After a festive thrashing on the purple panty queens from Minnesota, the Division title is firmly in sight for the Green Bay Packers. For the 4th year in a row, the Packers will play an NFC North title game in Week 17.
To celebrate the intensity of a Week 17 NFC North title game and the complete domination of the 'queens, it's a Crooked Stave Raspberry Origins. Fruit meets sour and a little bit of funky goodness to balance the overwhelmingly eye-pinching sour treat. I listen to a mix of the String Cheese Incident who I'll be seeing in advance of the NYE Holiday. I'm imagining myself standing on a mountain top...seashells are at my feet. Imagination creates reality. Aaron Rodgers imagined that this team could run the table. They've conquered 5 of the 6 tasks. There's one more hurdle. I'm looking forward to seeing how the Packers respond to the Prime Time finale.
Here are my quick vibes from the last week:
* Mike McCarthy outclassed Mike Zimmer in a big way. Zimmer had no answers. McCarthy attacked. He showed a variety of formations, a wide mix of personnel and he used the success in the run game vs Chicago to set up the play action pass vs Minnesota. Minnesota's ILBs were keying on stopping the run. They consistently bit on play fakes to the RB. And, this, Packers WRs were often running open across the middle of the field.
* Aaron Rodgers. In MVP mode. Playing as the most cerebral man on the field. Patient. Using all of his Arsenal. His vision is back to where it was in 2014.
* JORDY! JORDY! JORDY! Put him in the slot. Put him on the outside. Have him run a lengthy blend of routes. The queens had no answers. That was vintage JORDY Nelson. He was emphatic is demeanor. More demonstrative than I've ever seen him. A Packers legend.
* What a great performance by Geronimo Allison. Difference making catches that kept the chains moving. He wasn't afraid to cross the middle of the field. He displayed terrific hands on his last catch to keep the chains moving.
* 31-13. Targeting a championship drive. 1st & 20. 13:02 left. McCarthy calls 4 WRs. With a TE. He lines up Adams in the backfield. With a backup RT. Three WRs to the right side of the field. Cook split left. 1/2 tight to the line. McCarthy forces Harrison Smith to step towards the box to the left side of the field, expecting the slant or a RB circle pass to Adams. Instead - it isolates Cook in man-to-man coverage against MN's #4 CB. It's not a slant. It's a GO route. It's 30 yards. It's a 1st down. It's McCarthy > Zimmer.
* Ty Montgomery delivering contact!
* Aaron Rodgers with the shake, the rattle and the roll for the Packers TD and a truly sublime Lambeau Leap. Watch out, NFL. Aaron Rodgers is having fun again!
* Bulaga and Bakhtiari. Weapons as bookend Tackles.
* TJ Lang. I hope he's a Packer forever. Give us a discount, TJ!
* Linsley was moved in the run game on the opening drive. Really, really surprising to see. Otherwise, a solid game from the 3rd year Center.
* Jared Cook needs to be back in Green Bay next year. Really wish Rodgers would've connected with him on the GO route to the back corner of the end zone. Cook had a step.
* Loved the back shoulder to Adams for a TD. Hope to see more of that.
* Richard Rodgers with the TD down the middle of the field. On an absolute dart from UNO-DOS! What a beauty!
* I've wondered what a healthy Aaron Rodgers would look like in the playoffs. We haven't seen it since 2012 when we weren't in the same class as SF. He's starting to look like he's close to 100%.
* Love the way Janis is being used. Keeping DCs guessing. Soon - we will see the reverse again.
* If that's how Clay is going to play, we instantly become contenders.
* Good to see Nick Perry back on the field. This team needs him.
* Happy to see Mike Daniels reap rewards from the Clay pressure to grab a sack.
* Really wish Janis would've downed the opening punt inside the 5. Other than that, I thought he did a good job as a gunner.
* As I've been saying, if this team can get pressure on the QB and if we can force a turnover or two a game, we will be tough to beat. Each week - it seems to be someone new making a play. That excites me. Everyone is stepping up to force turnovers. Randall, Rollins, HaHa, Burnett, Peppers, Hyde, Clark and Clay have all made monster plays in recent weeks. Need that trend to continue.
* Amazing to see the variety of ways that Clay dominated the game. He won with speed. He won with power. He won with finesse on a healthy mix of spin moves. Terrific performance!
* Kenny Clark showing great awareness! Additionally, Clark is quietly providing a tremendous push. He isn't getting home, but he's disruptive. He might have a sack in him this weekend.
* If this season ends with a Super run, the Clay strip-sack will live grandly in my mind forever.
* Etch this in your brain: Mike McCarthy's troops dropped 38 points on Mike Zimmer's ass in a Week 16 December contest on Christmas Eve. Help your Holiday spirit?
* I'd lock up Micah Hyde. 4 year deal. $14-15 million. He adds great versatility. He has a big play coming as a punt returner.
* I like the use of Christine Michael as a kickoff returner. Brings great speed and vision to the unit. Kid can move. Has burst.
* Dorleant. Was that the biggest cushion you've ever seen in a non prevent defense?
* Damarious Randall. What an enigma. Who is this guy? Looks like a natural at times. Then - he's totally lost on the next play. Feel like he has another big play coming.
* Happy Gunter is healthy. Team needs him on the perimeter. Still think he has an interception on the horizon.
* Mason Crosby's 48 yard FG was big. And, his kickoffs were exceptional .
It's Super Bowl or Bust. It all starts with a Division title. We need to beat Detroit. I have a hard time imagining anyone winning at SEA, at Dallas and at either NYG or ATL. Let's start the playoff run in Titletown, U.S.A.
The Packers head to the Motor City. For all of the NFC North marbles. Suddenly, the Packers are mostly healthy. And, the Lions are banged. Player availability is a key element this week. Do Darius Slay, Theo Riddick and Travis Swanson play? Without them, it's tough for me envisioning a scenario in which the Packers lose this weekend. We'd win the line of scrimmage if Swanson is out. Riddick is as elusive as it gets in the open field. Slay is as underrated of a CB as there is in the NFL.
The #1 thing to look for this weekend: is Darius Slay going to play? If not, Detroit cannot cover Green Bay. If so, how effective will he be? The Lions lack depth at CB. They need Slay to be healthy. Nevin Lawson will grab. He always does. If his tugs are called, we will see big plays down the field. We will receive gift first downs. If the contact isn't called, Lawson can frustrate WRs. He's annoyed Adams previously. As Lawson is in stride, he's easily beaten on the back shoulder throw. Let's hope that Rodgers is in mental unison with his WRs down the sideline. If so, the Packers will light up the scoreboard.
The Lions have talent, but they lack depth. Golden Tate has hurt the Packers previously. And, with Andre Roberts unlikely to play, it wouldn't surprise me if the Lions use Tate as a punt returner. Tate is tough to bring down. Every time he touches the ball, he's a threat. Marvin Jones crushed the Packers in Week 3. Anquan Boldin is banged up. But, he's a gamer and I anticipate that he'll be ready this weekend. TJ Jones is a young receiver who looks the part. He's a tough guard in the slot, but he & Stafford aren't always on the same page. For most of the year, Stafford was on the short list for the MVP award. Have massive respect for Stafford. He never quits. He's a king of the 4th Quarter comeback. I've always liked Eric Ebron. He runs a sharp down-and-out, he can power through tackles and he's not afraid to run the fly route down the seam. Ebron is a difference maker who wins with both speed and power. Riddick strikes fear in opponents. If he's out, the bulk of the load falls on the hard-working, over-achieving Zach Zenner. The Lions OL is suspect - especially if Travis Swanson is out. Taylor Decker and Riley Reiff can both be beaten on the edges. Decker can be beaten early with a speed rush around the edge and after he plants to hold the edge, he can be beaten with power to the inside. Riley Reiff can be out-smarted by a savvy pass rusher. If Nick Perry is fit to go, he'll give Reiff all kinds of trouble as he gets underneath Reiff and pushes him back. Graham Glasgow and Larry Warford have talent, but both go through mental lapses. If Daniels, Clark and Guion play with endurance, they'll each make plays this weekend.
Defensively, the Lions have a great front 4. Ziggy Ansah is as dynamic as a pure pass rusher as their is in the game. Devin Taylor has length and speed. When Taylor extends his arms in the run game, he's not going to be moved. Taylor can also get around the edge with surprising quickness. Haloti Ngata can still plug the run game. He's tough to move. A'Shawn Robinson is showing signs of being a legitimate NFL starter. The 2nd round pick can be beaten with physicality, but he's a fighter and won't take plays off. Kerry Hyder has been a surprise as an interior pass rush. If Rodgers holds onto the football too long, Hyder will get a sack. DeAndre Levy - when healthy - is a star LB. He's been banged up. He should be good to go this weekend, but he's not 100%. Tahir Whitehead is not great in run defense, but he's an animated presence in the Lions nickel and dime defense. He's fiery. He's fast. He plays with attitude. The Lions secondary is a huge question mark. After Slay and Lawson, the Lions roll out Johnson Bademosi. Bademosi is a special teams gem, but he can't play CB in the NFL. If he sees significant action, he'll get torched. Alex Carter is not yet ready for prime time. Asa Jackson is a below average slot CB. Randall Cobb would run circles around Jackson, if Cobb can go. Glover Quin is an underrated Safety who has the ability to make plays. The same can be said for Tavon Wilson. But, the Lions depth at safety is also poor. Miles Killebrew doesn't match up well with anyone that the Packers roll out on offense.
Stafford will put up points. He will also take chances. And, those chances can lead to turnovers. I foresee the Packers defense forcing two turnovers. Peppers gets a strip. Gunter gets a pick.
The Packers have to watch the WR screen to Golden Tate. It'll come early. We will see it often.
I expect Capers to use a blend of Joe Thomas and Morgan Burnett against Eric Ebron. Ebron is problematic down the middle of the field. If we aren't careful, he could terrorize us.
Against MN, early in the game, McCarthy called 11 straight pass plays that led to 14 1st Quarter points. Zimmer had no response. The Lions don't have the queens secondary. They don't have the queens front 7. They don't have the queens defensive mental wizardry. McCarthy should give the game to Rodgers. Let it loose for 45 passes. We will see positive results. And, if we are in sync, I really believe that the only way the Lions can stop the Packers is if the Packers stop themselves.
Rodgers outplays Stafford. The NFC North title comes back to Titletown, U.S.A. Where it belongs.
Go Pack Go!