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Friday, November 30, 2018

The Season in Reflection - by Mark Borchardt

This is what Robert Greenfield had feared. And it's happened. He wouldn't have minded the delivery of this essay before the crucial, tide-turning game of last Sunday night against the Vikings up in Minneapolis. But he didn't get it. The essay would have rode the crest of suspense. It would've still been at the door of an uncertain fate. But as you read this, that door, for all intents and purposes, has been closed. The playoff chances are all but over. Three percent, the statisticians have proclaimed, is our chance of tasting that post-regular season after-life. The Packer season began with a cantankerous start and has remained that way since. We just couldn't seem to find that necessary rhythm that has successfully taken us through so many other exciting seasons.

Football, just like the nature of our lives, continually faces the ebb and flow of inevitable challenges; the seasons, like the days of our being, must be considered with a sense of optimism as well as patient reckoning when things don't go our way. We are ultimately in control of our own destiny. And we must choose how to react to this dismaying turn of events as our football season has effectively ended.

So, this writing has now essentially become the embodiment of reflection.

I make it a point to never miss a game but this year I did when I found myself in the backwoods of Alabama for a music video shoot. Poison Oak and snakes were to be wary of as the Packers unfortunately lost to Detroit. And if that was a game to miss, that would be it. And for another game I found myself in New York City. But this time I got to watch it.

It was in Manhattan to be exact. Lilah and I had the distinct pleasure of watching the Packer – Dolphin game at Kettle of Fish. Established in 1950, it served as a Beat hang-out that saw the likes of Bob Dylan and Jack Kerouac walk through its West Village doors. And now, bizarrely enough, it resides as a Packers viewing headquarters in the Big Apple. And believe me, it was a real touch of home. Brats appeared and people explained their own connections to Wisconsin. We were surrounded by good people and got to hang out with the “Found Footage Festival” dudes, Nick Prueher and Joe Pickett. And those guys very wisely had the time-tested foresight to reserve us a table. Sure enough, it got packed.

And back in Milwaukee there was nothing like watching the game at the crowded High-Divebar in Riverwest surrounded by good-hearted friends. Nothing like being home again.

And speaking of home, there is also an immense virtue in watching the game in one's actual crib. It affords meaningful time to do the wash, the dishes, organize materials, put away clothes, etc. all during those tedious commercial breaks. And the incessant banter of bombastic views one is bombarded with in a rowdy bar simply do not exist.

But now as the trees have grown barren and the bitter cold makes itself increasingly known, and the season is all but lost, we must seek the greater answers to certain impending questions.

We must absorb our losses with as equal a temperament as we do celebrating victories. And that is where the true victory lies: in how we handle what life presents to us. We can choose to falter or stand strong against adversity. We can't do anything about the game but we can do something about our lives. What we ourselves are in control of is choice. Choice on how we react to the circumstances of the now thread-barren remainder of the season.

Because sooner than we'd like, the end of the regular football season will cast us into the full void of the desolation of a cruel winter. The cold, barren months of January, February and March provide little, if any, mercy. Our Sundays will become vacant vestiges of once robust gatherings and critical hopes. So let us enjoy the Packer games that we still have left...

Mark Borchardt is a Wisconsin-based independent filmmaker, writer and actor whose many works include "Coven" and "The Dundee Project." You can follow him on Twitter @morethescarier.

Friday, August 17, 2018

Packers Defensive Film Study

Mike Pettine hits play on his remote. Video starts:

Haha Clinton Dix: OK guys, this formation has given us a lot of trouble in the past, uh does anybody need any help on their man or can we play ‘em straight up? 
Tramon Williams: Uhh, I think Lenzy’s gotta line up closer to the line.
Haha Clinton Dix: Oh, he needs someone to take his guy? Doesn't - isn't he blitzing on this play?
Tramon Williams: Yeah, I’ll shift down and pick him up. I’ve got the tight end.
Haha Clinton Dix: {sigh} Christ. OK, uhh well what we'll do, I'll run up first, fake the blitz. We can kinda just, ya know, make it look like we’re both coming. Um, I will sprint to the flat to kinda scatter 'em, so he doesn’t have to get by a whole bunch of them at once. Uhh, when I get set, I'll need Brice to come in and take the crosser, uh so we can keep them scattered and not have too many down the middle of the field. Um, when his guy is passed off, Jaire of course will need to run in and do the same thing. We're gonna need tight coverage on their outside guys, uhh so we can take them out until Lenzy gets to the QB, uh so we can of course get those receivers locked down fast, 'cause we're bringing all these guys. I mean, we'll be in trouble if we don't take them down quick. Uhh, I think this is a pretty good plan, we should be able to pull it off this time. Uhh, what do you think, Stanford, can you give me a number crunch real quick? 
Blake Martinez: Uhhh.. yeah, gimme a sec... I'm coming up with thirty-two point three three uh, repeating of course, percentage, of a sack. 
Clinton-Dix: That's a lot better than we usually do. Uhh, alright, you think we're ready guys? 
Mike Daniels: …Oh, my god, he just ran in. 
Tramon Williams: Save him! 
Haha Clinton Dix: Oh, jeez stick to the plan. 
Mike Daniels: Oh, jeez, let’s go, let’s go. 
Blake Martinez: Stick to the plan chums! 
Haha Clinton Dix: Stick to the plan!

Mike Pettine presses pause. “Now what were you thinking here, Lenzy?”
“ least I have chicken.”

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

2018 Packers/Vikings Twin Cities TV Schedule Comparison Predictions (Free Download)

By Guest Contributor @MarkDeisinger

As I do every year, I've generated a spreadsheet that compares the Twin Cities broadcast TV Packers and Vikings schedules and attempts to predict which games will be shown locally. Obviously, this is targeted toward the Twin Cities fan.

When I'm watching the Packers play, the best seat in the stadium, for me, is my couch at home. However, I live in the Twin Cities metropolitan area of Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota, which presents a problem – not all Packers games are available on TV, because of something called the Minnesota Vikings and the locals' baffling propensity to watch their ultimately fruitless efforts on the field of play.

For a variety of reasons, I'm unwilling to bolster my broadcast TV setup with additional technology. This means I can only see the games that a broadcast network is willing to show on the air. Oh sure, there are Packer fan restaurants or parts of restaurants devoted to Packer games, but they are always very crowded and extremely noisy, and my aging sensibilities don't take kindly to that much noise for that long. Friends and family in Wisconsin are too far away to make a trip without devoting an entire weekend. You would think I could make a run into Northwest Wisconsin, but the football viewing area gods have seen fit to declare that portion of Wisconsin to be Viking territory, a claim both ludicrous and patently offensive, as statistics show that, in every single county in Wisconsin, the favored NFL team is the Green 'n' Gold. On the contrary, there are so many Packers fans in the Twin Cities that one could argue the extension of the viewing area should run the other way.

Several years ago, a fellow Packer-loving Twin Citian sent me an Excel spreadsheet that compared the Packers schedule to the Vikings schedule so that one could attempt to predict which Packers games would be aired locally in the Twin Cities market. This intrigued me, and I took his idea and, with his blessing, ran with it. It now has the predictions built in, based on a combination of an understanding of NFL schedule and TV broadcast rules and my personal experience and gut feel for how things usually shake out. Over the years, I've gotten to the point where I have a pretty good picture of which games I'll be able to see.

Others have opined at length on the ins and outs of the team schedule this year, with its two divisional home games to kick off the season, to the tough run of mostly away games coast to coast after the bye, to the fact that we face Detroit in the last week yet again. It's a challenging schedule, but nobody hands out wins in the NFL. Every year is tough.

As a Packers fan in Minnesota, then, I tend to look at the schedule based on what I can see and what I can't from my couch. Being a fan of the best sports franchise in the galaxy means that I find it a privilege to see every game I can, even when things aren't going the Pack's way. This year's schedule looks pretty good for me, with up to eleven games aired locally; maybe even twelve if a game flexes late in the season. Possibly thirteen if the US Bank stadium roof “pulls a Metrodome” and springs a leak, forcing the Vikings to shift their Sunday home game to Tuesday evening in Kalamazoo or something.

I'll miss the Washington game on September 23 and the ESPN-aired San Francisco game on October 15, and the final three games are all probably out of reach without a flex, but the heart of the schedule looks pretty solid. I can work with this. The couch awaits.

--> (By the way, I will entertain any offers of free tickets to a Lambeau game. Please pick a game I won't be able to see from home. Also, I prefer front row end zone so that I can greet Dean Lowry when he does his next Lambeau Leap.)

Thursday, January 25, 2018

The Minnesota Vikings Did the Right Thing

By Guest Contributor @MarkDeisinger

The Minnesota Vikings have once again failed to achieve the ultimate goal for an NFL team (as opposed to the ultimate goal for the owners of 31 NFL teams). The Vikings' record of futility is not quite as bad as some, but it's certainly impressive. The Vikings went to Philadelphia to put on a lackluster display of force and end their season. No doubt millions of dedicated Vikings fans – wait, are there millions of dedicated Vikings fans?; let's say thousands instead – thousands of dedicated Vikings fans are immensely disappointed, but I contend, as a Packers fan and son of Wisconsin who has lived in the Twin Cities area for decades, that the Minnesota Vikings manned up and did the right thing for their team and their state.

Before I get into specifics, I should state that I'm a software engineer. Some say that what we do is convert coffee into code. I don't drink coffee, so for me it's more of turning the fuel provided by your better foodstuffs into code. But what I really do, day in and day out, is deal with logic. I say this not to brag but only because some may not follow my logic here. I contend that I have the experience and training to produce logic that is reasonable and rational. Having grown up a Packers fan, I also have a solid rooting and foundation for my understanding of winning sports teams and, by necessity, their opposite.
So here are three reasons that the Vikings were acting in a conscientious manner by losing the NFC Championship to the Eagles:

1. They cannot continue to emotionally torture their fans. It is a foregone conclusion that, if they had indeed reached the big game for the first time since the Ford administration, they would have lost it in spectacular and embarrassing fashion. Oh, they might have kept it close with Tom Brady and the Patriots, but somewhere near the end of the 4th quarter, or perhaps in overtime, the Vikings kicker would kick a field goal try in the wrong direction, or a Love Boat would have jumped the banks of the Mississippi to strike US Bank stadium at just the wrong moment and jar the ball out of Case Keenum's hand, or Randy Moss would have driven through several security guards and triggered a stadium alarm that would nullify a TD catch. You get it. Something Vikings-esque. My point is that the Vikings, knowing it was inevitable that they would choke at the last moment, in some bizarre and unprecedented fashion, chose the high road of self-denial on behalf of their fans and threw the NFCC game instead to save their fans more distress. Kudos, Vikings. Kudos.

2. The Vikings recognize it is simply wrong to be in the Super Bowl in your home stadium. It has never been done before, and for good reason. The Super Bowl should be a neutral field of battle and should be a destination for both teams. The Super Bowl must not be in a place that gives one team a great (though fruitless; see point one) advantage. The mere fact that the Helga Horn and obvious piped-in crowd noise were the first features to be designed for the audio system of the stadium are reason enough to disqualify it. On this point, the Vikings no doubt looked to their older and more talented step-brother to the East, the Packers franchise. They noted that, due to its small-city charm, community ownership, and deep-seated love and support of its team even in down times, Green Bay will never lose its team to a greedy owner-invoked move, but Green Bay will also not host a Super Bowl. Some say it's because of a lack of hotel rooms, but Packers fans know the real reason – it would be wrong. So, good on you, Vikings, for recognizing this salient point and acting on it.

U.S. Bank Stadium - a neutral field for the
Super Bowl (as it should be)
3. Finally, and here it gets a little personal, winning it all would be a serious slap in the face to deceased Vikings fans. A good friend of mine passed away a few months ago after a valiant fight with cancer. He was a stellar individual and a gracious Vikings fan, and we enjoyed much good-natured banter and ribbing together. He had lived through the entirety of the Vikings' irrelevance and lack of Super Bowl victories. He had suffered through the bad kicks, the missed opportunities, all of it. I believe the Vikings knew there were fans out there who would have just missed the Super Bowl victory, and this final insult to their late fans' families would be too much to bear. A solid and respectable move, Vikings.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

What to Expect: The New Era

By Guest Contributor @s_cannoli

While the Packers offseason started a little earlier than normal, it is never too early to start looking forward to the 2018 draft. So, what can we expect? A trade out of the first round? An under-the-radar receiver in round 2? Another 4th round steal at the guard or tackle? A D-II wide receiver in the 6th or 7th round? With Ted out and Brian in, we really don’t know what to expect in this upcoming draft.

This April, at the 2018 NFL Draft, will be the first time we see Brian Gutekunst make significant moves as GM of the Green Bay Packers (although, Gutekunst seems poised to make a more significant splash in free agency than Ted Thompson did in his 13 years as Packers GM). Gutekunst and the Packers will be working with roughly 11 picks, depending on how the compensatory picks are calculated out. Having 11 picks would definitely be beneficial to Gutekunst and his staff as they need to hit a home run on at least a few of those picks in order to contend for a Super Bowl in 2018. So, let's take a closer look at the Packers most important needs in the draft.

The two biggest needs, cornerback and edge rusher, are so obvious that my dad even could tell you it is a dire need (my dad believes Bakhtiari is one of the worst tackles in the game so that’s why I use that example). Outside of those two positions, free agency plays a major role in how important those other needs are, yet they should be addressed in the draft regardless. The Packers could use help at tackle, guard, wide receiver, and tight end just on the offensive side of the ball. As for the defense, Gutekunst could and should look at inside linebacker and safety.

Just because we don’t know Gutekunst’s draft tendencies like we did Ted’s, doesn't mean we can’t have fun trying to predict them. So here is a list of a draft prospect or two that the Packers could potentially take at number 14 overall for each position of need. Please keep in mind that these projections are very early and prospects could rise and fall just minutes before the draft, just ask Laremy Tunsil.

Wide Receiver:
While Michael Clark looks to have a bright future, Jordy Nelson is not getting any younger, Trevor Davis isn’t progressing like we had hoped, and Geronimo Allison did not put up the numbers in his sophomore season like we thought after a promising end to his rookie year. History has shown that receivers drafted in the 1st round are not as productive as teams have hoped. Just look at Laquon Treadwell with the Vikings, Corey Coleman with the Browns, Mike Williams with the Chargers, John Ross with the Bengals, or Corey Davis with the Titans. I think I made it pretty clear that I don’t want the Packers to draft a wide receiver in the 1st round, especially with Sammy Watkins likely to test the open market.

My pick: Calvin Ridley, Alabama
(Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Tight End:
The Packers enter the offseason with only Lance Kendricks under contract for the 2018 season. If Brian is anything like Ted, he will let Richard Rodgers test the market and most likely bring him back for close to nothing. Tight end is a complicated position to draft for because rookies rarely make an impact until a few years into the league, which is why resigning Richard Rodgers is important despite having little to offer outside of his sure hands. Although the Martellus Bennett signing was a disaster, the Mike McCarthy and Aaron Rodgers found out what it was like to have an excellent blocking tight end, so look for Gutekunst to look for someone who can stretch the field and offer something in the running game. Number 14 overall is far too rich for me for the tight end position, but anything is possible.
My pick: Mark Andrews, Oklahoma

Bryan Bulaga’s season ended early once again due to another torn ACL, so who knows how he will look when he returns. Kyle Murphy filled in and also headed to IR. Jason Spriggs played a subpar right tackle but looked much better than previous appearances. Justin McCray also played a little right tackle as well even though he previously only played center and guard. McCray played very well but looks to compete for the starting guard position next season. Luckily, the Packers have David Bakhtiari on the left side and when healthy, Bakhtiari is one the best in the business at his position. There are two NFL ready tackles that the Packers could look at in the first round.
My pick: Connor Williams, Texas or Mike McGlinchey, Notre Dame

Along with center, guard was a bright spot on the offensive line. Recently extended Lane Taylor had another promising season at left guard while Ted Thompson kicked the tires on right guard Jahri Evans and it paid off tremendously. Evans likely would have played every snap if the team wasn't knocked out of the playoffs but a minor injury kept him from doing so. Evans was solid in the running game and held his own in the passing game. Evans could be extended but at 34 years old, don't be surprised if Brian lets him walk after Justin "the Swiss Army knife of offensive lineman" McCray put together a great season at both guard and tackle. There is only one guard worth taking this early but he'll likely be off the board before 14.
My pick: Quenton Nelson, Notre Dame

Outside Linebacker:
The Packers had next to nothing in the pass rush this year and it really showed. Nick Perry struggled to stay healthy and even when he was, he didn't show his worth. Clay Matthews still played with a high motor at the age of 31 but isn't the same force he once was. Another rare free agent signing by Ted, Ahmad Brooks, struggled to stay healthy as well but made an impact when on the field. Kyler Fackrell once again showed that he just doesn't have what it takes to play at an NFL level. The Packers still don’t really know what they have in Vince Biegel after he started camp with ankle surgery and didn't see much of the field. Reggie Gilbert, who was activated off the practice squad for the last game of the season, raised a lot of eyebrows; not only with his play but also with the fact that Fackrell and Odem made the team over him. Gutekunst could go a number of ways with the plethora of talented edge rushers in this year’s draft.
My pick: Harold Landry, Boston College
Photo by Tim Bradbury/Getty Images
Inside Linebacker:
What’s a sophomore slump? Blake Martinez took that step that every GM, coach, and fan hope to see out of a 4th round draft pick. Martinez tied for first in the NFL with tackles and probably should have made the Pro Bowl. Martinez played a major role in the run game and is an excellent communicator, but Green Bay still lacks a compliment to him. Jake Ryan looked slow and indecisive while Joe Thomas rarely saw the field. It is possible that Josh Jones, rookie safety, could be moved to inside linebacker after he showed flashes of speed and big hits. Clay Matthews could also be moved back inside depending on what new defensive coordinator, Mike Pettine, wants to do. Either way, the Packers should look for a coverage linebacker to line up next to Blake Martinez.
My pick: Malik Jefferson, Texas

It was a down year for the safety position after what everyone expected to be a strong spot on the defense. HaHa Clinton-Dix looked hesitant when tackling and again took poor angles towards ball carriers. Both he and the Packers said several times that he was not hurt so hopefully HaHa can bounce back to the All-Pro player he should be. The veteran Morgan Burnett showed to be a valuable piece to the puzzle when the defense looked confused during his time being injured. Burnett is set to be a free agent, but look for Mike Pettine to persuade the front office for Morgan to return as Pettine's defenses are known to require players with a high football IQ like Burnett. Josh Jones looks promising but it was clear that he was much more comfortable playing near the box rather than in coverage. Kentrell Brice, the 2016 People’s Champion, took a major step back in his play but look for him to have a bounce-back season as he returns from a season-ending ankle injury. Again, look for 2 guys here even though one is projected to go much earlier than 14.
My pick: Minkah Fitzpatrick, Alabama or Derwin James, Florida State

Through the first 4 weeks of the season, many people probably thought that the Packers had the worst set of cornerbacks in the NFL. House was hurt, King was hurt, Rollins was hurt and still slow, and Randall looked to be having character issues. Fast forward to the end of the season and it is not great, but the group looked better as a whole. Randall completely turned around his season and looks like he’ll have a nice career covering the slot, outside, or even moving to safety if need be. House played a nice veteran role but couldn’t stay healthy. King looks like he could be an excellent player but because of injuries and lack of a playoff picture, he was shut down early. Rollins future in the NFL is not looking great as another rough year and a significant achilles injury likely put an end to his time in Green Bay. The injuries got so bad that safety Jermaine Whitehead was playing slot corner at the end of the year. Undrafted free agent Lenzy Pipkins showed that he deserved to see the field, making a handful of nice open field tackles. Josh Hawkins showed his speed and some flashes that he could play in this league. Randall, King, Hawkins, and Pipkins might be the only guys remaining from this group next year so look for the Packers to double dip at the cornerback position once again.
My picks: Josh Jackson, Iowa or Denzel Ward, Ohio State
Photo by Jeffery Becker, USA Today
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