Category Archives: Game Previews

5

January

Wild Card Playoff Round – 49ers vs. Packers: Keys To The Game

49ers vs. Packers 2013 wild card

This may be very indicative of what most fans will look like after Sunday’s game. The Packers face the 49ers in the postseason for the second straight season

The stage is set: Lambeau Field, 3:40 pm on Sunday afternoon is where the Green Bay Packers will play host to the San Francisco 49ers for a wild card round playoff.  It seems a bit odd that a team that finished 8-7-1 and needed nearly every last second of their season to secure a playoff berth is hosting a team that finished 12-4.

Such is life in the NFL.  We need only go back three years and to San Francisco’s very own NFC West to remember a 7-9 Seattle Seahawks team that hosted a wild card game.  They beat the New Orleans Saints before losing to the Chicago Bears in the divisional round.  That game was won on an incredible and long touchdown run by Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch.

I know this isn’t Seattle and it certainly isn’t 2010, but I always talk about the possibility of history repeating.  The Packers happen to have a hard-nosed running back of their own in Eddie Lacy.   So there’s that.

Last week, the Packers faced a tough must-win game in colder temperatures and found a way to get it done.  The 49ers pose a much tougher challenge, at least on paper, than do the Bears.  For the Packers, having a healthy Aaron Rodgers is great, but they will need a near all-pro performance out of most of their players to get to the next round.

So how do they get there?  Let’s look at the keys to this week’s tilt between two old rivals.

Avoid Freezer Burn

The temperature is expected to be near zero degrees with a wind chill near -20, which could make this one of the coldest games on record at Lambeau Field.  The coldest recorded game was the famous “Ice Bowl” in 1967 at -13 degrees.

Lambeau Field used to be a huge advantage for the Packers and that advantage was their opponents having to come into those frigid conditions to play whereas the Packers weren’t as affected by it.  Thus was born the nickname “Frozen Tundra” to describe the venue.  Lately, that has not always been the case.

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29

December

Packers vs. Bears: Keys to the Game

Aaron Rodgers & Randall Cobb

Rodgers makes his return and could have another weapon at his disposal in that of Cobb

This week’s matchup between the Green Bay Packers and Chicago Bears already had many eyes on it.  Last game of the 2013 regular season and with the winner to take the North division title thrown into the NFL’s longest-standing rivalry was already a draw.  NBC was also vying for the game to be flexed to the Sunday night slot, according to some.

On Thursday, it was announced that Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers was cleared and would start against the Bears.  Now there will be exponentially more eyes on this game and it is fair to say that this is the biggest meeting between these teams since the 2010 NFC Championship game.  The setting will be Soldier Field, once again and both teams will have their primary starting quarterbacks under center.

In addition to finally getting Rodgers back after a seven week layoff, the Packers may also see the return of receiver Randall Cobb, who has been out since mid-October.  Running back Eddie Lacy has not practiced for the Packers, but head coach Mike McCarthy seemed optimistic about Lacy’s chances of playing when asked after Thursday’s practice.

Both of these teams lost their games last week and the Bears, a chance to lock up the division title.  While Chicago looked awful against the Philadelphia Eagles last week, I have warned against anyone thinking that same Bears team shows up at Soldier Field on Sunday.  I expect more of the version of the Bears who soundly beat the Dallas Cowboys a few weeks back.

Now that we know the answer to the burning question, let’s dive into this week’s keys to the game.  Hopefully, this won’t be the last “Keys” post of the season.

Avoid Too Much Rodgers

Yes, we’ve waited a long time to have Rodgers back and all that he can add to the Packers offense.  Rodgers is one of the few quarterbacks in the league who can return to form in the blink of an eye.  He’s an extremely intelligent player who prepares as well as any other in the game.  Still, the Packers need to avoid leaning too heavily on the portion of the game plan that calls for Rodgers to get fancy, at least early on.

25

December

Around the NFC North: Week 17

Around the NFC North

The Packers and Bears meet for the NFC North division title on Sunday

Merry Christmas to those of you who celebrate.  And Happy Wednesday to those who don’t.

We are down to just one game left in the 2013 season and the NFL gets its way again.  In the NFC North, the matchup between the Green Bay Packers and Chicago Bears will determine the division winner on Sunday.

Both the Packers and Bears lost their games to the Pittsburgh Steelers and Philadelphia Eagles, respectively.  Chicago could have clinched the division with a win.  Instead, they will host the Packers for another late-season game with major playoff implications.

In the other divisional matchup, the Detroit Lions will face the Minnesota Vikings for the last time at Mall of America Field.  The Lions, who just one week ago were in the driver’s seat for the division title, lost to the New York Giants late and were eliminated from postseason contention.  The Vikings dropped their meeting with the Cincinnati Bengals and have likely begun making offseason tee times already.

Let’s look into each matchup a bit closer in this final edition of Around the NFC North.

Detroit Lions (7-8) at Minnesota Vikings (4-10-1)

One thing that can be said about this matchup is that I’m sure both the Bears and Packers are glad they don’t need to rely on the Vikings anymore this season.

Minnesota did come up with a big win over the Eagles in week 15 but returned to form in getting blown out by the Bengals last week.  After reaching the postseason last year, they will end this season with no more than five wins and double-digit losses.  Rumors are already swirling that Vikings head coach Leslie Frazier is likely to be let go as soon as the season ends.

The Lions saw their season’s hopes fade to black in a matter of six days, with their loss to the Giants being the exclamation point on a season that turned disappointing in a hurry.  Despite being the third-ranked offense in the league, the Lions weren’t able to muster enough when it mattered.  Much like Frazier, there is a chance that Lions head coach Jim Schwartz could be shown the door soon after the regular season is over.

22

December

Steelers vs. Packers: Keys to the Game

Matt Flynn and Eddie Lacy

The “Big Three” need a strong performance on Sunday

The Green Bay Packers will host the Pittsburgh Steelers and wrap up the AFC portion of their 2013 schedule this week.  While this is a rematch of Super Bowl XLV, that seems so long ago and, as is often the case in professional sport, both teams have changed since then.

The Steelers have regressed this season and are all but eliminated from playoff contention.  That does not, however, mean that they have stopped playing to win, as was evidenced in last week’s win over the Cincinnati Bengals.  It was Pittsburgh’s most complete game of the season and if they want to spoil their opponents’ party over these next two games, they are peaking at the right time.

With just two games left, the playoff scenarios are shaping up and as well as the storylines.  None is bigger than the status of Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers.  On Friday, it was announced that Rodgers will not play against the Steelers as he could not be medically cleared from his broken collarbone.  The Packers can’t afford to lose either of their last two games and they’ll have to rely on backup quarterback Matt Flynn to help them get past the Steelers.

While the news on Rodgers wasn’t what the team nor fans wanted to hear, the Packers need only look back one week to see what they are capable of without him.  After going winless in their first four games after Rodgers’ injury, Green Bay has now won two straight.  Those wins have put the Packers in position win the NFC North and get into the postseason by winning their last two games.

What seemed improbable is still within reach at this late stage of the 2013 season, but there is still a lot of work to be done in Green Bay.  Let’s look at some of the keys that will factor into this week’s outcome and how the Packers can score a big win in their 2013 home finale.

The First Half Counts

Someone should remind the Packers that it is OK and possible to start fast and score in the first half.  Although Green Bay has won their last two games, their first half performance in each was abysmal, to put it nicely.  During that span, Green Bay has been outscored 47 – 13.  They obviously overcame those deficits (11 points vs. Atlanta, 23 points vs. Dallas) to win, but we should also remember that was against the Atlanta Falcons and Dallas Cowboys.  Neither of those teams are known for their defense.

18

December

Around the NFC North: Week 16

Around the NFC North

This week’s slate of NFC North games could set up a huge finish to the 2013 regular season

Week 15 brought about some major fireworks around the NFC North, culminating with the Monday night game between the Detroit Lions and Baltimore Ravens.  The Lions scored a late touchdown to take the lead but allowed the Ravens to drive and give kicker Justin Tucker a shot at a game winning 61-yard field goal.  He made it and suddenly, the Lions find themselves in third place behind the Chicago Bears and Green Bay Packers.

On Sunday, the Bears were able to hang on and pick up a valuable road win against the Cleveland Browns.  It was Bears quarterback Jay Cutler’s first game back in over a month and while he was admittedly a bit rusty, he was able to create enough to get Chicago the win.  The Bears are now alone in first place in the North.

The Minnesota Vikings spanked the visiting Philadelphia Eagles and brought the birds back down to earth a bit, ending Phily’s five-game winning streak.  What is more impressive is that Minnesota did so without the services of their best player in that of running back Adrian Peterson.  They were also without running back Toby Gerhart but they did manage to get three rushing touchdowns from. . Matt Asiata?  While the Vikings are playing for pride, at this point, they certainly showed plenty on Sunday.

Benefiting from the Eagles’ loss, albeit ever so slightly, was the Dallas Cowboys.  In Sunday’s late game and America’s “Game of the Week”, the Cowboys hosted the Packers.  Green Bay had not won in nine previous trips (including playoffs) to Dallas and had lost 11 of their last 12 there, spanning over a 24-year period.  That record, however, was at the old Texas Stadium in Irving.  This game would be played at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, where the Packers won their most recent Super Bowl in February of 2011.

After heading in the halftime locker room down 26-3, the Packers seemed all but done for the day.  Many suggested that they just board the bus and head home.  I know because I was among them.  After watching this team flail through the past five games, it seemed highly unlikely that they could overcome such a deficit.  They did just that, however, capitalizing on two huge interceptions late in the fourth quarter to seal the comeback victory over the Cowboys, 37-36.  No team or fan base was more elated by the Lions loss to the Ravens than the Packers, as they remain in contention for a division title and can secure it on their own and without help.

15

December

Packers vs. Cowboys: Keys to the Game

Tony Romo

This guy needs to be on the Packers defense’s most wanted list this Sunday

The Green Bay Packers return to the site of their most recent Super Bowl victory this Sunday: Dallas, Texas and AT&T Stadium (Texas Stadium).  This Packers team looks quite a bit different than the one from three years ago, the biggest difference being that Aaron Rodgers won’t be at quarterback for the Packers.

It was announced on Friday that Rodgers has been ruled out for this week’s game.  Matt Flynn will get another start for the Packers.

As much success as Green Bay has had, as a franchise, over the past two decades, this is a venue that has brought a lot of pain and heartbreak.  The last time the Packers beat the Cowboys in Dallas, Brett Favre was still in college.  So was Emmitt Smith.  It was December 24, 1989, Troy Aikman’s rookie season.

Since then, Green Bay has lost nine straight in Dallas.  Favre never won in Dallas in a Packers uniform.  Rodgers has only played in and appeared in one such game, in late 2007.  Rodgers came in for Favre, who was hurt and played nearly the entire second half.  It was Rodgers’ “coming out” party and even though the Packers didn’t win, they saw what they had in their young backup.  Less than a year later, Favre was a New York Jet and Rodgers was Green Bay’s starting quarterback.

While these are vastly different teams that travel to Texas, I have to wonder how much the mystique of such a long losing streak has on a team.  Just look at the Detroit Lions when it comes to playing at Lambeau Field.  And that’s a divisional matchup to boot!

Somehow, and despite not winning five of their last six games, the Packers are still very much alive in the race to win the NFC North.  With just three games left and a half game between themselves and the Lions and Chicago Bears, Green Bay can’t likely afford many more losses.  I’m speaking purely from a mathematical standpoint there.  In theory, they need to win all three from a record and a confidence point of view.

With Rodgers out, the Pack face another uphill battle to get a tough road win.  Let’s look at the areas that likely factor into this week’s outcome.

11

December

Around the NFC North: Week 15

Around the NFC North

Last week did little to clear up the NFC north divisional race

A snow-filled weekend brought about three very entertaining games in the NFC north.  The Detroit Lions visited the Philadelphia Eagles in a scene right out of any backyard in the Midwest or East Coast on a snowy day.  Just before game time, snow piled on Lincoln Financial Field.  The sidelines and yard markers had to be shoveled clean so players and officials could determine where the boundaries were.  Detroit seemed to have an early handle on how to play in the white stuff but in the end, the Eagles came back and pulled away for their fifth straight win.

The Minnesota Vikings went to Baltimore to face the Ravens in another snow globe game.  Vikings running back Adrian Peterson suffered what is being reported as a foot sprain early on, but Minnesota hung with Baltimore all day long.  The game saw five lead changes in the final two minutes, which is a new NFL league record.  In the end, the Ravens scored a game-winning touchdown on an acrobatic catch by Marlon Brown to seal the win.

The Green Bay Packers hosted the Atlanta Falcons and earned a 22-21 victory, sealed in the last seconds by an interception by Jarrett Bush.  Yes, you read that correctly, Jarrett Bush.  The Packers also benefited from the Falcons tripping over themselves as sure-handed receiver Harry Douglas dropped what would have been a first down conversion to help move Atlanta into realistic position to kick a game-winning field goal.  The win stopped a five-game winless streak.

Lastly, the Chicago Bears hosted the Dallas Cowboys on Monday night football, although they were not very gracious hosts.  Freezing temperatures coupled with a lights-out offensive output by the Bears led to an easy 48-25 win over Dallas.  The win evened Chicago with the Lions for first place in the north while the loss put the Cowboys one game behind the division-leading Eagles in the east.

Chicago Bears (7-6) at Cleveland Browns (4-9)

The Browns nearly defeated the New England Patriots in New England.  It would have been the first time the Browns beat the Patriots in New England since 1992.  The irony there is that the Browns head coach at the time was Bill Belichick, current Patriots head coach.  Cleveland fell to 4-9 and all but eliminated themselves from playoff contention, although they are still mathematically alive.