Can the Pack overcome their defensive woes and ride Rodgers’ shoulders to the Super Bowl?
The Green Bay Packers are entering the 2016-17 NFL Playoffs as one of the hottest teams in the NFL. Thanks to a superb finish to their season, they finished the season 10-6 and earned themselves the fourth seed.
A first-round Wild Card matchup with the New York Giants will kick off their postseason run, but can the Pack keep it rolling? Here’s a look.
Offense: Aaron Rodgers, QB; Ty Montgomery RB/WR; Jordy Nelson, WR
There is no other player on the Packers who is more valuable than Aaron Rodgers. Green Bay finished the season with six wins in a row and it all rested on the shoulders of Rodgers. In those last six wins, Rodgers finished with 15 touchdown passes and 0 interceptions. Opposing defenses getting ready to face #12 in the playoffs should be scared. He didn’t look like his regular self at times earlier this season, but the former MVP really turned it up for the Pack. Rodgers ended up finishing 4th in the league in QB rating and 4th in yards.
Rodgers also finished the season with a league-leading 40 touchdowns, as 14 of those touchdowns went to Jordy Nelson. It seemed like a quiet season for Nelson as he finished with his lowest yardage output since 2012, but his 14 touchdown season is only second to his career-high 15 touchdown season in 2011. There is no doubt that without Nelson, Rodgers loses his biggest target and may not find the same consistent success. Nelson accounted for 152 of Rodgers’ 610 targets, 31 more than any other Packer. Davante Adams is another player to keep an eye on if teams decide to key in on Nelson, but Rodgers always seems to find a way to get the ball to Jordy especially in the redzone.
The one player that may be overlooked who has played a large importance in the Packers’ offensive attack is RB/WR Ty Montgomery. After Eddy Lacy went to injured reserves, the second year back he competed with veteran back James Starks for the starting spot. Soon it began to become clear that Montgomery was both a threat in the running game and passing attack. He hadn’t done much in limited action throughout the year, but towards the end of the season in Green Bay’s run he has proven to become a valuable player. While he seems to be not as valuable as Rodgers, Nelson, and even Adams, Montgomery is a player to keep an eye out for.
Credit: Dan Powers-USA TODAY Sports
Defense: Nick Perry, LB; Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, FS; Morgan Burnett, S
There is not a lot to flaunt about Green Bay’s defense. They rank 22nd in total yards allowed, 31st in net passing yards allowed, and 21st in points allowed per game. However, one area that this unit succeeds in is creating turnovers. The Packers are tied for fourth in the NFL in interceptions with 17 on the season. They also are fair against the run, as they rank 8th in the NFL allowing 94.7 rushing yards per game. Green Bay is on the opposite side of the spectrum against the pass, ranking last in receiving yards allowed. The recipe against them is seemingly easy, right? Well, it could be…but there are players to keep an eye on who can easily turn the game around.
Starting safeties Morgan Burnett and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix are game changers and their performance during the 2016 season illustrates that. Clinton-Dix had his best season in his third year as a pro, as he finished the year with a team-high 5 interceptions. He finished third in tackling with 80 total tackles on the year (second in solo tackles). While the number of tackles may be an indication of how successful opposing teams are in completing passes against the Packers defense, Clinton-Dix has shown his reliability back there to make big plays.
While it wasn’t his best season in his seven year career, Burnett finished the season with a team-high 93 combined tackles. Coupled with three sacks and two picks, Burnett was instrumental in Green Bay’s ability to force turnovers. Also serving as the last line of defense, Burnett ranks seventh among safeties in tackles in the NFL.
As perhaps the most important player on Green Bay’s defense this season, Nick Perry had 12.5 sacks in his first four years in the NFL. This past season, he had a team-high 11 sacks. Talk about an elevation in play. Perry is tied for 8th in the NFL in sacks, making his presence on the field extremely vital for the Pack. Opposing teams need to neutralize him, as he can single-handedly affect a game. In games this season where the fifth-year linebacker recorded less than one sack, the Packers were 1-5.
Best Win and Worst Loss
Best Win: 38-10 over Seattle Seahawks (Week 14)
This game showcased the Packers’ best effort on both sides of the football that we had not seen all season long. They forced Russell Wilson into throwing five interceptions and having possibly his worst game in his career. Rodgers had a field day with three touchdowns and only five incompletions. Nelson and Adams both had big games, while defensively Seattle really couldn’t do anything. It was such a one-sided game that Rodgers left the game with his team up 25 early in the fourth quarter. What made this win even more impressive is that Green Bay was missing Nick Perry, Blake Martinez, and Clay Matthews.
Credit: Adam Wesley-USA TODAY Sports
Worst Loss: 47-25 to Tennessee Titans (Week 10)
The Packers defense had zero answers for anything the Titans were doing on offense. Marcus Mariota threw for four touchdowns and only had seven incompletions, while DeMarco Murray rushed for 123 yards and 1 TD and even threw a TD. It was an absolutely terrifying sight for Packers fans, as they witnessed their defense get torn apart from early in the first quarter. They fell behind 21-0 and didn’t have enough firepower to make it a close game. Rodgers threw for over 370 yards and 2 TDs, but he also tossed two interceptions and was sacked five times.
For the Titans, it was a picture-perfect win with their offense playing as well as it ever had in recent history, but for Green Bay it caused a lot of worries about the team’s defense.
Previous Matchups With Playoff Teams
Week 3: 34-27 win against (6) Detroit Lions
Week 5: 23-16 win against (5) New York Giants
Week 6: 30-16 loss against (1) Dallas Cowboys
Week 8: 33-32 loss at (2) Atlanta Falcons
Week 13: 21-13 win against (4) Houston Texans
Week 14: 38-10 win against (3) Seattle Seahawks
Week 17: 31-24 win at (6) Detroit Lions
Positive: With a 5-2 record against playoff teams, the Packers should feel confident entering the playoffs. Two of those wins do come against their division foe Lions, but beating the G-Men and Seahawks is very noteworthy.
Negative: Their two losses come against the two best teams in the NFC: the Cowboys and Falcons. Unfortunately for the Pack, if they make it out of the wild card round they’ll be traveling to one of these two teams home stadiums.
Performance Leading Up To The Postseason:
The Packers got hot at the right time of the season, as they have the second-best streak in the NFL with six wins in a row (only behind the Steelers/Patriots who each have seven wins in a row). Thanks to MVP-like performances by Rodgers, the Pack will be riding hot into the playoffs.
Credit: Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports
However, it’s worth noting that three of these six wins came against teams at or below .500. Green Bay barely defeated one of those teams, the Bears, by three points. So while they’re hot, we may have to proceed our expectations for the Packers with caution.
On the other hand, momentum is very important for lower seeded teams entering the playoffs as history has shown, and the Packers fit the bill.
Level of Contender: Higher Middle
It’s hard to say that the Packers are simply “middle” contenders as they’ve been too hot and Aaron Rodgers is playing out of his mind. Even though their defense will likely be at fault if they get knocked out of the playoffs, the Packers are “higher middle” contenders due to their offensive success. With a defense that has an ability to force turnovers at a high rate, that will surely come in handy during the playoffs.
The one difference between the Cowboys and Falcons versus the Packers is that the two teams have balanced attacks in their passing and rushing, but neither team has a QB like Rodgers at the helm.
The problem for the Packers will be having to face one of the two teams they have already lost to this season, as mentioned earlier. Adjustments will have to be made against the team they face based on how their first matchup went, but there’s no denying that Rodgers can take this team on a Super Bowl run.
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