27

December

Around the NFC North in Week 17

Around the NFC North

Around the NFC North in week 17

In week 17, The NFL is getting what it always hopes for when they create the schedule each spring.  Each of this week’s NFC North matchups have playoff implications and there is another NFL record in jeopardy.

After the Detroit Lions’ Calvin Johnson broke Jerry Rice’s single-season receiving yardage record last week, Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson has the single-season rushing record in his sights.  Peterson needs just 208 yards to break Eric Dickerson’s record of 2,105 yards.

Peterson’s Vikings host the Green Bay Packers and that game has been flexed by the NFL to the 3pm CDT time slot.  It is setting up to be one of the better matchups around the league.  Green Bay can secure the second seed with a victory or both a San Francisco 49ers and Seattle Seahawks loss.  For the Vikings, it’s simple:  win and they’re in.

The Chicago Bears are still alive in the wild card race after beating the Arizona Cardinals.  Chicago travels to Detroit and must win to keep any hopes alive of securing the last wild card spot.  The Bears also are in the precarious position of having to cheer for their arch enemy Packers.  Should Bears win and the Packers beat the Vikings, the Bears would claim the sixth and final seed in the NFC.

Let’s look at the matchups and playoff scenarios a bit more closely.

Chicago Bears (9-6) at Detroit Lions (4-11)

The Lions got pounded by the Atlanta Falcons this past Saturday to make official what we already knew:  Detroit is horrible.  The only bright spot in the game, and really their entire season, was Johnson  surpassing Rice’s previous total.  Rice established the record of 1,848 yards with the San Francisco 49ers in 1995.

Johnson and the Lions can deliver a huge jab to the gut of Chicago by pulling off the upset this week.  A Chicago loss would eliminate the Bears from playoff contention.  While it’s not likely given the recently level of play by both teams, crazy things have happened this season and Detroit has at least an outside shot of pulling off the win.

19

December

Around the NFC North in Week 16

Around the NFC North

Around the NFC North in week 16

With just two games left in the 2012 regular season, there is a full slate in the NFC North this week.  Each game carries its own significance as far as the playoff race is concerned as at least one team in each matchup is fighting for better playoff seeding and some are fighting to just get in, period.

Let’s take a look at the implications in each matchup.

Atlanta Falcons (12-2) at Detroit Lions (4-10)

The only reason this game is listed first is because it is the lone Saturday game and takes place before all others.  Beyond that, it all comes down to a very complete Falcons team coming into Detroit to face arguably the most disappointing team in the NFL this season.

Last weekend, Detroit was manhandled by the Arizona Cardinals 38-10.  Arizona had previously lost their last nine straight games.  The Lions have succeeded in one thing this season:  finding many ways to lose a game.  While they won’t be appearing in the postseason this year, they will have plenty of time during the offseason to figure out why.

The biggest question in Detroit right now is who will still be with the team in 2013?  Head coach Jim Schwartz will surely be the topic of those conversations during the winter.

While Atlanta has wrapped up the NFC South and currently has the best record in the NFC, they have yet to secure the first or second seed in the postseason.  They have their eyes set on being the top seed and therefore also securing home field advantage throughout the playoffs.  The Falcons can do so by winning their last two games, regardless of what any of the other contenders do.

However, a loss by Atlanta would begin to open a door for both the San Francisco 49ers and Green Bay Packers, who currently hold the second and third seeds, respectively.

While the Lions have pride to play for and certainly fit the bill of a team that could be pesky during these last two weeks, I don’t expect that pride to get them anywhere near Atlanta’s level this week.  Detroit’s best chance of success this week will probably be the 50% odds they have in winning the opening coin toss.

10

January

Five Reflections from Wild Card Weekend

The strength of the Giants' defensive line is just one observation from the 2011 NFL Wild Card weekend.

With four teams out of the playoff race and the New York Giants scheduled to take on the Green Bay Packers next week, I thought it might be prudent to take a look back at the weekend and reflect on the results. The games mostly went as expected, minus the Pittsburgh Steelers getting “Tebowed” in Denver.

Let’s get right down to it, then. Here are some observations from the four Wild Card games and how they might relate to the Packers going forward:

1. Regular season records don’t mean anything. This weekend, we saw two division champions take down Wild Card teams who held a better record in the regular season. The New York Giants (9-7) practically shut out the Atlanta Falcons (10-6), and the Denver Broncos (8-8) stunned the Pittsburgh Steelers (12-4) with an overtime bullseye strike.

Yes, the Packers made an impressive run this season going 15-1, but don’t let that alone give you any sense of false hope. It won’t afford Green Bay any advantage on the field, because the only thing that matters is how well they are playing right now.

2. Opportunities must be seized when they are presented. Anyone who watched the New Orleans Saints take on the Detroit Lions knows how much that game could have changed if the Lions would have simply taken advantage of their opportunities. I counted three passes by Drew Brees that could have easily been interceptions if the defender would have simply held onto the ball. Turnovers can be huge game-changers is the playoffs, mostly because the games are usually so close to begin with. Not only can they swing the scoreboard, but they can redirect the momentum and quiet a noisy crowd.

The Green Bay Packers have made turnovers their mantra this season. Not only is protecting the ball of utmost importance, but taking it away has become the keystone of their defense. The Packers lead the league this season in interceptions (31) and were second only to the San Francisco 49ers in turnover differential (+24). They will need to continue taking advantage of these opportunities, because they will get fewer and farther between against playoff-caliber opponents.

6

January

2011 NFL Playoffs Wild Card Round – Game Predictions from AllGreenBayPackers.com

GAME PREDICTIONS
2011 NFL Playoffs: Wild Card Round
Name Straight Up
Against the Spread
Cincinnati Bengals at Houston Texans (-3)
Kris Burke Bengals Bengals
“Jersey” Al Bracco Texans Texans
Adam Czech (on vacation) Bengals/Texans Bengals/Texans
Thomas Hobbes Texans Texans
Zach Kruse Texans Bengals
Chad Toporski Texans Texans
Detroit Lions at New Orleans Saints (-11)
Kris Burke Saints Saints
“Jersey” Al Bracco Saints Lions
Adam Czech (on vacation) Lions/Saints Lions/Saints
Thomas Hobbes Saints Lions
Zach Kruse Saints Saints
Chad Toporski Saints Saints
Atlanta Falcons at New York Giants (-3)
Kris Burke Falcons Falcons
“Jersey” Al Bracco Giants Giants
Adam Czech (on vacation) Falcons/Giants Falcons/Giants
Thomas Hobbes Giants Giants
Zach Kruse Giants Giants
Chad Toporski Falcons Falcons
Pittsburgh Steelers at Denver Broncos (+9)
Kris Burke Steelers Steelers
“Jersey” Al Bracco Steelers Broncos
Adam Czech (on vacation) Steelers/Broncos Steelers/Broncos
Thomas Hobbes Steelers Steelers
Zach Kruse Steelers Steelers
Chad Toporski Steelers Broncos
——————

Chad Toporski, a Wisconsin native and current Pittsburgh resident, is a writer for AllGreenBayPackers.com. You can follow Chad on twitter at @ChadToporski

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5

January

Who Do We Want? Ranking The Green Bay Packers’ Potential Playoff Opponents

As the wise philosopher Homer Simpson once declared, “The waiting game sucks! Let’s play Hungry Hungry Hippos!”

That’s the dilemma facing the Green Bay Packers this week as they wait out their first round bye and for their opponent in the divisional round to be determined.  While it’s doubtful the Packers are playing children’s board games in the locker room (well, maybe), we fans can play the wishing game and debate for hours on end who we want to see the Packers play in their first home playoff game since the 2007-2008 season.

(Be sure to cast your vote in the Poll at the end of this post)

The Packers can face one of three teams: the New York Giants, the Detroit Lions or the Atlanta Falcons.  Should Detroit upset the New Orleans Saints the Lions come to Lambeau.  Should the Saints hold on, the winner of Falcons/Giants would get the defending champions next.

So who would be the best matchup for the Packers? Honestly, an argument could be made for all three.  The Packers played (and beat) all three during the regular season, and defeated the Lions twice.  So familiarity with the opponent will be an advantage regardless.

I’ve decided to rank the three from the best matchup to the worst.  This is by no means a rock solid list.  I tossed all sorts of different variations in my head but I finally settled on the order below.

1.       Atlanta Falcons They’re number one for a couple reasons.  First, they are a dome team.  So are the Lions, yes, but at least Detroit’s climate is very similar to Green Bay’s.  Atlanta’s meanwhile, despite the occasional snow storm, is a much warmer climate. Even though they play indoors, they still don’t commute to work and live in this weather like the Packers, Lions and Giants do.

 A second reason is that for whatever reason, the Packers seem to have the Falcons’ number.  After beating the Packers at home during the 2010 regular season, the Falcons got spanked by the same team in the divisional round last year.  This year, again at the Georgia Dome, the Packers beat Atlanta again 25-14 after the Falcons blew a 14-3 lead.

4

January

NFL Playoff Preview. A Wild Weekend is in the Cards

New York Giant Victor Cruz

Victor Cruz will be a lot for the Atlanta Falcons to handle

The Packers will face the Giants, Falcons or Lions on Jan. 15 in a divisional round playoff game at Lambeau Field. All three teams gave the Packers everything they could handle in regular season games, and lost.

Looking ahead to the divisional round, I expect one of these three teams to again give the Packers a helluva game…and lose.

All three teams present unique challenges for the Packers, but none have enough talent in the secondary to keep the Packers out of the end zone often enough to win.

But before we can focus in on who the Packers will face next week, the wild card round needs to be played. Here is a closer look at those matchups:

Saturday, January 7

AFC: 3:30 PM

Cincinnati at Houston (NBC)

Breakdown: Those of you that are sickened by the lack of defense in modern football should watch this game. Bengals QB Andy Dalton struggled in the second half of the season while the Texans were forced to turn things over to third-string QB T.J. Yates. Yates got the best of Dalton in an earlier matchup, but I think Dalton gets revenge this time around. The Bengals will win and snap the NFL’s longest stretch without a playoff victory (1990, wild-card round).

NFC: 7 PM

Detroit at New Orleans (NBC)

Breakdown: If the Lions couldn’t beat the Packers reserves, how are they going to beat the Saints in a road playoff game? They probably won’t, but when you can score like the Lions can, you’re never out of it. Detroit fell behind 17-0 in the second quarter when these two teams met earlier. The Lions have a knack for winning after falling behind, but you can’t screw around against a team like the Saints. If the Lions don’t come out swinging right away, they’ll get knocked down for good. The Saints win this one.

Sunday, January 8

NFC: Noon

Atlanta at Giants (FOX)

Breakdown: Here’s how the Giants fared after the bye week: Miami (W), at New England (W), at San Francisco (L), Philadelphia (L), at New Orleans (L), Green Bay (L), at Dallas (W), Washington (W), Jets (W), Cowboys (W). That’s a brutal stretch and the Giants survived to make the playoffs. The Falcons have won six of their final nine games, but only one win came against a team with a winning record.

3

January

Green Bay Packers Playoff Picture: Familiarity Breeds Contempt

The Falcons are just one of four NFC playoff teams to have lost to the Packers in 2011 and would surely love one more crack at them.

On Sunday night, the seeding for the NFL playoff games was set in stone when the New York Giants soundly beat the Dallas Cowboys in a game that decided the NFC East division champions. Earlier that day, the San Francisco 49ers eked by the St. Louis Rams to maintain their second seed and first-round bye, while the Atlanta Falcons secured the fifth seed after their big win over Tampa Bay and the Detroit Lions’ loss to the Green Bay Packers.

With the regular season complete, we finally have a clear picture of how the playoffs could progress. Before continuing, though, here is a quick list of the final seeding for the NFC:

  1. Green Bay Packers (15-1)
  2. San Francisco 49ers (13-3)
  3. New Orleans Saints (13-3)
  4. New York Giants (9-7)
  5. Atlanta Falcons (10-6)
  6. Detroit Lions (10-6)

The rules dictate that, in each round of the playoffs, the lowest seeded team will travel to face the highest seed, while the second lowest seed will face the second highest. The lone exception is the first round, where the two highest seeds (the Packers and 49ers this year) get a bye for that week.

So in the Wildcard Round, the Lions will square off with the Saints in the Superdome, and the Falcons will travel to MetLife Stadium to take on the Giants. Green Bay and San Francisco will both have the weekend off.

Depending on the outcome of those games, the Packers will host the Giants, Falcons, or Lions at Green Bay’s very own Lambeau Field in the Divisional Round.

But have you noticed something yet? With the exception of the San Francisco 49ers, the Green Bay Packers faced (and beat) every other playoff team at some point during the regular season. Through those five games, having faced the Lions twice, the Packers won by a combined score of 177-139.

That leaves a total margin of victory of 38 points, or 7.6 points per game. Just over a touchdown.

Interestingly enough, last year’s Green Bay team also faced three familiar teams on their path to the Super Bowl. They played the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 1 and in the Wildcard Round, the Atlanta Falcons in Week 12 and the Divisional Round, and capped off their run in the NFC Championship Game against the Chicago Bears, who they of course faced twice during the season as a division opponent.