R-E-L-A-X-E-D – Packers: 38 Bears: 17

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Aaron Rodgers showed us all why we should relax. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

By Jon Meerdink

Well I feel much better.

Yeah, the defense still gave up 500 yards. Yeah, Eddie Lacy doesn’t look like Eddie Lacy. Yeah, Clay Matthews seems like he’s about half a thread away from tearing a major leg muscle in half. But it was a win against a Chicago team that was expected to be very competitive in the NFC North, one that still has an assortment of high-caliber weapons at its disposal on offense. For the Packers to hold the Bears to 17 points was impressive, despite the prodigious yardage totals.

And until the defense finds its footing (if that happens), this may be the way the Packers have to win. Sure, it’ll take an almost perfect effort from Aaron Rodgers most weeks, if not every week, but if you’re going to bank on a quarterback to carry your team, Rodgers isn’t a bad choice.

Three Packers

Aaron Rodgers (22/28, 302 yards, 4 TD) – He spelled it out for us, then showed us why we need to R-E-L-A-X as long as he’s at the helm. This was Rodgers at his most efficient best: a ruthless, precision performance that could have included an all-time highlight, were it not for a semi-phantom holding call. At least we’ll always have the gifs.

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Jordy Nelson (10 catches, 108 yards, 2 TD) – Just another run-of-the-mill performance for Nelson, who’s on pace for 132 catches and more than 1800 yards. He’s doing okay, I’d say.

Randall Cobb (7 catches, 113 yards, 2 TD) – It was hard to believe that Cobb could continue to play as poorly as he had been, and he laid some doubts to rest on Sunday with his first breakout performance of the year. I don’t know if this is an indication of his future performance, but even if he can only average a performance that’s two thirds this good week in and week out, he’ll still be a valuable piece to the Packers’ offensive puzzle.

Three Numbers

23:38 – The Packers’ time of possession Sunday – Marc Trestman set out to play keep away on Sunday, and he succeeded. He didn’t succeed at stopping the Packers, however. Rodgers and Company seemed to say “hey, you’re not going to give us time? That’s fine, we’ll just score really fast.” And they did.

64% – The Bears’ combined third and fourth down conversion percentage – This, obviously, is far too high. The Packers defense simply cannot allow this high of a conversion rate and reasonably expect to keep winning games. They won today, but that’s no guarantee they’ll be able to overcome such a…generous…defensive effort in the future.

700 – franchise wins for the Packers after this weekend’s win – The Packers are now just the second team in history to notch 700 wins, joining the Bears in that two member club. This really just means that these are two really old teams, but it’s still impressive nonetheless.

Three Bad

Run defense – The Packers allowed an enormous 235 yards rushing Sunday. That’s real bad. What’s worse, the Bears averaged 5.7 yards per carry without ever having a run over 20 yards. What’s even worse still is the Bears only had one negative one on the entire day, despite running the ball 41 times. That’s really, really bad.

Run offense – Just head scratching stuff going on in the Packers run offense. First, Eddie Lacy managed just 48 yards on 17 attempts, a 2.8 yards per carry average. Second, neither James Starks or DuJuan Harris were even given a carry. I know they want to stick with Lacy as much as possible, but the Packers know they have other guys that can run the ball, because they’ve both done it before. To stick with Lacy this long when things just aren’t working is starting to border on foolishness, if only because the team has other options.

Running on Soldier Field – It’s time for the NFL to step in and do something about the playing conditions at Soldier Field. Before today, the Bears had played one home game, and that was all the way back in Week 1. And yet somehow the middle third of the field had already been replaced with new turf, the seams of which were clearly visible even on the widest of wide shots. This is a professional football organization with a junior varsity playing surface. Sooner or later, someone is going to get hurt, and something has to be done. If the Packers can keep their grass green into December, there’s no reason the Bears shouldn’t be able to do the same.

Three Good

Blossoming Davante – Two catches for 18 yards and at least one drop is hardly anything to write home about, but what I like about Davante Adams is that he just looks the part of an NFL receiver. He’s a rookie, sure, but he looks confident in his routes, catches the ball with strength, and knows when to sneak behind the secondary and hope for a big play, as he did on the heroic throw by Rodgers that was called back. I think Adams is the unquestioned number three receiver by year’s end, if he isn’t already.

Turnovers – As in, the Packers are forcing them. They had two picks and could have forced several more turnovers. It’s still a work in progress, but the progress is good to see.

.500 – All in all, it wasn’t a completely satisfying win. The refs helped, the defense was not good, and the rushing offense is still in shambles, but 2-2 is a heck of a lot better than 1-3. I’ll take it.

Up Next – A surprisingly good young Vikings team on Thursday Night Football at Lambeau Field. Kickoff is 7:25.

Role Reversal – Week 3 Preview

Last time around was one for the ages. Can this year live up?

Last time around was one for the ages. Can this year live up?

By Jon Meerdink

This year’s incarnation of the Packers/Bears rivalry features a team with an efficient, explosive passing offense squaring off with a team basking on strong defensive play to carry their sputtering offense…only the first team is the Bears and the second team is the Packers. Confused? Me too.

It may be confusing, but it’s the truth. The Bears are passing as well as they ever have. Jay Cutler is efficient, if not spectacular. Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery are giant pass catchers, and Matt Forte continues to do his poor man’s Marshall Faulk routine to great success. Throw in a hulking tight end in Martellus Bennett and the Bears really seem to have it going through the air…which is what we usually say about the Packers.

Of course, the Packers are hardly their usual selves, either. Aaron Rodgers has been ordinary. The run game has been non-existent. Even the receiving corps, once dominant and deep, looks like a one trick pony. They’ve had to bank on the defense to keep them in games, which it’s kinda done twice. It’s also been just as much a liability as a strength.

So whose identity holds? That’s what we’ll find out this week. After all, the quarter mark of the season is usually when these things start to become more clear, and there’s nothing like a trip to Soldier Field to teach you a little bit about who you are.

The Countdown

5 – Touchdown passes by Aaron Rodgers through three games. – Last year at this point, Rodgers had already thrown eight touchdown passes. It’s not that he’s been terrible so far this year, but defenses have made him look ordinary. He hasn’t been bad, really. He’s still completing nearly 63% of his passes, not turning the ball over, and making a couple plays. The plays just haven’t been coming as quickly as we’d like them to, or as often as we’ve come to expect. Perhaps this is the weekend he’ll bounce back.

4 – Receiving touchdowns by Martellus Bennett. – The Bears receiving leader isn’t Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffrey, or even Matt Forte. It’s Bennett, the 6-6, 265 pound monster of a tight end employed by Chicago. A bit of a journeyman, Bennett has been productive wherever he’s gone, and he’s off to a hot start this year. Never a guy you’ll have to game plan around, Bennett nevertheless is a big target who could be a headache if left to his own devices.

3 – Packers players with a Pro Football Focus pass rushing grade greater than 1.0 – In ascending order, those three are Mike Daniels, Datone Jones (yep, that’s right), and former Bear Julius Peppers. Although spotty against the run at times, Peppers has been as good as advertised rushing the passer, ranking in the top 10 at his position in several of PFF’s pass rushing metrics. Squaring off against a strong pass blocking line, it’ll be interesting to see how the Packers’ pass rushers fare this Sunday.

2 – Interceptions thrown by Jay Cutler – Famous for his gunslinging tendencies, Cutler has been remarkably efficient so far this year, at least by his standards. He has thrown interceptions on just 1.7% of his passes this year, just a touch above half his career average. Will Bad Jay Cutler rear his head this week?

1 – Sack by Clay Matthews – Playing in more of a 4-3 alignment has cut Clay Matthews’ pass rushing opportunities. According to Pro Football Focus, he’s rushing the passer just 78% of the time he’s on the field, down from 84% last year. Six percent isn’t a ton, but it’s made a difference so far. We’ve seen a lot more of Matthews dropping to cover and a lot fewer whirling dervish blitzing around the edge. He’s steadily improved his pass rushing grades, though, so maybe he’ll turn it around this week.

Last time – Packers:33 Bears:28 – December 29, 2013

Surely you remember this one, right? It’s the game where this happened.

cobb touchdown

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Oh yes. You remember.

Meet a Bear – Martellus Bennett – TE – 6-6, 265 pounds – 7th NFL season

I’ll admit it: I love the tight end position. Bennett is certainly not a glamorous version of the modern tight end. Most of his game is based on just being larger than everyone who tries to cover him. But he’s been productive, he’s experienced, and I’m not sure the Packers have a linebacker who can match him.

The Bears will win if…

…Jay Cutler maintains his efficient ways and gets a little help from Forte and Company on the ground. The Bears run attack hasn’t been really worth writing home about, but Forte has serious talent and he’s plagued the Packers before. If he can give Smokin’ Jay a little breathing room, the Bears could give the Packers a long day.

The Packers will win if…

…Aaron Rodgers shakes off his recent bout with mortality. Rodgers remains one of the few trustworthy pieces on the Packers’ roster, and if he can get back to his winning ways, the rest of the team will suddenly look a lot better. The defense, the run game, and even Mike McCarthy all look better in supporting roles. Rodgers needs to live up to his status as the big dog in the locker room. If he does, the Packers will be just fine.

The Pick: Bears: 30 Packers: 24

I don’t believe in the Packers yet. I would loved to be proven wrong, but they’ve been maddeningly inconsistent so far this year, and inconsistent teams are hard to pick when you’re writing a football column like this one. I’m betting Bears until I see a reason to believe.

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Kyle Fuller the Red Hot Rookie

Rookie corner Kyle Fuller is making a name for himself in Chicago.

Rookie corner Kyle Fuller is making a name for himself in Chicago.

By Jon Meerdink

Nine defensive backs were drafted in the first round of this year’s NFL draft, and we get to see two of the most highly touted this week at Soldier Field. We know plenty about the Packers’ Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, so let’s examine Chicago’s Kyle Fuller.

Fuller has played the hero in two of Chicago’s first three games. Losing Charles Tillman was enormous for the Bears’ defense, but Fuller has picked up his playmaking duties virtually seamlessly, creating turnovers and basically wreaking havoc for opposing offenses. The numbers guys love him too: through the first three weeks, Pro Football Focus has Fuller rated as Chicago’s best defensive player, posting an overall rating of +5.9.

With three interceptions in two games, you don’t need to be a genius to figure out that coverage is Fuller’s forte. While he’s been victimized in the run game a couple times (and what corner isn’t?), Fuller has been as close to a lockdown corner as a rookie can be. He gave up one catch to Sammy Watkins against Buffalo in Week 1, his worst coverage. Since then, he’s given up just seven catches on 13 passes headed his way. For the sake of comparison, the Packers’ best cover man, Sam Shields, has allowed receptions on 10 of the 14 passes thrown his way this year.

So what makes Fuller so good? Two things: excellent physical attributes and absolute fearlessness.

In a second I’ll show you a highlight video that demonstrates the second point, but as to the first, they should be obvious. He’s 6-0 and 194 pounds, which is a big, thick build for a cornerback. On top of that, Fuller has nearly 33-inch arms, long for his height. I know it sounds like a tiny thing, but an extra couple inches can make a huge difference. Long arms allow defensive backs to play just that much farther off a receiver on the line, giving them maybe another fraction of a second to close on a ball or break on a receiver’s route. It allows them to play around the bodies of big receivers like Calvin Johnson and reach to break up passes when they may be just a step behind. Fuller has them, and he uses them well.

The second things I mentioned was Fuller’s fearless play. He tackles with little regard for his own body, and he closes in on a ballcarrier with tremendous ferocity. I’m skeptical of showing highlights to make a point, but Fuller’s tenacious tackling is on full display in this highlight video.

So what does this mean for the Packers? Well, with Charles Tillman out, the Bears will really only have a stopper at corner on one side, which could free up room to roam for Randall Cobb or whomever is opposite Jordy Nelson. It will also be interesting to see how Fuller matches up against Nelson and Cobb when he faces them. He’s done well in coverage so far, but the best receiver he’s faced has been Steve Johnson, and while Johnson is funny on Twitter, he’s a couple years removed from his last really strong season in Buffalo. Fuller’s battle with the Packers receivers will be one to watch on Sunday.

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Fantasy Outlook: Week 4

Eddie Lacy looks to break out of his early-season fantasy slump against da Bears on Sunday.

Eddie Lacy looks to break out of his early-season fantasy slump against da Bears on Sunday.

By Jordan Huenink

The NFL season is already moving way too fast. I can’t believe we’re coming up to Week 4 already! Maybe this is due to the fact that I’ve been sleeplessly busy at work recently, or maybe it’s because time flies when you’re dominating your fantasy league. It’s probably a mix of the two for me.

In Week 4, some big name squads (Denver, Seattle, Cincinnati, Cleveland, St. Louis & Arizona) have their bye weeks, so now is the time you need to get ahead of your opponents on the Waiver Wire and in free agency if you haven’t done so already. For example, since the Seattle defense is on a bye this week, I picked up San Diego. They sport a great matchup this week against Jacksonville – a team that’s given up the most points to opposing D/STs so far this year.

If you drafted players like Peyton Manning or Marshawn Lynch, ideally you also grabbed a backup for them on draft day given their early bye week. If not, the pickings for replacements may be pretty slim at this point, especially if you find yourself in a 12-team league or larger. You may find yourself settling for QB Jake Locker or RB Daniel Thomas at this point – and hopefully the rest of your team can pick up the slack. But all is not lost if you have to settle for backups this week. It’s still early in the season, and I feel Peyton still has yet to hit his stride. (Or at least I hope so, as a Demariyus Thomas owner!)

But let’s not look too far ahead – we still have to do our best to get another fantasy win in Week 4. So let’s take a look at some predictions!

In Week 4, the Packers head to the Windy City to take on their rivals to the south. As of late, the Bears defense has been surprisingly good following a rough 2013 campaign. So far this year, the Chicago defense is only giving up an average of 15.3 fantasy points to opposing quarterbacks. But then again, they’ve had a relatively easy start to the season. E.J. Manuel (16.7), Colin Kaepernick (12.2) and Geno Smith (14.6) all struggled so far this season, but after last week’s game in Detroit, all those numbers would be an upgrade for Aaron Rodgers!

I see Rodgers finally putting some distance between him and his slow start to the tune of 280 yards and two touchdowns. Not the huge game we saw against the Jets, but enough to instill confidence back into fantasy owners. I also think Jordy Nelson will be the main beneficiary of those stats. The duo has had tremendous chemistry so far this year, and they’ll keep going back to the well against the Bears secondary who is pretty banged up at the safety position.

Even though the Bears are currently the second-ranked defense in fantasy, they have had their struggles against the run. C.J. Spiller (13.2), Frank Gore (13.5) and Chris Ivory (9.6) have all posted decent games against the Monsters of the Midway so far in 2014. Even though fantasy owners may be regretting their first-round pick of Eddie Lacy, this is the week they will be able to breathe that sigh of relief because Lacy will finally break out of his current funk and reach the 100-yard mark. Don’t lose faith yet! Make sure #27 is in your starting lineup this week!

Even though Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson made the Packers defense look decent last week, look for them to be back to their old selves as they take on the Jets this week. After getting torched by Rodgers in Week 2 and Jay Cutler in Week 3, the Jets will once again get it handed to them via the pass by the NFC North. Look for Golden Tate to catch a touchdown and have a solid game too.

After Andrew Luck‘s drubbing of the Jaguars last week, look for Phillip Rivers and the Chargers receivers to do more of the same at home this week. This matchup easily puts Rivers as a Top 5 quarterback this week, and definitely boosts Keenan Allen‘s value as well. Look for new starting running back Donald Brown to get 25 touches and post double-digit fantasy points too.

After getting off to one of the more disappointing starts this season, don’t look for Toby Gerhart to redeem his draft position this week at San Diego. Without a productive offensive line, Gerhart is averaging less than three yards a carry and has yet to find the end zone in 2014. Keep him on your roster in deeper leagues, but if you want to drop him in an 8-team league and can find new, starting backs on the waiver wire (Matt Asiata, Donald Brown Knile Davis) it may not be the worst choice. Personally, I’m hoping Gerhart picks it up soon – I drafted him as my RB2 this year, but haven’t played him since Week 1.

Jordan Matthews seems to have replaced Riley Cooper as the #2 receiver in Philadelphia. Matthews’ big game last week (8 catches, 59 yards, 2 TDs) indicates a connection between him and quarterback Nick Foles, so make sure to grab him if you have someone to drop. Currently owned in only 8% of ESPN leagues, Matthews could come in handy on bye weeks. As for Cooper? Feel free to drop him if an unowned  player catches your eye.

This week I’m facing our league’s reining champion. While I’m forced to replace Demariyus Thomas and the Seattle D/ST due to the bye week, he loses players like A.J. Green, Russell Wilson and Michael Floyd. Projections currently have me winning and moving to 4-0. I’ll tell you all about it next week, but for now,

Fantasy Rewind: Week 3

untitledBy Jordan Huenink

Where to start? Do you want the good news or the bad news first? The good news? Okay.

The good news is that the gut-wrenching decision I was facing at RB2 last week went my way. Even though I wrote that I was going to start Shane Vereen, I had a change of heart and went with Dolphins starter Lamar Miller instead. And he rewarded me to the tune of 108 yards rushing and 13.2 fantasy points. My team also came from behind to win and reach the 3-0 mark, but that’s not what we’re here for. For more good news, let’s check out what I predicted correctly this week!

HITS: Somehow I guessed that a Packer tight end would score this week. Thanks, Andrew Quarless! Turns out Quarless ended up leading all receivers with 10.3 fantasy points on Sunday. Since Jamaal Charles was sidelined – as expected – with a high ankle sprain, Knile Davis took the reins against Miami this week and torched them for 132 yards on the ground and one touchdown – good enough for 17.2 fantasy points! I also mentioned how tight ends seem to be the only ones scoring on the vaunted Seattle defense. What do you know? Both Julius Thomas and Jacob Tamme find the endzone for Denver this week!

For the bad news, let’s see what I missed:

MISSES: Aaron Rodgers didn’t have anywhere near the field day everyone expected. Even NFL Network Kurt Warner predicted 400+ yards and 5 TDs for Rodgers this week! As a result, Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb also did not produce up to expectations due to the limited time Rodgers comfortably had in the pocket. We expected low numbers out of Eddie Lacy as well, but he and James Starks combined for only 74 yards rushing on the day – must lower than anticipated.

While Cordarrelle Patterson had a decent fantasy day against the Saints (10.2 points), I don’t consider that an accurate projection. I was hoping for bigger numbers from the sophomore receiver. On the day, he only finished with 61 receiving yards and a handful of kick return yards. Despite his trend against Philadelphia, receiver Pierre Garcon lit up the Eagles in Week 3. He caught 11 passes for 138 yards and a touchdown – and new quarterback Kirk Cousins didn’t look too bad either (427 yards, 3 TDs)! Missed on both of those.

While the Jets weren’t able to get the win against the Bears on Monday night, they still managed to post 12.1 fantasy points. Despite giving up 27 points, they still intercepted Jay Cutler once and sacked him four times. Gang Green may end up being a handy fill-in defense on bye weeks!

Based on my results, I hope you didn’t stick to my projections TOO closely! I promise I’ll do better this week, okay?

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Downed in Detroit – Packers: 7 Lions: 19

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By Jordan Huenink

All good things must come to an end, unfortunately. Aaron Rodgers’ dominance of the Detroit Lions since taking over the reins of the Packers offense has been virtually flawless. In fact, the only times the Packers have lost to the Lions during that timeframe is when Rodgers was injured.

But Sunday was a different story. The Packers struggled to contain the Detroit pass rush and failed to get anything going offensively as Rodgers finished 16-for-27 passing for 162 yards and a single touchdown while getting sacked twice. On the day, the Packers only managed 223 yards of offense, despite three takeaways by the defense.

A first-drive fumble by Eddie Lacy resulted in an immediate touchdown return for the Lions’ defense, putting the Packers in an early 7-0 hole. After the first career interception by rookie safety Ha Ha Clinton Dox, the Packers marched down the field and evened the score on their last drive of the first quarter as Rodgers connected with tight end Andrew Quarless on a 10-yard touchdown pass.

After a second Matthew Stafford interception by Davon House at the goal line, the Detroit defense once again took no time making a big play as they dropped Lacy in the endzone for a safety. A 26-yard rushing touchdown by Reggie Bush in the fourth quarter capped off the scoring, putting the Lions up 19-7.

While the offense wasn’t able to get the job done today, the Packers defense looked better than expected against the explosive Lions offense. Stafford was held without a touchdown for the first time this season, and Calvin Johnson was held to only 82 yards receiving. Mike Neal and Julius Peppers both notched sacks on Stafford, and Peppers added a forced fumble and recovery to his stat line as well.

In the end, it was the offensive line’s inability to keep Rodgers comfortable that determined this game. The Lions front four constantly pushed Rodgers off his spot and collapsed the pocket, frustrating him and causing him to miss throws he routinely makes. Bryan Bulaga’s return to the lineup can’t come soon enough.

Now the Packers turn their attention to next week’s contest at Chicago – a game that already has a “must-win” feeling surrounding it.

Back in the Jungle – Week 3 Preview

Randall Cobb and his three touchdowns are headed to Detroit.

Randall Cobb and his three touchdowns are headed to Detroit.

By Jon Meerdink

The absolute nadir of the 2013 Packers’ season was their Thanksgiving Day trip to Detroit. This was a team without a quarterback, without a defense, without much of a hope for anything. Coming off a semi-miraculous tie against the Vikings, the Packers were thoroughly drubbed by the Lions, getting laughed off the field 40-10.

Maybe fatigue played a factor. Maybe playing a full extra quarter against Minnesota, then returning to the field just four days later was a taller order than expected. Maybe there was just too little ammunition left for a serious fight against a high octane Detroit offense.

We’ll never know why last year was so bad, but if anything else is true heading into this week’s matchup it’s this: the Packers can’t do any worse than the last time they were in Detroit.

The Countdown

5 – Consecutive road wins over the Lions when Aaron Rodgers finishes the game – That’s what’s on the line this week in Detroit. The Packers only two losses in Detroit in the Rodgers Era have come when Rodgers either didn’t play (last year) or didn’t finish (2010). Every other time, the Packers have come out on top, and they can make it five straight this week.

4 – Pass rush ranking, among inside linebackers, of Packers linebacker Jamari Lattimore – He’s only been on the field a little bit, but Jamari Lattimore is carving out a nice role for himself in the Packers’ defense. Pro Football Focus ranks him as the fourth best pass rusher among inside linebackers, giving him credit for two hurries on just four pass rushes. (Yeah, okay, I stretched this stat a bit to make it fit into the countdown. I invite you to deal with it.) He’s also been pretty solid against the run, accounting for three “stops” against just one missed tackle. Brad Jones, beware. Your time may be coming.

3 – Packers players to record a sack so far this season – That’s Mike Daniels, Clay Matthews, and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix if you’re scoring at home. Julius Peppers has been robbed of at least 1.5 sacks thanks to penalties from other people, but Pro Football Focus still has him as +1.6 rushing the passer so far this year, second on the team behind Daniels. The sacks will come for everyone, I think.

2 – Wins, in 12 career tries, for Calvin Johnson against the Packers. - The Journal Sentinel’s Tyler Dunne pointed this little nugget out. Johnson has 71 catches for 1,163 yards and 12 touchdowns in those games…but no wins. Either he’s really due for a win or the Packers are just good at allowing Johnson to do enough damage without being totally devastating. 

1 – Lions players with a YPC average of 4 or better – Golden Tate, the wide receiver you may have heard of for F*** M*** related reasons from his days in Seattle, is the only Lions player to run for an average of four yards or better whenever he touches the ball. The catch is, he’s only carried the ball once. That’s right, neither Joique Bell (3.5) or Reggie Bush (2.7) is averaging better than four yards per carry. That’s far worse than expected for what was considered a possible two-headed running back monster before the season. That said, they could look pretty dangerous against the Packers’ generous defense.

Last time – Lions: 40 Packers: 10 – November 28, 2013

Like we discussed earlier, this game was an unmitigated disaster. Under Matt Flynn‘s leadership, the Packers managed just 126 total yards, including a measly 102 through the air. It was bad. Really, really, really, really, really bad.

(Interesting note: the Lions already had a 94% win probability BEFORE HALFTIME according to Pro Football Reference.)

Meet a Lion – DeAndre Levy – 6-2, 238 lbs. – OLB – 6th NFL season

Through two games, the Lions’ top rated defender isn’t Ndamukong Suh or Louis Delmas or Nick Fairley. It’s outside linebacker DeAndre Levy. Yes, the Milwaukee native with the serious beard is the pride of the Lions (get it? GET IT?!). He snagged an interception in Week 1 and leads the team with 15 tackles, only missing one tackle opportunity through the first two games.

Levy has been knocked by PFF for his pass coverage this year, but last year it was the strength of his game. He was PFF’s third rated coverage outside linebacker among his 4-3 counterparts, accounting for six interceptions on the year, half of his career total.

The Lions will win if…

…they don’t beat themselves. The biggest opponent to the Detroit Lions has always been the Detroit Lions. Whether it’s penalties, turnovers, or just undisciplined play, the Lions have been their own undoing more often than not. Playing at home against a weak defense, this feels like a game the Lions could easily win, and if they manage to stay out of their own way, they just might do it.

The Packers will win if…

…their defense brings its second half game from last week for the whole game this week. The Lions are a formidable offense, to be sure, but the Packers have slowed them in the past and played pretty well down the stretch against the Jets. Geno Smith is no Matt Stafford, but the Packers all but wiped the Jets out after the first half. If they can duplicate that effort, they could be victorious on Sunday.

The pick: Lions: 27 Packers: 24

My gut says Lions here. I think the Packers are trending upwards, but on the road with a weak defense against the high powered Lions, I don’t see it. Let’s hope I’m wrong!

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Fantasy Outlook: Week 3

Jordy Nelson looks to continue his fantasy success against the Lions on Sunday.

Jordy Nelson looks to continue his fantasy success against the Lions on Sunday.

By Jordan Huenink

We’re only going into Week 3 of the NFL season, and already there are so many questions around the league thanks to recent injuries. On team Badonka Gronk (my personal team), I have the fun task of trying to decide who to start as my RB2 between Bernard Pierce, Terrence West, Shane Vereen, Lamar Miller and Jonathan Stewart. All these guys -with the exception of Vereen – are backup running backs who have now been thrust into starting roles as a result of suspensions or injuries. And it’s always a crap shoot trying to guess who will have the big week. But since I drafted Vereen as my RB2 I’m going to start him this week – especially since the Patriots are playing the measly Raiders.

Ah, the frustrations of fantasy football… Thanks for letting me vent.

Looking ahead to the Packers’ matchup this week at Detroit, I see Jordy Nelson having another productive week, with Randall Cobb not far behind him. The final fantasy point leader between the two will most likely come down to who catches the touchdowns – yes, plural – but look for Jordy to top 100 yards once again. The Lions ranked third worst against wide receivers in 2013, but have had favorable matchups so far in 2014 against the Giants and Panthers. As a result, I would take their early-season success against the pass with a grain of salt. (Extra Nugget: I predict a Packers tight end will catch a touchdown this week.)

Aaron Rodgers will look to repeat his Week 2 performance as well. Eli Manning (6.4) and Cam Newton (19.1) had opposite outcomes against the Lions defense so far this season, but look for Rodgers to top the 20-point mark once again. Since this game usually has the potential to be a shoot-out, you’re in a good spot if #12 is your starting, fantasy quarterback.

Eddie Lacy may find himself with another tough time this week against the Lions run defense. So far this season, they’ve surrendered only 57 rushing yards per game to opposing running backs, but have allowed touchdowns in each of their games. If the Pack can do most of their offensive damage with the pass game, I see Lacy picking up a short-yardage touchdown or two to salvage a below-average rushing total.

The Packers defense hasn’t shown much this year that would warrant a start – especially against an offense that involves Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson. Kicker Mason Crosby got off to a slow start against Seattle in Week 1, but had plenty of opportunities against the Jets in Week 2 – including a 55-yarder. With dome conditions this week, look for Crosby to have a few long-range opportunities. He’s a Top 10 kicker for me this week.

Around the rest of the league, we certainly have some interesting matchups including a rematch of Super Bowl XLVIII. Let’s look at some players that could make or break your fantasy team this week.

With Jamaal Charles sideline with a high ankle sprain, look for Knile Davis to step up this week against the Dolphins. In their last nine games at home, Miami has surrendered nine rushing touchdowns, and backs have rushed for 130+ yards in six of those games. If Davis is still (somehow) on the waiver wire in your league, grab him!

After Antonio Gates lit up the Seahawks defense for three touchdowns this past week, it seems that tight end is the only receiving position capable of scoring on the Legion of Boom so far this year. Look for Peyton Manning to continue his touchdown love affair with Julius Thomas this week, as the duo has the potential to hook up for another score this week. However, keep in mind that the Seattle defense is still stellar at home against elite quarterbacks. (Remember back to Week 1?)  You’re obviously still starting Manning this week, but don’t expect MVP numbers from the old man.

After a lackluster performance last week against the Patriots, Minnesota receiver Cordarrelle Patterson should bounce back against the Saints on Sunday. Even though this is the Saints’ home opener, their defense has been a sieve against wide receivers this year, allowing the most yards in the league. And with Adrian Peterson out for the foreseeable future, look for Patterson to maybe split some carries with backup Matt Asiata.

Given his track record against the Eagles, don’t expect much out of Washington receiver Pierre Garcon this week. While backup quarterback Kirk Cousins is more than capable of getting him the ball, Garcon has never scored a touchdown against their division rivals. His total of 1.2 fantasy points last week (even with the injury to DeSean Jackson), is discouraging as well. Depending on your roster situation, I wouldn’t start him any higher than flex, if you can help it.

After what Aaron Rodgers and the Packers did to the Jets defense last week, I wouldn’t be confident starting them in Week 3 versus Jay Cutler and the Bears offense. With Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb totaling 45 fantasy points last week against then, I don’t see Gang Green containing Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jefferey with any more success.

Best of luck this week! I’ll be shooting to start 3-0! How about you?

Overs and Unders in Green Bay

Has Corey Linsley really outperformed David Bakhtiari? Maybe not, but he's still been quite solid.

Has Corey Linsley really outperformed David Bakhtiari? Maybe not, but he’s still been quite solid.

By Jon Meerdink

Ebbs and flows in player performance are a natural part of every season, but eventually they start to become trends. Sooner or later, those trends become habits, and once those habits are formed, they’re hard to break. Just two weeks into the season, it’s hard to see any trends forming, much less if any of those trends are becoming habits, but there are a few players who have already begun to separate themselves from the pack – for good and bad reason.

Here’s a quick look at some of the guys who have overachieved so far…and some of their more negative counterparts.

Overachiever – Corey Linsley

When Linsley became the Packers’ starting center by default just two weeks before the start of the season, it was fair to wonder if he’d really perform. But not only has he performed, he’s been remarkably solid, allowing just two pressures in the first two games. Of the starting offensive linemen, only Josh Sitton has done better than that, and he’s playing at an All-Pro level through the first two games. Linsley has been a very, very pleasant surprise, and at this point, it would be a shock of J.C. Tretter got his job back.

Underachiever – David Bakhtiari

I don’t want to say that Bakhtiari has regressed in his second season, but he certainly isn’t a dominant force on the left side by any stretch of the imagination. His pass blocking is okay (ranking 19th in the league among tackles in pass blocking efficiency, Pro Football Focus’s combined measurement of QB hurries, hits, and sacks), but his run blocking has been a disappointment. That’s not to say that the running game as a whole hasn’t been disappointing, because it has, but Bakhtiari hasn’t done much to alleviate that disappointment. He’s currently the 66th ranked tackle in the league based on run blocking alone. That puts him below the starting two tackles of every team in the league.

Overachiever – Jordy Nelson

This is obvious, but Nelson has been so good, it’s impossible to not devote a little time to him here. PFF ranks Nelson as the best wide receiver in the league through the first two games, and while some of that might have to do with the fact that he’s been thrown to more than any other receiver in the league, he’s also just playing incredibly well. Only Andre Johnson creates more yards every time he’s on the field than Jordy Nelson, and he’s run fewer than half as many routes as Nelson so far this year. Jordy Nelson has been dominant, plain and simple.

Underachiever – Jarrett Boykin

The Packers may have drafted Davante Adams to be their number three receiver of the future, but Jarrett Boykin was given every possible opportunity to be the number three receiver of the present. There was no inclination that Adams had any shot at unseating him until Boykin’s bad, bad drop on Sunday. After getting erased by Richard Sherman (whether by design or otherwise), Boykin figured to bounce back against a softer secondary this week, but he didn’t. Though I dislike the expression, he’s been “just a guy” through two games. I thought we’d see more.

Overachiever – Mike Daniels

Mike Daniels is stopping the run better than every 3-4 defensive end in the league, except one: Calais Campbell. For sake of comparison, Calais Campbell is 6-8 and weighs 300 pounds. Mike Daniels is 6-0 and weighs 305 pounds. Calais Campbell is a giant. Mike Daniels is a giant who was cut off just below the knee.

The point is, he’s been excellent. He gets moved around from time to time, but his effort is outstanding and he makes full use of the leverage he gains by just being smaller than people. It’s hard to be the low man in a blocking situation if the guy you’re blocking is lower than you to begin with.

Oh, and for good measure, he’s ranking a not-too-shabby sixth in the league rushing the passer among 3-4 ends…just ahead of Calais Campbell.

Underachiever – Datone Jones

Typically, Packer Perspective tries not to be overly negative when discussing players. Football is fun and negativity is not. However, Datone Jones has been utterly anonymous on the football field so far this year. It’s not necessarily that he’s been bad, but he’s just not that good. He doesn’t really stop the run, he doesn’t put much pressure on the quarterback, he doesn’t create turnovers, and he’s not someone the offense ever has to gameplan for. But he’s still a former first round pick, and given his lack of production, he’s the perfect example of an underachiever.

Overachiever – Davon House

Mike McCarthy raved about Davon House in training camp, saying the fourth year corner was having far and away his best year. House has backed that up on the field, ranking as the Packers’ third best cover man according to PFF’s numbers. He’s been thrown at three times, allowing just one reception. House’s physical attributes have always been excellent, and now he’s finally making use of some of his potential.

Underachiever – Casey Hayward

The same can’t be said for Casey Hayward, who was pulled from Sunday’s game after his hamstrings apparently tightened up. Like House in Week 1, Hayward didn’t log a single defensive snap on Sunday. Mike McCarthy has always said that one of the key attributes he looks for in a player is availability, and Hayward seems to be available less and less often. His ball-hawking rookie year is looking farther and farther away.

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Fantasy Rewind: Week 2

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Aaron Rodgers soared over the rest of the league, scoring more fantasy points than anyone else in Week 2.

By Jordan Huenink

A crazy Week 2 is in the books. The Pack finishes with a comeback win, and so does my fantasy team! (Thanks, Andrew Luck!)  But before we dive into the studs and duds from this past week, let’s see how my predictions fared. Gulp…

HITS: I predicted Aaron Rodgers to score in the mid-20s on Sunday. He finished with 28.6 in ESPN standard leagues. I also said that Randall Cobb and Jordy Nelson would have huge games as well. They scored 18.5 and 26.9 respectively. The passing game hit their stride in the second half on Sunday. Looking forward to more explosive weeks out of this combo.

MISSES: I recommended starting Eddie Lacy if he cleared the NFL’s concussion protocol. He had a rough day against the Jets front four, and finished with only 6 fantasy points. I saw Steelers RB Le’Veon Bell repeating his Week 1 25.7 point performance on Thursday night against Baltimore – he only came out with 10.7 points. The Dallas defense surprisingly held Jake Locker (10.1) and Kendall Wright (3.1) in check, thwarting my big prediction for them this week. I recommended benching Zac Stacy with his decreased workload, but the unpredictable running back found the endzone against Tampa Bay, finishing with 11.1 points despite a fumble.

Who would have thought that the NFL was unpredictable? Hopefully I’ll do better with my predictions on Thursday! Make sure to check back then to see who I’d start or sit for Week 3.

Stud of the Week: Aaron Rodgers was the highest-scoring offensive player in Week 2. Despite losing a fumble on the first snap of the game, Rodgers bounced back nicely for fantasy owners to throw for 346 yards and three touchdowns.

Duds of the Week: The injury bug struck many fantasy teams hard this week. Players like Robert Griffin III (dislocated ankle), Jamaal Charles (ankle), DeSean Jackson (shoulder), Knowshon Moreno (dislocated elbow) and A.J. Green (toe) all left their games early with various injuries, leaving only minimal points behind. If you own any of these players, make sure to monitor their activity during the week.

Surprise of the Week: After getting trounced by the Dolphins in Week 1, many people had written off the Patriots defense for Week 2 against a potentially explosive Vikings team who dropped 34 points on the Rams in Week 1. But without Adrian Peterson, the Vikings looked miserable against a re-energized New England defense. A blocked field goal return of a touchdown along with four interceptions and six sacks translated into 29.9 fantasy points for Bill Belichick’s crew in Week 2.

Honorable Mention: Kirk Cousins stepped up in a big way when RG3 went down in their contest against the Jaguars. Cousins threw for 250 yards and two touchdowns in their 41-10 boat racing of Jacksonville, finding new targets Ryan Grant, Andre Roberts and Niles Paul for big yardage. If DeSean Jackson and tight end Jordan Reed are out for an extended period of time, Paul and Roberts may be sneaky sleeper targets in your league if you are lacking in those areas.

I hope your team fared as well as mine this week! I’m currently 2-0 in my league and looking strong! I’ll be back on Thursday will a preview of Week 2. In the meantime, best of luck on the waiver wire!

 

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