5

January

Wild Card Playoff Round – 49ers vs. Packers: Keys To The Game

49ers vs. Packers 2013 wild card

This may be very indicative of what most fans will look like after Sunday’s game. The Packers face the 49ers in the postseason for the second straight season

The stage is set: Lambeau Field, 3:40 pm on Sunday afternoon is where the Green Bay Packers will play host to the San Francisco 49ers for a wild card round playoff.  It seems a bit odd that a team that finished 8-7-1 and needed nearly every last second of their season to secure a playoff berth is hosting a team that finished 12-4.

Such is life in the NFL.  We need only go back three years and to San Francisco’s very own NFC West to remember a 7-9 Seattle Seahawks team that hosted a wild card game.  They beat the New Orleans Saints before losing to the Chicago Bears in the divisional round.  That game was won on an incredible and long touchdown run by Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch.

I know this isn’t Seattle and it certainly isn’t 2010, but I always talk about the possibility of history repeating.  The Packers happen to have a hard-nosed running back of their own in Eddie Lacy.   So there’s that.

Last week, the Packers faced a tough must-win game in colder temperatures and found a way to get it done.  The 49ers pose a much tougher challenge, at least on paper, than do the Bears.  For the Packers, having a healthy Aaron Rodgers is great, but they will need a near all-pro performance out of most of their players to get to the next round.

So how do they get there?  Let’s look at the keys to this week’s tilt between two old rivals.

Avoid Freezer Burn

The temperature is expected to be near zero degrees with a wind chill near -20, which could make this one of the coldest games on record at Lambeau Field.  The coldest recorded game was the famous ”Ice Bowl” in 1967 at -13 degrees.

Lambeau Field used to be a huge advantage for the Packers and that advantage was their opponents having to come into those frigid conditions to play whereas the Packers weren’t as affected by it.  Thus was born the nickname “Frozen Tundra” to describe the venue.  Lately, that has not always been the case.

29

December

Packers vs. Bears: Keys to the Game

Aaron Rodgers & Randall Cobb

Rodgers makes his return and could have another weapon at his disposal in that of Cobb

This week’s matchup between the Green Bay Packers and Chicago Bears already had many eyes on it.  Last game of the 2013 regular season and with the winner to take the North division title thrown into the NFL’s longest-standing rivalry was already a draw.  NBC was also vying for the game to be flexed to the Sunday night slot, according to some.

On Thursday, it was announced that Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers was cleared and would start against the Bears.  Now there will be exponentially more eyes on this game and it is fair to say that this is the biggest meeting between these teams since the 2010 NFC Championship game.  The setting will be Soldier Field, once again and both teams will have their primary starting quarterbacks under center.

In addition to finally getting Rodgers back after a seven week layoff, the Packers may also see the return of receiver Randall Cobb, who has been out since mid-October.  Running back Eddie Lacy has not practiced for the Packers, but head coach Mike McCarthy seemed optimistic about Lacy’s chances of playing when asked after Thursday’s practice.

Both of these teams lost their games last week and the Bears, a chance to lock up the division title.  While Chicago looked awful against the Philadelphia Eagles last week, I have warned against anyone thinking that same Bears team shows up at Soldier Field on Sunday.  I expect more of the version of the Bears who soundly beat the Dallas Cowboys a few weeks back.

Now that we know the answer to the burning question, let’s dive into this week’s keys to the game.  Hopefully, this won’t be the last “Keys” post of the season.

Avoid Too Much Rodgers

Yes, we’ve waited a long time to have Rodgers back and all that he can add to the Packers offense.  Rodgers is one of the few quarterbacks in the league who can return to form in the blink of an eye.  He’s an extremely intelligent player who prepares as well as any other in the game.  Still, the Packers need to avoid leaning too heavily on the portion of the game plan that calls for Rodgers to get fancy, at least early on.

22

December

Steelers vs. Packers: Keys to the Game

Matt Flynn and Eddie Lacy

The “Big Three” need a strong performance on Sunday

The Green Bay Packers will host the Pittsburgh Steelers and wrap up the AFC portion of their 2013 schedule this week.  While this is a rematch of Super Bowl XLV, that seems so long ago and, as is often the case in professional sport, both teams have changed since then.

The Steelers have regressed this season and are all but eliminated from playoff contention.  That does not, however, mean that they have stopped playing to win, as was evidenced in last week’s win over the Cincinnati Bengals.  It was Pittsburgh’s most complete game of the season and if they want to spoil their opponents’ party over these next two games, they are peaking at the right time.

With just two games left, the playoff scenarios are shaping up and as well as the storylines.  None is bigger than the status of Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers.  On Friday, it was announced that Rodgers will not play against the Steelers as he could not be medically cleared from his broken collarbone.  The Packers can’t afford to lose either of their last two games and they’ll have to rely on backup quarterback Matt Flynn to help them get past the Steelers.

While the news on Rodgers wasn’t what the team nor fans wanted to hear, the Packers need only look back one week to see what they are capable of without him.  After going winless in their first four games after Rodgers’ injury, Green Bay has now won two straight.  Those wins have put the Packers in position win the NFC North and get into the postseason by winning their last two games.

What seemed improbable is still within reach at this late stage of the 2013 season, but there is still a lot of work to be done in Green Bay.  Let’s look at some of the keys that will factor into this week’s outcome and how the Packers can score a big win in their 2013 home finale.

The First Half Counts

Someone should remind the Packers that it is OK and possible to start fast and score in the first half.  Although Green Bay has won their last two games, their first half performance in each was abysmal, to put it nicely.  During that span, Green Bay has been outscored 47 – 13.  They obviously overcame those deficits (11 points vs. Atlanta, 23 points vs. Dallas) to win, but we should also remember that was against the Atlanta Falcons and Dallas Cowboys.  Neither of those teams are known for their defense.

15

December

Packers vs. Cowboys: Keys to the Game

Tony Romo

This guy needs to be on the Packers defense’s most wanted list this Sunday

The Green Bay Packers return to the site of their most recent Super Bowl victory this Sunday: Dallas, Texas and AT&T Stadium (Texas Stadium).  This Packers team looks quite a bit different than the one from three years ago, the biggest difference being that Aaron Rodgers won’t be at quarterback for the Packers.

It was announced on Friday that Rodgers has been ruled out for this week’s game.  Matt Flynn will get another start for the Packers.

As much success as Green Bay has had, as a franchise, over the past two decades, this is a venue that has brought a lot of pain and heartbreak.  The last time the Packers beat the Cowboys in Dallas, Brett Favre was still in college.  So was Emmitt Smith.  It was December 24, 1989, Troy Aikman’s rookie season.

Since then, Green Bay has lost nine straight in Dallas.  Favre never won in Dallas in a Packers uniform.  Rodgers has only played in and appeared in one such game, in late 2007.  Rodgers came in for Favre, who was hurt and played nearly the entire second half.  It was Rodgers’ “coming out” party and even though the Packers didn’t win, they saw what they had in their young backup.  Less than a year later, Favre was a New York Jet and Rodgers was Green Bay’s starting quarterback.

While these are vastly different teams that travel to Texas, I have to wonder how much the mystique of such a long losing streak has on a team.  Just look at the Detroit Lions when it comes to playing at Lambeau Field.  And that’s a divisional matchup to boot!

Somehow, and despite not winning five of their last six games, the Packers are still very much alive in the race to win the NFC North.  With just three games left and a half game between themselves and the Lions and Chicago Bears, Green Bay can’t likely afford many more losses.  I’m speaking purely from a mathematical standpoint there.  In theory, they need to win all three from a record and a confidence point of view.

With Rodgers out, the Pack face another uphill battle to get a tough road win.  Let’s look at the areas that likely factor into this week’s outcome.

8

December

Falcons vs. Packers: Keys to the Game

Steven Jackson Eddie Lacy

Which of these running backs would you rather have? It was a valid question for the Packers earlier this year

After a 10-day layoff, the Green Bay Packers return to action this Sunday at Lambeau Field against the Atlanta Falcons.  This game was originally scheduled to be a Sunday night matchup, but after the early decline of the Falcons and the recent plummet of the Packers, the NFL wisely flexed this game into a Sunday afternoon time slot.

Atlanta is 3-9 and has already been eliminated from postseason contention.  Their sole purpose now is to ruin everyone else’s party.  It’s hardly a party in Green Bay, however.  The Packers, once 5-2, have not won in five straight games and sit at 5-6-1.  But the Packers always seem to be in the thick of divisional races down to the wire and despite their horrid play over the past month, are still just a game and a half out of first place.

The big question this week is whether or not Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers will be cleared to return.  As of Wednesday, Rodgers was practicing with the team (in pads), but still had not been cleared to return to game action.  Matt Flynn was taking reps with the starters in practice and will start if Rodgers can’t go.

Earlier this week, I dubbed this game the “Horrible Bowl” and I stand behind that moniker.  Whichever team emerges the loser this week can officially call themselves “horrible”.  It would give the Falcons double-digit losses for the first time since 2007 when they finished 4-12.  It would drop the Packers to 5-7-1 and with eight wins the highest total they can achieve this season.  It would be the team’s worst finish since 2008 when they went 6-10.

This could be the shortest “Keys” post to date by simply stating “Score more points than the Falcons” but let’s attempt to dive a little deeper into this contest and what we will likely see.

Green Bay’s Offensive Line Health

Missing practice this week for the Packers were center Evan Dietrich-Smith and left tackle David Bakhtiari.

27

November

Packers vs. Lions: Keys to the Game

Matt Flynn

“Matt, we both need you to do this one more time!”.  Flynn will make his third lengthy appearance against the Lions in the past four seasons

Wishing everyone a happy Thanksgiving and while this past month hasn’t been what many had hoped, at least we only have to wait a short four days between games!  That also means our schedule at ALLGBP.com is accelerated so this is our version of the two-minute drill.

The Green Bay Packers have been tabbed for yet another Thanksgiving Day showdown with the Detroit Lions.  Since 2001, the Packers have faced the Lions in this matchup in every odd year with the exception of 2005.  Green Bay has won all but one of those games, dropping the 2003 contest to the Mike McMahon-led Lions.  Since then, the Lions are winless on Thanksgiving Day.  So here we are, ten years later and the stage could be set for Detroit to break their Turkey Day slump.

The Packers made yet another quarterback change this past week, inserting Matt Flynn over Scott Tolzien, in order to spark the Green Bay offense.  It worked.  The Packers came back from a 23-7 deficit to tie the game and force overtime.  Both teams managed only a field goal and the game ended in a tie.  It was the first game, under the new overtime rules, that both teams kicked a field goal.

With the Lions falling to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (more like collapsing), the tie actually moved the Packers a half-game closer to the division lead.  That makes this week’s matchup all the more important for both teams.

Let’s look at some of the major headlines that will likely emerge in this week’s contest.

Matt Flynn until Rodgers is Ready

After signing a free agent contact with the Seattle Seahawks, being beaten out for the starting job by rookie Wisconsin boy Russell Wilson, being traded by the Seahawks to the Oakland Raiders, losing his starting job to Terrell Pryor (Big 10 conspiracy?), being cut and signed by the Buffalo Bills only to be cut weeks later, Flynn is right back where he began his career.

What a carousel and through the process, Flynn made a lot of money but raised many questions about his ability and health.  Why was he unable to maintain a starting role or stick with some of these teams who have not had much recent success?  Even Reggie McKenzie, who was very familiar with Flynn from his days in Green Bay, pulled the plug on the experiment in Oakland.

24

November

Vikings vs. Packers: Keys to the Game

Marshall Newhouse

Newhouse will start at right tackle in place of Don Barclay on Sunday and is a key to the Packers pass protection

For the second time in less than a month, the Green Bay Packers will face the Minnesota Vikings.  The last time the Packers won a game, it was against the Vikings in their last trip to Mall of America Field (The Metrodome).  Since then, Green Bay has lost three straight and are seeing their postseason chances wane with each.

The stage is Lambeau Field, where the Packers have lost two straight.  They haven’t lost three straight there since the early 1990′s so needless to say, it has been a long time.  Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers has already been ruled out of Sunday’s game with his collarbone injury and Scott Tolzien will make his second straight start.

For the Vikings, this season continues to be a disappointment.  After appearing in last year’s playoffs as a wild card, this year’s team has managed just two wins in 10 games.  Quarterback Christian Ponder has been named the starter this week and he will make his third career start at Lambeau Field.  He has lost his previous two and did not play in the playoff game last season.

For the Packers, this game is a virtual pivot point.  Win and there remains hope for what their season can become as they head into a short week before meeting the Detroit Lions on Thanksgiving.  Lose and they face a very difficult road to any chance of winning the NFC North and making their fifth straight postseason appearance.

There has even been some speculation that Rodgers’ return and the team’s overall strategy with some of their injured starters may depend largely on the result of this week’s game against the Vikings.  Whether or not that is true remains to be seen, but one truth that cannot be ignored is that Green Bay would fall under .500 with a loss.

With that, let’s look at the keys this week that will likely play out in determining the winner of this contest between the Pack and the guys in purple.

Turnovers

The Packers need them and they can’t afford to give up any.  In last week’s game against the New York Giants, Tolzien had been faring better in taking care of the ball and moving the Packers offense down the field.  They weren’t able to convert many points, but they showed signs of an offense that could move.