31

December

Packers vs. Lions Preview: 5 Things to Watch

Packers QB Matt Flynn has a perfect stage in Week 17 for his looming free agent status.

The Green Bay Packers (14-1) and Detroit Lions (10-5) face off in Week 17 of the NFL season Sunday.

The basics 

When: 12:00 CST, Sunday, January 1, 2012.

Where: Lambeau Field, Green Bay, WI.

TV: FOX; Thom Brennaman and Brian Billick with the call, Laura Okmin on the sidelines.

Radio: 620 AM WTMJ (Milwaukee); Packers Radio Network; NFL Sunday Drive.

Series: Packers lead, 92-65-7 (Packers won last regular season game, 27-17, on Nov. 24, 2011 at Ford Field.)

Five things to watch

1. Money to be made

Packers coach Mike McCarthy said Friday that he wants all three quarterbacks to play on Sunday, but the middle man in the group has a golden opportunity to bump up his price tag this summer. Matt Flynn, the Packers backup quarterback and a free agent after the season, will likely see the majority of the snaps against the Lions. Another solid performance on the big stage may propel a quarterback-needy team to give Flynn the opportunity to start for their franchise—and the money that goes with it—next season.

2. Who needs receivers?

The Packers offense may be one of the most receiver-dependent outfits in the NFL, but they’ll be down two at that position on Sunday. Both Greg Jennings (knee) and Randall Cobb (groin) were ruled out this week by McCarthy. Their absence should mean an increase in snaps for the Packers’ four tight ends, and more specifically, rookies D.J. Williams and Ryan Taylor.  Expect the two first-year players to log career highs in snaps and receptions on Sunday.

3. Clifton’s return

Packers left tackle Chad Clifton has played in some big games during his career, but Sunday’s tilt with the Lions might rank near the top. While the game alone has little overall meaning, how Clifton performs may influence whether or not he can play again in the NFL. The Packers get one chance to see him live before the playoffs begin, and if they don’t like what they see from him, McCarthy may have to go with with Marshall Newhouse as his starting left tackle in the postseason. It wouldn’t be overly surprising if Clifton wasn’t the same guy he was before the torn hamstring, as he’s 35 years old and in his 12th season in the NFL. A dud of a performance or set back with the injury could signal the end of Clifton’s NFL career.

23

October

Packers vs. Vikings: 5 Things to Watch

The Minnesota Vikings (1-5) will start rookie quarterback Christian Ponder Sunday when they take on the undefeated Green Bay Packers (6-0) at the Metrodome.

The basics 

When: 3:15 CDT; Sunday, Oct. 23, 2011.

Where: Mall of America Field at the Metrodome; Minneapolis, MN.

TV: FOX; Thom Brennaman and Troy Aikman with the call, Pam Oliver on the sidelines.

Radio: 620 AM WTMJ (Milwaukee), Packers Radio Network, Westwood One, NFL Sunday Drive (Sirius Radio).

Series: Packers lead, 51-48-1 (Packers won the last regular season game, 31-3, in Minnesota on Nov. 21, 2010).

Five things to watch

1. A new era in Minnesota

The Vikings will be ushering in a new era at quarterback Sunday, as rookie Christian Ponder makes his first NFL start in place of veteran Donovan McNabb. Say what you want about Tarvaris Jackson, but Ponder represents the Vikings first attempt at developing a young quarterback since Daunte Culpepper in 2002. It’s been nothing but stop-gap options for Minnesota since Culpepper was traded to the Miami Dolphins before the 2006 season. At 6-2, 230 pounds, Ponder is a smart, athletic quarterback whom the Vikings liked enough to draft with the 12th overall pick last April. The majority of draft pundits said that the pick was a reach for Minnesota. But the Vikings absolutely needed to address the quarterback position and most of those same draft pundits called Ponder the most ready quarterback in the draft to play right away. While starting Ponder for the first time against the defending Super Bowl champions probably wasn’t how the Vikings envisioned their quarterback situation shaking out in 2011, McNabb simply didn’t play well enough to continue keeping Ponder on the bench. Starting Ponder is what the fans wanted. They got it. The Ponder era begins Sunday.

2. His toughest test

Packers second-year tackle Marshall Newhouse has taken on each and every challenge put in front of him this season, but he faces his toughest test of 2011 Sunday in Minnesota. Will he be up to the task?

16

October

Packers vs. Rams Preview: 5 Things to Watch

Second-year quarterback Sam Bradford leads the winless St. Louis Rams (0-4) into Lambeau Field to face Aaron Rodgers and the undefeated Green Bay Packers (5-0).

The basics 

When: 12:00 CDT; Sunday, Oct. 16, 2011

Where: Lambeau Field; Green Bay, WI

TV: FOX; Chris Myers and Tim Ryan with the call, Jamie Maggio on the sidelines

Radio: 620 AM WTMJ (Milwaukee), Packers Radio Network, Sports USA Radio, NFL Sunday Drive (Sirius Radio)

Series: Rams lead, 43-46-2 (Packers won the last regular season game, 36-17, in St. Louis on Sept. 27, 2009)

Five things to watch

1. Throwback jerseys, throwback offense?

For the second time in as many seasons, the Packers will wear their 1929 throwback jerseys. Some love the brown-on-blue-on-yellow-on-tan color combination, some hate it. But like the ’29 team that went 10-0-1 and won the NFL championship, the Packers could look to the ground game on Sunday to move the football against the Rams. While it won’t be Verne Lewellen or Johnny “Blood” McNally lining up in the backfield, the Packers will likely use a heavy dose of their own duo of James Starks and Ryan Grant against the NFL’s worst rushing defense. St. Louis is giving up almost 180 rushing yards a game, which is a ridiculously high number in this age of football and 34 yards higher than the next best team. The opposition is averaging 5.3 yards every time they run the ball on the Rams defense.

The Packers are still a passing team and will want to throw it plenty against the Rams banged up secondary, but there’s nothing wrong with attacking such an obvious weakness in an opponent. An effective running game could also take pressure off the Packers offensive tackles. Marshall Newhouse will be making his first career start at left tackle on Sunday, and Bryan Bulaga might have some rust after missing two games with a knee injury.

2. Mistake prone

Few teams in the NFL have self-destructed at such critical points like the Rams have this season. Take the Rams 17-10 home loss to the Redskins in Week 4, for example. St. Louis had nine penalties, seven sacks allowed and six dropped passes in that contest. St. Louis was probably lucky that Rex Grossman played so poorly, because the final easily could have been 35-7 or worse with the way the Rams played through the first three and a half quarters.

9

October

Packers vs. Falcons Preview: 5 Things to Watch

Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers (4-0) face off with Matt Ryan and the Atlanta Falcons (2-2) in Week 5 of the NFL season on Sunday Night Football.

The basics 

When: 7:20 CDT; Sunday, Oct. 9, 2011

Where: Georgia Dome; Atlanta, GA

TV: NBC; Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth with the call, Michelle Tafoya on the sidelines

Radio: 620 AM WTMJ (Milwaukee), Packers Radio Network, Westwood One Radio, NFL Sunday Drive (Sirius Radio)

Series: Packers lead, 14-13 (Falcons won the last regular season game, 20-17, in Atlanta on Nov. 28, 2010)

Five things to watch

1. The beat goes on

For being defending Super Bowl champions and one of just two 4-0 teams left in the NFL, Packers fans sure find ways to look upon the team pessimistically. Yes, the defense has been shaky and needs to improve. But sit back and enjoy what you’re seeing on the offensive side of the ball, because it’s been one of the best starts to a season in Packers’ history. Where to start? The Packers are No. 1 in the NFL in scoring with 149 points (37.0/game), which is also the most points the team has ever scored through four games. They are on pace for a record 592 points. Sunday’s 49 points, coupled with the 42 points in Week 1, marked the first time in franchise history that the Packers have ever scored 40 or more points twice in the first four weeks. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers is first in the NFL in passer rating (124.6) and completion percentage (73.0), and each would be NFL records if he continued that pace. He’s second in passing touchdowns (12) and yards per attempt (9.40). If Rodgers stayed on this pace through 16 games, he would throw for 5,300 yards and 48 touchdowns, which would shatter the franchise records of 4,458 (Lynn Dickey, 1983) and 39 (Brett Favre, 1996). That’s a lot of numbers to throw at you, but there needs to be an appreciation level for what the offense is doing in 2011. And just think; they face a defense on Sunday night that made just two additions (Ray Edwards, Kelvin Hayden) and have really struggled at times this season. The Packers offense has earned the spotlight of the entire league, and they’ll get another chance in primetime to show what kind of force they can be in 2011. (Stats courtesy of Packers.com)

2

October

Packers vs. Broncos Preview: 5 Things to Watch

Jonathan Daniel, Getty Images

The Green Bay Packers (3-0) and Denver Broncos (1-2) face off in Week 4 of the NFL season Sunday.

The basics 

When: 3:15 CST, Sunday, Oct. 2, 2011

Where: Lambeau Field, Green Bay, WI

TV: CBS, Jim Nantz and Phil Simms with the call

Radio: 620 AM WTMJ (Milwaukee); Packers Radio Network; Siruis Satellite Radio (Ch. 91)

Series: Packers lead, 6-5-1 (Packers won last regular season meeting, 19-13 (OT), on Oct. 29, 2007 at Denver.)

Five things to watch

A New House on the right side

With Bryan Bulaga on the sidelines this week recovering from an ankle and knee injury, second-year tackle Marshall Newhouse will make his first career NFL start. Remember, this is a guy who was inactive for every game he was healthy during his rookie year. But when Bulaga went down in Chicago, the Packers offense didn’t back off or change the gameplan. As we’ve seen so many times in the past two season, the beat simply went on for the Packers after an injury at an important position.

Still, you’d have to expect the Broncos to test Newhouse early and often, and they have the horses to do it. Aaron Rodgers compared Elvis Dumervil—who is still questionable for Sunday—to pass rushers like Robert Mathis and Dwight Freeney, and if Newhouse isn’t faced with him, then he’ll likely get rookie Von Miller. The Broncos’ No. 2 overall pick in April has impressed with his first step and natural pass rushing skills. Newhouse passed his first test last Sunday, but he gets a whole new challenge against the Broncos.

Rodgers vs. the blitz

Broncos defensive coordinator Dennis Allen has blitzed as much as any defensive coordinator in football through three games. That’s not surprising considering he came to Denver after serving three years under Gregg Williams in New Orleans as the secondary coach, but it’ll be interesting to see how Allen attacks the Packers offense. Williams went after Aaron Rodgers early in Week 1, and the Packers quarterback responded with three first quarter touchdown passes and a 158.3 rating after 15 minutes of football.

That isn’t surprising either, as Rodgers has been the best passer in the NFL against the blitz since taking over in 2008. He can recognize blitz looks in his pre-snap reads and will hit the hot appropriate hot read before the blitz gets home. Will Allen trust the stat sheet and tone down his blitzes? Or will he stick to what he’s shown through three weeks?