A Look at the Schedule, by the Numbers

Posted April 22nd, 2015 @ 03:04pm

The schedule has been released and we can all finally work our way, game by game, through the schedule and determine what the Pack's record might be. Never mind the fact that we haven't even gone through the draft and the likely surprise cuts, additions and injuries that will alter things a bit.

So let's take a look at the schedule, by the numbers:

7: Players and coaches will always tell you that the first thing they look at is when the bye falls. For the Pack, it's week seven this year. I'd have to think the sweet spot for NFLers is weeks 7-9, so they have to be pretty happy with a week seven bye. It's also a natural spot the way the schedule falls for the Pack. Barring injury or anything crazy, the Pack will be favored to win its first six games. The next two games after the bye are road games against 2014 playoff teams, Denver and Carolina. The Pack could easily start 6-0, with four home games and road games in Chicago and SF,  take a week off ,and then get set for a tough stretch, beginning with those two road tests.

6: An odd quirk about the Pack's schedule is that it features just six noon kickoffs. Call me old fashioned (I prefer to think of it as old school), but I think a perfect schedule would be 12 noon starts and four games under the lights. But in a year where the Pack plays the West in both the NFC and AFC, you're going to get late starts--there are five 3:25 kickoffs on this year's slate. They will play no noon games starting with the epic Thanksgiving night game until the season finale vs. the Vikings.

5: Following that thought, the Pack will once again play the maximum five prime time games this season, including the first two home games, in weeks two and three. The Week 2 Sunday night affair with the Seahawks is the most anticipated game on the schedule. Making it the home opener in prime time just adds some sizzle to a game that didn't really need it. If the Pack can exorcize a few demons and take down the 'Hawks, they can take a deep breath and get down to the business of trying to earn the top seed in the conference. The Sunday night game at Denver should be great theater as well--most likely the second and final Rodgers-Manning duel. As huge as the Week 2 matchup is, most Packer fans would prefer to be at the Bears game, if they had to pick one. A Thanksgiving night dessert at Lambeau between the Pack and Bears and oh, by the way, Favre's number will be retired that night? I'd get in line right now for that one.

4: While the schedule is very favorable early, it toughens considerably after the bye. Once those two road games in Denver and Carolina are over, the Pack will be staring at four straight divisional games. The Pack will come out of this stretch with four games left, with home games against the Cowboys and Vikings and west coast road games in Oakland and Arizona. The way Green Bay has dominated the North in recent years, a record of 3-1 seems likely, splitting the road games and winning the home games.  If that happens, they should be set up nicely heading into the final quarter of the season.

3: Woven into those four straight divisional matchups is a 12 day stretch where the Pack will have to play three games, starting at Minnesota, then Bears on Turkey Day and at Detroit. Mike McCarthy is already bemoaning the fact that the team will have only seven days after the Thanksgiving game to prepare for the Lions the following Thursday night. But the Lions are in the same boat, and it is a division game, so you know the team well. They'll come out of it with ten days to get ready for the home game against the Cowboys, a nice little edge.

2: The Week two matchup against the Seahawks will have everything you hope for in a game. Like the Cowboys in the '90s, the Packers seem to always play this team on the road. Now they get them at home. A win here cements any potential tiebreaker scenarios a few months later and will likely do a lot to salve the psyche of the players and coaches, many of whom are still not over it, no matter what they tell us publicly. Most fans aren't over it either. But getting them in the home opener in prime time is just what the doctor ordered. Will the Pack be more aggressive offensively? Can they stop Jimmy Graham? Will special teams step up and hold their own? We'll know a lot about the 2015 team after this one.

1: Finally, here's one guy's ridiculously early attempt at figuring out the Pack's 2015 results, game by game. I think they win the first six. Four home games: those are Ws. The opener at Chicago may be tougher than expected since they have a new coaching staff and the team will have only the relatively meaningless preseason games to use as tape to figure out what they are like this season. Expect an offense led by the legs of Matt Forte, not the arm of Jay Cutler. But the Bears will still be figuring things out as well, so expect the Pack to win this road game, as well as the week 4 game at the Niners. This team has lost too much defensively and the Pack is ready to finally beat them.

So they come out of their bye at 6-0, staring at road games against 2014 playoff teams. I'll say they split those two and enter that tough divisional stretch at 7-1 at the halfway point. As I said earlier, I would think the Pack can go 3-1 in this four game test, winning at home, losing at Minnesota and beating the Lions in Detroit (it's not Thanksgiving Day, so the Pack can handle them).

The final quarter of the season features two gimmes: at Oakland and at home in a revenge game against the Vikes and two toughies: Dallas (seeking revenge for the Dez non-catch) and at Arizona. I'll give the Cardinals, and their tough defense, a win in this one--provided that Carson Palmer is still healthy (a big if).

That computes to a 13-3 record, which should be good enough for the top seed in the NFC. Wanna sign up for that right now?

Coming Monday: my annual seven-round Packers mock draft.

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Will He Stay Or Will He Go?

Posted March 5th, 2015 @ 10:03pm

As the clock ticks down to free agency, we Packer fans get set for the annual game of March fantasy football, where big names move to new teams and there is much excitement in cities like Oakland, Jacksonville and Washington. We Packer fans will sit and watch and know that the biggest Packer news will be the signing of guys like Josh Francus, the Pack's newest linebacker--late of the Indoor and Canadian Football Leagues.

What we all care most about is the fate of one Randall Cobb, who reportedly has numerous  cash-loaded teams lined up and ready to throw top five WR money to a slot receiver: a versatile, exciting, dependable (mostly), unique talent who is not yet 25. It's rare for Ted Thompson not to keep guys he wants to keep, but if you read the tea leaves it's sounding more and more likely Cobb will receive an offer he can't refuse.

When Jordy Nelson took a nine million dollars a year deal, Thompson likely assumed that if Cobb had a big 2014 season, he'd slot him in at a similar, if not maybe a slightly lower salary. But the market for Cobb appears to be robust, with teams like the Raiders and Jaguars anxious to pair their young franchise QBs with a proven, young WR. Of course there is no guarantee that Cobb will be as valuable without Aaron Rodgers throwing him the ball, but those teams know they'd be overpaying a bit for a receiver who has displayed zero diva tendencies. Stud WRs like that are getting harder and harder to find. Cobb has the skills to make a young, unproven QB look good.

The clock is ticking. Cobb's agent can begin (officially and legally) talking with GMs on Saturday, with free agency opening on Tuesday. Is there a chance Thompson and Cobb swing an eleventh hour deal that keeps him in Green Bay, a la Sam Shields last season? Sure, but with the cap number expanding, providing teams with millions of more ways to overspend, the smart money says Cobb gets a deal in the 11 million dollars a year range, if not more. I don't see Thompson approaching that number.

I think Thompson could have dealt with Cobb making more than Nelson, and I don't think Nelson's the kind of guy who would have a big problem with it. After all, he could have waited to sign and earned much more, but he took the sure thing and didn't want to gamble on an injury. But Thompson doesn't want to throw his payroll out of whack by overpaying at a position where he has assigned a certain value.

The Pack has the eighth most cap room to spend this season, and if they lose Cobb they can spend that money not only to resign all their guys they want back, as well as dip into free agency a bit more fervently than usual.

March is always frustrating for Packer fans, and if Cobb gets away it will feel disastrous. But know this: when the dust settles on the free agency period and we go through the draft, the Pack will be Super Bowl contenders in 2015--with or without Cobb. Thompson and McCarthy will be sure to arm Rodgers with plenty of talented targets.

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Packer Musings One Month into the Offseason

Posted February 22nd, 2015 @ 03:02pm

Greetings fellow Packer backers, thanks for hanging in there and checking back in to the blog. As some of you may know, I generally take a month off after the season, in part to go through the seven stages of acceptance when a season ends; in part because my day job has me on the road for much of January and February.

So let's catch up on what has happened since the epic meltdown in Seattle. The headlines: McCarthy gives up play calling duties, Slocum fired; Zook replaces him, Bostick banished to Vikings, Brad Jones mercifully released (and presumably headed to the Vikings) and most importantly, Pack looks to hang on to free agents.

Let's take them in that order. McCarthy's (or Thompson's or Murphy's) surprising decision   can be seen as a great next step in the development of a championship-caliber team, or a tremendous gamble. With McCarthy calling the plays, the Packers have always been near the top of the league offensively, finishing #1 last season. He and Aaron Rodgers are mostly always in sync and McCarthy generally has known the right buttons to push: when to be aggressive and when to back off. His uncharacteristically conservative approach in Seattle was stunning and likely signaled this change.

I think it's a positive move for the Pack. McCarthy has generally been lousy with the challenge flag and with other seat-of-his-pants in-game decisions. Handing the play calling to Tom Clements will allow him to be on top of all aspects of the game and should make for better-informed decisions. Clements has done it before and has been around long enough that I think the offense will continue to hum next season.

The change at special teams was a no brainer. Once again, the unit finished at the bottom of the league standings and its two key meltdowns against the Seahawks (fake field goal and on side kick) cost the team a ticket to Super Bowl XLIX. Slocum is the fall guy and replacement-in-waiting Ron Zook takes over. I don't understand why your assistant special teams coach, who had as much to do with the unit's meltdown as his boss did, gets promoted while Slocum is out of work. But clearly McCarthy and Zook go way back and he wants to give him a shot to run things his way. First rumblings we're hearing is to expect more starters on the unit, a big-time gamble if I've ever heard one.

The release of Brandon Bostick was also not a surprise. The athletic, talented, yet oft-injured tight end wore the goat horns after the Seattle game, but that in and of itself didn't get him cut. He was injured early and was unable to crack the game day lineup most weeks. With young Richard Rodgers and Andrew Quarless ahead of him and the team likely looking to add another in the draft, it was time to move on. Not to mention, it would have been tough to regain the trust of his teammates and coaches.

Which brings us to the free agents. I will write a more detailed look at free agency later in the week, but here are the highlights: Thompson must and will resign the #1 priority: Randall Cobb. Thompson rarely loses out on signing his draftees to their second contract. It's been reported Cobb is seeking a deal that averages $9 million a year, or the same deal Greg Jennings got form the Vikings a few years back. Cobb's unique talents make him virtually irreplaceable in the offense and his healthy 2014 campaign has earned hum the big bucks. I'll be shocked if the two sides don't agree on a new deal.

I think it's likely Bryan Bulaga is re-signed as well. The Pack's offensive line was a revelation last season and keeping them together is hugely important. Bulge's injury history is obviously a concern, but unless you believe Don Barclay is ready to step in, there isn't an obvious replacement on the roster or in free agency.

The interesting decisions will be which corner to try to hang onto and which QB to bring back (likely Tolzien over Flynn). What about BJ Raji or Leroy Guion (who may have cost himself millions). And what about all pro and fan favorite John Kuhn?

After hitting a home run with the Julius Peppers signing, will Thompson again look outside the organization for some help. I've seen a report that has Cowboy linebacker Bruce Carter in the Packers' sights to replace the soon-to-be-cut AJ Hawk--that seems like a stretch, based on Thompson's history. But we all know this team as built right now is equipped to compete for a Super Bowl title. A key tweak here and there could make a huge difference.

And the decisions Thompson makes in the next 75 days will shape their chances in earning a ticket to Levi's Stadium next February.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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