Owning the Future? What Jabari Parker's Injury Means For the Bucks

The rebuild took a big hit Wednesday night.

 

By: Jim Boyce

By now if you are a Bucks fan you have heard the news, Jabari Parker tore his ACL again on a non contact injury Wednesday night against the Miami Heat. This is the second time in just three seasons Parker has experienced this injury. Suddenly the dreadful month of January in which the Bucks have lost 11 of their last 13 meant little. The Bucks have already faded out of contention this season, but right now that means nothing compared to the long term effects Parker’s injury may have. A dark cloud now hangs over the future of this franchise.

THE IMPACT

The devastating thing about this injury is there is not much, or any, history of NBA players coming back from two torn ACL’s and being successful. A local example is Michael Redd, who was essentially forced to retire after his second major knee injury. Redd was at a much later stage of his career than Parker is now, and our fingers are crossed that youth helps Jabari make it back onto the court.

Expectations need to be tempered though. Even with a full recovery Parker will not be back on the floor for 12 months and then it will take some time for him to work back into the rotation and feel comfortable. Even an optimistic view does not see Parker back and playing at full strength until the Bucks open up their new arena in the fall of 2018. It’s impossible to say right now if Parker will be anywhere near as explosive when he does return, and for a player as dependent on explosiveness as he is that is incredibly concerning.

WHAT NOW?

The Bucks should tank, plain and simple. Tanking is an ugly word but the Bucks need to take a long term approach with this setback. Let Thon Maker, Malcolm Brogdon, and Rashad Vaughn get the bulk of the minutes and see what you have in these guys going forward. While playoff experience is useful the Bucks do not have much to gain by chasing the 8th seed and it is not a lock they will even have enough firepower to get there anyway.

The ultimate goal here in Milwaukee is to win a championship and to do that you need an a star studded core. Recent examples such as the Cavaliers and Warriors show that star power is what wins in the NBA. The Bucks have one already in Giannis and Khris Middleton was a fringe All-Star last season before getting hurt to open 2016-17. The other piece was Parker, who garnered All-Star consideration with his best basketball to date. Right now though the Bucks can not be sure Parker will still be that player. If he loses explosiveness or is battling injury throughout his career he can not be counted on to be that piece that gets them to the big stage. Thon Maker could develop into a star player, he is certainly willing to put in the work to do so. Still while Maker is an exciting young talent, there are no guarantees he reaches the level that Parker was trending towards.

The best way for the Bucks to land another potential star is through the draft. The 2017 class is considered deep by many, and the Bucks could land a really good player with a high draft pick. This is mainly why I believe “tanking” is the way for the Bucks to go now. It is no fun watching a team finish with 30 or so wins, but the reward down the line could be great. Adding a top talent to this team could help offset Parker’s cloudy future and if Jabari is able to overcome his injuries and play at a high level the Bucks will have a truly special, championship level core. A draft pick, even top five, carries no guarantees but it is the best the Bucks can do at the moment.

In conclusion this is a devastating turn of events for the Bucks and their fans. The rebuild almost certainly has been delayed, and for how long is yet to be determined. I am still optimistic that the Bucks window has not shut before it even opened, but the road to success just became a whole lot more difficult.

Historic Night For Patriots Running Back James White As He Sets Multiple Records in Super Bowl LI

By: Bill Tewes

Patriots running back James White posted a MVP-like game, as the Patriots topped the Falcons in an unlikely comeback to win Super Bowl LI 34-28. His impact was largely felt through the air, as White hauled in a Super Bowl record 14 receptions for 110 yards and a touchdown. White also rushed for two touchdowns, taylling 29 rushing yards and also took an impressively called half back keeper for New England’s first 2 point conversion. White posted an additional Super Bowl record for points scored by an individual player with 20 points. He scored the game winning touchdown, completing the nearly impossible comeback for the Patriots.

Tom Brady deservedly took home the MVP for his role in orchestrating their comeback, but White’s impact was felt throughout the entire game. He was responsible for three of New England’s touchdowns and when it looked as if New England could not comeback after being down 28-3, he was there to pick up the slack and provide New England a sliver of hope.

Even the MVP of the game believed that White should have been the actual MVP. In a post game interview, Brady said, “I think James White deserves it,” Brady said of the Patriots running back. “It’d be nice for him. It took a real team effort. (Fox Sports).” According to Yahoo Sports, Brady may even give away the truck he won as part of his MVP award to White.

White’s swiss-army-knife-like level of play propelled the Patriots into ever having a chance at making last night’s game interesting. White has had some nice games for the Patriots since his rookie season in 2014, but has often been third on the depth chart behind teammates LeGarrette Blount and Dion Lewis. White was inactive for the Patriots Super Bowl XLIX victory against the Seahawks that season and it would be hard to believe that not playing in that Super Bowl did not gave him extra drive and motivation to get him to where he is today; a Super Bowl record setting running back.

For many Wisconsin Badger fans, James White has always been a household name at Camp Randall stadium. Even though he was second fiddle to record setting running backs such as Montee Ball and Melvin Gordon for much of his collegiate career, White’s work ethic was already evident in his freshman season, where h won Big 10 freshman of the year, after totaling 1,052 rushing yards and 14 rushing touchdowns (Sports-Reference).

He finally got his chance to truly shine in his senior season as the Badgers primary starter, where he totaled 1,444 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns, while also amassing an additional 300 yards receiving as well as catching three touchdowns (Sports-Reference). It was not until his senior season that it became evident that White could be a dynamic threat catching the ball. White entered the 2014 NFL draft with a profile of barely getting draft, which was surprising, seeing as how he had an excellent career with the Badgers in a limited role for much of his collegiate career.

It was somewhat of surprise when Bill Belicheck drafted White at the end of the 4th round. White dropped in the draft largely due to size and speed, but many teams failed to recognize the tangible things he brought to the table. Perhaps if White was the starter for all four years he spent at Wisconsin, he would have been a much higher pick, regardless of the concerns with his size and speed.

In looking at the 2014 Running Back Draft Class, it is hard to believe that players such as Bishop Sankey, Tre Mason, Charles Sims, Jerick McKinnon, Dri Archer, Andre Williams, Ka’Deem Carey and De’Anthony Thomas all were drafted ahead of White. Most of these running backs have little to no role with their current teams and it is even more unbelievable now that White has proven his worth on the NFL’s biggest stage. He is developing well with the Patriots and may be the only running back from this class aside from Carlos Hyde and Jeremy Hill, that will earn a second contract in the NFL. His Super Bowl LI performance will certainly help that cause.

 

 

Should Packers Ask Aaron Rodgers to Restructure?

Tom Brady restructured and the New England Patriots have been to two Super Bowls since

By: Bill Tewes

Another year goes by and it’s another year in which the Green Bay Packers will be watching the Super Bowl from the comfort of their homes. After the Packers ran into the buzzsaw that was the Atlanta Falcons, many questions are left unanswered as to how the Pack can right the ship and become a contender again.

A popular question in recent days, is whether or not the organization should ask Aaron Rodgers to restructure his contract, so that GM Ted Thompson can sign some top caliber free agent talent and give Rodgers a championship caliber team. Before we answer that, lets take a look at Green Bay’s cap situation heading into the 2017-2018 season.

Green Bay will head into the 2017 season with many difficult decisions that Thompson will have to make, as far as retaining some of his own players. Any Packers fan can tell you that Thompson typically favors his own guys and there has been some embarrassing examples of keeping his own draft picks too long (Brad Jones, AJ Hawk).

With the likely departure of Julius Peppers, Sam Shields, James Starks and most likely Letroy Guion, the Packers will free up over $20 million in cap space with those players off the books. Left guard T.J. Lang will be an interesting case, as he is certainly worth the money and is one helluva tough player. But injuries plagued him all last season and he departed the NFC Championship game with a foot injury. Peppers would be welcomed back with open arms, but only if he takes a veteran’s minimum deal.

In a meritocracy, hybrid linebacker/defensive end Datone Jones would have been gone about a season ago. There is slim to no chance that Thompson brings back Jones, as he has not performed to the caliber a first round pick warrants. Starks will also be gone after posting an atrocious 2.3 yards per carry and never coming back from a concussion sustained in a car accident.

One player, however, that does warrant a contract is linebacker Nick Perry. Perry looked like another disappointing bust following in the footsteps of his peer Jones, but Perry turned it up this past season totaling 11 sacks, a team high. According to Spotrac.com, Perry’s potential market value is in the 8.5 million per year range. I could see Perry fetching more than that on the open market to a team that is desperate for a linebacker. But I see Green Bay being that desperate team and getting a deal done with Perry. Two other players that should receive contracts are Tight End Jared Cook and Hybrid Safety Micah Hyde, as both will hit free agency, but played well enough to earn new contracts with the team.

The 2014 draft class is also something that the team will have to factor in when considering how much money they will be spending in free agency. Pro Bowl safety HaHa Clinton-Dix will most definitely get a contract extension, along with Davante Adams, who posted a turnaround season with 12 touchdowns and came up three yards short of 1,000 yards on the season.

Running back Eddie Lacy’s status with the team is up in the air, as the obvious weight concerns, injury concerns, the emergence of Ty Montgomery at running back and a loaded running back class in this year’s draft will put Lacy in the “prove it deal” category. It would be nice to have Lacy back for insurance purposes and the fact that he was averaging just over five yards a carry before his season was ended with an ankle injury.

With all this being said, Green Bay should be in the $35-40 million dollar range in cap space if the aforementioned cuts, cap rollover, as well as the cap going up to $163-$165 million (up from roughly $155 million in 2016). They will have plenty of money to play with in order to sign a couple players on the defensive side of the ball, adding crucial pieces they desperately need to get Aaron Rodgers another title on his mantle.

It would seem incredibly disingenuous to ask perhaps the best quarterback in all of football at the moment to restructure his contract. Rodgers is not even the highest paid quarterback in the league. Super Bowl bound and likely 2016 MVP winning QB Matt Ryan was the highest paid quarterback to start the 2016 season (Andrew Luck is now the highest paid) and took a team with a pretty average defense to the Super Bowl. The difference is that the Falcons added key free agents in Alex Mack (viewed as one of the best free agent signings this past offseason) as well as role players in Dwight Freeney, Courtney Upshaw and the speedy receiver Taylor Gabriel to compliment superstar Julio Jones.

Ted Thompson has absolutely no choice but to spend some of the cap money the team currently has. Rodgers has three years left on his current contract, which is set to expire at the end of the 2019 season. The only possible way Rodgers would restructure is if he was guaranteed a deal similar to Tom Brady’s back in 2013, in which Rodgers would receive his money differently than his current contract, but with more guaranteed money as well as an extension to the current contract.

However, Rodgers is not 35 and also has no guarantee from management that they have plans to upgrade the team and get him some help. What would be the point of sticking around after his prime years are well in the rear view mirror and the team still has no real change?

The real answer to the restructure question is to look at players like Clay Matthews and Randall Cobb as possible restructure candidates. Matthews has been an essential piece to the defense and the team would struggle without him. But he has trouble staying on the field and has not brought the production to match the contract. Cobb is in a similar boat. Cobb showed some flashes in the post season of his old self, but he has definitely not lived up to contract extension that nets him $10 million per year.

Our next offseason installment will focus on players that Thompson can target in free agency.

 

Another Monday Morning Hangover in Playoffs for Packers

By: Mark Prott

If you are a die hard Green Bay Packers fan like me, it was probably difficult for you to get out of bed Monday morning following the 44-21 drubbing handed down to the Packers by the Atlanta Falcons in the NFC Championship game. You might have even woke up in the the middle of the night thinking what’s bothering me? And then reality sets in and you remember. Oh yeah, at this point you are getting very familiar with that sick to your stomach feeling after your team gets bounced from the Playoffs. It’s becoming a yearly tradition in Green Bay.

Look I already know what the common narrative will be regarding the Packers’ 2016-2017 season. Boy, that team really came together after being 4-6, went through another injury riddled season and somehow made it within 60 minutes of reaching the Super Bowl. What grit and fight they possessed. And that’s all fine and dandy. I admit it was a blast following the Packers on their eight game winning streak following Aaron’s famous “run the table” phrase. Any Packers fan also knows how pleasurable it was to knock out the New York Giants and Dallas Cowboys from the NFL Playoffs. Call me pessimistic or half glass empty guy, but I’m gonna remember this season in another way. Another blown opportunity to achieve greatness in what seems like a never ending cycle for the Packers in the playoffs. So who or what is to blame and how can this team get over the final hump?

Too Much Reliance on Youth

What has stood out to me most as I have followed the Packers in the playoffs over the last few years is that they simply are too enamored with the draft and develop philosophy and as a result count to much on young inexperienced players to deliver in big time moments. Just off the top of my head I think about a rookie Micah Hyde dropping a sure fire Colin Kaepernick interception that likely would have won a playoff game in 2014. Or rookie Ha Ha Clinton-Dix looking helpless as Russell Wilson completed a Hail Mary 2 point conversion over his head in the NFC Championship collapse of 2015. Just last year rookie Damarious Randall blew coverage on Larry Fitzgerald which led to another playoff loss in overtime.

Notice a theme here?  Rookies and in general young, inexperienced players laying eggs in crunch time. There was plenty of inexperience showing in these playoffs as well, particularly in the secondary. The Packers took a big gamble back in March 2016 when they let Casey Hayward depart to the San Diego Chargers on a very reasonable 3 year $15.3 million dollar contract. While Hayward was not a great player by any means he was a proven starter. Damarious Randall and Quinten Rollins had their moments as rookies but both took a step back in their sophomore campaign.

The point is that a team that prides itself in winning championships cannot afford to take the amount of risks on youth like the Packers do. Randall, Rollins, and Gunter had no chance against Matt Ryan and the Atlanta Falcons passing attack. It would have been nice to have a veteran presence like Hayward in a big time game like that. I do not want to suggest that Rollins and Randall are busts and hopeless to get better. I think there’s a good probability that at least one of them proves to be a good player. However, as we found out this year, you just cannot afford to count on substantial improvement from within as a given.

More Talent Needed In Addition to NFL Draft

Maybe it was the fact that we just played the New York Giants in the playoffs but I just could not help myself ponder what a difference a signing of a big name free agent such as cornerback Janoris Jenkins would have made for this team this year as I watched the secondary of the Packers fall apart against the Falcons. Sure he received a huge contract from the Giants but guess what it worked. The Giants statistically now possess one of the best defenses and all it took was adding a few key free agent pieces. We once did the same thing signing Charles Woodson back in 2006 and it transformed the defense into a Super Bowl caliber unit.

Those type of players are out there every year but the lack of free agency activity by Packers General Manager Ted Thompson makes it almost a certainty that no major additions will be made. What makes his inactivity most years even more puzzling is that when he does make a signing it generally works out. No way do the Packers knock out the Dallas Cowboys without the services of free agent acquisition Jared Cook at tight end.

Shakeup Needed in Front Office

While the draft is and should always be the prime source of talent acquisition, the Packers are missing out on Super Bowl opportunities because of the lack of activity acquiring talent from other sources such as free agency and trades. Aaron Rodgers will likely go down as one of the top quarterbacks ever to play in the NFL but at 33 he only has one Super Bowl appearance and title to show for his career. And he has taken notice. “We’ve just got to make sure we’re going all-in every year to win. And I think we can take a big step this offseason,” said Rodgers following the loss to the Falcons.

Was this a subtle message from Rodgers to Ted Thompson that he needs more help? Likely so, and now that Eliot Wolf and Brian Gutekunst, the Packers’ top two personnel executives under Ted Thompson, signed new deals to stay in Green Bay and pass on a GM opportunity with the 49ers, there is a slight glimmer of hope. While current Chiefs GM John Dorsey would be ideal to replace Ted Thompson, sources indicated to Milwaukee Journal Sentinel writer Bob McGinn that Dorsey is under contract through 2018.

That is too much time for Thompson’s current lackadaisical approach to drain away two more years of a prime Aaron Rodgers. Perhaps President Mike Murphy will wise up and make the necessary decision that needs to be made sooner rather than later. Time for an ultimatum. Either it’s time for Ted Thompson to step down into a lesser role with the organization or finish out your current contract while giving more control and responsibility to the likes of either a Wolf or Gutenkunst to make independent decisions regarding personnel including the free agency avenue. Both men are wanted commodities in the NFL and it’s only a matter of time before they leave the organization for a better opportunity.  Give one or both an opportunity to see if they are the future top decision maker and in the process hopefully end the continuous cycle of Moday morning playoff hangovers currently haunting the organization.

NFC Championship Predictions: Green Bay at Atlanta

By: Bill Tewes, Mark Prott, & Jim Boyce

We are down to the final four of the NFL. In many ways an appearance in the NFC Title game would not have been a surprise to any of us making predictions back in August. The road Green Bay has traveled to get here though is truly remarkable. 60 Minutes will determine if they get a shot at the Super Bowl. Here is what we think will happen.

JIM

PACKERS 38 FALCONS 34

As fans these last two months are ones we will remember for a long time. I believe many of us have a new found appreciation for Aaron Rodgers’ greatness after this eight game win streak. Aaron Rodgers will need to continue to play on an MVP level no doubt, because the Falcons present challenges.

I believe Matt Ryan will win the NFL MVP award this season and it is pretty hard to argue against that. He has really played at a level I did not think was possible after a couple sub par seasons leading up to this one. Julio Jones will be less than 100% but still will provide an enormous challenge to Green Bay’s corners. I expect the two headed monster of Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman to cause a lot of problems for the Packers defense, perhaps more so as receivers than running the ball. There really is no stopping the Falcons offense from picking up yards, in order to win this game the Packers may need to force a key turnover or two.

Green Bays WR situation is in a bit of disarray as Jordy Nelson, Davante Adams, and Geronimo Allison all appear to be game time decisions. If both Nelson and Adams can’t go it might be too much for the Packers to overcome, though my guess is both will try to tough it out. Jared Cook has been a big part of the offense and will continue to be fed. Randall Cobb is playing how I thought he would in the regular season, with 12 receptions for 178 yards and 3 touchdowns during the playoffs. I think Cobb is going to end up having a big game both in terms of volume and impact.

Last weeks game against Dallas was truly an instant classic and I think we may be in store for another one. This match-up truly feels like a toss up and if Atlanta comes out the victor I will tip my hat to them. Aaron Rodgers looks like a man on a mission however, and I just can not pick against him right now. Green Bay takes a thriller on a late score.

BILL

PACKERS 41 FALCONS 31

It was just after Week 8’s loss to Atlanta that I wrote this article suggesting that Aaron Rodgers was indeed clutch, when the sports world was melting down and questioning if he was losing his touch. The Packers lost to the leagues best offense by one point and were missing the services of Clay Matthews, Damarious Randall, Quinten Rollins, Randall Cobb, Jared Cook and Ty Montgomery. All are expected to play Sunday, barring any setbacks, and will help send Green Bay to the Super Bowl.

It appears as if Jordy Nelson, Davante Adams and Geronimo Allison will gut out their injuries in the biggest game of the season. For Adams and Allison, it is the biggest game of their careers and can separate them from many other receivers in the league with big performances. At this point it is safe to assume that Rodgers is going to bring his A+ game to the table, but it remains to be seen if all of our banged up players can do the same.

Matt Ryan had an MVP worthy season this year and has a plethora of weapons at his disposal. The Falcons have a healthy Tevin Coleman to compliment Devonta Freeman and even though Julio Jones is banged up, he is always a threat to go off for 150+. Which makes it even more important that Green Bay’s defense has a much different look and will than when they played Atlanta earlier this season. If Morgan Burnett sits it’ll pose a bigger challenge for Green Bay, but I think he toughs this one out and contributes big on Sunday.

I think Green Bay goes back and forth with Atlanta until late in the game when they go up 10 points and seal a Super Bowl berth. It seems as if things are just going right for Green Bay this year and Rodgers is making the best of his Run The Table campaign. Hard to bet against Green Bay, especially with our defense being as healthy as it has been in quite some time.

MARK

PACKERS 41 FALCONS 34

It seems a lot of times when people predict a shootout it fails to live up to the prediction and more defense shows up than originally anticipated. In this case, I don’t anticipate either of these defenses being able to slow down either potent offense. However, one thing the Packers’ defense does have and what I believe will be the key difference in the game is their ability lately to force turnovers. While Matt Ryan has been brilliant most of the year and rightfully deserves the MVP award for his consistent play, he has shown in the past that he will throw interceptions. Remember that just last year he threw 16 interceptions.

A lot has been written about the Packers and their injury problems this week with the questionable tags on pass catchers Jordy Nelson, Geronimo Allison, and Davante Adams. However, all three are expected to suit up and it’s just a matter of how effective they’ll be. I honestly feel either way Aaron Rodgers and whoever is out there catching passes will be able to move the ball at will on the weak Falcons’ secondary. Simply put, Aaron Rodgers is in a zone and also very comfortable playing in the Georgia Dome, which will give him an edge in a shootout.

Patience: How to Approach the Milwaukee Bucks

By: Jim Boyce

Last night the Bucks dropped a completely uninspiring game on the road in Orlando to extend their losing streak to four. Afterwards they held a team meeting, which is not really news any fan enjoys hearing about. The Bucks are now 20-22 and in the 9th spot in the Eastern Conference standings. For fans of the team, myself included, watching the Bucks this season has been both exhilarating and frustrating and often within the course of the same week. How do you beat the Spurs on the road without Giannis then drop a home game to Philadelphia six days later? The answer is likely pretty simple, youth.

Here’s a bold prediction for you, the Cleveland Cavaliers will win the East. Well that was not all that bold after all, but it offers some perspective to viewing the Bucks. While there is no doubt playoff experience would help the Bucks, one has to understand that the results of this season are fairly inconsequential. While it may feel like the Bucks have been “owning the future” forever, the fact is this team has not arrived yet by a long shot. For the rebuilding clubs in the NBA like the Bucks, Sixers, and Timberwolves, the only thing that really matters is your young core. The rest of the guys that fill out the roster can be replaced and likely will be by the time the team is truly a contender.

The Bucks have a bona fide super star in Giannis Antetokounmpo. An All-Star starter at age 22, he is putting up insane numbers and has the Bucks playing much better than I figured they would back when Khris Middleton went down with injury. For as good as he is now imagine what he may be at age 25, 26 etc. Every championship team needs an MVP candidate and the Bucks can check that off their list.

Jabari Parker has played his way to fringe All-Star status this season and has definitely made the leap as a scorer from last season. The hope is that he still is improving and can provide a one-two punch with Giannis that will be the envy of the NBA once the Warriors and Cavs dominant runs begin to fade. Other players I would include as young building blocks for this team are Middleton, Malcolm Brogdon and Thon Maker. While these guys are fun to watch right now, the focus should be on what they are in a few seasons.

Obviously every contending team needs a solid bench, and that is something the Bucks will need to be smart with when they add pieces around the core. Right now the Bucks have 42 million dollars invested in the Center position and not enough minutes to get them all into the game, these kinds of things will need to be rectified going forward. The Bucks also will not be able to afford bad contracts on non-essential players. Paying someone like Miles Plumlee 13 million could be killer when it comes time to pay a guy like Brogdon.

So do not lose hope when the Bucks drop a game they have no business losing. While we all want to see the Bucks make some noise in the playoffs right now, keeping and growing the young core of players is all that really matters. Eventually these guys will reach their primes and the Bucks will not be so up and down throughout the course of the regular season. The rebuild may feel like it is taking forever, but I am more than willing to wait it out with the hope of championship level basketball in Milwaukee once again.

Divisional Round Predictions: Green Bay at Dallas

By: Jim Boyce, Bill Tewes, & Mark Prott

The Packers, winners of 7 in a row and possibly the hottest team in the tournament, take on the #1 seed in the NFC with a trip to the NFC Championship game on the line.

MARK

PACKERS 34 COWBOYS 27

Watch any NFL game and you can see that momentum is a very real thing in the game of football and for that matter just about any sport. The Packers are winners of 7 must win games in a row and the confidence and momentum just continue to build. Their is no doubt the phrase “finish the table” is on every player’s mind in that locker room. The Cowboys on other hand had a dominating regular season and were afforded the luxury of taking it easy towards the end of the regular season and are fresh off a bye week. While health is clearly on the Cowboys side, I’ll roll with experience and momentum giving the Packers the edge.

On defense this game hinges on the Packers playing considerably better run defense on Ezekiel Elliott. He made it look too easy against the Packers’ run defense, which ranked #1 at the time of the first match-up. This past week the Packers’ defense spoke out about that game and acknowledged they were too fired up and as a result played undisciplined. I believe that focus on discipline and gap control this week will result in a better showing by the run defense. While the defense won’t likely stop Elliott, they need to make sure he simply does not take the game over, which makes it all the more crucial the Packers’ offense gets out to an early lead. While Dak Prescott has had a sensational year, he’s still a rookie quarterback making his first playoff start and playing from behind would only add more pressure on his shoulders.

On offense the loss of Jordy Nelson is obviously big, but nothing the Packers’ offense and white-hot Aaron Rodgers cannot handle. I believe the Packers are well positioned to spread the ball out in this game to multiple receivers. Jared Cook is always a match-up nightmare and I anticipate him being a focal point. The run game will be interesting to monitor, as Christine Michael provided a shot of energy to the offense last week. Perhaps Ty Montgomery is utilized more at wide receiver to get more playmakers on the field at once. When all is said and done, Aaron Rodgers is still in a zone and without a great pass rush, I don’t see the Cowboys being able too keep up with the 2 time NFL MVP.

JIM

PACKERS 34 COWBOYS 31

Both these teams are looking for very different types of game flow in order to win and advance to the NFC Championship. An ideal day for the Cowboys would be Green Bay struggles to contain Ezekiel Elliot and they dominate time of possession. Aaron Rodgers can’t hurt you if he’s not on the field. Stopping the Cowboys offense will be a huge challenge as they are much better than the Giants offense we just saw. Green Bay will need to dedicate seven or even eight guys to stop the run, so it will be of the utmost importance that the secondary holds up in coverage as they will often find themselves one on one.

This will be Dak Prescott’s first playoff game but considering how well he has handled everything up to this point I can’t imagine the spotlight being too big for him. That being said Green Bay will need to make life miserable for him by generation pressure on passing downs. In the end I see Dallas moving the ball pretty well and putting up points.

Aaron Rodgers has been superhuman over the seven game win streak, and he is going to need to play at that level again for the Packers to advance. The regular season game against the Cowboys was one of the worse of his entire career and it will not be repeated. The emergence of Randall Cobb against the Giants bodes well for the Packers chances of survival without Jordy Nelson. Adams, Cook, and Allison will also have to play well and the running game will need to at least be serviceable.

I think this game will be an instant classic, but unlike some of the epic playoff games of recent years this one goes in Green Bay’s favor as Rodgers leads the team to a late go ahead score.

BILL

PACKERS 31 COWBOYS 21

The Green Bay Packers have had some interesting playoff exits in the Aaron Rodgers era. Two playoff losses to the Arizona Cardinals in overtime as well as the unfortunate meltdown in Seattle which also resulted in an overtime loss. Rodgers led teams have also been on the receiving end of losses in which they were favored against the Giants as well as a wildcard exit against the 49ers at Lambeau. This game against the Dallas Cowboys has a much different feel and will give another opportunity for Aaron Rodgers to prove that 2010 was not a fluke and he can take the Packers to another NFC title game and possibly another Super Bowl berth.

This might sound trivial, but if the Packers win the coin toss, I hope they take the ball to start the game. The Packers need to set the tempo by scoring first and forcing Prescott and company to respond. The obvious statement regarding beating Dallas is to stop Ezekiel Elliott. Dom Capers is going to do everything in his power to get his run defense ready for today’s game. I definitely expect them to play their best game of the season and limit Elliott, which will force Dak Prescott to make plays and win the game for Dallas and that will be the essential key to victory for Green Bay.

The Packers are going to attack the right side where Doug Free has been highly problematic for the Cowboys offensive line this season. Tyron Smith, who holds down the left side, has been the best left tackle in all of the NFL this year and will be on the field Sunday even with an ankle injury. The vaunted Cowboys offensive line is good, but can be beat and I think Capers will dial up enough pressure to get to Prescott and bring out the true rookie in him. The secondary has played exceptionally well considering they have been without Sam Shields all year and 2nd year corners Damarious Randall and Quinten Rollins have not shown  signs of being potential star players for this defense. Rollins will most likely be back after a scary injury in Detroit and that will be a huge bonus for Green Bay’s ability to contain Dez Bryant and the speedy Cole Beasley.

The loss of Jordy Nelson hurts, but it forces Rodgers to look around and find more guys on the field. It is no doubt that Nelson is Rodgers’ go-to, but after Nelson exited last weeks’ game, the Packers offense began clicking and Rodgers found Adams, Cook and Cobb who all got consistent separation from the end of the first half to the end of the game. This year the Packers have receivers who are confident in their game as well as a wildcard in Geronimo Allison who nearly matches Jordy Nelson in height and athleticism.

I think Green Bay wins this one with veteran experience. They are definitely not favored, but this one has the feel of Aaron Rodgers having so much confidence in his team and more importantly, Rodgers and company are having a ton of fun out there, which makes them an incredibly dangerous team in the run the table campaign. There are a ton of expectations heaped on the Dallas Cowboys and Dak Prescott has yet to face this type of situation. Dallas will keep it interesting, but give me Green Bay and a ten point win!

 

The NFL's Deepest Receiving Corps Propel Green Bay Past New York

TEWES

By: Bill Tewes

The Green Bay Packers looked like they were on their way to another lackluster playoff performance, until the deepest receiving corps in the NFL turned up the heat in the frigid cold. Aaron Rodgers and company struck back against a stout New York Giants secondary that had shut them out throughout most of the first half.

The second quarter almost spelled doom for Green Bay, as Jordy Nelson took flight to make what should have been a spectacular catch down the sideline. Instead, Nelson dropped the ball and took a punishing (and illegal) hit from defensive back Leon Hall. Nelson crawled over to the sideline and was down for a long time. It looked like Green Bay’s offense, which at that point was floundering, was completely doomed.

Enter Davante Adams, who became Rodgers’ first read after Nelson went out. The Packers marched down the field after a nice punt return from Micah Hyde and this drive would be all Adams. After getting no traction with Adams throughout much of the first half, Rodgers hit a huge pass to him down the sideline, with Adams shaking coverage en route to a 31 yard gain. The drive resulted in the most important sequence of the game, as the offensive line gave Aaron Rodgers all day. Rodgers, showing legendary pocket presence, took nearly nine seconds to find Adams in the end-zone, who is proving to be Mr. January by coming up big in playoff games.

The true wildcard in this game was Randall Cobb. No one knew how many snaps he was going to get or if he could perform at a high-level after being out for two games with an ankle injury, but he looked none the worse for wear. Cobb’s touchdown grab of Rodgers’ Hail Mary heave to end the half gave the Packers a monumental boost and some nice separation on the score board after a poor start. Cobb would grab two more touchdowns finishing with five receptions for 116 yards and leaving no question as to his importance to this team.

Green Bay’s receivers absolutely outclassed New York’s all game. Odell Beckham dropped multiple catch-able passes and finished up with four receptions for 28 yards, making him the fifth best statistical receiver for New York Sunday afternoon. Tavarres King, who had two catches in all of the games he played in the regular season, hauled in a nice touchdown grab on broken coverage by Damarious Randall. That catch accounted for 41 of his 73 yards. For all the talk of Green Bay’s secondary collapsing and potentially allowing for one of the more dynamic receivers in the NFL (Beckham) to completely trash them, they held their own and held him in check all game. Outside of King, they did not allow rookie Sterling Shephard to find room to work, as he has become a solid red zone threat for New York with eight touchdowns this year.

The Packers also got solid contributions from Jared Cook and Ty Montgomery. Cook was consistently getting open and even though Rodgers overthrew him a couple times, he connected with Cook on multiple second down conversions for 10+ yards. The Packers will need Cook to step up if Nelson as well as maybe even Montgomery miss time. Montgomery added three catches for 41 yards and if he suits up next week against Dallas, will add a short pass threat out of the backfield.

Geronimo Allison was an afterthought all game, catching only one pass for eight yards after having an impressive game against the Lions last week. Allison took a backseat with Cobb coming back, but still offers a dangerous weapon as well as quality depth at a position that is always seemingly deep for Green Bay. They will need all hands on deck to beat Dallas in Jerry World.

dallasvsgreenbay

Taking a look at advance metrics shows Dallas’ secondary ranks 26th in the league according to Pro-Football Reference. There will be plenty of opportunities for Rodgers and this deep receiving corps to do some damage through the air. Dallas’ defense excels in run defense as they are ranked first overall in the entire league, so the Packers will have to find unique ways to utilize Montgomery, Aaron Ripkowski and Christine Michael in the passing game and take what they can get on the ground.

Next Sunday’s game is shaping up to be an instant classic. Will the rookie duo of Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott keep up their incredible maiden season and down the Pack in Dallas? Or will Aaron Rodgers continue his Run-The-Table campaign with a win in the same building he won his first Super Bowl in?

Wild Card Predictions: New York at Green Bay

By: Bill Tewes, Mark Prott, & Jim Boyce

Green Bay is in the playoffs for the eighth consecutive year despite the roller coaster ride of a season. Winners of their last six the Packers welcome a familiar nemesis to Lambeau on Sunday afternoon.

JIM

PACKERS 24 GIANTS 17

The table has been ran and immortalized in song. The Packers, once looking defeated and uninspired, are perhaps the hottest team in the NFL right now. They do not get an easy task though as the 11-5 Giants present some challenges.

The clear reason the Giants have won as many games as they have is their defense. They rank near the top of the league on run defense and have forced 17 interceptions. The Giants brought in some high priced free agents this past offseason that have helped them and have also had some young players such as Landon Collins step up. The Packers offense will be challenged, but the way Aaron Rodgers is playing it’s almost impossible to think he won’t deliver in this game.

Eli Manning has had a bad season by all statistical accounts and the Giants have lacked a running game most of the year. They do have Odell Beckham Jr. though, and he is a threat to take one to the house at any time. Dom Capers no doubt is aware of this and I imagine will have a lot of help sent to whichever side Beckham lines up on. The Packers secondary is hurting, but I think the Packers front seven can wreak enough havoc on the Giants underwhelming line to force Eli into bad throws. As long as Beckham doesn’t turn in an all world performance the defense will hold up against the Giants.

A close, tough game is likely in order but I will take the home team here. Packers punch their ticket to the second round.

BILL

PACKERS 31 GIANTS 20

The New York Giants will be coming into Green Bay without their best pass rusher Jason Pierre-Paul. This is a huge loss for New York and will allow for Green Bay to focus on their other pass rushing threat in Olivier Vernon. If Green Bay’s offensive line can give Rodgers even an extra second (which they have all year) he should be able to pick apart the Giants’ secondary even with Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie suiting up (did not play in Week 5 match).

Playoff games are a perfect environment for players to prove their worth. This is why I think cornerback Ladarius Gunter will step up today and show that he belongs on this Packers’ roster by doing some work and containing Odell Beckham. He will obviously have safety help in Haha Clinton-Dix and I think the Packers have somewhat of a blueprint on how to keep him under their thumb today.

With the temps being so low, we should see a steady diet of run plays to start the game. I would imagine McCarthy will call this game pretty conservatively in hopes of wearing the defense down as well as giving Rodgers adequate play-action opportunities. Jared Cook did not play in the week five match-up against the Giants and will give us a huge option as far as disrupting the secondary. The Giants will do their best to take away Jordy Nelson, so it is of paramount importance for Cook, Davante Adams and Geronimo Allison to find some separation.

I have the Packers staying in control of this game, with the Giants making a push late. Ultimately Aaron Rodgers will be just too much for the Giants and Eli Manning will not have a good enough game to doom Green Bay yet again in the playoffs.

MARK

PACKERS 24 GIANTS 20

More times than not good defense comes out on top of good offense by the time that the NFL Playoffs arrive. However, I have a feeling this game will be the exception. We’ve heard all week how great the Giants defense is and the feared NYPD secondary. And while I do believe the Giants possess an above average defense, the Packers’ offense, led by red hot Aaron Rodgers, is simply playing at another level. While Eli Manning has well known playoff success at Lambeau Field, that was when he was a much younger player. Manning is simply too inconsistent with ball placement to trust and I expect the Packers’ defense to be in his face at times especially while going up against an offensive line starting Marshall Newhouse at tackle. Packers’ fans know all too well about him. This is a must win match-up for the likes of Julius Peppers, Clay Matthews, and Nick Perry.

While much has been written about how the Packers’ lucked out in the first Giants match-up not having to face a healthy Dominique Rodger-Cromartie and rookie Eli Apple, not enough has been said about how much of an impact the absence of Jason Pierre-Paul will make and how dynamic the Packers’ offense has become since the addition of a healthy  Jared Cook at tight end and the full time switch of Ty Montgomery to RB. Neither of these elements were present in the first meeting. And while the Giants struggled to get after Rodgers in the first game with their pass rush, they might struggle even more without the services of Pierre-Paul. Bottom line is no matter how great of coverage you have, if the offensive line gives Rodgers ample time to survey the field as I suspect, he will make enough big plays with his arm and legs to pull this one out.

 

Week 17 Predictions: Green Bay at Detroit.

Week 17 Predictions: Green Bay at Detroit 

By: Bill Tewes, Mark Prott & Jim Boyce

The Packers have won five straight to set up an NFC North championship game in Detroit. This is what being a fan is all about.

JIM

Packers 34 Lions 30

At 4-6 I figured this team was done, they looked sloppy or worse in all three phases. Aaron Rodgers had other ideas though and is on one of the hottest five game stretches of his illustrious career. That shouldn’t change in Detroit even with Darius Slay playing for the Lions. I expect the Packers offense to move the ball pretty well, as long as there are no dumb turnovers they should hit 30 plus points for the 4th consecutive week.

They may need all of those points because the Packers secondary is still pretty shaky. Matt Stafford has not looked right since breaking a finger, but the Lions have receiving options that can do damage. As always the key here will be for the front seven to create havoc and prevent Stafford from having time to throw.

If the Redskins win on Sunday then this becomes do or die for both teams. Tensions will be running high but I expect the veteran Packers to be able to handle the environment. Experience with big games could come in handy in this one.

MARK

Packers 37 Lions 24

Five down and one to go. No motivational speech should be needed for this showdown at Ford Field on Sunday night. Regardless of the outcome of the Redskins game, this one is for all the marbles. The Lions are on a downward trend while the Packers could be the hottest team in the playoff tournament with a win on Sunday night. I find it difficult to believe that doubt hasn’t started creeping in the back of the heads of Lions players. They let the Packers back into the equation when they could have wrapped up the division long ago and now they will pay.

I expect a back and forth high scoring first half in this ballgame. However, I see the Packers, the more experienced big game team, coming out in the 2nd half and taking control. I think the Packers will want to run the ball more in this one than last week but I still see the best approach for the offense to let Aaron Rodgers do his thing and air it out to the suddenly wide variety of weapons at his disposal. I expect the Packers to test the hamstring of Darius Slay early and often. How about back to back go routes to open up the game regardless of whether you throw the ball to that receiver or not. However, even if he is healthy, I don’t see the Lions secondary sticking with the Packers’ receivers on a fast playing surface.

On defense, the Packers simply need to learn to bend but not break. If Clay Matthews continues to play like he did last week, Matt Stafford could be in for a long day. The Packers also limited the snaps of Julius Peppers all year long to save him for games likes this. The hand injury of Stafford has limited his accuracy and even despite the sometimes shaky play of the secondary I expect the Packers defense to get their hands on the ball especially in the second half.

Packers 41 Lions 20

The penultimate game leading up to a potential playoff berth is going to be massive for both of these teams. The crazy part is that both teams will know what they need to do in order to make the playoffs. If Washington is eliminated, both teams will make the playoffs regardless of who wins the division tonight.

Aaron Rodgers has put his money where his mouth is and has propelled this team back to the heights everyone thought they were capable of to start the season. The offense is clicking like 2010-2014 and Green Bay has a semblance of a run game again (even with a somewhat shaky outing against Minnesota). I think the tight end of Jared Cook is going to be crucial for opening up the field as the Lions defense has been gashed for 800 yards and 10 touchdowns to opposing tight ends.

I want to see Mike Daniels getting constant pressure and dominate Detroit’s offensive line. The Lions will most likely be be without center Travis Swanson which will give Daniels more opportunities through the middle which will hopefully result in some sacks or at the very least some solid QB pressures.

I have the Packers winning big in Detroit as their final statement game of the 2016 regular season and proving that they are a true contender in the NFC and should be taken seriously with the likes of Dallas, Atlanta and Seattle.