In the NFL you need some stars to win it all, some difference makers. Last year going into the season all Green Bay Packer fans knew the team had a solid wide receiver core with Greg Jennings, Donald Driver, James Jones and Jordy Nelson. In the NFC it could be argued that this is one of the top two or three WR units in the conference. We also knew Aaron Rodgers could be a potential star at quarterback, Charles Woodson was a top cornerback, and Nick Collins was a promising safety.
When you added all that up the Packers did have a playoff team, but not quite enough to get over the top in the regular season to avoid a tougher playoff road, nor enough to overcome a hot Cardinals team. Fast forward to this season and the outlook is much less about promise and hope, and more about breakout players performing above expectations. Last season there was one star, Woodson, with a couple other players knocking on the door. This year is a different story.
When comparing the players I am only looking at the NFC. To win a Super Bowl you have to obviously win your conference and with all the possible permutations that can occur to get through two or three playoff games on the way to the Super Bowl there are several teams in the mix as possible opponents. We can deal with the AFC down the road since we will only have to care about one team.
Aaron Rodgers – After Drew Brees is there anybody better than Rodgers in the NFC? Kurt Warner retired and Brett Favre finally looks his age. I do not want to hear anything about Matt Ryan, I am not seeing it yet. If Eli was a little more consistent there could be an argument there. The same for Jay Cutler.
Jeremicheal Finley – Not just as a great tight end as I do not see anyone in his class within the entire NFC, but Finley is more than that to the Packers. He is a primary target in the redzone, a player that demands double and even triple teams. He worthiness to the Packers cannot be understated, he is the reason the running game can be non-existent while the Packers can still be dominant.
Wide Receivers – The unit as a whole is still one of the best in the NFC. James Jones is a number 3 that could be a 1 or a 2 on many units in the NFC. Jennings is at his peak and somehow Driver has not lost a step.
Charles Woodson – Still a great player, not much to argue for here.
Nick Collins – His read and recognition skills seem to get better each year. He always had the great physical tools but as he continues to get better within the scheme it is tough to say how great he can become. After Adrian Wilson I cannot think of a safety in the NFC I would take over Collins. Laron Landry is the only other player in the argument and I would take Collins.
Clay Mathews – What an unbelievable start to the season, 6 sacks, SIX! This is not a fluke, as a rookie with little experience and some nagging injuries Clay had 10 sacks. Now he is more comfortable in the scheme and the game is slowing down for him. He is playing at a different speed than most pass rushers in the game and he has an amazing motor which will allow him to get a few cheap sacks down the road. WIth the way the Packers offense can score Mathews is a legit threat at 20+ sacks. Demarcus Ware and Jared Allen are still great pass rushers but after those two, and considering the Packers scheme, there isn’t a player in the NFC I would take over Mathews.
The Rest – That still leaves the Packers with players like Nick Barnett, Ryan Pickett, Cullen Jenkins, BJ Raji, and AJ Hawk that are now just role players who were formally looked upon to be potential stars or difference makers. Now we just need these players to do their job and these are damn good players for role players.
NFL ATS Picks
My NFL ATS picks took a dip last week by going 8-7-1, my record for the year is 19-9-4.
TENNESSEE @ NY GIANTS -3 – I do not like the bitching and moaning going on in New York after one loss.
BUFFALO @ NEW ENGLAND -14 – The Bills suck. I saw them in person last week at Lambeau and that team had no chance and the coaches know it. Even when down three scores the team went with a run on first, run on second, pass on third mentality to hopefully keep the clock running and the game close.
CLEVELAND @ BALTIMORE -10.5 – The Ravens offense has played two quality defenses on the road, I see them getting healthy here.
PITTSBURGH -2.5@ TAMPA BAY – The Steelers defense is insane right now and the Bucs have beaten two of the bottom feeders.
CINCINNATI -3 @ CAROLINA – Carolina is one of those bottom feeders. I would not be surprised if this was an ugly win for the Panthers, but I am not picking it.
ATLANTA @ NEW ORLEANS -4 – I like Atlanta here. The Saints are not playing at the same level as last year. They should have lost to the 49ers, which would not be a crime, but it felt like the Saints were trying to give the game away. Other than the first drive of the season against the Vikings I have not been overly impressed with the New Orleans offense.
SAN FRANCISCO -2.5 @ KANSAS CITY - Alex Smith on the road, with a tough crowd, for a team that thinks it is better than it is, AND I GET POINTS!
DETROIT @ MINNESOTA -11 – What have the Vikings done to deserve eleven points?
DALLAS @ HOUSTON -3 - Toughest game to gauge on the slate. Dallas is too talented to not turn it around to some degree but to take the Cowboys you have to not only believe that they will turn it around Sunday but that their best is even better than the Texans at this point. I do not think it is.
WASHINGTON -3.5 @ ST. LOUIS – This is a tough spot for the Redskins coming off of a disappointing overtime loss. This could be a win for the Rams.
PHILADELPHIA -3 @ JACKSONVILLE – Something is wrong with Maurice Jones Drew.
INDIANAPOLIS -5.5 @ DENVER – Could get ugly.
SAN DIEGO -5.5 @ SEATTLE – So could this.
OAKLAND @ ARIZONA -4.5 – This will be ugly no matter what happens, what a shitty game.
NY JETS @ MIAMI -2.5 - Miami matches up well with the Jets. Teams like the Jets who use exotic overload blitzes want the opponent to pass, Miami is fine with three runs and a punt. The Dolphins seem to be one of the only teams that can either match or beat the Jets physicality on defense.
GREEN BAY -3@ CHICAGO – I think Chicago is a little better than people thought, but only a little. Dallas is finding ways to lose at this point and if what constituted a catch for the last 50 years would have remained a legal catch in week one the Lions win on opening day. Meanwhile the Packers were dominating the Eagles until Vick came alive and sleepwalked to a 34-7 win over the Bills.
My college picks have sucked, I have no feel for it this year. When I go with a home team because I think they will be charged up they do not cover, Auburn. When I go with an experienced road team because they are really good, and all seniors, they all act like first year freshman, Iowa. College Football has become even more unpredictable than in the past.
Alabama -7.5@ Arkansas – Saban does not lose big games, is Arkansas ready for the big stage? We know Bama is.
Georgia@ Mississippi State – Richt gets fired if the Dawgs lose.
Oregon State @ Boise State -18 – I know Boise will try to blow out the Beavers but I hope the Rodgers brothers can make it close.
Oregon -11 @ Arizona State- I thougth ASU was tough last week against Wisconsin and while Oregon has been going crazy on offense this is a big step up from what they have played so far.