real. If for real means beating the mediocre and bad teams on your schedule, the 49ers are for real. If it means rising up and winning a game or two that you’re not supposed to, I’m not sure the 49ers qualify.

Assuming the 49ers just beat the teams they’re supposed to, they’ll get wins over Cleveland, Washington, Arizona (2), St. Louis (2), and Seattle. According to my Morrison County math, that’s 12-4.

Could the 49ers get the No. 2 seed in the NFC? The Aaron Rodgers-Alex Smith-Mike McCarthy storyline would make for an intriguing NFC championship.

Saints
Record: 5-2
Projected finish: 12-4
How tough is the rest of the Saints schedule? Depends what you think of Atlanta. The Saints play them twice. How about Detroit and Tampa Bay? The Saints play both at home. Will Tennessee be any good by week 14? The Saints play the Titans on the road. The Saints also travel to St. Louis and Minnesota, host the Giants and finish with Carolina at home.

17

October

Packers vs. Rams: 5 Observations from Green Bay’s 24-3 Win over St. Louis

Photo: Mark Hoffman, Journal Sentinel

Aaron Rodgers threw three first half touchdowns, including strikes of 93 and 35 yards, and the Packers (6-0) defense made enough plays to keep the Rams out of the end zone as Green Bay rolled to a 24-3 win over the still winless Rams (0-5).

Here are five observations from the game:

1. Quick start

For the third time this season, the Packers scored 24 points in the first half of a game. For a team that has occasionally gotten off to slow starts in the past, that’s an encouraging sign. The Packers got a field goal from Mason Crosby—his franchise record-tying 17th straight made kick—on their first possession in the first quarter. After a punt on the next series, the Packers scored touchdowns on three straight possessions to essentially put the deflated Rams away. The first score came following James Starks’ 15-yard run on a fourth-and-1 play. Aaron Rodgers’ run-action fake gave him all day as he rolled to his left, and James Jones worked his way back from the righthand of the formation to haul in Rodgers’ perfectly thrown pass in the end zone. In a wind that gave both special teams units problems, Rodgers’ throw couldn’t have been placed any better.

Rams punter Donnie Jones pinned the Packers at the 7-yard-line to begin their next drive, but Jordy Nelson’s perfectly ran sluggo route on former Packers Al Harris allowed him to get behind the Rams defense for a 93-yard score. Harris bit hard on Rodgers’ pump, but there’s no doubting that Nelson has proven to be a home run hitter through six games in 2011. He has 20 catches for 409 yards and four scores, with three of the touchdowns coming from 50 yards or further out.

Rodgers’ final touchdown pass, this time to Donald Driver, capped an 11-play, 77 yard drive that gave the Packers a 24-point lead with under two minutes left in the first half. Facing a second-and-goal, Rodgers again rolled to his left, and Driver made a veteran move to get space in the end zone for a sidearm throw from Rodgers. At that point, Rodgers had 234 yards passing and three scores for a perfect 158.3 rating. Any scoreline from the Packers seemed attainable with the way the offense was clicking to start the game. It probably goes without saying, but the Packers will be a tough out if they continue to play that well to begin games.

6

August

Playing the Over/Under Odds on NFL Season Win Totals: Packers at 11.5

Over/Under Odds on 2011 NFL Team WinsThe MGM Grand in Las Vegas took the plunge and posted Over/Under NFL season win numbers earlier this week. the Packers open at 11.5  I always like to jump on these numbers ASAP, before Vegas makes necessary adjustments.

If you don’t like to throw your money away by trying to outsmart the oddsmakers, season win totals always make for some good discussion. Lets take a look at each team’s over/under and try to figure out a couple of strong plays.

AFC EastJets 10
Besides San Diego and New Orleans, the Jets are the only team with a double-digit total that I would feel comfortable betting the over. With the exception of both New England contests and road tests at Baltimore and Philadelphia, their schedule is filled with winnable games.

Patriots 11.5
Does New England have the pass rush to warrant betting the over? It’s a big number and not a good value bet, but betting against New England probably doesn’t have much value either. I’m staying away.

Bills 5
If Buffalo can manage to avoid starting 0-3 at Kansas City and home against Oakland and New England, they should manage to reach six wins…barley.

Dolphins 8
There’s no way you can find eight wins on the Dolphins’ schedule. Hammer the under.

AFC North

Steelers  11
If the Steelers can survive the first portion of their schedule, they end with Cincinnati, Cleveland, San Francisco, St. Louis and Cleveland. It’s still going to be tough to get to 12 wins, though. Stay away.

Ravens 11
My conservative nature says stay away, but Baltimore has a shot to win 12 games with Cincinnati on the schedule twice and non-conference games against the entire NFC West, right? But 12 is still a big number, and my conservative nature wins. Stay away.

Browns 6.5
Just when you think the Brows are cruising to seven wins and money in your pocket with an over bet, they play the Steelers and Ravens four times in the season’s final five weeks. If they can win one of those games, and beat Arizona in Week 15, they’ll go over. I’m not convinced that will happen, so I’m staying away.

Bengals 7.5
The Bengals are terrible. Hammer the under.

AFC South