15

March

Around the NFC North: Making Fun of the Bears, Lions and Vikings

NFC North DivisionIt’s free agency time in the NFL, also known as the the perfect opportunity for Packers fans to take a nap for two weeks.

Sure, it’s been mildly entertaining trying to figure out if the Packers did, or did not, sign Steven Jackson. And it’s been somewhat amusing following Greg Jennings and his mysterious tweets as he navigates the free agency waters, possibly back to the Packers.

But none of those things bring as much joy to my heart as mocking and ridiculing the Packers NFC North opponents for their offseason signings, roster cuts and trades.

Minnesota Vikings
The Vikings traded Percy Harvin to Seattle for a first round draft pick and a couple other draft picks. They also cut veteran defensive back Antoine Winfield and resigned right tackle Phil Loadholt.

Isn’t it cute how Vikings general manager Rick Spielman is trying to act like Ted Thompson? Suddenly the Vikings are all about the draft and getting younger.

Let’s see how long Spielman is able to stick with this philosophy. Remember that the Vikings quarterback is Christian Ponder and owner Zygi Wilf has a new stadium opening in a couple years that he’ll want filled to capacity with drooling rubes in helga horns and goldilocks braids.

What if Ponder continues to stink and the Vikings take a step backward? Is Wilf patient enough to give Spielman enough of a leash and allow this draft and develop philosphy to take shape?

I doubt it.

You know what’s going to be awesome? Watching the Vikings spend the first-rounder they got for Harvin on the next Troy Williamson.

UPDATE: The Vikings signed Matt Cassel after I wrote this, so you know what else is going to be awesome? Hearing those drooling rubes in helga horns and goldilocks braids chanting Cassel’s name after Ponder goes 7-for-16 for 49 yards with two interceptions in the first half of Minnesota’s season opener.

Chicago Bears
The Bears signed left tackle Jermon Bushrod and tight end Martellus Bennett. The futures of Brian Urlacher and Israel Idonje remain up in the air.

Pro Football Focus ranked Bushrod 24th among left tackles who started at least 10 games at the position in 2012. Bushrod got a pass blocking rating of     -3.5. For comparison, the Packers Marshall Newhouse got a 5.2.

30

December

Packers at Vikings: Keys To The Game

Aaron Rodgers vs. Minnesota Vikings

Rodgers in a baseball cap and waving a celebratory towel would be a welcome sight on Sunday. Green Bay can clinch a playoff bye with a win

Here we are in week 17 and another season is nearly in the books.  The Green Bay Packers end their regular season schedule with a trip to Minnesota to face the Vikings.  A few years back, the NFL changed its schedule making such that the last week of the season would be a divisional game for all teams.  This was in the hopes that the games would be meaningful and teams wouldn’t rest slews of their starters in preparation for the postseason.

The NFL has gotten its wish this year and with this game.  Each team has something on the line.  The Vikings need to win to secure a playoff spot.  The Packers can clinch the second seed in the NFC with a win.  Should the Vikings win, the Packers can still gain the #2 seed with a San Francisco and a Seattle loss.

Last week’s format was a success so I’m going stick with a “Keys to the Game” theme.  Let’s see what will likely determine the outcome of tomorrow’s contest.

Vikings Running Back Adrian Peterson

I feel like a broken record with the thoughts I share about Peterson but given the season he is having, they bear some repeating.  According to ESPN, Peterson has 1,898 yards in 15 games.  102 yards shy of 2,000 yards, an accomplishment only six other running backs can claim.  Peterson is also 208 yards shy of the 28 year-old and all-time single-season rushing record set by Eric Dickerson in 1984.

Peterson is surely going to win a major award after this season.  Whether it’s the Comeback Player of the Year, Most Valuable Player award or Offensive MVP, Peterson deserves at least one of those.  I watched some of the tape of Peterson’s first game at Green Bay this season.   He is running as quickly and as hard as ever.  Many of the yards he picked up on long runs in that game came after contact.  Nowadays, we see more and more backs running out of bounds or diving to the ground before the big hit.  Peterson is a throwback and reminds me a lot of Walter Payton.

7

December

Around the NFC North in Week 14

Around the NFC North

Around the NFC North in week 14

For the first time this season, there are two divisional matchups in the NFC North.  The Chicago Bears travel to Minnesota to round out their season series against the Vikings.  Both of those teams are coming off of tough losses last week and cannot afford another in this game.

The Detroit Lions come to Lambeau Field where they haven’t logged a victory in over 20 years to take on the Green Bay Packers in the Sunday night football matchup.  Detroit suffered a gut-wrenching and last-second defeat at the hands of Andrew Luck and the Indianapolis Colts.  The Packers were the only victorious team in the North this past week.  The win helped them reclaim sole possession of first place in the divsion.

Here’s a sneak peak at each matchup and some storylines heading into the games.

Chicago Bears (8-4) at Minnesota Vikings (6-6)

The Bears are starting to feel the effects of their hard-fought season.  They learned that they will be without long-time veteran linebacker Brian Urlacher for at least the next three weeks due to a hamstring injury.  While Urlacher has been hampered by some bumps and bruises this season, there is no question the Bears defense is better with him on the field.

Chicago’s starting cornerback Tim Jennings was also injured in last week’s game vs. the Seattle Seahawks when he collided with another player and hurt his shoulder.  As of Tuesday, it was still not known how serious the injury was and more tests were expected later in the week to determine if there is any structural damage.  Any such news would mean Jennings will miss some time which would be a huge blow to the Bears’ secondary.  Jennings has been the team’s top defender this season and leads the team with eight interceptions.

The Vikings are also awaiting some news on the health of one of their star players, wide receiver Percy Harvin.  Harvin has missed the team’s last four games with an ankle injury and has battled health issues since coming into the league as a rookie in 2009.

Minnesota and Chicago are both in need of a win to make a strong run at the postseason.  The Bears and Packers have the same record at 8-4 but Green Bay holds the tie-breaker, having beaten Chicago head-to-head earlier this season.  The Vikings dropped to .500 and are trying to stay alive in the Wild Card race with an outside chance at a division win.

1

December

Minnesota Vikings at Green Bay Packers Key Matchups

Jordy Nelson scores against the Minnesota Vikings

The Packers are hoping to see this familiar scene on Sunday versus the Vikings

The Minnesota Vikings visit Lambeau Field and face the Green Bay Packers for just the first time this season.  The two teams will square off again in week 17 in Minnesota.  Both teams are coming off of a big loss and are fighting to keep postseason hopes alive.

The Packers were handed their worst loss in years at the hands of the New York football Giants while the Vikings were soundly defeated by the first-place Chicago Bears.  Both teams will likely be fired up and looking to get back on track.  At least they should be in a divisional game this late in the season.

Let’s take a look at the key matchups that will manifest themselves this Sunday.

Vikings Defensive Line vs. Packers Offensive Line

In the number one slot is the matchup most critical to Green Bay’s success this week.  As is likely to be the case for the rest of this season, the Packers have to find a way to protect Aaron Rodgers and start winning their matchups up front.

Minnesota features Pro Bowl defensive end Jared Allen, who will square up on Packers left tackle Marshall Newhouse.  Last season, Allen had three total sacks on Rodgers in the two games and that was when the Green Bay offensive line was playing better than they are now.  Allen is athletic and can get after the ball so Rodgers and the offense need to be mindful of where he is at all times.

My guess is that Green Bay is going to need to provide some extra help on the blind side with either a chip block by the back and release for check down or a straight up double team.

On the right side is Vikings defensive end Brian Robison.  You may recall an incident last season when, after a play, Robison gave TJ Lang a foot shove a la Ndamukong Suh (couldn’t resist the reference) right to the mid section.  Whatever Lang needs to do to find his motivation this week, he needs to do it in a big way.  True, he’s filling in for the injured Bryan Bulaga and is out of position.  But he still has to find a way to neutralize the rush.  Rodgers rolls out right more often than he does left and this matchup will be key.

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.

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?