Monday, December 31, 2012

2013 Playoffs

Well, it's that great time of year again where the Packers are in the playoffs.  I really wish that we weren't playing the Vikings or playing this weekend at all, but maybe that's what is better for us since byes haven't really worked out so great for people so far.  Well let's take a look at each team that is in and how they have done so far this season.

NFC 1. Atlanta Falcons (13-3)
The Falcons were undefeated the longest on the season before they lost to the New Orleans Saints.  During their undefeated run they beat both of the playoff teams they played this season, the Washington Redskins (24-17) and the Denver Broncos (27-21).  This might be the year that Matt Ryan can finally win a playoff game, because every time he has lost to a team going to the Super Bowl (Cardinals, Packers, Giants).  I honestly think that it is going to come down to a matchup game for them, and it remains to be seen if they can stay up with a playoff team at this time in the season.

AFC 1. Denver Broncos (13-3)
We all know the story of their offseason, they traded Tim Tebow to the Jets (how is that working for you Jets fans?) and they had signed Peyton Manning.  Manning simply looks like his old self, plays in much more difficult conditions (who wants to go play in mile high to get rid of Manning?) And the Broncos haven't lost since week 5.  Granted that was the toughest part of their schedule.  They are 2-3 against playoff teams this season with losses to the Falcons (21-27), Texans (25-31), and Patriots (21-31) and wins over the Bengals (31-23) and Ravens (34-17).  Broncos are certainly hot at the right time of the year.

NFC 2. San Fransisco 49ers (11-4-1)
The 49ers have had an extremely interesting season, with Alex Smith getting hurt and Harbaugh deciding to play Kaepernick the rest of the year.  A move that could pay great dividends.  Despite their overall great record, the 49ers were just a puzzling team to me this year, seeming to have inconsistent play.  The 49ers went 3-2 against playoff teams with wins against the Packers (30-22), Seahawks (13-6), and Patriots (41-34).  Their losses were to the Vikings (24-13) and Seahawks (42-13).  I think that they will have difficulty in the playoffs, and I hope that they play the Packers next weekend and promptly get eliminated.

AFC 2. New England Patriots (12-4)
The Patriots have not been their usually selves this season.  Usually they are unstoppable in December, but they lost to the 49ers at home this year.  Their ground game has been better than normal, and they did just get Gronkowski back from an injury, which makes all of their fans about 30x happier.  The Patriots are only 3-3 against playoff teams this year.  Wins coming over the Broncos (31-21), Colts (59-24), and Texans (42-14), and with losses to the Ravens (30-31), Seahawks (23-24), and 49ers (34-41).  If there is anything to be seen in those scores, it is that the Patriots have struggled in close games against teams with a strong defense.  They need to hope to keep blowing out their opposition in the postseason.

Wild Card Games:

Bengals (10-6) at Texans (12-4) 4:30 PM EST on NBC.
Most of the season people have been talking about how the Texans are the best team in football.  Meanwhile, the Texans have dropped 3 of their last 4 games.  The Bengals have also won 6 of their last 7.  I think that there is a great chance for the Bengals to win this game, which is quite a high respect for the Bengals considering I picked the Texans to go to the Super Bowl before the season started.  I just cannot continue to pick the Texans because Matt Schaub looks worse than he did last season.  I don't know if they hid his injury through their great rushing attack this year or what.  But I am going to pick a ginger and say that Andy Dalton and the Bengals get an upset win in Houston (34-21).  (If the Bengals win they play the Broncos, Texans win they play the Patriots).

Vikings (10-6) at Packers (11-5) 8 PM EST on NBC.
There are a lot of things I can say about the Packers this season.  We have played well through injuries.  We have gotten a lot of experience for our younger players, which is great.  That being said, Adrian Peterson is the NFL MVP (IMO), he came back from his ACL tear and tore up the NFL this season.  I live in Oklahoma so everyone here loves Peterson and a lot of them even cheer for the Vikings because of him, and because the regional team is Dallas, and who wants to cheer for them.  That being said I think the key to this 3rd meeting between our teams is the turnover battle.  The Packers forced 2 turnovers in the first game with interceptions by Ponder and that was the last game the Vikings have lost.  Vikings protected the ball better and didn't allow a single turnover yesterday, although I believe that Peterson non-fumble was an incredibly close call.  Truthfully I think the Packers win a tight game 31-27.

Colts (11-5) at Ravens (10-6) 1 PM EST on CBS
#ChuckStrong.  I really have enjoyed the Colts this season and everything that has happened with Chuck Pagano, except for when they beat the Packers in week 5.  But I think they will beat the Ravens and I'm not terribly convinced that it will be too close.  Ravens just haven't been themselves this year.  Their defense isn't as good, Flacco is still inconsistent.  I think Andrew Luck leads them to a playoff win in his first season, and based on his td pass to TY Hilton yesterday, probably deserves to be the ROY.  Colts win 34-17.

Seahawks (11-5) at Redskins (10-6) 4:30 PM EST on FOX
This is the most excited I have been for a wild card game in quite some time.  RG3 and Russel Wilson.  If this game was in the state of Washington, I wouldn't even give the Redskins a shot.  But there is no way I am picking against the Seahawks, even with the Redskins winning their last 7 games to win the NFC East.  Lynch is running strong, their defense is playing great.  I just think that they have a defense that can shut down RG3 and Alfred Morris.  Seahawks win 41-20.

If these picks are correct then in 2 weeks we will see
Packers @ 49ers
Seahawks @ Falcons
Colts @ Patriots
Bengals @ Broncos

Thanks for reading this and I hope you have a Happy New Year.  Go Pack Go!!

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Neal Redeeming Himself

By: Matt Bove

When Mike Neal was suspended for the first four games of the 2012 regular season for violating the NFL's substance abuse policy it looked he was going to end up being a bust.

The 6-foot-3, 294 pound defensive lineman was selected by the Packers in the second round of the 2010 NFL Draft. Neal was considered a reach at the time by most NFL Draft analysts. He was viewed as having great potential, but he never really lived up to it at Purdue, mostly due to injuries.

Neal only played in two games as a rookie before injuring his shoulder vs. Washington and having to have season-ending shoulder surgery. Neal had a sack in that game and Washington head coach Mike Shannhan raved about him after the game, so it was a very disappointing injury as he seemed to be progressing.

The Packers had so much confidence in Neal heading into the 2011 season that they let Cullen Jenkins go to the Philadelphia Eagles in free agency. Jenkins was a key member of the 2010 Super Bowl team and the Packers were counting on Neal to replace his inside pass rush. That decision backfired, as Neal had to have knee surgery after injuring his knee in a non-contact drill in training camp.

Neal returned Week 11 vs. Tampa Bay, but was never 100% the rest of the season and made only a minimal impact. The Packers were never able to replace Jenkins' pass rush last season and that was the downfall of their whole season.

With Neal's injury history the Packers certainly could not trust him again heading into this season. The Packers drafted Jerel Worthy in the second round and Mike Daniels in the fourth round in last April NFL Draft to bolster the defensive line. They also brought in free agents Daniel Muir, Anthony Hargrove and Phillip Merling to add competition as well.

Once Neal got suspended it was very easy to see him getting lost in the shuffle with all of these new players. He would have to stay healthy in training camp and produce or risk being cut. Neal told Zach Heilprin of ESPN that he didn't even think he was going to stick around.

"After I got suspended, and I saw the way that the draft went and all the guys that they brought in, I knew my chances of making the team were probably slim, Neal said. "That's just how I looked at it from my perspective. They may not have thought that, but that's pretty much how I looked at it."

Neal earned his roster spot in camp and once he returned from his suspension in Week 5 at Indianapolis he has not looked back. He earned his first sack in about two years in his first game back and has been a solid pass rusher for the Packers ever since.

Neal has not missed a game due to injury this year, which is a huge accomplishment for him. Not only has he been on the field, but he has been producing as well. According to Pro Football Focus, Neal has 18 pressures in 178 pass rushing snaps this year, which is the fourth best rate among all 3-4 DE's in the NFL. Also, Neal is second on the team with 4.5 sacks in 10 games this season.

Neal was used almost entirely as a pass-rushing specialist in sub-packages until two weeks ago. Injuries to C.J. Wilson and Worthy have forced Neal to take on a larger role in the base defense. Neal has turned into an even bigger force with Clay Matthews back in the lineup. According to Pro Football Focus, Neal has three sacks and three quarterback hurries in the last three games with Matthews back. Having Neal and Matthews pass rushing and running stunts together has become deadly in the past two weeks, much like it was with Matthews and Jenkins.

Neal is one of the most athletically gifted players on the team, especially for his size. His upper-body strength is absolutely amazing  and when you combine that with his athleticism you get a pass rushing force. This is what Ted Thompson saw when he selected him in the second round in 2010. Neal has completely turned his career around this year and he is a prime example of why you should never give up on a player to early.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

NFC North Dominance Starts With Rodgers

By: Matt Bove

After Sunday's win at Chicago, the Green Bay Packers have now won an astounding 12 consecutive games against their NFC North division rivals. This is really an incredible accomplishment because of how well the division teams know each other and how hard they play against each other.

The NFC North is a solid division this year and has been for the last few years. So what separates the Packers from the Bears, Lions and Vikings? Simply put, it is the fact that the Packers have Aaron Rodgers and the ither quarterbacks on the other three teams range from mediocre to poor. It is no coincidence that the last time the Packers lost a division game was when Rodgers got hurt in a 2010 game at Detroit in Week 14.

If you look at the rosters of these four teams, the only clear advantages the Packers have over their division rivals are at quarterback and wide receiver. Also, the Packers probably have a better secondary than the Lions and Vikings, but the Packers' defense as a whole is not far and away better than what the Lions and the Vikings have. All four NFC North teams have very solid front sevens that feature elite pass rushers. Also, none of the teams in the division have a great offensive line. As as usually is the case on most NFL teams, the quarterback makes all the difference.

The difference between Aaron Rodgers and Jay Cutler was on display again on Sunday, just as it is every time the Packers and Bears have matched up. The Packers and Rodgers have owned Cutler and the Bears recently, as the Packers are 8-1 vs. the Bears since Cutler took over as quarterback in 2009 (Cutler did not start in the Packers' Week 16 victory over the Bears in 2011). Cutler has thrown seven touchdowns to 18 interceptions in his eight career starts against Green Bay. Also, he has been sacked 30 times and has a 56.9 passer rating in those game

Rodgers is the antithesis of Cutler as a leader and as a player. Rodgers will not make the same dumb decisions and he will not throw the dumb interceptions that Cutler does. Also, he has a much better personality on and off the field and he will not throw his teammates and coaches under the bus the way that Cutler has during games. Both Rodgers and Cutler have had to deal with offensive line issues this season, but one player has been able to overcome them while the other hasn't.

Rodgers had one of his best games of the season on Sunday, while Cutler did what he usually does. Rodgers had a bunch of "wow" throws that made it seem like it was 2011 all over again. He made amazing throws to beat the Bears' Cover-2 defense to Jermichael Finley and Randall Cobb down the middle of the field for completions of 31 yards and 29 yards respectively.

On 3rd-and-6 from the Packers' 34 yard line,  Rodgers got pressured up the middle, rolled out to his right and threw an absolute dart to Cobb on the sideline for a 31-yard gain. He threw it where only Cobb could catch it in between two defenders and that play got the offense rolling. Also, Rodgers threw three touchdowns to James Jones, including an unstoppable back shoulder throw.

Meanwhile, Cutler only completed passes to one wide receiver, was sacked four times and threw what was really a game changing interception right into Casey Heyward's chest right with 1:36 left in the first half. This allowed the Packers to get a score at the end of the first half and on the opening drive of the second half to take a 21-7 lead.

The quarterbacks have also been the difference in the games against the Lions and Vikings this season. Matthew Stafford has some similarities to Cutler. He had a great season last year, but has majorly regressed this season. Stafford has great talent, but often locks in on Calvin Johnson to much, makes poor decisions, has accuracy that comes and goes and he is not a great leader.

In Packers and Lions' first meeting in Detroit on November 8th this season, Stafford had three turnovers, including a pick-six to M.D. Jennings. After Rodgers led the Packers on a drive late in the fourth quarter to take the lead, Stafford had plenty of time to tie the game with a field goal or win it with a touchdown. He ended up doing neither, as he did not even get a first down or even attempt a pass to Johnson on all four plays. The Packers won because Rodgers made the plays late that Stafford didn't make and Rodgers didn't make the mistakes that Stafford made with turnovers throughout the game.

A similar game took place 10 days ago at Lambeau Field between Green Bay and Detroit. Detroit had a 14-0 lead and was dominating the Packers in every facet of the game. Then in the second quarter, Stafford inexplicably fumbled when he was attempting a pass and Mike Daniels ran it back for a touchdown. The Packers never looked back and won 27-20. Rodgers didn't have a great game, but he didn't make the big mistake that Stafford made yet again.

Comparing Rodgers to Christian Ponder is obviously laughable, as Ponder may not even be a starting caliber NFL quarterback. However, even if the Vikings just had a competent quarterback, they could have beaten the Packers in their Week 13 matchup at Lambeau. Adrian Peterson ran wild on the ground for an astounding 210 yards, yet Ponder could not even complete a single pass to a wide receiver until late in the fourth quarter. He threw a killer interception to Morgan Burnett in the end zone when the Vikings were ready to go ahead 21-10. Ponder threw another interception to Burnett with the Vikings driving and only trailing 20-14. The quarterback difference between these two teams is obvious.

The Packers' run of 12 consecutive division wins is pretty overlooked considering how remarkable it is. Mike McCarthy deserves a lot of credit as well, as he has out-coached all of his division head coaching counterparts. However, without Rodgers this win streak would not have been possible. Until the Lions, Bears and Vikings can compete with the Packers at the quarterback position, the Packers will continue to rack up division wins. 

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

NFC North Champions

Well, life has been crazy so it's been a little while since my last post.  But here is what everything looks like heading into the postseason.  Right now the Packers have the 3rd spot in the NFC which means that we will probably have to play a hot team coming into the playoffs as well, since Minnesota, Dallas, Chicago, Washington, & New York Giants are all 8-6.  I don't know about everyone else, but I do NOT want to play host to the Giants to start the playoffs again, and I definitely do not want the Seahawks, just because they seem to have improved so much late in the season.  I'm not sure if I want the 1st round playoff bye, or if I want us to have an extra week since we have had so many injured players.  But lets take a look at some positive notes from our current team.

-Last divisional loss was on 12-12-10 to Detroit.
-We have currently won 13 NFC North games in a row.
-Back to back NFC North Champions.
-Randall Cobb is currently on pace for a 1000 receiving yards season.
-Turnover Ratio is currently at a +6
-We are 8-1 in our last 9 games
-Rodgers is on pace for 4100 passing yards
-Charles Woodson is coming back soon.

Go Pack Go!