Around the NFC North in Week 15

Around the NFC North

Around the NFC North in week 15

It’s already the NFL’s week 15 and let’s cut to the chase in the NFC North.  This is a week that most Packers fans had circled on the schedule as soon as it came out.  Is there a more intense week in the Packers universe than “Bears week”?

The Green Bay Packers travel to Chicago to take on the Bears in this highly-anticipated game that will be the marquis matchup not just in the NFC North, but in the NFL.

The Packers can clinch their second straight North division title with a win.  The Bears would re-enter the divisional race as a strong contender should they emerge victorious.  The early line this week favors Green Bay by three.

The Minnesota Vikings will travel to St. Louis to take on the Rams.  This ends up being an interesting game because neither of these teams wants to go away quietly this year.

The week is rounded off by the Detroit Lions visiting the Arizona Cardinals in the “futility bowl”.  Nothing more than pride is on the line in that contest.

Let’s dive into the matchups and the storylines alike.

Green Bay Packers (9-4) at Chicago Bears (8-5)

Because of the major playoff implications, I’m leading off with this matchup and will go more in depth with this game.

This game has changed shape immensely in the past month.  What was being billed as possibly one of the biggest game on the NFL schedule this season has turned into somewhat of a last stand for the Bears.

After starting the season 7-1, the Bears have lost four of their last five games including two in a row since the return of quarterback Jay Cutler.  After suffering a concussion during a loss to the Houtson Texans, Cutler was forced to miss a key game against the San Francisco 49ers.  The 9ers beat the Bears handily for a second straight loss.  They beat the Vikings but then suffered a tough overtime loss to the Seattle Seahawks and followed that up with this past week’s loss in the rematch with Minnesota on the road.

Chicago will be without defensive playmakers Brian Urlacher who may end up on injured reserve with a hamstring injury, and cornerback Tim Jennings who leads the NFL in interceptions with eight.  Jennings dislocated his shoulder late in the loss to the Seattle and is currently doubtful for this week’s game.



Arizona Cardinals vs. Green Bay Packers Key Matchups

Arizona Cardinals Daryl Washington

The Packers need to keep Cardinals LB Daryl Washington as far from Aaron Rodgers as possible on Sunday

The Arizona Cardinals visit Lambeau Field this week in desperate need of a win, having lost their last four games after starting 4-0.  The Green Bay Packers have won three straight and want to head into their much needed bye week at 6-3.  Let’s jump into the key matchups that will determine the fate of this week’s game.

Offensive Lines vs. Pass Rush

Both Green Bay and Arizona head into this game in 1st and 2nd place, respectively, in QB sacks.  Each is also surrendering more than any team.  Many have already dubbed this game a “sack fest”.  Of course, games aren’t played on paper as we saw last week in the Packers/Jaguars game.

Each team’s offensive line has come under fire this season for inconsistent play.

Green Bay’s unit has struggled in their run blocking as well as in spots in pass blocking.  Newly acquired center Jeff Saturday hasn’t been what many Packer fans had hoped thus far.  Steady right tackle Bryan Bulaga has committed more penalties than in the past.

Arizona’s line has had troubles of their own.  Who could forget that week 5 game against St. Louis in which Cardinal quarterback Kevin Kolb was sacked nine times in a losing effort.  Just a few weeks later, Kolb would be taken down five times by the Buffalo Bills and forced out of that game with a rib injury.

It would seem like this will become a chess match in who can more creatively protect their quarterback.  Putting added protection in the backfield means less hands available at receiver.  With Packer wideout’s Greg Jennings and Jordy Nelson likely to miss this game, it puts each team’s receiving units at about equal.  Arizona has All-Pro receiver Larry Fitzgerald on their side while the Packers have the hot hands in Randall Cobb and James Jones.

It goes without saying that the team that wins this battle likely sits in the driver’s seat to a win on Sunday.

If the Cardinals should elect to blitz Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, they better have a backup plan.  Rodgers is, once again, having a stellar season throwing against the blitz.  At least ten of his 21 TD passes this season have come against an added pass rusher.



2011 NFL Preseason Week 2: Packers – Cardinals Preview: The Champs Are Back Home

It’s hard to believe, but going back to last season the Green Bay Packers have played five consecutive games away from the hallowed ground of Lambeau Field.  The last time the Packers played in front of the home crowd was the week 17 win over the Chicago Bears that catapulted the Packers into the playoffs and on the track to football immortality.

Today, the champions return home.

The Green Bay Packers tonight play their second exhibition game against the Arizona Cardinals.  Who cares that it is a preseason game?  For the first time, the Packers take the field at Lambeau as defending world champions.  It will indeed be a special moment even if the game truly doesn’t count

That said, enough with the nostalgia. Let’s talk some football.

With a very deep roster, the Packers enter the game hoping to further mold their depth chart for the season opener against the New Orleans.  The starters currently locked into the lineup (Rodgers, Finley, Jennings et al) should see more action than they did in Cleveland so I would not be surprised to see them finish out the first quarter, if not less.  The last thing the Packers need is more injuries.

The Cardinals on the other hand are in a different situation.  They are still kicking the tires on newly acquired starting quarterback Kevin Kolb as well as different players on the defensive side of the ball.

Let’s look at the Red Birds.

Breaking down the Cardinals.

I wouldn’t be surprised if Kolb is a mixed of terrified and energized going into this game.  This is the same defense that concussed him in Week 1 of 2010 and opened the door for Michael Vick’s resurgence while slamming shut Kolb’s chances at being “the guy” in Philadelphia.  Revenge could very well be on the quarterback’s mind tonight.

The big weapon in the Cardinals offense remains wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald.  Since he is entering the final year of his contract, Fitzgerald has a lot on the line this season.  He quickly needs to develop chemistry with Kolb for the offense to have any kind of explosive ability.

Also noteworthy is the return of former Packers offensive lineman Daryn Colledge to Lambeau.  Colledge made headlines this week with his remarks about not being invited along with the rest of the Packers during their visit last week to the White House to meet President Obama.



NFL Free Agency Underway: What is Green Bay Packer James Jones’ Value?

Well the lockout has  finally ended and we can all get back to talking about real football. One of the first topics to tackle is free agency, which the Packers should have a pretty easy time with.  The Packers, who under General Manager Ted Thompson have a long history of ignoring free agency and locking up their own players well in advance, should be able to stay clear of the feeding frenzy that will ensue for players like Nmandi Asomugha and other big profile free agents.

Closer to home, the Packers are pretty much squared away with their own players as well.  Players like John Kuhn and Mason Crosby make up the majority of the Packers free agent class and should be resigned (if the Packers choose to do so) without much issue.  The two notable exceptions are Cullen Jenkins and James Jones.

Cullen Jenkins in my opinion is good as gone, he has a shot at setting the bar for free agent defensive linemen this year and felt a little snubbed that the Packers made no attempt to try to resign him during the season, which probably has to do with his age and injury history.  However his versatility in 4-3 and 3-4 defensive fronts and his overall production will make him a hot commodity.

James Jones on the other hand is a little bit of an enigma.  Head coach Mike McCarthy and quarterback Aaron Rodgers have said all along that Jones would likely be a #1 or #2 receiver for any other team other than the Packers, but at the end of the day his production doesn’t reflect that.  How much of that is the Packers fault for having so many other options for Rodgers to throw at and how much is Jones fault for not making himself more available for Rodgers to throw to and dropping balls?

Tier 1 – $5 million and over per year average salary: Antonio Bryant (Cincinnati Bengals, $28 million, 4 years), Braylon Edwards (New York Jets, $6.1 million, 1 year), Nate Burleson (Detroit Lions, $25 million, 5 years), Chris Chambers (Kansas City Chiefs, $15 million, 3 years)