Las Vegas has the Packers as three-point underdogs against the 49ers in Saturday’s NFC divisional playoff game. The vibe I get from most NFL pundits and talking heads also points to the Packers being underdogs.
There’s nothing wrong with thinking the Packers are underdogs. The 49ers are better on both lines, have an elite group of linebackers, an athletic tight end, and a bruising running back. All of these things typically give the Packers fits.
But I’ll be picking the Packers to win. I don’t think a team with Aaron Rodgers at quarterback is an underdog.
If we get the Rodgers from week one against the 49ers on Saturday night, well, then yes, the Packers will likely lose and I’ll look like an idiot. Rodgers was under siege and indecisive in the season-opener. He didn’t look prepared for the 49ers’ speed and the whole offense looked lost because it couldn’t march down the field like it did so easily throughout 2011.
A lot has changed since that opening-week letdown.
- New faces on the offensive line and in the backfield have sparked the Packers running game.
- The defense, especially the secondary, is more aggressive and improved.
- Rodgers recovered from his shaky opening week and went on to have another MVP-type season, even if he flew under the radar compared to 2011.
- Rodgers now realizes that he has to make plays under duress, whether that means scrambling or navigating his way around a hectic pocket and making plays downfield.
- Rodgers is aware of what winning in the playoffs means for his legacy. Winning a wild-card game at home against Joe Webb doesn’t do much for his legacy. Winning a road divisional game against the team that passed him in the draft does.
Greg Cosell from NFL Films said on Tuesday that Aaron Rodgers is not playing “particularly great football.” Here’s the full quote:
“I’m not saying this to be bold or controversial, but I don’t think Aaron Rodgers is playing particularly great football. I think he’s so physically gifted — he can throw it on the run better than anyone in this league — but he’s leaving an awful lot of plays on the field. I think he’s indecisive and tentative in the pocket. He’s not pulling the trigger on throws that are there. I think this has been an ongoing thing all throughout the season. Some people would say I’m nitpicking because of his numbers, but he’s so physically gifted that there are times that he still makes plays. The biggest concern with Aaron Rodgers and their pass offense right now is not the rhythmic flow of it, it’s the extension of plays. That’s where he’s at his best right now.”
Cosell is a great analyst and knows much more about football than me, but I think he’s missing an important point about Rodgers’ play: Eliminating turnovers. That indecisiveness in the pocket Cosell refers to? He has a point, but I think Rodgers’ retort would be that he’s not going to risk turning the ball over, especially in the playoffs.
Rodgers also might look a little tentative because he’s got two receivers (Nelson and Cobb) that are gimpy and another (Jennings) just coming off an injury. He’s also got a rookie free agent at right tackle and a center who has three NFL starts at the position. Mix this with an offensive mindset of throwing the ball downfield, and you’ll get an offense that doesn’t always appear in rhythm.
Cosell went on to praise Rodgers’ physical skills later in his comments. He also said that Rodgers often makes a play not long after leaving one on the field.
Holding the ball a little too long and taking a few unnecessary sacks has been part of Rodgers’ game since he took over for Brett Favre. To me, it’s part of Rodgers’ and Mike McCarthy’s avoid-turnovers-at-all-costs philosophy. It’s also part of the duo’s look-for-the-big-play-instead-of-the-checkdown philosophy.
It’ frustrating at times, but i’s also gotten excellent results. I think the results will be positive once again on Saturday night.
If you re-watch the week one game, Rodgers didn’t get out of the pocket much. Perhaps that was because the 49ers were too fast. I think it was because Rodgers was a little tentative. He won’t be tentative on Saturday.
It’s fine if you want to take the team with the bigger lines and exciting young quarterback. The 49ers are great and easily could win the whole thing.
I’m going to stick with the team with the already elite quarterback looking to cement his legacy and shush his critics yet again. The Packers might be underdogs, but I don’t think Rodgers will let them play like it.——————