Friday, January 1, 2010

Playoff Preview

With a playoff berth sealed, it’s not too early for a playoff preview.  Though this last game against the Cardinals is meaningless from the standpoint of making the playoffs, it is very relevant from the standpoint of maximizing the Packers’ playoff run because it, and two other games played on Sunday, will decide the final playoff seeding.  Plus, it’s a chance to get some practice against our most likely first-round opponent, Arizona.

Before getting to that though, let me get the coulda/woulda/shoulda out of the way... the Vikings are only ahead of us by one game!!  If we could have just split 1-1 with them, or if San Fran or Baltimore could have beaten the Vikings earlier this season, or if we’d beaten Tampa Bay, we’d be tied going into the last game of the season with a first-round bye within our reach!  Ugh… Oh well, back to reality.

Everyone has been assuming for weeks that it would be the Saints and the Vikings who get the first-round bye.  But thanks to the Vikings recent losing streak (did I mention how much I LOVE Jay Cutler!?!?!), they no longer control their own destiny.  If the Eagles beat the Cowboys Sunday, they take the NFC East, the #2 seed, and the first-round bye away from Brent and company... which would be sweet!

Week 17, as far as the Packers are concerned, boils down to three games: Packers at Cardinals (of course), Giants at Vikings, and Eagles at Cowboys.  My Tivo will be recording all three.  The Eagles, Vikings, Cowboys and even Cardinals could all earn a first-round bye still.  The Packers cannot.

Of the three games that matter Sunday, there are eight possible outcomes.  In 6 of the 8 possible outcomes, we go on the road to play Arizona for a second week in a row.  But there is a 1 in 8 chance of going to Dallas, and even a 1 in 8 chance of going to Minnesota.  Here are the possible outcomes, who the Packers would consequently play, and what the playoff seedings would be:

1) Packers win, Giants win, Eagles win – Packers @ Cardinals
    (Eagles #2, Vikings #3, Cardinals #4, Packers #5, Cowboys #6)

2) Packers win, Vikings win, Cowboys win – Packers @ Cardinals
    (Vikings #2, Cowboys #3, Cardinals #4, Packers #5, Eagles #6)

3) Packers win, Giants win, Cowboys win – Packers @ Cardinals
    (Cowboys #2, Vikings #3, Cardinals #4, Packers #5, Eagles #6)

4) Packers win, Vikings win, Eagles win – Packers @ Cardinals
    (Eagles #2, Vikings #3, Cardinals #4, Packers #5, Cowboys #6)

5) Cardinals win, Giants win, Eagles win – Packers @ Vikings
    (Eagles #2, Cardinals #3, Vikings #4, Packers #5, Cowboys #6)

6) Cardinals win, Giants win, Cowboys win – Packers @ Cowboys
    (Cardinals #2, Cowboys #3, Vikings #4, Eagles #5, Packers #6)

7) Cardinals win, Vikings win, Eagles win – Packers @ Cardinals
    (Eagles #2, Vikings #3, Cardinals #4, Packers #5, Cowboys #6)

8) Cardinals win, Vikings win, Cowboys win – Packers @ Cardinals
    Vikings #2, Eagles #5, Cardinals #3, Packers #6, Cowboys #4

Four weeks ago, the Saints and Vikings both seemed a foregone conclusion to go to the NFC championship game.  But after a rocky December for both clubs, those teams seem very beatable now.  In fact, who really scares you in the NFC?  The Packers are playing football as good as anyone right now, but they, like every team, have vulnerabilities as well.

What makes me think the Packers could go far in the post-season:
  • Consistent, stable QB – Rodgers makes great decisions, is unflappable, and doesn’t lose games with INTs (one of two QBs with no interceptions on 3rd down this season).  He can beat anyone.
  • Emerging rushing game – Grant has busted long runs for TDs in each of the last three games.  Jackson and Green have established themselves as viable threats.  Together, if they can rush the ball and control the clock, they will win games.
  • Stud receivers – Jennings has really come on lately as the deep threat he was last season.  Driver is solid, as always.  James Jones and Jordy Nelson are playing great.  But, most of all, Jermichael Finley has grown into the match-up nightmare Packer fans have been predicting since the pre-season.
  • Turnover ratio – Green Bay is +22 on turnovers this season, #1 in the NFL.  They have 37 takeaways and have only given it up 15 times.  If they can sustain that ratio in the playoffs, they have a great chance to go far.
  • #1 run defense – Green Bay is allowing just 85.7 yards per game rushing (improved from 26th last year).  The ability to stop guys like Adrian Peterson, Marion Barber, and Brian Westbrook will be key to advancing in the playoffs.
However, there are several reasons the Packers could be one and done too:
  • Offensive line – though it is radically improved, the Packers still are vulnerable on pass protection.  Even the Seahawks managed to get pressure.  The Vikings, Eagles, and Cowboys can all apply a wicked pass rush.
  • Defensive secondary – I’m feeling better about Tramon Williams in place of Harris, but Jarrett Bush and Josh Bell still make me nervous against deep receiving corps – and the Cardinals, Saints, Vikings and Eagles all have the receivers to create problems for us.
  • Kicking game – It was nice to see Mason Crosby go 2/2 on field goals (and 6/6 on PATs) Sunday, but the kicking game still makes me very nervous.  I will be on egg shells if we are relying on Mason to win a playoff game late or in OT.
  • Penalties – though this has been cleaned up a little recently, the Packers are still the most penalized team in the NFL and the second-most in penalty yards.  If they can’t keep the mistakes to a minimum, it will cost them.
The good news is everything seems to be trending in the right direction.  The strengths are getting stronger, and the weaknesses are getting shored up.  And that gives me cause for optimism.  More important than record or seeding is momentum.  The hot teams have been the ones to make it to the Super Bowl.  Last year, it was Arizona.  The year before, it was the Giants.  This year, will it be the Packers?

PS – I still haven’t cut my hair.

1 comment:

  1. Fingers crossed, it's the Packers that make it to the SB.