23

December

Keys to the Game: Green Bay Packers vs. Tennessee Titans

Chris Johnson and Tramon Williams

The Packers need to bear down on Johnson this Sunday and keep him from running free

I’m going to depart a bit from the usual Key Matchups format because the Tennessee Titans are an unfamiliar opponent of the Green Bay Packers and also due to the injuries on both sides.

We will return to our regularly scheduled “Key Matchups” next week when the Packers visit the Minnesota Vikings to round out the 2012 regular season.  For this week, it’s more of a “What to Watch For”.

Titans Running Back Chris Johnson

Johnson gets hidden, sometimes even forgotten, in Tennessee because they are one of the smaller markets.  And let’s be honest, the Titans have been very forgettable the past four seasons.  But 1,200 yards and five touchdowns is nothing to overlook this week for the Packers.

Johnson had a 94 yard touchdown run in Tennessee’s Monday night’s dismantling of the New York Jets.  With that run, Johnson set a new NFL record with six career touchdown runs over 80 yards.

He’s still a very good running back and clearly has the ability to break a long run at any time.  Green Bay struggled to contain another great running back three weeks ago when Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson had a long scoring run and ran wild all day.

It’s asking a lot of any defense to contain a top back, but Green Bay has had recent success defending the run and can again this week.  It comes down to the one-one-one matchups at the line, specifically with Ryan Pickett and BJ Raji.  Each played very well last week against Chicago and Matt Forte.

Tennessee’s offensive line grades out better than does the Bears’ but with top wide receiver Kendall Wright out this week, the Titans won’t have as many options in the passing game. Green Bay may be able to focus more on loading up the box, as they say.

If all else fails, just tackle.  The Packers have had more than their fair share of tackling issues over the past two seasons and it cost them in the Vikings game.  Fortunately it didn’t cost them the game, but in a close contest, a missed tackle can be the one play that prevents them from getting the “W”.

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.