Can Pack Stay Hot? Take It to the Bank.

Posted November 21st, 2014 @ 04:11pm

It's Vikings week, where we in Minnesota always have a little extra at stake. In the 20 years I've lived here, I've taken many the hard climb up the steps from the lower section at the Metrodome, listening to the jeering of Vikings fans after another Favre-era loss.

Lately, there hasn't been much jeering. Outside of the meaningless 2012 Ponder-led finale, the Pack has been in solid control in this series and they come into this game riding a wave unlike any we've ever seen.

But one thing we know about the NFL: you can't take any game for granted--especially division games (are you listening Kansas City?). While the Vikings are going nowhere this season, they still feel the burn of last month's 42-10 prime time shellacking and will be focused and ready to show the gap between the teams isn't that wide.

But the startling lack of offensive firepower for the Purple makes it hard to believe they'll be able to keep up with the Pack, meaning they'll likely need some help from special teams or the rare Packer turnover. They have no healthy running backs, except for Ben Tate, who they claimed on waivers a couple of days ago. He may be forced to play, with Matt Asiata out and Jerick McKinnon banged up. He's shown ability when filling in for Arian Foster in Houston the last couple of years ago. But is he ready to handle pass protection duties against Dom Capers' unpredictable looks?

Teddy Bridgewater makes his first start against the Pack and to give you an idea of who he has to throw to, former Packer Charles Johnson may start. Greg Jennings has been out all week with a rib injury and Jarius Wright (hamstring) is out as well. Cordarelle Patterson has been a non-factor in the passing game, but expect Norv to try to find ways to get the ball in his hands somehow. I mean, who else is there? Tight end Kyle Rudolph returned against the Bears, but his snaps were limited and he doesn't appear anywhere near 100%.

The Packers defense appears to have the clear upper hand in this matchup. If Clay Matthews' groin tightens up and Nick Perry doesn't play, it will force others to step up, but on a cold day with an inexperienced QB, I don't see the Vikings marching up and down the field very often. The pass rush should disrupt Teddy all day and force him to check down, and with the team's inability to stretch the field, the safeties will set up camp within ten yards of the line of scrimmage and look to wreak some havoc.

Offensively, the Pack has been the London Philharmonic lately. You may remember it took a while to get going in the first matchup, with five three and outs. In that game, one big play to Jordy Nelson and then a couple of quick picks allowed the Packers to downshift and coast to an easy victory. Aaron Rodgers passed for 150ish yards in that one. I'm guessing he eclipses that total on Sunday. The Vikes will try to take Nelson away with a safety shading his way. That will open up opportunities for Randall Cobb and Davante Adams. Whoever is lucky enough to see Josh Robinson across the line will be smiling like Rodgers was last weekend.

The running game should also have its way--the Vikings are in the lower third in run defense and will be forced to try to slow the Lacy-Starks combo without the benefit of having eight guys in the box.

I'm interested to see the split of Vikings-Packer fans at the Bank. Wouldn't surprise me to see/hear a near 50-50 split. If the Pack figures out its special teams errors of a week ago and takes care of the ball, I don't see how the Vikings make it interesting. Chances are, a few bounces will go their way, which may keep Wayne Larrivee from giving the dagger until the 2:00 hour.

Packers 27  Vikings 13

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Peaking Too Early? Is It a Thing?

Posted November 19th, 2014 @ 06:11pm

During his weekly radio appearance on Tuesday, Aaron Rodgers was asked if there was a danger of peaking too early. "I don't even understand what that means," he told ESPN Milwaukee. "We're just playing well right now. I don't believe in peaking early."

He doesn't, but we fans do. The NFL season is a long, winding roller coaster ride, where the flavor of the week is applauded, from Seattle to Denver to Arizona to New England. You want your team to be the one that is playing at its best as the playoffs begin. Often, the team everyone is celebrating in November is long forgotten in January.

Why? Usually an injury or two derails a team's acceleration. The Packers are as healthy as they've been all season and it's showing on the field. It's amazing what can happen when your offensive line, skill guys, pass rushers, D-backs and your QB all play every week. But that can change at the drop of a hat, which causes fans to utter the dreaded "P" word.

Today, the Packers are the Vegas favorites to win the Super Bowl at 4/1 (vegasinsider.com) despite the fact that if the season ended today they'd be the #5 seed in the NFC with a road playoff game wildcard weekend at the locale of one of Rodgers' greatest games: Atlanta. Yes, the 4-6 Falcons would host the Pack in the first round.

But with six games to play  the Packers are on a roll, with a favorable schedule where the road games (Minnesota, Buffalo and Tampa Bay) look less challenging than the home games (New England, Atlanta and Detroit). And with the way the Pack is dominating at Lambeau, a home playoff game or two looks like it could turn into a trip to the title game or Super Bowl (it would be helpful if they could avoid facing their kryptonite, San Francisco, though).

The offense is humming at a level never before seen and Rodgers is playing the position at a level we've never before seen. The defense appears re-energized with Clay Matthews' new  semi-home in the middle and Julius Peppers setting the tone from the edge.

But we're Packer fans so we need to find something to worry about. Two straight 50 burgers? Are we peaking too early? No, we're healthy, humming and riding the arm of an all-timer just entering his prime.

All is as it should be as we enter the stretch run. So to quote that strong-armed QB: R-E-L-A-X.

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Pack Continues to Fly Like an Eagle at Lambeau

Posted November 17th, 2014 @ 03:11am

It's not supposed to be this easy. You're not supposed to outscore your opponent 128-9 in the first half of your last four home games. Yes, 128-9. You're not supposed to win the turnover battle 4-0. You' not supposed to have a near perfect quarterback and the hottest WR duo in the NFL. But that's where we are.

The Packers served notice to the rest of the NFC that you better get them on the road come playoff time, because the Lambeau mystique is back in full force. Some NFL talking heads weren't ready to take the Pack seriously since they'd only beaten one team with a winning record (Miami). But the 53 point explosion against one of the NFC's elite will change all that.

You like offense? The Pack put up 30 in the first half scoring in every way possible. Rodgers found Nelson and Cobb early and often. Looking for a big special teams play? Micah Hyde took a punt return to the house. Want to see the defense get into the act? Julius Peppers notched his second pick six of the season and Casey Hayward scooped up a Mark Sanchez fumble and took another one to the house.

We've never seen a Packer team on a roll like this. Never in their 90+ seasons have they served up back to back 50 burgers. You can almost hear Mark Trestman saying, 'See? We're not the only team that turns into a quivering bowl of jello when we step between the lines at Lambeau.'

It begins with Rodgers who is playing at a level even Brett Favre never approached. That's 29 touchdown passes at Lambeau with out a pick and 288 overall without giving one away. And he's converting on third downs with ease. On the second drive of the game he did it three times, on third and nine, 18 and ten yards, punctuated by a touchdown to Davante Adams.

The only negative was some shaky special teams play, with a blocked punt, a blocked extra point and a muffed extra point. But when you build a 30-6 lead at the half you can overlook a few miscues.

Defensively, the Packers dominated the previously high flying Eagles. As expected, Sanchez was picked twice and they hassled him into a fumble and sacked him three times. They made a statement early, letting LeSean McCoy know that he would not find the open lanes and generous running room he found at Lambeau a year ago. With the running game grounded, Sanchez found himself in unfriendly down and distance situations all day--that allowed the pass rush to tee off, forcing him into quick passes and keeping him off balance.

The next order of business for the Pack is to establish the same kind of dominance on the road. We saw it in Chicago in the first game after "Relax," which started this 6-1 roll the team is on. A similar performance in Minnesota would set up the Pack to have a chance to control their own destiny, with two more home games to follow.

The Lions' loss in Arizona lifts the Pack into a tie for the North lead--and Detroit has a tough test in New England in Week 12. Things are beginning to fall the Packers' way but we all know much can change from week to week. But Rodgers may have moved to the top of the MVP conversation, the defense is improving and taking the ball away in bunches. If they can stay healthy, they're looking like the kind of team that could take its fans on a Super ride come playoff time.

 

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Power Rankings

The Baker's Dozen Why 13 and not 10? To celebrate the Pack’s 13 NFL titles, of course. 11/16/14

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