Submitted by Jim Hurley on Monday, November 14, 2011 at 10:43 AM
The Green Bay Packers have been playing with fire in recent weeks. They've become so confident that their offense can score on command when needed that they've lost focus in repeated instances despite that gaudy 8-0 record they enjoy heading into Monday Night's nationally televised game against divisional rival Minnesota.
Last week, Green Bay had a seemingly comfortable lead in San Diego, only to see the Chargers have the ball in the final moments with a chance to tie the game. This is a Chargers team that subsequently looked like crap the next Thursday Night against Oakland...and one that's struggled often this season.
Two games ago, Green Bay lost the first half on the road to rookie quarterback Christian Ponder. Then, after a strong surge seemingly put the game away, they lost focus again...giving Ponder the ball with a chance to WIN the game in the final moments. You shouldn't have to sweat a game where your quarterback went 24-30-0-307 in the air and you averaged 7.0 yards-per-play. Especially against a rookie quarterback.
Three games ago, Green Bay was scoreless and sluggish in the second half against lowly St. Louis.
Four games ago, Green Bay was virtually non-existent in the first half against Atlanta, trailing 14-6 at halftime before closing strong.
You get the point...they look like the Super Bowl champs that they are...then they sleepwalk for 20 minutes...then they look great again...and so on, and so on. They didn't face any juggernauts in the last month...yet they were sweating in the second half in three of four games...and sweating the last minute in two of them!
Maybe Green Bay figures it can coast into the playoffs, then turn up the defensive intensity when the games matter most. Can't argue with that. Indianapolis tended to play the percentages rather than go for the jugular during the best of times with Peyton Manning. There are no bonus points for winning by monster margins. Who can complain about an 8-0 start?
We're certainly not here to complain. But, we do want you to be aware that the Packers are hard to trust as big favorites because of their tendency to only play "half" a game each week. Green Bay is 2-2 ATS when laying double digits this year...and failed when laying -10 to the very Minnesota team they're facing Monday Night.
Let's crunch our standard indicator numbers for this game to see if any thrills may be in store. Then, we'll check the rest of Green Bay's schedule to see where other thrills might await.
DRIVE POINTS PER GAME (scored and allowed on 60 yards or more)
Minnesota: 10.5 on offense, 8.8 on defense
Green Bay: 21.5 on offense, 16.1 on defense
As we mentioned yesterday, Green Bay is very similar to New England in this category. You see a fantastic offense and a disappointing defense playing shootouts. Defenses that bad don't win championships...so Green Bay better not get too cocky. They were much better than this last year...and we expect improvement as they bear down to play more "real" football in more important games. Minnesota has a good differential for a losing team. Let's note that the offensive numbers got BETTER with Ponder. He's at 12.0 in his two starts...though those did come against the defenses of Green Bay and Carolina. Maybe he'll look more like a rookie against better defenses (or under the Monday Night spotlight this evening).
Clear edge to Green Bay in the differential, with +5.4 playing at home against +1.7. But, that's not nearly enough to justify the Vegas spread, even after you factor in three points for home field advantage.
THIRD DOWN CONVERSIONS
Minnesota: 41% on offense, 43% on defense
Green Bay: 50% on offense, 44% on defense
We mentioned yesterday that the league was centered around 39% entering the weekend. So, Green Bay's offense is FANTASTIC by 2011 standards at moving the chains...it's one of the hallmark reasons Aaron Rodgers is such an elite quarterback. He gets high passing volume AND moves the chains while not making many mistakes. Both defenses have been disappointments in this stat. Minnesota has very good numbers in other categories...but they're a bit too soft on third downs for out tastes. That's one of the big reasons they were falling apart in second halves earlier this season. They couldn't get the ball out of the other team's hands.
Minnesota: +4 (11 takeaways, 7 giveaways)
Green Bay: +11 (19 takeaways, 8 giveaways)
Here's the category that separates Green Bay from New England...or, really equates Green Bay with what New England was doing when the franchise peaked a few years ago. The Packers move the ball at will...then opponents throw a lot of interceptions while trying top lay catch up. The Patriots of the past few years showed that can be fool's gold come playoff time. Have the Packers learned that lesson?
The Drive Points by themselves don't justify the Vegas spread. But, the Drive Point edge, home field, AND the additional scoring potential from cheap points does get you in the neighborhood. It's a good sign for Minnesota's cover chances that they're in positive territory themselves. The Vikings covered the first meeting despite a 2-1 category loss. They'd probably take that again with a rookie quarterback in the site switch. Should the turnover category equalize in Monday's meeting...we have a chance for another thriller.
We haven't talked about "cheap points" much this year. Those are all OTHER points that weren't Drive Points (special teams scores, defensive scores, drives of 59 yards or less). Green Bay has won the cheap point category 73-23 the last five games because they're +7 in turnover differential. The pointspread result Monday Night is very likely to be determined, or at least strongly influenced by what happens with cheap points.
As promised, let's check out the remaining challenges for the Packers this season...
GREEN BAY'S REMAINING SCHEDULE
Nov. 20: vs. Tampa Bay
Nov. 24: at Detroit (huge Thanksgiving Day game)
Dec. 4: at NY Giants
Dec. 11: vs. Oakland
Dec. 18: at Kansas City
Dec. 25: vs. Chicago (huge Christmas Day game!)
Jan. 1: vs. Detroit (Holy Holidays Batman!)
Wow...that's your reward for winning a Super Bowl?! You have to play physical rivals on all three holidays?!
You can see that the schedule is about to get tougher. All seven of those teams are currently in the playoff picture. Maybe Tampa Bay and Kansas City are temporary pretenders (that's what their indicator stats are suggesting anyway). But, Detroit's going to show up...and may be in a must-win position in the season finale. Chicago may be in a must-win position on Christmas. Green Bay could determine which NFC North rival gets the Wildcard if the Pack ultimately win the division as expected.
The Oakland team that played this past Thursday Night could certainly pull a shocker. A road trip to face the Giants is far from a sure thing. Let's say it this way...Green Bay is capable of running the table...but THERE'S NO WAY they're going to run the table if they don't pick up their defensive intensity significantly against that schedule.
JIM HURLEY'S NETWORK will have a side or total winner in Minnesota-Green Bay posted Monday afternoon here at the website. You can purchase that along with our top college basketball plays with your credit card (we're looking at Nevada-UNLV on CBSC, Washington State-Gonzaga on ESPN, and Northern Iowa-St. Mary's on ESPN). If you'd like to talk about combination packages in football and basketball, call our office at 1-800-323-4453.
Plenty of big play bombshells our left in our TOTAL NOVEMBER TAKEDOWN program. Don't forget that our second GOLDEN GAME of the season goes this Saturday. The annual Turkey Shoot is just around the corner. The package runs all the way through Championship Weekend in the colleges.
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