When: 12:00 CST, Sunday, December 18, 2011.
Where: Arrowhead Stadium, Kansas City, MO.
TV: FOX; Kenny Albert, Daryl Johnston and Tony Siragusa
Radio: 620 AM WTMJ (Milwaukee); Packers Radio Network; NFL Sunday Drive.
Series: Chiefs lead, 3-6-1 (Packers won last regular season game, 33-22, in Nov. 4, 2007 at Arrowhead Stadium).
Five things to watch
1. Romeo’s turn
After a 5-8 start that included five losses of 25 or more points, the Chiefs fired head coach Todd Haley this week and replaced him with defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel. Every so often, a change in the face of the man leading a locker room adds energy that would have otherwise been stagnant. Letting go of the fiery Haley and replacing him with a player’s coach in Crennel could have that effect. Keep an eye on the first 15 minutes to see if the coaching change had any early impact.
Last season, Greg Jennings embraced a larger role in the Packers offense after Jermichael Finley was lost for the season in Week 5. Now, with Jennings on the shelf for the remainder of the regular season, Finley gets his chance to do the same. The Packers will spread it around to help compensate for Jennings’ loss, but Finley figures to be the guy to take on some of the missing targets. Let’s see if Aaron Rodgers and the “Big Fella,” as he calls him, can get on a roll before the postseason.
3. You again?
One of the first things Crennel did as interim coach was to name Kyle Orton the Chiefs’ starting quarterback, dependent on his injured finger checking out. The finger is healthy enough and Orton will start on Sunday. The Packers are well-versed on playing Orton, a seven-year pro who has started five games against Green Bay as a member of the Chicago Bears and another this season with the Broncos. In that Week 4 game at Lambeau Field, Orton completed 22-of-32 passes for 273 yards and three touchdowns. But he also threw three interceptions, with one taken 30 yards for a touchdown by Charles Woodson in the first quarter. The Packers won that game 49-23. Orton will need to play a perfect game that includes no turnovers for the Chiefs to have a chance at pulling off the upset.
4. No pushovers
Even without second-year safety Eric Berry, who tore up his knee early in the season, the Chiefs’ defense could cause problems for Green Bay. The core of the defense is very good: Brandon Flowers and Chris Carr, two 2008 draft picks, form a solid cornerback tandem. Flowers is a lockdown guy some weeks but both will play physical and fast. Rush linebacker Tamba Hali has nine sacks this season and will be a handful for left tackle Marshall Newhouse. Opposite Hali, rookie Justin Houston has really come on with four sacks in the past two games. How the Packers block those two will go a long ways in writing the book on how the Chiefs’ defense played on Sunday. Inside backer Derrick Johnson is having the best season of his career and should be a Pro Bowl candidate. He can blitz, too. Tyson Jackson, Kelly Gregg and Glenn Dorsey form a serviceable front for the Chiefs’ 3-4 look. While the Chiefs have struggled on the defensive side at times this season, the potential for them to play well against the NFL’s highest scoring offense is certainly a possibility.
5. Building on the run
The Packers have consistently been ranked in the bottom third of the NFL in rushing this season, but last Sunday against the Raiders was arguably their finest performance of 2011 running the football. Ryan Grant went for 85 and two scores and John Kuhn had nearly 50. With two games in cold (and potentially inclement) weather to close the season, plus home field advantage likely throughout the playoffs, continuing to gain traction on the ground becomes important. The Packers may also get James Starks back in some capacity on Sunday, but that seems unlikely. Expect a big dose of Grant and Kuhn against the Chiefs. Another big performance running the football will go along ways in establishing some confidence for that unit leading into the postseason.
Prediction: Packers 38, Chiefs 16
There should be some energy early for the Chiefs, and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if they played well for the first 15 or so minutes. Once the games settles, the Packers will impose their will like they have all season. Overall, the Chiefs just don’t have enough firepower on offense to pull off the upset. A couple of turnovers from Orton will ensure the Packers head back to Green Bay 14-0.——————
Zach Kruse is a 23-year-old sports journalist with a passion for the Green Bay Packers. He currently lives in Wisconsin and is working on his journalism degree, while also covering prep sports for The Dunn Co. News.
You can read more of Zach's Packers articles on AllGreenBayPackers.com.Follow @zachkruse2