4

January

Packers Beer Mug Perspective: Is this a Super Bowl team?

Can the Packers win Super Bowl XLVII?

Can the Packers win Super Bowl XLVII?

The 2012 season has been a roller-coaster for the Green Bay Packers.

From the early-season “Fail mary” in Seattle to the epic collapse in Indianapolis, the Packers have battled back to put themselves in contention for a second Super Bowl in three years. But is this team really Super Bowl-caliber?

The last time the Packers won the Super Bowl, they were decimated by injuries but Aaron Rodgers carried the team on his back all the way to Super Bowl XLV in Dallas. It was a season to remember, and there are certainly some similarities between the 2010 Packers and this 2012 team.

In the Packers’ first preseason game, starting middle linebacker Desmond Bishop was lost for the season. After Clay Matthews, Bishop may be the Packers’ best defensive player. Second-year player D.J. Smith replaced Bishop in the starting lineup, but he suffered a season-ending injury in week six at Houston.

In total, the 2012 Packers have eight players on injured reserve, including this year’s first-round pick Nick Perry, starting right tackle Bryan Bulaga and starting running back Cedric Benson. Needless to say, the injury bug bit the Packers hard this season.

But through it all, the Packers won the division and played their way to the No. 3 seed in the NFC.

And now, this team is the healthiest its been since the regular season kicked off. Charles Woodson will return to the field this week after suffering a broken collarbone Oct. 21 in St. Louis. Randall Cobb will be back in the lineup as well, giving the Packers their full corps of wide receivers since week four.

Vegas has the Packers at 8/1 odds to win the Super Bowl. They have the third-best odds in the NFC, behind the San Francisco 49ers and Atlanta Falcons. The Denver Broncos and New England Patriots currently have the best odds to win the Super Bowl.

Is this Packers team capable of winning Super Bowl XLVII?

In the format of the Packers Beer Mug Perspective, let’s look at the issue from both angles, then determine whether our mug is really “half full” or “half empty.”

THE MUG IS HALF FULL

While this team isn’t at full strength by any means, the team that takes the field Saturday night will be arguably the most talented 46-man roster the Packers have put on the field all season.

2

January

Packers News: Worthy out for season, Woodson set to return

Packers DL Jerel Worthy

Packers DL Jerel Worthy

Packers defensive end Jerel Worthy suffered a significant knee injury against the Minnesota Vikings and will not play in the postseason.

Worthy left the locker room Sunday wearing a full leg brace and relying on crutches. The extent of his injury has not yet been released.

The Packers selected Worthy with the No. 51 overall pick in last April’s draft and played in 14 games as a rookie. Worthy tied for sixth on the team with 2.5 sacks in the regular season.

Without Worthy in the mix, the Packers will rely on their normal starting three-man line consisting of B.J. Raji, Ryan Pickett and C.J. Wilson. Mike Neal and rookie Mike Daniels will be the team’s top reserves moving forward. Neal has proved to be effective as a pass rusher, racking up 4.5 sacks this season, while Daniels has been a pleasant surprise as well.

Jordan Miller, a recent call-up from the practice squad rounds out the Packers’ six defensive linemen on the current roster.

Although Worthy will not play again this season, veteran defensive back Charles Woodson appears set to return against the Vikings this week in the playoffs. Woodson was medically cleared to return Jan. 1 after suffering a broken collarbone Oct. 21 against the St. Louis Rams.

Prior to getting injured, Woodson played strong safety in the Packers’ base 3-4 defense and bumped inside to slot cornerback in the team’s nickel formation. But since Woodson has been out, rookie Casey Hayward has risen to the occasion and could be this year’s NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year.

Now, with Woodson set to return, it’s unlikely the Packers would take Hayward off the field. This could mean Woodson’s role would primarily be the second safety alongside Morgan Burnett, replacing rookie Jerron McMillian and M.D. Jennings.

Although Woodson isn’t the same, dynamic playmaker he once was, getting him back on the field will certainly be a nice boost for the defense.

Randall Cobb also returned to practice on Tuesday and says he will be “100 percent” for Saturday night’s playoff game against Minnesota. Barring any setbacks, the Packers will have Cobb, Greg Jennings, Jordy Nelson, James Jones and Jermichael Finley on the field together for the first time since week one.

26

December

Playoff Scenarios: Who will the Packers see in the NFC?

The Packers are playing well right now. Are they the best team in the NFC?

The Packers are playing well right now. Are they the best team in the NFC?

The Packers have already punched their ticket to the playoffs. And by defeating the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday, the Packers would be the No. 2 seed, earning a first-round bye.

My eyes tell me that the Packers are a better team than the Vikings. And a motivated team heading to Minnesota with a first-round bye on the line should should show up ready to play.

So when looking at the playoff picture, let’s assume the Packers get the win and the No. 2 seed.

Beyond where the Packers are ultimately seeded, there’s a lot still to be determined in the NFC.

Will it be the Washington Redskins or the Dallas Cowboys as the NFC East Champions? Will the Vikings or Bears sneak into the playoffs? Are the New York Giants really done?

There is a handful of teams competing for two playoff spots, so what should you watch for around the NFL after the Packers play on Sunday? Let’s take a closer look at the potential NFC playoff field.

1) Who will win the NFC West?

The 49ers play at home against the 5-10 Arizona Cardinals this week, and the Seahawks will host the 7-7-1 St. Louis Rams. If the 49ers win, they’re the NFC West champions and would have a home playoff game.

If the 49ers lose and the Seahawks win, then Seattle is the division champions, and the 49ers would be playing on the road on wild card weekend.

What should happen: San Francisco should win the division.

Although the 49ers have been struggling, they should win easily against the hopeless Arizona Cardinals. It would take a late Christmas miracle for Arizona to beat the 49ers on the road. And even if the Seahawks beat the Rams, San Francisco would still have a better record.

Now we have five of six playoff teams set. Under this scenario, the Falcons and Packers would have first-round byes, the 49ers would be the No. 3 seed, and the NFC East champion–Washington or Dallas–would be the No. 4 seed, hosting the Seattle Seahawks.

2) Cowboys or Redskins in the NFC East?

Whoever wins Sunday night’s showdown between the Dallas Cowboys or the Washington Redskins will be the No. 4 seed in the NFC.

20

December

Packers News: James Starks hopes to return for playoffs

Packers RB James Starks

Packers RB James Starks

When James Starks was hit in the knee by Vikings cornerback Josh Robinson late in the Packers’ Dec. 2 win at Lambeau Field, the thought was that his season would be over.

After all, the third-year running back has suffered multiple injuries dating back to his collegiate days at Buffalo. He exploded onto the scene late in the 2010 season and became the Packers’ lead back during their run to Super Bowl XLV.

His injury against the Vikings was thought to be a huge blow to a running game that had been struggling throughout the majority of the season.

But now, according to Tyler Dunne of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, it appears the Packers are aiming to bring Starks back for the playoffs.

“It’s a lot better,” Starks said. “Just how I was bent, when you look at it, it looked a lot worse. So I just thank God for being able to possibly come back and do well. So no real, serious bad injuries.”

With Starks out of the lineup the past couple weeks, the Packers have employed a three-man rotation at running back with Alex Green, DuJuan Harris and Ryan Grant. In two games without Starks, Green has carried the ball a team-high 26 times, Harris 12 and Grant nine.

Starks had taken over as the team’s primary ball carrier Nov. 11 against the Arizona Cardinals.

The running game has been steadily improving over the course of the season. The return of Starks to the backfield rotation would figure to boost the offense even more. Head coach Mike McCarthy said there was always hope Starks would return.

“Starks’ situation is to hopefully get him back for the playoffs. That was a decision that was made a few weeks ago.”

By no means is it a guarantee that Starks will return for the postseason, but today’s news is certainly a good sign for the Packers.

The Packers could be short-handed in the backfield on Sunday, as Green may be forced to sit out after suffering a concussion against the Bears. If Green is out, the Packers will rely on Harris, Grant and fullback John Kuhn to shoulder the load in the ground game.

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Follow @MJEversoll

Marques is a Journalism student, serving as the Sports Editor of UW-Green Bay\'s campus newspaper The Fourth Estate and a Packers writer at Jersey Al\'s AllGBP.com. Follow Marques on Twitter @MJEversoll.

19

December

Packers Film Study: B.J. Raji peaking late in the season

Packers DL B.J. Raji

Packers DL B.J. Raji

When looking at the box score of a given football game, it can be easy to overlook some of the unsung heroes.

Sometimes it’s the offensive line paving the way for a 100-yard rusher and going largely unnoticed. Other times it’s a cornerback shutting down an opposing receiver, only to be ignored because he never got his hands on the ball.

On Sunday, defensive tackle B.J. Raji may have been the best player on the field for the Packers.

From his pick-six that sent the Packers to Super Bowl XLV in 2010 to his dominant performance on Sunday, it sure seems like Raji enjoys playing in the Windy City. Raji played what was likely his best game of the season with the NFC North championship on the line.

Pro Football Focus credited Raji with a +4.4 grade against the Bears–his best PFF grade since the NFC Championship during the 2010 season.

The box score only gives Raji credit for one solo tackle. No sacks, no forced fumbles. Just one tackle.

But looking beyond the numbers and watching the tape, it’s impossible to ignore Raji’s impact on Sunday’s win over the Bears.

Let’s take a look at four plays this past Sunday in which Raji made his presence felt.

1) Situation: 2nd and 9, 5:09 remaining – Q1

Breakdown: Raji lines up at right defensive end alongside Clay Matthews. Left guard James Brown is supposed to chip on Raji and block inside linebacker Brad Jones, but Raji blows the play up before even got started. Left tackle J’Marcus Webb is a split-second late getting to Raji.

Raji’s penetration single-handedly made this play, although Clay Matthews and Morgan Burnett were credited for the tackle in the box score. This was a drive-killer for the Bears, as they were ultimately forced to punt.

2) Situation: 2nd and 10, 1:05 remaining – Q1

Breakdown: Raji is lined up across from Bears right guard Gabe Carimi. As soon as the ball is snapped, Raji is in the backfield and the play is doomed.

Carimi is forced to lunge at Raji and is called for a 10-yard holding penalty. This play set up a 2nd-and-long situation for the Bears, and they didn’t score on the drive. Again, this is another play that won’t show up on the stat sheet, but it will certainly catch the eye of the coaching staff.

12

December

Packers-Bears: Brandon Marshall adds fuel to the fire

Bears WR Brandon Marshall

Bears WR Brandon Marshall

The Packers-Bears rivalry has been going on for 91 years. The Bears have won 92 of those games, the Packers have won 87, and they’ve played to six ties since the rivalry began in 1921.

When the Bears named Lovie Smith head coach in 2004, he clearly stated that his team’s No.1 goal would be to beat Green Bay.

But recently, the Packers have owned the rivalry. Green Bay has won seven of the past eight matchups, including a victory in the NFC Championship at Soldier Field in the 2010 season.

The most recent chapter of the longstanding rivalry was week two this year when the Packers dominated the Bears 23-10 at Lambeau Field. The offense was crisp, and the defense was stellar.

The Green Bay defense was tough against the run and the secondary silenced the Bears’ top receiver–Brandon Marshall.

Marshall caught just two passes for 24 yards in the first meeting. And after the game, Tramon Williams and Charles Woodson were vocal in their assessment of the Bears’ offense, and mainly, quarterback Jay Cutler.

“It’s the same old Jay,” Woodson said after the game. ”We don’t need luck, Jay will throw us the ball. Proof is in the pudding.”

Cutler, of course, publicly wished the Packers’ secondary “good luck” before the two teams met at Lambeau Field. It seems Cutler’s well wishes turned out well for the Packers, as cornerback Tramon Williams caught as many passes from Cutler as Marshall did–two.

And on Wednesday morning, it was clear that there was no love lost between Marshall and the Packers. Tyler Dunne, of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentiel, got the scoop from Marshall’s time at the podium.

To that comment, one might ask this question–who really cares who Marshall wants to give the credit to? Dom Capers dialed up the scheme, and the players made it happen. Williams shadowed Marshall for most of the night, and Capers opted to have safety help over the top with either Charles Woodson or Morgan Burnett.

Marshall is the Bears’ only true game-breaker on the perimeter, so what else is Capers supposed to do? From coaching to execution, the Packers did their job. Period.

Oh yeah, and Marshall dropped a wide open touchdown in the game as well. But anyways. What’s next?

4

December

Packers News: Starks may be out for season

Packers RB James Starks

Packers RB James Starks

Jason Wilde of ESPN Wisconsin is reporting that running back James Starks may be out for the season with a knee injury.

Starks has battled numerous injuries dating back to his college days at Buffalo. He was forced to sit out the Packers’ first five games of the 2012 season with a significant turf toe injury.

But since returning to the field, Starks has become a major part of the team’s backfield rotation. This week against the Minnesota Vikings, he led the team with 66 yards on 15 carries, including a pivotal 22-yard touchdown.

The injury occurred when Vikings cornerback Josh Robinson upended Starks, hitting him square in the right knee late in the fourth quarter. Starks was able to return to the game and carry the ball a few more times, but the injury is apparently more serious than was originally thought.

The exact injury is unknown, although it’s not believed to be an ACL injury. Still, the Packers are reportedly considering putting Starks on the injured reserve and using the roster spot on a healthy player for the playoff run.

If Starks’s season is indeed over, the Packers will rely on Alex Green, fullback John Kuhn and recent call-up DuJuan Harris to shoulder the load running the football.

Green and Starks have been splitting carries since starter Cedric Benson suffered a Lisfranc injury against the Indianapolis Colts earlier this season.

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Follow @MJEversoll

Marques is a Journalism student, serving as the Sports Editor of UW-Green Bay\'s campus newspaper The Fourth Estate and a Packers writer at Jersey Al\'s AllGBP.com. Follow Marques on Twitter @MJEversoll.

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