Tag Archives: NFL

Packers lose Jordy Nelson, but the season must go on

25 Aug
Jordy Nelson Injury

Packers wide receiver Jordy Nelson suffered a season-ending right knee injury against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday.
Photo Credit: foxsports.com

An uncharacteristically cool day in August became a lot colder throughout Wisconsin when the Green Bay Packers officially announced they will be without star wide receiver Jordy Nelson for the entire 2015 season.

Nelson suffered a “significant right knee injury” during a non-contact play in the Packers’ preseason game against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday.

While it may feel like the season is over after such a devastating loss, in reality, the season is just getting started.

Hearts are understandably heavy among Packers fans in Wisconsin, but using Nelson’s injury as a rationale to reduce the number of preseason games would be unwise. Sure, it’s unfortunate that he suffered a season-ending injury during what quarterback Aaron Rodgers called a “meaningless game.” But it was the Packers’ first possession of just their second preseason game.

Nelson had every reason to be on the field. Packers Head Coach Mike McCarthy made a point of giving his starters more playing time during the preseason to combat slow starts that have plagued the team early in recent seasons.

Injuries can happen at any time.

Just ask the Carolina Panthers, who lost their own star wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin for the season after suffering a torn ACL during a joint practice with the Miami Dolphins.

The NFL schedule doesn’t slow down for anyone.

You can be certain no one in the Packers locker room is feeling sorry for themselves, especially Nelson. Quite frankly, there’s no time to grieve. In less than three weeks, the Packers open the regular season against the Chicago Bears. Nelson won’t be in the lineup, and nothing can be done to change that.

Instead, the Packers must focus on the players who will be available to them, and the options are plenty. If there’s any position on the Packers’ roster where they could afford a significant injury, it’s wide receiver.

There’s a silver lining in every situation. Because Nelson got hurt now, rather than just before or during the early stages of the regular season, other receivers will be given ample opportunities for reps and can better prepare for what lies ahead.

Truth be told, you can never replace a Jordy Nelson – on or off the field. It will be a collective effort. In 2014, he put together one of the best seasons in franchise history, racking up 98 receptions for 1,519 yards and 13 touchdowns.

But even in Nelson’s absence, the Packers have a number of offensive weapons. They had their sights set on breaking records this season, and their offense still has the firepower to rank among the NFL’s best in 2015.

With Nelson sidelined, opposing teams are more likely to stack the box to defend against the run, meaning Eddie Lacy will have to work even harder to shoulder the load and allow the Packers’ still-talented group of receivers to find holes in the defense.

There’s a reason Packers General Manager Ted Thompson resigned Randall Cobb to a team-friendly contract during the offseason. There’s also a reason Thompson drafted Stanford product Ty Montgomery in the third round of this year’s NFL Draft.

Those reasons have come to fruition faster than anyone could have expected.

The Packers also have a few second-year players who are primed for bigger roles this season, including wide receivers Davante Adams and Jeff Janis, and tight end Richard Rodgers.

Adams showed flashes last season and is the most likely candidate to receive Nelson’s share of targets in the passing game. He has received high praise from McCarthy, who referred to him as the MVP of the offseason. Adams and Montgomery have drawn rave reviews during training camp as well.

Considered by many to be “Jordy Lite,” Janis possesses the best size (6’3″, 220) and speed (4.42 40) of any receiver on the roster. A seventh-round pick out of Division II Saginaw Valley State a year ago, Janis is raw and needs to work on his route running ability. If he puts it all together, he could fill the deep-threat role as Nelson did, which would open up the passing game.

Richard Rodgers has emerged as the Packers’ No. 1 tight end on the depth chart. While he doesn’t scare opposing defenses with his speed, he has great hands and could be a threat down the middle of the field if teams decide to key on Lacy and the versatile receivers on the outside.

Let’s not forget about the “Aaron Rodgers factor” either. As the best quarterback in the league, Rodgers undoubtedly makes everyone around him better and has more than enough talent to work with.

In limited time, there’s a sense of urgency for the Packers’ young receivers to grow up quickly and establish a rapport with their MVP quarterback. The Packers’ mantra of “Next Man Up” will continue to be their rallying cry.

This team is far too talented and too well coached to let Nelson’s injury ruin the season before it even begins.

As long as Rodgers is healthy and under center, the Packers’ Super Bowl aspirations in 2015 remain very real.

Win it for Jordy.

Deflategate: Should Tom Brady Be Suspended?

7 May
Tom Brady

New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady might face a suspension after his role in the “Deflategate” scandal.
Photo Credit: si.com

We didn’t need a 243-page report to tell us Tom Brady probably cheated during the New England Patriots’ 45-7 playoff victory over the Indianapolis Colts in last season’s AFC Championship Game.

But that’s what we received Wednesday.

Ted Wells, the architect behind the recent Wells Report, stated it was “more probable than not” that Brady was “at least generally aware of the inappropriate activities involving the release of air from Patriots game balls.”

Four months of investigating has led us to “more probable than not.” I could have told you that. But we already knew.

The less-than-definitive report simply confirmed Brady might have, potentially, probably had something to do with the footballs being deflated. That’s all the confirmation we need.

The report states locker room attendant Jim McNally and equipment assistant John Jastremski “participated in a deliberate effort to release air from Patriots game balls after the balls were examined by the referee.”

Am I supposed to believe these were a couple of rogue employees who decided to deflate footballs on their own? Of course not. Why would they without their star quarterback knowing about it?

Now that’s the million dollar question. It also supports the notion that Brady did, in fact, have something – if not everything – to do with it.

Brady handles the ball on every offensive snap. A 37-year-old quarterback of his tenure would undoubtedly notice if a ball was underinflated. Yet he never mentioned anything.

Additionally, Brady refused to hand over his cell phone to aid in the investigation after exchanging phone calls with one of the equipment assistants just days after news broke of ball-tampering suspicions. This suggests he had something to hide.

Intentionally deflating footballs might seem like a petty violation at face value, but it’s all about the principle. In the grand scheme of things, I care a lot more about players taking HGH or other illegal substances to gain an unfair advantage over their competition, as it’s a more prominent league-changing issue. But that remains a conversation to be had another day.

Brady cheated. That’s a fact. You can’t deny it. You can’t defend it. He and his accomplices altered the centerpiece of the game: the football. In doing so, even by the slightest margin, he gained a competitive advantage over his opponent.

Forget about the final score of the Patriots’ 45-7 shellacking of the Colts. Forget about the fact that the Patriots actually scored more points after the deflated balls were replaced at halftime. These points are rendered moot. They don’t condone cheating.

And that’s exactly what Brady did, thus corrupting the integrity of the game. I’m not suggesting the Patriots would have lost to the Colts – not by any stretch. Brady’s indiscretion wasn’t worth a 38-point difference on the scoreboard. But if the Patriots were the better team, why would Brady feel the need to cheat?

Brady likely will, and should, be suspended – a small price to pay for a quarterback with four Super Bowl rings and a spot waiting for him in the Hall of Fame.

If Brady’s actions are any indication, he doesn’t care about his legacy, nor do the Patriots. New England is no stranger to rule infringements.

Back in 2007, the team was punished after a staff member was caught videotaping the New York Jets’ defensive signals, known as “Spygate.” There’s a great deal of irony that eight years later, surveillance videos showed McNally had taken footballs into a bathroom, where he remained for 100 seconds, before taking them back to the field before the game.

There’s an easy solution: have the NFL provide a set of league-mandated footballs rather than allow each team to use its own.

I don’t care whether it’s one game, two games, four games or even an entire season; Brady needs to be suspended. Commissioner Roger Goodell must take action and send a message that cheating, no matter the severity, will not be tolerated in the NFL.

I’d be in favor of further punishment to the Patriots’ organization as well. It starts from the top. Owner Robert Kraft and head coach Bill Belichick may not have had any knowledge of Brady’s transgressions. But Goodell once said, “ignorance is not an excuse,” regarding the New Orleans Saints bounty scandal in 2012. That resulted in major suspensions for Saints head coach Sean Payton and General Manager Mickey Loomis.

A similar ruling could apply here. Just because Kraft and Belichick were unaware doesn’t mean they should be exempt from punishment. After all, the Patriots have been involved in controversy before.

At this point, the Patriots’ integrity is difficult to question. Why?

Because there’s no integrity left – at least more probable than not.

Introducing the Green Bay Packers’ 2015 Draft Class

5 May

Damarious Randall – Safety, Arizona State (30th overall)

Demarious Randall

Damarious Randall
Photo Credit: bleacherreport.com

Technically listed as a safety, Randall was a virtual unknown in Packerland for obvious reasons. The Packers didn’t need a safety. They needed a cornerback. So when the Packers selected Randall with their first-round pick in the draft, eyebrows were understandably raised throughout Wisconsin. But fear not. Randall has experience playing man-to-man coverage as a slot corner, his most likely landing spot given Casey Hayward’s impending transition to the outside.

Randall was highly regarded by many as the best cover man in the entire draft. With the NFL’s pass-happy reputation and an increasing number of teams running the spread offense, players who can cover come at a premium. Randall should be able to step in and compete right away. The Packers’ pick was in almost immediately after they were on the clock, further proving Ted Thompson got his man.

Quinten Rollins – Cornerback, Miami (OH) (62nd overall)

Quinten Rollins

Quinten Rollins
Photo Credit: gannett-cdn.com

Thompson further addressed the need at cornerback by selecting Rollins in round two. With a basketball background, Rollins played just one year of college football, but that’s all it took to make an impression on the Packers. In his lone season, Rollins had seven interceptions and earned MAC Defensive Player of the Year honors. His ball-hawking tendencies appeal to the Packers, who often thrive when forcing turnovers.

Rollins’ ability is raw; his upside, tremendous. Competition is healthy for any position group, and the additions of Rollins and Randall will certainly add to it in the cornerbacks room. The Packers’ secondary appears to be in good shape after being a serious question mark following the losses of Tramon Williams and Davon House in free agency.

Ty Montgomery – Wide Receiver, Stanford (94th overall)

Ty Montgomery

Ty Montgomery
Photo Credit: stanforddaily.com

It’s difficult not to be sold on a player who has been referred to as a bigger version of Randall Cobb. At 6’0″, 221 pounds, Montgomery is built for strength. But he also has quickness, making him yet another versatile option for the Packers. You can never have too many weapons for Aaron Rodgers.

Montgomery also could become a threat in the backfield – as we’ve seen sparingly from Cobb the past few seasons – and provide a much-needed spark to special teams as a dynamic return man. That would allow Cobb to avoid further injury risk and focus primarily on his duties as a slot receiver. The Packers likely invested a third-round pick in Montgomery to be more than a special teams contributor. In time, he could be a primary fixture in the Packers’ passing attack.

Jake Ryan – Linebacker, Michigan (129th overall)

Jake Ryan

Jake Ryan
Photo Credit: bleacherreport.com

Ryan will inevitably be one of the most popular selections among Packers fans for the sole reason he addresses an immediate need. He also provided solid value in the fourth round. After tearing his ACL during his junior season in 2013, Ryan recovered in just six month’s time and moved from outside to inside linebacker. Ryan’s instincts have been praised, and he tested well at the combine with a sneaky 4.61 40. He has a nose for the football and a nonstop engine, similar to Clay Matthews.

Ryan is decent in coverage but will have to improve that part of his game to become the complete three-down linebacker the Packers need. Expectations must be tempered and lofty comparisons held in check, but Ryan has the potential to become a day-one starter at inside linebacker for the Packers’ defense.

Brett Hundley – Quarterback, UCLA (147th overall)

Brett Hundley

Brett Hundley
Photo Credit: bleacherreport.com

Packers head coach Mike McCarthy has often expressed his desire to get his hands on a developmental quarterback. Enter Hundley. Projected by many to be drafted in the second round, Hundley was scooped up in the fifth round after the Packers traded their original draft pick, plus a seventh-rounder to the New England Patriots – a small price to pay for a talented prospect with as much upside as Hundley possesses.

It’s unlikely that Hundley was brought in to become Rodgers’ future replacement, as Rodgers is just 31 years old and coming off his second MVP season. Nevertheless, the Packers’ have had issues at backup quarterback in recent years, and Rodgers hasn’t exactly been injury-free. Scott Tolzien is currently entrenched in the role as Rodgers’ backup, but given a season under McCarthy’s tutelage, Hundley could overtake Tolzien by season’s end.

Aaron Ripkowski – Fullback, Oklahoma (206th overall)

Aaron Ripkowski

Aaron Ripkowski
Photo Credit: crimsonandcreammachine.com

Ripkowski appears to be the second coming of fan-favorite John Kuhn, who is in the twilight of his career. Effective as a blocker, ball-carrier and receiver out of the backfield, Ripkowski has all the tools to contribute in the Packers’ explosive offense. He also offers an immediate impact on special teams, a primary point of emphasis during the offseason. Chants of “KUUUUUHN” won’t last forever, but Ripkowski can seamlessly fill the void when Kuhn decides to hang up the cleats.

Christian Ringo – Defensive End, Louisiana-Lafayette (210th overall)

Christian Ringo

Christian Ringo
Photo Credit: gannett-cdn.com

Labeled as a long snapper during ESPN’s draft coverage – much to my amusement – Ringo must have had more to offer to the Packers. As a matter of fact, he does. A disruptive pass-rusher in college, with 11.5 sacks last season, Ringo already has drawn comparisons to teammate Mike Daniels, one of the anchors along the Packers’ defensive line. Ringo is effective against the run as well, recording 20.5 tackles for loss in 2014. He’s a sleeper.

Kennard Backman – Tight End, Alabama-Birmingham (213th overall)

Kennard Backman

Kennard Backman
Photo Credit: provationsgroup.org

The UAB football program closed down at the end of last season, but Backman had the urge to continue his career in the NFL. The Packers took a chance on him with their final pick of the draft. With 39 receptions for 399 yards and three touchdowns in his final collegiate season, Backman didn’t have eye-popping numbers. But at 6’3″, 243 pounds, he does have the versatility and athleticism the Packers covet in their tight ends.

The Packers haven’t featured a tight end who can stretch the middle of the field since Jermichael Finley, and current options Richard Rodgers and Andrew Quarless don’t necessarily scare opposing defenses. Rodgers has shown flashes with his great hands, but he isn’t a threat after the catch. And Quarless’ contract is up at the end of next season, meaning if Backman impresses, he might have a shot at a starting job in 2016. Expect nothing more than special teams duty for now, if he makes the team.

Which of the Packers’ draft picks are you most excited about?

Winning means more to Randall Cobb

8 Mar
Randall Cobb

Randall Cobb scored a career-high 12 touchdowns for the Packers last season.
Photo Credit: fox11online.com

Welcome to Green Bay Packers immortality, Randall Cobb.

It’s far too early to label Cobb as a future Packers Hall of Famer, but he took a big step in the right direction on Saturday, when he accepted a 4-year contract worth $40 million to remain in Green Bay. The deal includes $17 million guaranteed.

A whirlwind of media activity reported Cobb received at least six or seven offers from other teams during the early stages of the NFL’s legal tampering period prior to the start of free agency on Tuesday.

Cobb’s agent, Jimmy Sexton, was seeking an annual salary of $12 million, and the Oakland Raiders announced they were willing to pay $11 million for Cobb’s services. An inevitable bidding war between the Raiders and Jacksonville Jaguars, among others, would have increased the value on Cobb’s price tag if he reached free agency.

But Cobb chose Green Bay.

It doesn’t matter who you cheer for – unless you’re a disheartened Jaguars or  Raiders fan reeling in the sorrows of continued mediocrity – it’s easy to respect a professional athlete who leaves a sizable chunk of change on the table to stay put.

For that reason, Cobb has instantly earned the good graces of the Packers faithful. If he wasn’t a fan-favorite before, he certainly is now.

Sit back and watch those jersey sales skyrocket, Randall. I’m already on board.

From day one, it was evident Cobb knew what it takes to be a Packer. He never seemed like a money-grabber who would attempt to gouge the front office for every penny when his rookie contract expired.

Cobb’s departure in free agency would have been an unfathomable, albeit totally realistic, possibility. General Manager Ted Thompson doesn’t allow his coveted assets to sign elsewhere unless he has a justified reason for it.

After rejecting the Packers’ initial offer – a 5-year deal worth $8-9 million annually – it appeared as if Cobb’s asking price was out of the Packers’ range.

Cobb was unfairly compared to Greg Jennings and James Jones throughout the process, as fans feared he would leave for more money.

When Jennings and Jones left Green Bay, both players were pushing 30 and already had a Super Bowl title to their name. At that point in their respective careers, I don’t blame them for cashing in one last time. Don’t forget, the Packers never offered Jones a deal when he departed for the Oakland Raiders a season ago.

In any profession, the goal is to maximize earning potential. I doubt any of us would walk into our employer’s office on a Monday morning and ask for a pay cut. Why should athletes be held to a different standard and settle for less money? Especially when that athlete is a thriving 24-year-old superstar entering the prime of his career?

Cobb didn’t have to settle. But he gets it. He wants to win.

The richest players in the NFL are those with a Super Bowl ring.

Cobb also realizes that the value of catching passes from reigning MVP Aaron Rodgers outweighs the monetary value he could have found elsewhere. Would it really be worth $2 million more each year to play alongside Derek Carr or Blake Bortles?

The idea of teaming up with a young, unpolished quarterback must have held substance in Cobb’s decision to return to Green Bay. One doesn’t simply file for divorce from the best quarterback in the game.

Other receivers dream of Cobb’s situation.

Cobb has a unique and versatile skill set, but his success is due largely in part to his triggerman. Last season, Cobb posted career-highs of 91 catches, 1,287 receiving yards and 12 touchdowns.

Thanks, Mr. Rodgers.

Randall Cobb and Jordy Nelson

In 2014, Packers receivers Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb became the first duo in team history to each score more than 10 touchdowns in a single season.
Photo Credit: driverlayer.com

Let’s not forget about Cobb’s running mate, Jordy Nelson, either. Polar opposites in terms of playing style, yet equally talented, Nelson and Cobb are the most formidable wide receiver duo in the NFL. In 2014, they became the first tandem in Packers history to each catch more than 10 touchdown passes in a single season.

They have a golden opportunity to continue something special in Green Bay.

Nelson and Cobb are under contract through 2018. Rodgers is signed through 2019. The Packers will be able to keep the band together for the foreseeable future, something that could spell trouble for the rest of the league.

By staying in Green Bay, Cobb has placed himself in a prime position to receive another massive contract when he’s 28. That will take care of itself. For now, he has his sights set on the greater goal: winning his first Super Bowl.

That could happen sooner than later.

Ball-Out Fallout: The Real Issue With the Dez Bryant Ruling

13 Jan
Packers Quarterback Aaron Rodgers

Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers acknowledges the home fans at Lambeau Field following a 26-21 victory over the Cowboys.
Credit: bleacherreport.com

A week removed from a conspiracy theory that turned Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones into Hugh Hefner – except instead of Playboy bunnies, he had NFL officials wrapped around his finger – the Cowboys were on the receiving end of a controversial call of their own in the Divisional Round of the NFL postseason.

Most of you have probably seen Dez Bryant’s “catch-that-wasn’t” by now. It’s nearly impossible to scroll through any social media feed without stumbling upon an image, video or opinion about the topic. Some opinions are stronger than others. Just ask any sympathy-seeking Cowboys fan or even Bryant himself, who insists it was a catch.

Bryant, normally a fiery competitor, was in disbelief after his catch was overturned late in the fourth quarter. He looked like a self-pitied adolescent whose old man took away his PlayStation.

Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant

Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant was shocked after his catch was overturned.
Credit: cbssports.com

Hold on, let me get my violin.

Amidst the chaos, “catch” has lost all meaning.

No, literally.

Once the officials overturned the ruling, the outcome of Sunday’s clash between the Cowboys and Green Bay Packers became irrelevant.

Packers win? Cowboys win?

It no longer mattered. Forget about the game.

Because this, this is what people would be talking about.

It’s a call that many believe single-handedly cost the Cowboys the game and sent the Packers to Seattle for the NFC Championship game against the Seahawks.

Wait, the stakes were that high? You wouldn’t know it based on how much media coverage has been centered around a non-catch which, at this point, has no significance. What’s done is done.

The Packers are essentially being discredited for their victory because of an accurate call based on a rule. I’m not sure what’s so difficult to understand. Bryant initially caught the ball, but as he went to the ground, the ball came loose, resulting in an incompletion. He did not complete the process of the catch. The rule was properly enforced. If you want to be upset about something, be upset about the existence of the rule, not the call itself.

It’s truly a shame that one play, one call, one rule is overshadowing what was otherwise a tremendous duel between two of the NFL’s most storied franchises. But I’m not surprised by the nation’s reaction.

We love controversy. This is the NFL edition of reality TV. It would have been too perfect, too easy for the game to be decided by the players – not sexy enough for national media coverage.

As the fallout continued, I read an opinion of a Cowboys fan who had the audacity to suggest the Packers should forfeit the game because of the call.

Come on. Let’s be real here.

Did the Cowboys forfeit after they benefited from questionable officiating in the Wild Card round against the Detroit Lions?

I didn’t think so.

Except this time, the officiating wasn’t questionable. The refs got it right.

I can understand the frustration of Cowboys fans everywhere. If Bryant would have come down with the ball and Dallas would have gone on to win the game, we all would have been blessed with witnessing another bro-mantic embrace between Jones and Governor Chris Christie in the booth. Yeah, because that’s good TV.

In all seriousness, I’m human. I sympathize with Cowboys fans that this happened the way it did at such a critical point in the game, but I simply can’t endorse not giving the Packers their due diligence.

Did the ruling of an incompletion change Dan Bailey’s missed field goal in the second quarter? What about DeMarco Murray’s fumble in the third quarter? One (right) call doesn’t decide the game, ladies and gentlemen. It didn’t cost the Cowboys anything.

It would be foolish to assume the Cowboys would have automatically won the game if the call on the field was not overturned, yet that seems to be the popular opinion. They would have had the ball at the one-yard line with a chance to retake the lead, but nothing is guaranteed in the NFL.

What if Tony Romo botched the snap on the next play? He’s done it in big moments before. (Seattle, anyone?) What if the Packers defense made a goal-line stand? These what-ifs are every bit as relevant as saying, “what if Bryant made the catch?”

But for the sake of conversation, I’ll entertain the thought of a Cowboys touchdown on that drive. Hypothetically speaking, let’s say the Cowboys scored and converted the two-point conversion to take a three-point lead (see, I’m even being generous with my assumptions). The Packers would have gotten the ball back with no less than three minutes remaining and a timeout, needing a field goal to tie or a touchdown to win. With the best quarterback in the NFL in Aaron Rodgers and a hot offense, I like those odds.

After all, in the real game, the Packers drove down the field and killed the clock after the Cowboys turned the ball over on downs.

Not only did the Packers kill the clock, they also killed the Cowboys’ Super Bowl hopes and advanced one game closer to another title. That should be the focus of the game.

Now, can we get back to football?

 

The Great Debate: Rodgers or Watt for MVP?

2 Jan
Aaron Rodgers and J.J. Watt

Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers and Texans defensive lineman J.J. Watt are the frontrunners for the NFL MVP award.
Credit: si.com

It was perhaps the most immediate silence following a Packers touchdown I had ever heard at Lambeau Field. Forget about the 4-yard score to Randall Cobb in the second quarter. Aaron Rodgers was hurt. And he wasn’t getting up. Nearly 80,000 Packers faithful held their breath as Rodgers collapsed to the ground clutching his left leg. They might as well have been lying on the field beside their quarterback.

It’s a special connection, this Lambeau thing. All who don green and yellow on Sundays are family – those on the field, those in the stands and those screaming frantically at the television.

Although this time there were no screams, no cheers, no rejoice.

Just silence.

I, for one, became misty-eyed as I watched the center of the Packers family get carried off the field and escorted to the locker room on a cart, as chants of “MVP” echoed throughout Green Bay.

What can I say? I’m a sucker for sentiment.

But it was the regular-season finale with a division title and first-round bye on the line. Would Rodgers be named the National Football League’s Most Valuable Player at season’s end if he was forced to leave a game of this magnitude due to injury?

I tensely watched as the NFC North showdown between the Packers and Detroit Lions continued. My mind was set on the bigger picture. I knew where the path led without Rodgers.

Halftime came and went. The Packers’ 14-point lead evaporated and hope vanished.

Until a camera shot revealed someone stretching in the tunnel during the third quarter.

It was Rodgers, clad in green and yellow armor with a cape fluttering behind him. OK, it wasn’t that extreme, but you wouldn’t know it the way the crowd reacted as he emerged onto the field.

This man is Green Bay’s hero and perhaps the best quarterback to ever play in the NFL.

Hope had returned. It was showtime.

On one leg, Rodgers completed 17-of-22 passes for 226 yards and two touchdowns en route to a 30-20 victory.

With a performance for the ages, he may have earned himself a second MVP award.

THE DEBATE

The battle for MVP will most likely come down to Rodgers and another one of Wisconsin’s finest, Houston Texans defensive lineman J.J. Watt, who is seeking the first MVP by a defensive player since Lawrence Taylor in 1986. This season, Watt became the first NFL player to record 20 or more sacks in two separate seasons.

His numbers speak for themselves: 78 tackles, 20.5 sacks, 10 batted passes, four forced fumbles, five total touchdowns and one intimidating bloody nose. But here’s why Watt won’t win the MVP this season:

While Watt recorded 20.5 sacks, 14 of them came against AFC South opponents, so he did a majority of his damage during six games within the division, including six sacks alone in two games against the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Every game in which Watt recorded two or more sacks was against the AFC South as well. Talk about feasting on your division.

When talking about Rodgers in terms of why he won’t win the MVP, people point to three losses against opponents with top-tier defenses: the Seattle Seahawks, Detroit Lions and Buffalo Bills – all road games.

Go ahead and hold those three games against Rodgers, but don’t be naïve to the fact that a majority of Watt’s success took place against mediocre opponents. He didn’t do a whole lot against elite competition either.

Rodgers’ 2014 campaign goes beyond the numbers, which aren’t anything to sneeze at: 4,381 yards, 38 touchdowns, just five interceptions and a passer rating of 112.2. Of his five interceptions, four of them went off his intended receiver’s hands.

While the stats are impressive, there’s one word with far more substance in terms of Rodgers’ MVP-worthy season:

R-E-L-A-X.

Following the loss to the Lions in Week 3, Rodgers famously spelled out and repeated the word, placing additional pressure on himself and the Packers’ offense to perform, and perform quickly.

He owned it and delivered one of the best 10-game stretches in NFL history. He’s the primary reason why the Packers have won their fourth consecutive NFC North title and are one of the favorites in the playoffs.

Rodgers is the MVP this season because he plays the most important position in football and excels at it more than his counterparts. Not to mention there were a number of games this season in which Rodgers put the Packers so far ahead he didn’t have the opportunity to play in the fourth quarter and improve his stats.

Still unsure about the MVP? Consider this:

If the Texans offered Watt for Rodgers in a trade, would the Packers accept it?

Now, what if the Packers offered Rodgers for Watt? I’d be willing to bet the Texans would accept that trade faster than a New York second.

Additionally, the Packers would be in worse shape without Rodgers than the Texans would be without Watt.

Take Watt out of the Texans lineup. What happens? They go from a non-playoff team to… a non-playoff team.

Take Rodgers out of the Packers lineup. What happens? They go from the No. 2 seed to most likely missing the playoffs.

The MVP debate is so difficult this year because it’s between two players who play drastically different positions. At the end of the day, give me Rodgers.

Watt will have to settle for a consolation prize as the NFL Defensive Player of the Year, and a front row seat to watch the playoffs from home.

Packers are team to beat in NFC North

31 Jul
Packers defeat Bears

Aaron Rodgers’ 48-yard touchdown pass to Randall Cobb, with 46 seconds left on 4th-and-8, gave the Packers their third straight NFC North title. They defeated the Bears, 33-28, at Soldier Field.
Credit: martynneil.files.wordpress.com

It was 4th-and-8 at Soldier Field. The Packers’ playoff hopes were dwindling. They trailed the Bears on the road, 28-27, in the 2013 regular season finale. The next 46 seconds would determine the winner of the NFC North.

We all remember the play.

Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers took the snap. He faced an immediate rush from Bears defensive end Julius Peppers. Fullback John Kuhn arrived in a knick of time, blocking Peppers just enough to prevent him from reaching Rodgers. The former MVP rolled out to his left and heaved a dime to Randall Cobb, who bolted past a flatfooted Chris Conte to haul in a 48-yard game-winning touchdown, propelling the Packers into the playoffs.

The Bears were stunned – an all-too-familiar feeling against their archrival. The Packers went on to win the division for the third straight season, but their playoff campaign was short-lived, as they were bounced from the postseason by the San Francisco 49ers in the Wild Card round.

During the offseason, the gap continued to close in the NFC North.

The Bears improved their defensive line with free agent acquisitions Lamarr Houston (Raiders) and Jared Allen (Vikings). They also boast the best wide receiver duo in the league in Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery. There’s hardly a debate about that. The Bears’ offense could be one of the most explosive units in the NFL this season, but it may come down to the play of quarterback Jay Cutler, who Marshall recently declared will be the 2014 NFL MVP. If the league is looking to further investigate substance abuse among its players, Marshall could be their next target after such a ludicrous statement. Confidence clearly isn’t lacking in Chicago, but there’s quite a fine line between confidence and arrogance. Considering the hype in Chi-town, you’d think the Bears were the team with three straight division titles. That’s not the case. However, they remain the Packers’ most prominent threat in the division.

The Lions were perhaps in the best shape to seize their opportunity to win the division last season, but their discipline issues proved costly, as they were their own worst enemy down the stretch. New head coach Jim Caldwell – with his level-headed demeanor – will be a much-needed breath of fresh air for Detroit. Caldwell is more respected than former head coach Jim Schwartz. But let’s be honest, that’s not saying much. On the plus side, you most likely won’t see Caldwell trying to start a fight with an opposing coach after the postgame handshake, which can only be good news for Lions fans. The Lions added tight end Eric Ebron in the draft and former Seahawks receiver Golden Tate in free agency to complement Calvin Johnson in the passing game. Don’t be surprised if the Lions turn things around this season and make a run at the division title.

The Vikings can’t really be considered a serious contender in the division until they figure out their quarterback situation first. They have three quarterbacks competing for first-team reps in training camp, including their 32nd overall pick in this year’s draft, Teddy Bridgewater. The other potential suitors for the position include Matt Cassell and Christian Ponder, whose days as the Vikings’ starter appear to be all but over. If history is any indication, quarterback controversies don’t typically end well. It’s a shame, too. Wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson is waiting for an opportunity to breakout. He’s one of the most explosive playmakers in the league, and he showed flashes of brilliance last season. The Vikings just need to find a way to get the ball in his hands. Of course, Adrian Peterson is always a threat in the Vikings’ backfield, but at 29 years old, he appears to be losing ground on his quest for a Super Bowl ring. Unless the Vikings turn it around, Peterson will be remembered as one of the best players to never win a championship.

Now, the good stuff.

The Packers are the class of the NFC North. That trend will continue until another team steps up and decides it’s had enough. Despite remaining in familiar territory atop the division the past three seasons, the Packers certainly can’t be satisfied with one-and-dones in the playoffs. They’re not far off from another Super Bowl, though.  Here are the four reasons why the Packers will win the NFC North in 2014.

Lack of experience within the division: Entering his ninth season, Packers head coach Mike McCarthy is the longest-tenured head coach in the division by far. Bears head coach Marc Trestman is heading into his second season, and the aforementioned Caldwell – who has three years of previous experience as the head coach of the Indianapolis Colts – and Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer are entering their first season with their respective teams. Don’t underestimate the importance of having the same coaching staff year-in and year-out. It typically takes time for players to adjust to a new coaching style and system.

Additionally, we saw the Lions and Bears unravel with an opportunity to take control of the division at the end of last season while the Packers were ailing. Let’s face it; neither team had much experience with a division lead during the past few seasons, and that won’t change until they start winning meaningful games in November and December. The Packers have proven to be the team with the most resilience in the NFC North, and McCarthy’s experience is primarily responsible for their stranglehold on the division.

Julius Peppers and an improved defense: The Packers don’t have the reputation of being an aggressive team in free agency. That altered a bit in March when they scooped up Peppers, who spent the last four seasons with the rival Bears. Those in Chicago hold a firm belief that Peppers has lost a step. They accuse him of taking plays off. Regardless of their beef with Peppers, they most likely aren’t happy about seeing him end up in Green Bay, especially opposite Clay Matthews. Peppers and Matthews have never had the benefit of being paired with another player of their caliber.

They do now.

The Bears misused Peppers as an every-down player, which may have resulted in his declining performance. He’s no spring chicken anymore. The Packers plan to use Peppers in a variety of positions, formations and situations, maximizing his effort when he is on the field. He also has been reunited with Packers defensive line coach Mike Trgovac, who coached Peppers for several seasons in Carolina. The comfort and familiarity will allow Peppers to excel in the Packers’ defensive system. Even at 34 years old and in the twilight of his career, the aging Peppers is a physical specimen and has the ability to make a difference. He has almost everything – size, speed, versatility, athleticism, and now, added motivation from his doubters. If he can put it all together this season, he might end up with the one thing he doesn’t have: a Super Bowl ring. If nothing else, the Packers have acquired a seasoned veteran who will be a mentor to their young crop of defensive players.

The team selected safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix with the 21st overall pick in the draft, and he may not even start due to Micah Hyde’s transition from cornerback to safety. Even so, the Packers have a lot of depth at the position. Paired with Morgan Burnett, either player will be an upgrade over Jerron McMillian or M.D. Jennings, who started for the Packers in 2013. Also in the secondary, cornerback Casey Hayward is fully healthy, after missing a majority of games with hamstring issues last season.

In recent years, the defense has been the Packers’ weakness. It finished 24th overall last season. With the addition of Peppers, as well as returning players, there’s no reason to believe the defense won’t be average, at the very least. It is poised to become a top-10 unit this season. Defensive end Mike Daniels already has expressed his desire for the defense to have a more physical mentality and match the offense’s production. If the offense and defense are clicking at the same time, the Packers will be even more of a threat, which is a scary thought for the rest of the league.

Eddie Lacy: Roll tide, right? The reigning offensive rookie of the year, Eddie Lacy, put the Packers on his back last season when Rodgers was out for seven games with a broken collarbone. He often faced stacked boxes due to the Packers’ lack of reliable quarterback play, but his punishing running style allowed him to grind out 1,178 yards and 11 touchdowns. The Packers plan to increase Lacy’s role in the offense and involve him more in the passing game. His 35 receptions last season are nothing to scoff at, but you can expect that total to increase this season. There are so few three-down running backs in the NFL, but Lacy is a true workhorse in the Packers’ backfield.

With Rodgers’ return, Lacy will undoubtedly face more favorable defensive looks in 2014. It’s no wonder Lacy is always smiling. He knows what lies ahead. Now that the Packers have a formidable rushing attack with Lacy, James Starks and DuJuan Harris, the possibilities are endless for the Packers offense.

Aaron Rodgers: It’s enviable that Brandon Marshall thinks Jay Cutler will be the MVP in 2014, but for that to happen, Cutler would need to be the best quarterback, and player, in the league. He’s not even the best quarterback in the NFC North. Injuries happen to every team during the course of the season, but the Packers had the worst injury bug in the NFL last season. They lost Rodgers for seven games, and that alone is enough to make the argument.

When Rodgers is playing, the Packers are as dangerous as any team in the NFL. He’s that good. Not only that, he has a mutually beneficial relationship with Lacy. In total, Rodgers and Lacy only played in six games together last season, but the pair will make each other better. If teams stack the box to defend against Lacy, Rodgers will beat them through the air. If teams play deep in the secondary to defend against Rodgers, Lacy will run wild. And the last thing opposing defenders want is to face Lacy head on. Ultimately, defenses will have no choice but to respect the running game, leading to a plethora of opportunities for Rodgers. On paper, it would seem the Packers offense will be unstoppable in 2014. The end result will be one of the best seasons of Rodgers’ career.

The pieces are in place for the Packers, but the Bears and Lions won’t back down, either. The NFC North will be one of the most interesting division battles to follow in 2014, but when all is said and done, the Packers will be on top.

Who do you think will win the NFC North?