21

January

NFC Championship Preview – Packers vs Bears Rivalry Reaches New Heights – The Playoffs

Green Bay Packers, Chicago Bears, and the NFC Championship.

I don’t think it can possibly get any better than this.

After the Packers impressive 48-21 over the Atlanta Falcons and the Bears’ easier than it looked 35-24 win over the upstart Seattle Seahawks, both teams prepare to meet for only the second time in their long and storied rivalry. For the first time since 1941, the Packers and Bears get together for– to steal a line from Brent Musberger–all the Tostitos.

Since the Packers faced the Bears twice already this season, I don’t think it’s necessary to break them down once again. We know them well enough by now and the same could be said for the Bears knowing the Packers. It’s a division rivals against one another, so the familiarity between the two teams is rather obvious.

Instead let’s go ahead jump to FIVE (hey, it’s a big game alright?) keys to the NFC Championship

1. The condition of Soldier Field

Much has been made this week over the shape the sod in Soldier Field is in. It was already showing noticeable damage during the Seahawks game last week, and with brutal cold settling in across the entire Midwest, there hasn’t been enough time to re-sod the entire football field

With the game also expected to be played under cold temperatures, the condition of the field will be crucial to both teams. The Bears obviously have had some experience playing in it and the Packers have not. You would think that would give the Bears an edge, but the Packers have played their share of games in Lambeau with the sod coming up in chunks.

While Lambeau has never been in this bad of shape, both teams will likely struggle with poor field conditions.

2. The officiating crew
In this week’s sign of the apocalypse, the NFL announced that Terry McAuley’s crew will be calling the NFC Championship Game.

Why is this significant?

Remember the Week 3 game in Soldier Field against the Bears where the Packers were flagged for a staggering 18 penalties? McAuley’s crew worked that game.

Will they do the same in this game?

15

January

Packers – Falcons Key Match Up: The No Huddle vs. the Defensive Line

The Atlanta Falcons could be described as the antithesis of the Packer’s last opponent, the Philadelphia Eagles.

The Eagles are often described as “explosive”; they have perhaps the greatest mobile quarterback ever in Micheal Vick and maybe the greatest “home run” threat in the league at the moment with wide receiver DeSean Jackson. Running back LeSean McCoy boasts a 5+ yards per carry and the rest of the Eagle’s skill position players are filled with speedsters.

To this end, this year’s Eagles ranked as one of the best at big plays of over 20 yards and Vick’s ability to buy time in the pocket and scramble often lead to more opportunities down the field.

On the other side of the spectrum are the Atlanta Falcons, lead by quarterback Matt Ryan who is about as pure of a pocket passer as there is.

At his disposable, running back Micheal Turner is known as a bowling ball and not as a speed demon and wide receiver Roddy White and tight end Tony Gonzalez, aren’t speedsters either but manage very good production with crisp route running and steady hands.

While the Eagles are a high-risk/high reward team, the Falcons are unspectacular, but they are efficient and error adverse and that plays into perhaps their greatest advantage for Saturday’s game: the no huddle offense.

The premise is pretty simple, by not huddling up you give the opponent’s defense less time to substitute players and get setup which hopefully leads to a lapse in personnel which will lead to either a mismatch or a blown coverage. The caveat to the no huddle offense is that it requires a smart quarterback who can call plays and read defenses and a team which is fundamentally sound. The Falcons have both.

And it will be a tough challenge particularly for the Packers defense. The Capers’ 3-4 defense is predicated on its complexity; blitzes can come from everywhere and from anyone, coverages can be rolled the moment before the snap.

But complexity has its disadvantages, one being that it takes a lot of time to set up. The other big factor is that communication is very important. One prime example of this was against the Indianapolis Colts during the pre-season; on the Colts first drive, the last play started with the Colts in the no huddle, they snapped the ball quick while the Packers defense was still in the process of calling coverages and adjusting assignments. The result? A ridiculously easy 17 yard touchdown pass to Pierre Garcon who blew by the confused secondary.

9

January

Mining the Mind of McCarthy: His Evil Master Plan for the Eagles

Normally, when I put on my miner’s hat and go digging deep into the mind of Packers Coach Mike McCarthy, it’s after a game. I look back at certain situations in the game and try to figure out what in the world he was thinking at that moment. Usually, I’m searching for an answer to the question WHY did you do that, Mike?

Frankly, I just haven’t been that successful. Sometimes, I can come up with a rational approximation of his thought process, but most of the time, I remain flummoxed.

So I decided to try a different approach. This time I’m going to try to figure out what he’s thinking BEFORE the fact. We ll know McCarthy likes to do the unpredictable, like throw deep to the end zone with your weak-armed backup QB on fourth and one with a minute left in a game you’re losing by 4 pts. Can you say, “threw the game away?” But I digress.

I’m going to attempt to take his element of surprise (NOBODY expects the Spanish Inquisition) along with a little reverse psychology and tell you what McCarthy’s sometime unorthodox decisions have been leading up to.

Basically, my theory is that McCarthy has been setting everyone up. You, me, other teams, maybe even his own players. This game, he will unleash the lion and shock everyone. I’ve managed to dig deep into his brain, and here’s what he has planned:

The Fullback Dive on the Goal Line: Nothing exemplifies McCarthy’s seeming stubbornness more than this play. Or has he just been setting everyone up? If the Packers find themselves on the goal line in a big spot, expect Aaron Rodgers to put the ball out for John Kuhn, and then tuck it away and run a naked bootleg to the corner flag. It’s coming folks…

James Starks: (Neo, The One, The Franchise) McCarthy has handled this like a master of subterfuge. The Packers secret weapon has been hidden on the PUP, kept inactive for several weeks and seen limited playing time. McCarthy almost blew this by forgetting his plan and giving Starks too many carries in the 49ers game. Luckily he limited Starks in the Lions game and then kept him inactive for 2 more weeks before giving him a little warmup against the Bears. McCarthy’s evil plan was to limit the game film on Starks so their first playoff opponent will be completely unprepared when McCarthy lets Starks loose. The Eagles will have no idea what hit them.

23

December

Green Bay Packers Get No More Second Chances: Playoffs Begin Now

XLV or DieNo matter what you thought about the Green Bay Packers’ most recent loss to the New England Patriots, one thing is for certain: their playoff season effectively begins this Sunday. From here on out, any loss will mark the immediate end of their Super Bowl aspirations.

Only two regular season games remain on the schedule for the Green Bay Packers (8-6). The first is a showdown with the shell-shocked New York Giants (9-5). The second and final game is a rematch with this year’s recently-crowned NFC North champions, the Chicago Bears (10-4).

And neither matchup will be anything close to a walk in the park.

Week 16: NEW YORK GIANTS

After an embarrassing last-minute loss to the Philadelphia Eagles, the New York Giants suddenly find themselves in basically the same situation as the Packers. If they win this Sunday’s game, then they claim a pass into the postseason. If they lose, their chances become very slim (though not completely out of reach).

One of two things will happen in this game: (1) the Giants will march into Lambeau Field with a gigantic chip on their shoulder and give Green Bay the game of the season, or (2) they will be so demoralized that the first sign of adversity will make them spiral into shame.

If I’m Mike McCarthy, I’m preparing my team for the first (and worst) set of circumstances.

This will be the first meeting of the Giants and Packers since the fateful 2007 NFC Championship game, and though some of the players and coaches have changed, there will be many on the field who remember vividly what happened on that cold January day.

Week 17: CHICAGO BEARS

It wasn’t too long ago that the fans and media were viewing this game as the deciding factor in who would win the NFC North.

My how things have changed.

After the Green Bay Packers’ embarrassing loss to the Detroit Lions, the Chicago Bears secured their hold on the NFC North title with an overwhelming victory against the Minnesota Vikings on Monday night. Now that they’re in the playoffs, the Bears’ next objective is to secure a first-round bye as the second seed.

In order to do this, a win against the Packers is critical for them.

19

December

Green Bay Packers Once Again In Charge of Their Playoff Hopes

Thanks to the amazing comeback from 21 points down by the Philadelphia Eagles and the overtime win by the Detroit Lions, the Green Bay Packers once again are in control of their path to the playoffs.

Even better, the game against the Patriots tonight doesn’t even matter. It’s all explained here by Mike Vandermause of the Green Bay Press-Gazette:

Packers once again control Playoff Destiny.

GO Pack!

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Jersey Al Bracco is the founder and editor of AllGreenBayPackers.com, and the co-founder of Packers Talk Radio Network. He can be heard as one of the Co-Hosts on Cheesehead Radio and is the Green Bay Packers Draft Analyst for Drafttek.com.

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19

December

How Did We Get Here? 5 Plays Responsible for the Green Bay Packers’ 2010 Playoffs Predicament

Having now lost five games this season (all by four points or fewer), the Green Bay Packers  now find themselves in serious danger of missing the playoffs.

How did it come to this for the Packers? Of course we all know about the injuries, but that’s not an excuse. Plenty of playoff-bound teams, like the Patriots for example,  have their share of players on IR.

When you lose close games, you can often target a few key plays or decisions throughout the season that highlight why you are in the position you are in.

1. James Jones’ fumble against the Bears
Even though the Packers were racking up a record number of penalty yards and finding new ways to shoot themselves in the foot, Aaron Rodgers appeared poised to lead a fourth-quarter comeback victory against a hated division rival.

Then James Jones reminded us that he’s, well, still James Jones.

You can’t fault Jones for trying to make a play, but where would this season be if he just went out of bounds?

2. Rodgers chooses not to slide and gets a concussion
Some people pin last week’s loss to the Lions on Aaron Rodgers. They say his decision to not slide was selfish and he is now a “concussion prone player.”

Rodgers should have slid, no doubt. But his ill-advised decision does not mean he’s selfish and does not make him more concussion prone than any other player.

Rodgers is playing without arguably his top receiving target, his 1,200-yard rusher and his veteran right tackle. He also lost his starting guard early against the Lions. In order for the Packers to score points, Rodgers has to make plays.

Rodgers chose not to slide because he was trying to make a play. It was not a good decision, but it had nothing to do with acting like a tough guy, proving a point or being selfish.

3. Going for it on 4th and goal against the Redskins
If I was an NFL coach, I would probably be much more conservative than most fans could handle. However, if I coached the Packers, my conservatism would have resulted in an extra win this season.

Thanks to the benefit of hindsight, we realize that Mike McCarthy should have kicked the field goal when faced with a 4th and goal from the Redskins 1-yard line early in the second quarter. Those extra three points likely would have changed the game’s outcome and given the Packers another conference win over an opponent that ended up beating the Bears a few weeks later.

9

December

NFC Playoffs Power Rankings: Green Bay Packers at No. 3

There are still 10 teams mathematically alive in the NFC playoff race. If the season ended today, the Green Bay Packers would not make the playoffs. But that does not stop me from putting them No. 3 in my latest NFC power rankings.

Here’s how the playoff picture looks at the moment:

1. Atlanta Falcons (10-2)
2. Chicago Bears (9-3)
3. Philadelphia Eagles (8-4)
4. St. Louis Rams (6-6)
5. New Orleans Saints (9-3)
6. New York Giants (8-4)
7. Green Bay Packers (8-4)
8. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (7-5)
9. Seattle Seahawks (6-6)
10. Minnesota Vikings (5-7)

Here’s how I would rank the remaining playoff eligible teams in the NFC.

1. Atlanta Falcons
The Falcons are kind of the anti-Packers. They’ve trailed or have been tied in the fourth quarter six times this season, and they’ve won every game. The Falcons are good because they win those close games.

However, I had to force myself to put the Falcons in the top spot. The Falcons deserve to be No. 1, but if you gave me a choice of playing the Eagles or the Falcons right now, I’m not sure who I would choose.

2. Philadelphia Eagles
LeSean McCoy is turning into the second coming of Brian Westbrook. McCoy has 1,357 yards from scrimmage, including over 120 in each of the last two games. You would think McCoy will see his role expand in the final month as Michael Vick continues to take hits and battle nagging injuries.

The Eagles are never out of a game. They are capable of exploding for three touchdowns in 10 minutes at any given time. That’s why they scare me and that’s why I considered putting them over the Falcons.

3. Green Bay Packers

Ask yourself: If Aaron Rodgers continues playing like he is (11 touchdowns, no interceptions in his last five games) is there a team in the NFL that is clearly better than the Packers? I don’t think so.

4. New Orleans Saints
The Saints are 9-3 and have won five straight, but I get the sense they haven’t played their best football yet. Running back Pierre Thomas should return soon to bolster a running game that has held up surprisingly well despite injuries. And Drew Brees is quietly having another great season.