Packers XLV

We're Not Quite Ready to Exhale Just Yet.

Posted December 15th, 2017 @ 04:12pm

We all know when we will exhale.

We've waited eight weeks, through nine Brett Hundley starts. We watched a 4-1 team morph into a 7-6 team, needing two overtime wins to stay alive for a record-tying ninth straight playoff berth. We waited while watching Aaron Rodgers throw pass after pass at Heinz Field before the Steelers game. We waited until the medical staff cleared him to return.

Now we're waiting for the game to start at Bank of America Stadium, shortly after noon on Sunday. Depending on who gets the ball first, we'll wait to see Rodgers back under center. And we'll wait till he gets hit hard the first time, and we'll wait. To make sure he gets up and is feeling no pain.

Then we will exhale.

We all know the odds are stacked against a season-ending trifecta, which would likely secure the sixth and final NFC playoff spot. The Pack's chances are 89%, if they finish 10-6 (If they can get past the Panthers, we'll be cheering for the Rams to beat the Seahawks). But even if they fall short, it's so great to see Rodgers back on the field.

We've been blessed, ridiculously blessed, with a quarter century of Hall of Fame quarterback play, that's 400 weeks of regular season football, and our two Hall of Famers have been out there for all but 15 of them. But it's still painful when they're out, because we love this game and selfishly want our best player out there performing every single week.

I expect Rodgers to be as sharp as he was the last time he returned from a broken collarbone, in week 17 of 2013, when he threw for over 300 yards including the game winner on fourth down to Randall Cobb. That was the play where John Kuhn got just enough of Julius Peppers to give Rodgers enough time to find Cobb.

Ah, Peppers. How good would he still look in a Packers uniform? The soon-to-be 38 year old is tied for the Panthers' team lead with 9.5 sacks and has no doubt spent a lot of time sharing the Pack's offensive secrets with his unit. And you know he's dying to deliver that first big hit to Rodgers.

He's a part of what makes this matchup so problematic for the Packers. The Panthers front seven is as good as there is in the NFC, on par with the Vikings who we get to follow up with next Saturday. Peppers is joined across the line by fellow end Mario Addison (also with 9.5 sacks), NT Star Lotuleili and their own version of Mike Daniels, fellow Big Ten alum Kawann Short, who has six sacks himself and is a stud against the run.

Then there's the linebacker group, led by tackling machine Luke Kuechly and the veteran Thomas Davis. Shaq Thompson plays LB, and is a Morgan Burnett-type (he hasn't practiced all week with a foot injury). The Panthers D is fifth in yards allowed, tenth in points, third against the run and seventh against the pass. Their weakness is in the secondary, which let Josh Norman walk in 2016 and relies on young guys that can be beaten, if the pass rush can be contained.

Rushing yards will be hard to come by, if last week is any indication. The Pack struggled against a strong Browns unit that was missing nose tackle Danny Shelton. Of course the return of Rodgers and a much more prolific passing attack should give the ground game a significant boost. Rodgers made a point to remind everyone that Jordy Nelson still 'has some juice left.' Look for McCarthy and Rodgers to take some deep shots early with Nelson   and work to get Randall Cobb involved so the defense can't get away with doubling millionaire-to-be Davante Adams.

Where things get really tricky is when the Panthers have the ball. The Pack's banged up secondary shouldn't be too stressed by the passing game, where Cam Newton is averaging just 209 yards passing per game. He's the 34th ranked QB in passer rating ands just 17 touchdowns and 12 picks. Damarious Randall, fresh off a strong performance against Josh Gordon, will get Devin Funchess duties. He's the main threat, with tight end Greg Olson not yet 100% (he was targeted just once in his first game back last week).

Where the Panthers excel is on the ground, which will likely be their recipe on Sunday, since it ensures that Rodgers will have to spend more time on the sidelines watching. Jonathan Stewart has a breakout game against the stiff Vikings run defense and rookie Christian McCaffery is the kind of back that gives Dom Capers trouble, with his quickness in space as a receiver. And then there's Newton, playing with a tender throwing shoulder, who will have no problem using his legs early and often. He busted a long one to beat the Vikes last week and 585 yards and five touchdowns for the season.

With Jake Ryan a big question mark, the Pack's run defense will be tested mightily. Josh Jones will be counted on in a big way, after a game where he was graded as the fourth best safety. With Burnett and Jermaine Whitehead being asked to play some corner, Jones will be out there for virtually every snap and will be counted on to prevent the home run play.

The Panthers are tied for the lead in the NFC South and have everything to play for, but it works to the Pack's advantage that they beat Minnesota. Had they lost, they would be on a two game losing streak and this game would be a desperation game to keep them in the race. So they're feeling good about themselves at 9-4 and rightfully so. But a turnover could be enough to determine the outcome and Carolina is -4 for the season while the Packers are +7.

The Pack will need to play infinitely better than they have the last two games, overtime wins against losing teams. But maybe, just maybe, the return of Rodgers, something we've been waiting for since early October, will be enough to raise the play of his teammates. After watching his excellence for the past ten years, I'm not ready to doubt him.

Packers 31  Panthers 28

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Comments (12):

Waiting to exhale

on December 15th, 2017 at 05:36pm

Fingers crossed for this one. Hopefully the beginning of the resurrection of a lost season. Looking forward to being back in Minneapolis next week for the holidays & to see the border battle. Go Pack Go!

on December 15th, 2017 at 11:09pm

Aaron Jones is our resident expert on Inhaling and Exhaling ....... especially when driving around in his car.

on December 16th, 2017 at 01:13am

Sinykin:____ that's 400 weeks of regular season football, and our two Hall of Famers have been out there for all but 15 of them. Unquote____ OK, correct me if I'm wrong. Of the aforementioned 15 games missed. Your HOF QB named Favre was involved in ZERO of the missed games and, your durable as Balsa Wood QB named Rodgers missed 15 Games ? ____ are you sure you want Rodgers back out there this soon ? ___ with Green Bay's patented bullfighter style O Line ? ___ stepping to the side and yelling olé ____ as Rodgers is leveled by J. Peppers this week and Griffen and Barr next week ? ___Rodgers should request a pay raise while he has time.

on December 16th, 2017 at 01:31pm

Did Packerlifer compare the Barr play to what happened to Favre in the championship game? Drugs are serious business Packerlifer, so please stop taking them.

on December 16th, 2017 at 04:16pm

I rate the Pack's chances in this one the same as their playoff chance: somewhere between slim and none on the scale. They're better with Aaron Rodgers but the defense will be the letdown in any case. I hope the officials make it clear to the Panthers that they'll be watching for anybody engaging in any extracurriculars with Rodgers after he's released the ball or run out of bounds. Any Anthony Barr play should draw immediate personal foul penalties. The Carolina defense shouldn't have to play dirty to win this game. If all goes well the Packers will play this one like they did at Pittsburgh. But in the end with a similar outcome.

on December 16th, 2017 at 05:20am

I hope the officials make it clear to the Panthers that they'll be watching for anybody engaging in any extracurriculars with Rodgers after he's released the ball or run out of bounds. I almost cried laughing at that post from Packerlifer. Does he not have a clue that is what referees have been doing for the past quarter century(Davey's words)

on December 16th, 2017 at 06:40am

Greg, officials miss calls or interpret the rules all the time. They allowed more than they should have on the hit that put Rodgers out. If that hit had happened to Tom Brady the howls would be deafening. It was late, it was unnecessary roughness, it was launching at a defenseless player. It was Greg Williams' "kill the head and the body will die" sans the bounties. (And I recall a lot of complaint coming from Queens' land when that was done to their qb in a championship game a few years ago.) If the league is serious about player health and safety and doesn't want to see the integrity of its game compromised by getting its leading stars knocked out by "below the belt" punches it'll make sure that rule changes or clarifications will be made. But maybe you won't mind the Packers hitting Barr with two or three blockers on every play until they break his leg on Dec. 23.

on December 16th, 2017 at 09:52am

well synny was right last week. I admit I was wrong. I thought even the coaching with the Browns would be smart enough to throw it to Johnson more than 4 times. he did, for 41 yds and a td in 4 catches. they deserve to lose. getting back to my team, for the 3rd straight week, I will tell my viking fans, we have been very lucky. now Wentz goes down to help us out, barr took care of that packers qb. and now this. it could be our year. now I get to play my old team. and all 3 lb's are out. we seem to get a lot of breaks this year. PUN intended.I just hope that the panthers can beat the packers tomorrow. I do not want them in playoffs. with Rodgers back, we could lose very easy to them at our house. if we lose tomorrow. they should fire me. we should win 34-10. Packers will lose 26-17. have to go put some drops in my eye now.

on December 16th, 2017 at 12:20pm

Dom Capers should be fired IMEDIATELY !!!

on December 17th, 2017 at 04:10pm

da Pack r back.... Queens will feel the pressure and crack like an egg

on December 17th, 2017 at 08:01am

We exhaled and know our team sucks. How badly will we lose next week, I think Big Time.

on December 17th, 2017 at 09:25pm

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