2016 NFC Divisional Playoff: Green Bay Packers @ Dallas Cowboys

One of the biggest misnomers NFL brass has told the public is the phrase “It’s a quarterback driven league.” To that avail The Chancellor of Football has always countered “the game is won on the line of scrimmage.” Well today those axioms collide when the streaking Packers take a trip to Jerry World for today’s divisional match-up.

mccarthy-rodgersTruth be told one of the best things to happen for Aaron Rodgers in this year’s playoffs is to get away from Lambeau Field and into these temperature controlled domes where his play can flourish.  Close your eyes and think of Rodgers greatest playoff games…they’ve all come in domes.

In 2009 he threw for 423 yards and 4 TDs in a 51-45 overtime loss in the desert of Arizona. He followed that up on the march to Super Bowl XLV when he torched Atlanta in the Georgia Dome 48-21. In that one he was 31 of 36 for 366 yards throwing for 3 scores. Two weeks later he lit up the Steelers for 304 yards and 3 TDs in Jerry World to bring home the Lombardi. Rodgers game is never going to go 3 straight cold weather playoff games to the Super Bowl and he has to get out of Lambeau Field in January to get the Packers there.

Before last week, even all his Hail Mary’s had taken place in domes on the road and make no mistake he is the only way Green Bay wins this football game.

elliottWhen it comes to winning the game on the line of scrimmage, no one has illustrated this better than the Cowboys offensive line. In October 2014 The Chancellor of Football christened this group The Great Wall II as they have now paved the way for a 2nd rushing champion in Ezekiel Elliott. His 1,631 yards were buoyed by a 28 carry 157 yard performance at Lambeau that shapes the heart of this game.

Back in October C Travis Frederick, G Zack Martin, Ronald Leary, T Doug Free & Tyron Smith paved the way for 33 attempts and 191 yards rushing. This was also the game where Dak Prescott (18 of 27 for 247 yds 3TDs & 1 ints) proved he was no fluke out playing Rodgers (31 of 42 294 yds 1 TD & 1 ints) while only being sacked twice. When they line up with 2 backs and especially 2 TEs, Dallas wins on early downs. They wear out the defense and keep Prescott in manageable 2nd and 3rd down situations.

matthewsThis is where the game boils down to is Aaron Rodgers has to start hot and establish an early lead and force Prescott to throw. If they can do this and effectively take the ball out of Elliott’s hands they can control the tempo and make the Cowboys press on offense. Then Dom Capers can unleash Clay Matthews and show the exotic packages that have doomed young quarterbacks at this juncture of the playoffs.

This is where the rubber meets the road.

Not only is Green Bay 20th against the rush but they are 0-2 this season when facing a top 10 rushing attack. Who are those two teams?? Dallas ranked 2nd and Atlanta ranked 5th. In the NFL its hard to repeat an earlier performance however when you can knock your opponent back, that gameplan can travel.

Much like Emmitt Smith and the first Great Wall, we’ll have to go with Ezekiel Elliott and this one in this matchup. Dallas will win 37-24.

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Wildcard Weekend: New York Giants @ Green Bay Packers

It wouldn’t be the NFL playoffs without a playoff game on the Frozen Tundra of Lambeau Field. Tonight we’re going to dip a couple degrees below zero wind chill. With both of these teams allergic to running the football this game is tricky to pick.

eli-frozenHowever the Packers have committed to running the football in recent weeks with #88 Ty Montgomery in the backfield. How will he hold onto the football with playoff intensity hitting?? He led the team in rushing this year with 457 yards but McCarthy may use #22 Aaron Ripkowski more. He’s more 3 yards and a cloud of dust but he is conditioned to the hitting from close proximity more. Fumbles are critical in cold weather playoff games.

Over the last 6 years of his career, this has been the hardest season to watch him. He just hasn’t looked comfortable all season. His play has been sporadic even though he threw for 4,027 yards 26 TDs and 16 interceptions. Much of this has to do with Odell Beckham’s ability to break big plays for him. He has to keep from turning the ball over on his side of the 50.

Which Eli Manning is going to show up?

Aaron Rodgers has had another great season and many think he should receive MVP consideration. He finished the season with 4,427 yards 40 TDs with just 7 interceptions. He led the Packers to a 5 game winning streak to finish the season as he predicted they would run the table. However none of this happened in below zero weather. For the last 5 years our CEO has questioned if this is the best approach to winning in Lambeau in January. It hasn’t panned out.

Ripkowski could be the unknown factor.

Ripkowski could be the unknown factor.

The penchant for Mike McCarthy to pass, pass, pass could play in the Giants hands as their defense is leading their charge. He has to fight that urge and stay on the ground. Although the Packers have scored over 30 in their last 4 games, the Giants have held 3 of their last 4 opponents to 10 points or less.

New York comes into this game with the NFL’s 10th best defense giving up 339 yards per game. However a closer look and the Giants have only given up 288.5 yards per game in the last 4. That would have the Giants ranked #1 and this is how they are coming into Lambeau Field. Early in the season Green Bay receivers were having a hard time getting open. Now they face CBs Janoris Jenkins, Eli Apple, and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie who have jelled into the best secondary in football. At least from the corner position. They will smother the slow Packers receivers.

Jenkins and the CBs for New York are the key to New York winning this game.

Jenkins and the CBs for New York are the key to New York winning this game.

On the strength of this defensive matchup and the cold, the defense will keep Eli and the offense in it. They will need 1 or 2 explosive plays from Odell Beckham and the Giants will win a close game 23-16. Eli Manning has always risen to the occasion when he needs to make that one play.

 

2015 NFC Divisional Round Predictions

Green Bay Packers @ Arizona Cardinals

cardinals_vs_packersIts time for the rubber to meet the road here in Glendale Arizona. The Packers just lost 3 weeks ago 38-8 to the Cardinals in this building so what has changed? They went on to lose to the Vikings who took the NFC North from them 20-13 in Lambeau. The saving grace is last week’s wildcard win over Washington.

Last week saw a rebirth of the running game as Eddie Lacy and James Starks combined for 100 yards and 2 touchdowns. This helped settle a schizophrenic Rodgers down who started the game being sacked for a safety and throwing off his back foot. He found his rhythm in the 2nd half. Can he repeat that against Arizona?

Carson-PalmerThe Packers come into this game with the NFL’s #6 passing defense. If you look at the stats, Palmer only threw for 265 yards 2 TDs and 1 interception. Pedestrian numbers until you remember Aaron Rodgers was bludgeoned for 8 sacks and 4 turnovers. Palmer, an MVP candidate, can do this without a short field. He threw for 4,671 yards and 35 touchdowns comes in this game hot. With Larry Fitzgerald (109 rec/ 1215 yds /9 Tds) John Brown ( 65 rec / 1003 yds /7 Tds) and Michael Floyd (52 rec / 849 yds / 6 Tds) they are averaging 28 points per game at home.

If the Cardinals rushing attack stays productive, the Cardinals should repeat their week 16 performance and wins today 40-17.

NFC Wildcard Predictions

How can we top that Cincinnati Bengal v Pittsburgh Steelers for drama? You have to love the NFL playoffs and its time to get into day 2 with both NFC games on the same day.

nfl-iphone-wallpaper-2First game up is the Washington Redskins hosting the Green Bay Packers in the nation’s capital. All year long you’ve heard The Chancellor of Football state the Packers are a flawed football team. They have gone 4-6 down the stretch and have the NFL’s 23rd ranked offense. Twenty third?? Not only that, the supposed great Aaron Rodgers and the Packers passing game ranks 25th. No team has won with more smoke and mirrors than Green Bay.

What this game will turn on is Kirk Cousins and the 11th ranked passing attack facing the 6th best passing attack of Green Bay. The reason the Packers rank so high against the pass is they have been run on all year…ranking 21st. Also the fact they have gone 6-2 at home and won 5 of their last 6, the Redskins will win 31-17 sacking Rodgers 5 times.

As for the Seattle Seahawks vs Minnesota Vikings it is nostalgic to have this game outside. Teddy Bridgewater will make it to the divisional round…next year. Today in below zero weather is not the time to develop your downfield passing. Seattle gave up 125 yards to the Vikings  in week 13. Too many match-ups Seattle won on the line of scrimmage. The Seahawks will win this 27-13. It will be closer than the last time due to the cold.

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2015 NFC North Predictions

Whenever I think of the NFC North, I still envision the old black and blue division which was the NFC Central. The new division has given way to the new NFL and the heavy emphasis on passing.  With the reigning NFL MVP in Aaron Rodgers averaging 41 TDs thrown over his last 3 complete seasons, you either take to the air or find a way to ground Green Bay. Over the last decade, this division has been the Packers to win or lose. However a small storm is blowing in from the northwest

minnesota-vikings-jerseys-uniforms-unveiled-22015 NFC North

  1. Minnesota Vikings 11-5 *
  2. Detroit Lions 11-5
  3. Green Bay Packers 8-8
  4. Chicago Bears 4-12

Armed with the return of the league’s best back in Adrian Peterson and a growing young QB in Teddy Bridgewater, the Vikings are poised to steal the division. Head Coach Mike Zimmer is a defensive wiz whose pass defense ranked 7th in the NFL. Peterson controlling the clock is the recipe needed to ground the Packers and Lions and vault Minnesota to the top of the division.

Even before the injury to wideout Jordy Nelson, it was clear the Packers needed to score to cover defensive deficiencies. After defections in LBs AJ Hawk, Brad Jones and reserve/suspended listing of DEs Letroy Guion and Datone Jones to start the season, Green Bay’s defense has yet to find itself. The Eagles thoroughly undressed Dom Caper’s defense in a 39-26 home loss in the 3rd preseason game. It looks like a season long odyssey as Rodgers will have to outscore opponents all year.

Stafford &Megatron

Stafford &Megatron

Returning the league’s second best defense is the Detroit Lions. Gone is Ndamukong Suh who has been replaced by former Baltimore Raven Haloti Ngata to anchor the front 7. The pass rush looked more than formidable as they knocked RGIII from the starting lineup in the most physical preseason game of 2015 vs the Redskins. Matthew Stafford was one blown call away from his 1st playoff win in Dallas.  the Lions will make a return trip in 2015.

Stafford has a new weapon in rookie Ameer Abdullah out of the backfield. His explosive quickness on 3rd downs will move the chains. Where “Megatron” Johnson is the big offensive weapon, it’s Golden Tate that brought a gritty attitude to a finesse offense. The player that would make the tough block to spring a teammate or fight through Linebackers to get first downs.Tate is the catalyst to catapult the Lions back to the playoffs in the return of The Black and Blue Division.

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Unsung Players: RIP Eddie LeBaron

Eddie LeBaronOn April 1st of this year, the football world lost Eddie LeBaron. To a prior generation he was remembered as a great quarterback that lacked the height to play the position at 5’7. However in a career that spanned 11 years he was voted to the Pro Bowl on 4 occasions. Three times he made it as a Washington Redskin and once with the Dallas Cowboys. In fact he was the first starting quarterback in the history of the Cowboys.

I first became aware of LeBaron reading the old Punt, Pass and Kick books covering players from the 1960’s. In some instances it seemed he was covered because of his oddity when it came to stature. Yet as I did more research it was discovered how good a player he was as this vignette barely saved from decades ago will attest…

It’s ironic the player who gives the strongest testimony to LeBaron’s playing prowess is “Concrete” Chuck Bednarik. Not only was he considered one of, if not the toughest player during the 1950’s, but we just lost him just two weeks prior. Like Bednarik, LeBaron had served our country as a Marine and fought in the Korean War prior to playing pro football.

Eddie LeBaron pictured with 1st Dallas Cowboy owner Clint Murchison.

Eddie LeBaron pictured with 1st Dallas Cowboy owner Clint Murchison.

In microcosm his story was an inspirational one to a generation of young men to fight on despite a lack of size. A father could drape his arm over his son’ s shoulder and tell them about Eddie LeBaron. Not only was he the first quarterback in the history of the Dallas Cowboys, he was a Pro Bowl quarterback for a large part of his career.

RIP Eddie LeBaron: January 7, 1930 – April 1, 2015

Epilogue: As we lose these players, it’s personal to me because reading their exploits in books as a kid back in the 1970’s is what lit my fire about football. I was never one into comic books and fictitious heroes, it was always about real people and their accomplishments.

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