16

December

Game Balls and Lame Calls: Packers 37, Cowboys 36

Andrew Quarless (81) and Eddie Lacy (27) turned in big games for the Packers against the Dallas Cowboys, and in the process, may have saved Green Bay's season.

Andrew Quarless (81) and Eddie Lacy (27) turned in big games for the Packers against the Dallas Cowboys, and in the process, may have saved Green Bay’s season.

Last week, it looked like the Green Bay Packers may have saved their season with a 22-21 win over the Atlanta Falcons. They were 6-6-1 with three games to play, and Aaron Rodgers appeared to be on the verge of returning to the lineup.

Rodgers didn’t play Sunday against the Dallas Cowboys, but that didn’t stop Matt Flynn from leading a dramatic second-half comeback, which, in the process, may have saved the Packers’ season. They’re still breathing.

Despite last week’s win, much was made of the “boo birds” amongst Packers fans just before halftime against the Falcons. Had this week’s game been played at Lambeau Field, the boo birds likely would have returned as the Packers trailed by 23 points at the break. But the team recharged its batteries for the second half and kept its head above water with two winnable games to play and a division championship on the line.

For the Packers, the first 30 minutes against the Cowboys were ugly.

But the second half was so very different.

For all the things that have went wrong for the Packers this season, a lot of things went their way in the final 30 minutes. And when push came to shove, the Packers Chicago Bear’d the Dallas Cowboys with timely turnovers and out-of-nowhere explosive plays. A lot of football has yet to be played, as the Packers (7-6-1) try and play catch up to the Bears (8-6) and Lions (7-6) for first place in the NFC North, but hope still remains in Green Bay.

Super Bowl XLVIII is still a month and a half way, and the Packers certainly don’t appear to be the class of the NFC at this point, but there’s a 2010 feeling to this team, isn’t there? A week 15 matchup in Dallas (where the Packers won Super Bowl XLV), a week 16 game against Pittsburgh (whom they beat in Super Bowl XLV) and a regular-season finale against the Bears (whom they beat to clinch a playoff spot in 2010 and again in the NFC Championship) brings back memories of the Packers’ last hardware-winning season.

Two games remain on the 2013 schedule. And the Packers are still alive.

8

January

Packers Stock Report: We Got a Bye Week After All Edition (with Podcast)

DuJuan Harris

Packers RB DuJuan Harris scores in the first quarter of Saturday night’s playoff games against the Vikings.

I was at Lambeau for the Packers  bye week   NFC wild-card round victory over the Vikings on Saturday night. I have a couple of questions:

1. Should we be excited about the defensive performance? Or chalk it up to playing against Joe Webb?

2. How awesome is Aaron Rodgers?

3. Will the Packers turn in one of their “we’re nobody’s underdogs” performances against the 49ers?

4. What should we do with people (and I was kind of one of them) who thought the Packers defense was better without Woodson?

5. Since when did the Packers replace the Lambeau PA announcer with a guy from the NBA? Too much screaming, too much nonsense. Packers fans are capable of getting loud without gimmicks.

Now I will attempt to answer my own questions:

1. Somewhat excited.

2. Very.

3. Yes.

4. Ban them from blogging.

5. I already kind of answered this one. On to the stock report:

Rising

Aaron Rodgers
How many other quarterbacks can make the throw where Rodgers rolled right and hit Jordy Nelson inside the 5-yard line? Very few, if any. Rodgers has been excellent the last two weeks. If he keeps it going against the 49ers, I like the Packers’ chances.

Clay Matthews
Every week, the size of Matthews’ new contract gets bigger and bigger. Matthews kept himself under control on Saturday and rarely got out of position while rushing Webb or trying to corral Adrian Peterson.  You know a player is on a roll when he gets blocked to the ground, but manages to get a sack anyway because the quarterback trips over his prone body.

DuJuan Harris
I thought Harris might have lost his hot-hand status after he dropped a third-down pass on the Packers’ first possession. But McCarthy stuck with the car salesman turned starting running back in the NFL playoffs and it paid off. Harris runs to daylight and doesn’t make it easy for the other team to prevent him from getting to that daylight. He’s an ideal back to run behind a more powerful line with Don Barclay and Evan Dietrich-Smith (although Dietrich-Smith graded out poorly according to Pro Football Focus).

Steady

26

December

Playoff Scenarios: Who will the Packers see in the NFC?

The Packers are playing well right now. Are they the best team in the NFC?

The Packers are playing well right now. Are they the best team in the NFC?

The Packers have already punched their ticket to the playoffs. And by defeating the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday, the Packers would be the No. 2 seed, earning a first-round bye.

My eyes tell me that the Packers are a better team than the Vikings. And a motivated team heading to Minnesota with a first-round bye on the line should should show up ready to play.

So when looking at the playoff picture, let’s assume the Packers get the win and the No. 2 seed.

Beyond where the Packers are ultimately seeded, there’s a lot still to be determined in the NFC.

Will it be the Washington Redskins or the Dallas Cowboys as the NFC East Champions? Will the Vikings or Bears sneak into the playoffs? Are the New York Giants really done?

There is a handful of teams competing for two playoff spots, so what should you watch for around the NFL after the Packers play on Sunday? Let’s take a closer look at the potential NFC playoff field.

1) Who will win the NFC West?

The 49ers play at home against the 5-10 Arizona Cardinals this week, and the Seahawks will host the 7-7-1 St. Louis Rams. If the 49ers win, they’re the NFC West champions and would have a home playoff game.

If the 49ers lose and the Seahawks win, then Seattle is the division champions, and the 49ers would be playing on the road on wild card weekend.

What should happen: San Francisco should win the division.

Although the 49ers have been struggling, they should win easily against the hopeless Arizona Cardinals. It would take a late Christmas miracle for Arizona to beat the 49ers on the road. And even if the Seahawks beat the Rams, San Francisco would still have a better record.

Now we have five of six playoff teams set. Under this scenario, the Falcons and Packers would have first-round byes, the 49ers would be the No. 3 seed, and the NFC East champion–Washington or Dallas–would be the No. 4 seed, hosting the Seattle Seahawks.

2) Cowboys or Redskins in the NFC East?

Whoever wins Sunday night’s showdown between the Dallas Cowboys or the Washington Redskins will be the No. 4 seed in the NFC.

20

December

Breaking Down Packers Playoff Scenarios

With two more regular season games to go, here is an update on the Packers’ playoff situation:

  • The Packers have already clinched the NFC North. They will be in the playoffs, guaranteed at least one home game and no worse than the fourth overall seed.
  • If the season ended today, the Packers would be the third seed and host the sixth-seeded Vikings on wild-card weekend. That’s likely not going to hold up since the Packers play the Vikings in week 17. The Vikings also could win their next two games and still miss the playoffs.
  • The Packers can move up to the second seed if they win out and the 49ers lose once. The 49ers are at Seattle this week and host Arizona in week 17.
  • Whether the Packers move up to the second seed, or stay at No. 3, a second-round matchup with the 49ers looks likely. If the Packers are the third seed and win their first-round game, they would travel to San Francisco. If the Packers are the second seed and the 49ers win their first-round game as the No. 3 seed, San Francisco would visit Green Bay.
  • The Packers can get the first seed if they win out and the Falcons lose their last two games.
  • If the Packers stay the third seed, it’s very likely that their first-round game will be against a wild-card team from the NFC East or the Bears.
  • Let’s assume the Packers stay the third seed, who would you want to play in the first round: Chicago, New York, Washington or Dallas? I’d pick Washington. They can’t guard the slot and I trust Dom Capers to not to get thrown off by RG3 and the Redskins’ funky formations.
  • Chicago seems like the obvious choice, but beating the Bears three times in the same season seems like we’d be asking too much of the football gods.
  • Check out ESPN’s NFL Playoff Machine if you want to try and figure out potential playoff pairings yourself.
——————

Adam Czech is a freelance reporter and a Packers fan living in the Twin Cities. Follow Adam on Twitter. Read more of Adam's writing on the Packers here.

——————

12

January

McCarthy Shouldn’t Alter Early-Season RB Strategy Against Giants

Green Bay Packers Running Back James Starks

If healthy, James Starks should get an opportunity in the playoffs.

With James Starks out, Ryan Grant has come to life late this season.

There’s no question that Grant has the hot hand heading into the playoffs. He’s got plenty of momentum, if you believe in that sort of thing. But as great as Grant has been down the stretch, Packers coach Mike McCarthy should give both Grant and Starks an opportunity in the playoffs.

Before Starks became hobbled by various injuries, McCarthy gave both Starks and Grant carries early in games. With the exception of the Bears game, Starks usually performed better and ended up getting the majority of the work.

Assuming Starks returns to 100 percent, there’s no reason to alter that strategy in the playoffs. Give each RB some opportunities early and go with the hot hand later in the game.

I know it’s easy to write-off guys that seem injury prone or don’t live up to high early-season expectations. But lets not forget that Starks ran for over 100 yards against the Eagles last season in the wild-card round and was the go-to RB on a Super Bowl winning team. He’s not the veteran that Grant is, but he’s been through the postseason before. I don’t want to hear about how he’s unreliable, unproven or inexperienced.

Any praise for Starks should not be taken as as a dismissal of Grant. Grant has made those that dismissed him this season look silly, and he might continue doing that in the playoffs.

However, neither of these RBs will ever be confused with Adrian Peterson. Both backs bring different skills to the table and fit nicely into the “pass to set up the run” McCarthy offense. Unless Starks is still hurt, there’s no reason for McCarthy to suddenly put all of his eggs into either the Grant basket or the Starks basket.

Give them both a shot, see who’s hitting the holes hardest, and go from there. Just like early in the season.

——————

Adam Czech is a freelance reporter and a Packers fan living in the Twin Cities. Follow Adam on Twitter. Read more of Adam's writing on the Packers here.

——————

3

January

Packers Stock Report: Playoff Bye Week Edition – Matt Flynn A Strong Buy

Matt Flynn likely will be shaking his agent's hand after earning a significant raise following his performance on Sunday.

I agreed 100 percent with Mike McCarthy’s decision to rest Aaron Rodgers on Sunday, but I couldn’t help but think about how I would feel if I dropped an entire paycheck to bring my family to the game, only to learn that Rodgers was resting.

“Resting?” I would have said. “I’m paying how much for tickets, parking, food, beer, a jersey and other stuff so my family can come watch Aaron Rodgers and he’s taking the day off?!?!”

Those angry thoughts would not have lasted much longer after the game started, though. How many fans can say they saw something historic and record-breaking happen at Lambeau Field? The fans at Sunday’s game can.

The Packers are definitely rising heading into the playoffs and there will be more opportunities to make history before the season concludes.

Rising

Matt Flynn
Matt Flynn may be the biggest mover of the entire season. Flynn’s performance and his statistics from Sunday speak for themselves, so I’d like to use this space to address the silly notion that the success of Aaron Rodgers this season and Flynn on Sunday was solely due to the Packers “system.” Yes, McCarthy has one of the best systems in the NFL, but anyone who suggests Rodgers is a “system quarterback” should be locked in a padded room with Skip Bayless and forced to watch replays of the Broncos-Chiefs game from Sunday. Tom Oates from the Wisconsin State Journal sums up my thoughts perfectly with this Tweet. You could put Rodgers on any team, with any system, and he’d still be one of the best QBs in the NFL. The throws he makes and the plays he digs out of his you-know-where are amazing and would be just as amazing under any “system.” And lets not cheapen what Flynn did on Sunday by lazily chalking it up to the Packers “system.”

Jordy Nelson
Remember when the Packers offense looked lost without Greg Jennings? Neither do I. Nelson caught three TDs on Sunday and finished with 15 for the season, the highest total by a Packers WR since Sterling Sharpe caught 18 TDs in 1994. Nelson averaged 18.6 yards per catch, the highest average since James Lofton’s 22.0 in 1984. Those stats are nice, but the best part of Nelson’s game is the Jordy Stiff Arm. It came out again on Sunday and it looked nastier than ever.

30

December

What I Want and Don’t Want to see in Packers Season Finale Against The Lions

Charles Woodson

Charles Woodson needs to sit on the bench next to Aaron Rodgers and Clay Matthews on Sunday.

When did it become the norm in America to shop before, during and after the holidays? When I was a kid, my parents sneaked away after work on a random night in early December to buy my Christmas presents (my favorites were games for my Sega Master System or WWF wrestler figurines).

They didn’t wake up at 3 a.m. to wait in line at some store on Black Friday. They didn’t buy additional crap on Cyber Monday. And they didn’t use the Holidays as an excuse to buy a bunch of stuff for themselves on the day after Christmas.

Speaking of the day after Christmas, I never once rushed to a nearby store to exchange one of my presents. If I got a Ricky Steamboat wrestling figure, then by God, that’s the wrestling figure I played with until my birthday came around.

Shopping for kids these days isn’t what it used to be. It’s hard. I don’t envy parents one bit. If I ever become a parent, I’m going to ask my kid to make me a list of things he doesn’t want in addition to the things he wants. I guarantee you the don’t want list will be longer than the want list.

Sunday’s season season finale against the Lions doesn’t mean anything for the Packers, but there are still some things I want and don’t want to see. To make sure Mike McCarthy and the Packers aren’t confused about what I want and don’t want, I made a couple of lists below..

Even though I’m not a big believer in game-to-game momentum, if the Packers do and don’t do everything on my lists Sunday, I’ll feel like a kid on Christmas morning about this team heading into the playoffs. There will be no need to take anything back to the store.

Don’t Want

  • Injuries. Duh. Just getting that one out of the way.
  • Aaron Rodgers to play. There’s no need to put the MVP out there against the goons that make up the Lions defense.
  • Missed field goals. I don’t care if the game is meaningless. Crosby needs to go into the postseason confident and on a roll.
  • Clay Matthews to play. His hamstrings are fragile enough.