Friday, November 29, 2013

The 53 - Packers pummeled on the road by Lions on Thanksgiving

Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford came into their Thanksgiving 2013 match up 0-6 for his career against the Green Bay Packers and the Lions lost 15 of their last 16 games against the Packers.  The Lions lost nine straight on Thanksgiving but were 11-8-1 all-time against the Packers on Thanksgiving heading into their game on Thanksgiving 2013.  The Lions lost to the Packers for the 23rd consecutive times in Wisconsin earlier this season so they were looking for payback on Thanksgiving.

The inactives for the Packers against the Lions were: Brandon Bostick (TE, concussion), Chris Harper (WR, healthy scratch), Jamari Lattimore (LB, quad), Nate Palmer (LB, healthy scratch), Aaron Rodgers (QB, broken collarbone), Jerel Worthy (DL, healthy scratch), and C.J. Wilson (DL, ankle).  I was shocked that the quintet of right tackle Don Barclay, defensive lineman Johnny Jolly, outside linebacker Nick Perry, and cornerback Sam Shields returned for the Packers.  I almost wonder if those guys could have played against the Vikings just four days ago when the Packers tied the Vikings at home but Packers head coach Mike McCarthy didn't play them because he thought he could beat the Vikings without their services.  Well the Packers had all of their services but it didn't seem to help much.

In the first half the Packers offense got just three first downs, which is the same amount of turnovers that the defense created.  Luckily the defense returned one of those for a touchdown because the Packers scored just three points on offense on a drive that started at their own 40-yard line thanks to Lions punter Sam Martin hitting the kickoff out of bounds.

Besides the turnovers, the Lions were stellar on offense en route to gaining 17 first downs thanks in part to converting 4 of 5 third downs into first downs while the Packers converted merely 1 of 6 third downs into first downs.  The Lions held the ball for 20:34 minutes while the Packers only held the ball for 9:26 in the first half. The Lions gained 340 yards while the Packers gained just 43 yards.  The Lions should have been up huge at halftime but thanks to three turnovers and a missed 31-yard field goal at the end of the half by Lions kicker David Akers, the Lions only lead 17-10.

The Packers received the ball to start the second half but unfortunately it was just more of the same sans turnovers. Ultimately the Packers lost 40-10 to the Lions.  You can read more in-depth recaps of the second half elsewhere, I am more interested in where we go from here.

The Lions scored 37 unanswered points and out-gained the Packers 561 yards to 124 yards.  The offensive yardage numbers for the Packers would have been even more lopsided without the garbage 56 yard reception by wide receiver James Jones in the waning minutes of the game with the game already out of hand.  Let that sink in for a minute, the Packers gained almost half of their total yards on offense on one play, in garbage time.

There are tons of people calling for Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers to be fired.  If the Packers make that move, I assume they would name assistant head coach/inside linebackers coach Winston Moss the interim defensive coordinator.  Given that the Packers are most likely out of playoff contention, I am not sure what they accomplish other than putting a head on a spike.  Here are my updated rankings following the Packers/Lions game:

The 53
1. Aaron Rodgers (QB, LR 1)
2. Clay Matthews (OLB, LR 2) 
3. Jordy Nelson (WR, LR 3)
4. T.J. Lang (G, LR 5)
5. Morgan Burnett (S, LR 9)
6. Josh Sitton (G, LR 4)
7. Eddie Lacy (RB, LR 6)
8. B.J. Raji (DL, LR 8)
9. James Jones (WR, LR 7)
10. David Bakhtiari (T, LR 11)
11. Evan Dietrich-Smith (C, LR 10)
12. Mike Daniels (DL, LR 13)
13. Sam Shields (CB, LR 12)
14. Tramon Williams (CB, LR 14)
15. Brad Jones (MLB, LR 15)
16. Don Barclay (T, LR 20)
17. Nick Perry (OLB, LR 21)
18. A.J. Hawk (MLB, LR 16)
19. Davon House (CB, LR 17)
20. Datone Jones (DL, LR 18)
21. Micah Hyde (CB, LR 19)
22. Jarrett Boykin (WR, LR 22)
23. Tim Masthay (P, LR 24)
24. Mike Neal (DL/OLB, LR 26)
25. Johnny Jolly (DL, LR 27)
26. Ryan Pickett (DL, LR 28)
27. Mason Crosby (K, LR 33)
28. Jerel Worthy (DE, LR 25)
29. Jamari Lattimore (LB, LR 23)
30. Matt Flynn (QB, LR 29)
31. Jarrett Bush (CB, LR 32)
32. Scott Tolzien (QB, LR 31)
33. M.D. Jennings (S, LR 38)
34. James Starks (RB, LR 34)
35. Brett Goode (LS, LR 35)
36. John Kuhn (FB, LR 36)
37. Derek Sherrod (T, LR 37)
38. Andrew Quarless (TE, LR 30)
39. Chris Banjo (S, LR 44)
40. Brandon Bostick (TE, LR 40)
41. C.J. Wilson (DL, LR 41)
42. Ryan Taylor (TE, LR 42)
43. Sean Richardson (S, LR 43)
44. Andy Mulamba (LB, LR 46)
45. Jerron McMillian (S, LR 47) 
46. Myles White (WR, LR 48)
47. Lane Taylor (G, LR 49)
48. Jake Stoneburner (TE, LR 50)
49. Josh Boyd (DL, LR 51)
50. Marshall Newhouse (T, LR 45)
51. Victor Aiyewa (LB, LR N/A)
52. Nate Palmer (LB, LR 52)
53. Chris Harper (WR, LR 53)
Physically Unable to Perform
1. JC Tretter (T)
IR, Designated for Return
1. Randall Cobb (WR)
Injured Reserve
1. Jermichael Finley (TE)
2. Bryan Bulaga (T)
3. Casey Hayward (CB, LR 16)
4. DuJuan Harris (RB)
5. Jonathan Franklin (RB)
6. Robert Francois (MLB)
7. Greg Van Roten (C/G)
8. Sam Barrington (LB)
9. Seneca Wallace (QB)
10. James Nixon (CB, LR 53)
11. Kevin Dorsey (WR)
12. Sederrik Cunningham (WR)
1. Jeremy Ross (WR, Lions)
2. Michael Hill (RB, Buccaneers)
1. Aaron Rodgers (QB, LR 1): With Rodgers healthy, the Packers were 5-2 after beating the Minnesota Vikings in their last visit to The Humpty and looked like a strong candidate for a first round playoff bye.  Since Rodgers went down in the first offensive series of Monday Night Football against the Bears, the Packers have gone 0-4-1.  Has a player ever been named MVP without playing?

5) Morgan Burnett (S, LR 9): After having zero big plays so far in 2013, Burnett lucked into two fumble recoveries.  The first fumble was created by outside linebacker Clay Matthews stripping Lions running back Reggie Bush.  The second fumble was created by outside linebacker Nick Perry's strip sack of Stafford that Burnett returned to a touchdown.  Burnett showed that fumble recoveries are sometimes the definition of empty calories given that Burnett was quiet otherwise against the Lions.  I was totally against cutting Charles Woodson, clearly Woodson's play for the Oakland Raiders shows that he is not worth paying him $10 million this season, but worth have on The 53 for the Packers since he would be the starter at safety opposite Burnett.  I could be wrong but if the Packers could get even decent play next to Burnett, I could see the safety position turn from a liability to a position of strength given Burnett's potential upside.

13) Sam Shields (CB, LR 12): The Packers had two interceptions and two fumbles against the Lions.  Shields accounted for one of those interceptions on the only quality defense the secondary played on Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson all game.  Shields ran stride for stride with Johnson, maintained proper defensive position, and high-pointed the ball perfectly to intercepts Stafford's pass to prevent a touchdown.  Unfortunately those plays have been few and far between for Shields this season.  I reserve the option to chance my thoughts but as of right now I would force cornerback Tramon Williams to take a significant pay cut or send him packing, pay Shields, and move cornerback Micah Hyde to safety.  Assuming Williams takes the pay cut, the depth chart at cornerback next season would be Williams, Shields, Casey Hayward, Davon House, and Jarrett Bush.  That would leave the depth chart at safety as Burnett, Hyde, Jennings, Richardson, Banjo, and McMillan.

27) Mason Crosby (K, LR 33): My two main beefs with Crosby is consistency and inability to convert kicks from length once it gets cold. Crosby has been 25 of 29 this season including makes from 57 yards against the the Giants and 54 yards against the Lions.  Unfortunately I think we are in for a stinker or two from Crosby over the next four games.  Given that Crosby is due $3.4 million in 2014 and the Packers have a ton of guys to take care of, the Packers need to consider whether it is worth biting the bullet to carry $1.2 million in dead money split over their 2014 and 2015 salary cap to go in a new direction at kicker next season because we know there is very little correlation in kicking percentage season-to-season.

30) Matt Flynn (QB, LR 29): Last week I praised Flynn for potentially saving the Packers season.  For how well Flynn was last week, he was equally horrible this week against the Lions.  In three career games against the Lions, Flynn has either been boom or bust.  On December 12, 2010 he went 15 for 26 throwing for 177 yards, and 1 interception for a 62.5 passer rating in a 7-3 loss in Detroit.  On January 1, 2012 he went 31 for 44 throwing for 480 yards, 6 touchdowns, and 1 interception for a 136.4 passer rating in a 45-41 win in Green Bay.  On November 28, 2013 he went 10 for 20 throwing for 139 yards, and 1 interception for a 51.9 passer rating in a 40-10 loss in Detroit.  In what is hopefully Flynn's last snap for the Packers at quarterback he fumbled a clean snap to ensure the offense only scored 3 points.

42) Ryan Taylor (TE, LR 42): I am shocked that Taylor returned to the game after suffering what looked like a gruesome concussion when he was tackled by two players.  It looked like the hit was legal.  Given how much an emphasis the NFL has put on head injuries twenty years too late, apparently it did not result in a concussion for Taylor.

50) Marshall Newhouse (T, LR 45): When starting center Evan Dietrich-Smith went down with a knee injury, the Packers had an interesting decision to make.  If I were in charge I would have slide starting right guard T.J. Lang to center, starting right tackle Don Barclay to right guard, and put Derek Sherrod at right tackle.  Instead McCarthy moved Lang to center and inserted Newhouse at right guard while leaving Don Barclay at right tackle.  Newhouse gave up a safety and provided about as much protection as a defective condom before getting benched for undrafted guard Lane Taylor. For the final series the Packers gave Sherrod a chance at right tackle.

51) Victor Aiyewa (LB, LR N/A): Added to The 53 in place of rookie running back Johnathan Franklin.  After a promising preseason, Franklin played sparingly in the regular season amassing 107 yards on 19 carries and 1 touchdown mostly against the Cincinnati Bengals.  It was Franklin's crucial fumble against the Bengals that will be remember as opposed to his 13 carries for 103 yards and 1 touchdown effort.  Franklin played against the Bengals because fellow rookie running back Eddie Lacy suffered a concussion against the Washington Redskins that precluded him from playing against the Bengals.  Franklin suffered a concussion last week returning the opening kickoff return against the Vikings.  It was curious that Franklin was returning kickoffs because rookie cornerback Micah Hyde claimed that spot due to Franklin's ineffectiveness.  Franklin became the 12th player that the Packers placed on injured reserve.  As you can tell, I wanted to recap Franklin's rookie contributions for the Packers.  Given that Aiyewa is the first addition to The 53 by the Packers of a guy that I know very little about, here is a quick rundown on Aiyewa: he went to the University of Washington, his height (6'1"), and weight (237 pounds).

Stafford broke his winless streak against the Packers and now the Lions are now 12-8-1 all-time on Thanksgiving against the Packers.  The Packers need to win out and get some help, Lions need to lose 2 of their next 4 and Bears need to lose 1 of their next 5, to have any chance of winning the NFC North.  With ten days off before the Packers host the Atlanta Falcons at Lambeau Field the focus will be on whether Rodgers plays. Something tells me I could be writing a fairly length obituary on the Dom Capers-era.  If the Packers make any changes to the coaching staff or The 53 between, make sure to check back for full coverage.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

The 15 - Walking Wounded...

I reviewed how Milwaukee Bucks general manager John Hammond completely overhauled The 15 to construct the 2013-14 Milwaukee Bucks.  Instead of bottoming out, Hammond was making marginal moves that "improved" the roster to be competitive this season despite the fact that it could actually hinder the development of The 15 long-term.  So far the Bucks have been absolutely ravaged by injuries on and off the court.  I finally got to see the Bucks in-person for for the first time this season with Papa Cheese.  The Bucks dropped their 10th straight game to drop to 2-12 on the season.  Their most recent loss was to the Washington Wizards in overtime despite the fact that the Wizards are coming off a back-to-back. 

Remember these rankings are done factoring in age, contract, and production.  A perfect example is O.J. Mayo v. Gary Neal.  Mayo is a more talented shooting guard than Neal but teams would much rather pay $3 million a year for Neal than $8 million a year for Mayo.  These rankings are more meaningful in the NBA than the NFL or MLB because NBA teams actually make trades, which are usually an exchange of crappy contracts in the hopes that a change in scenery will make the over paid players somehow improve.  Based on how horrible the Bucks look, I would rather see them downgrade the roster for this season in hopes of builder a winner long-term.  Here are my updated rankings:  

The 15
1. John Henson (PF/C, LR 3)
2. Ersan Ilyasova (PF, LR 1)
3. Giannis Antetokounmpo (SF, LR 5)
4. Gary Neal (SG, LR 6)
5. O.J. Mayo (SG, LR 7)
6. Brandon Knight (PG, LR 4)
7. Larry Sanders (C, LR 2)
8. Khris Middleton (SF, LR 10)
9. Caron Butler (SF, LR 8)
10. Nate Wolters (PG, LR 9)
11. Zaza Pachulia (C, LR 13)
12. Luke Ridnour (PG, LR 11)
13. Ekpe Udoh (PF, LR 14)
14. Miroslav Raduljica (C, LR 15)
15. Carlos Delfino (SG/SF, LR 12)
1. John Henson (PF/C, LR 3): The current team leader in PER is averaging 10 points, 6 rebounds, and just less than 2 blocks per game.  I thought the 2012 NBA Draft was an nine player draft.  Henson was one of those nine guys so I thought there was no way the Bucks would have a chance to nab Henson with the 14th pick.  Luckily teams that picked ahead of the Bucks were more enamored with Austin Rivers, Meyers Leonard, Jeremy Lamb, and Kendall Marshall so Henson fell to the Bucks at 14.  Given Henson's productivity in short spurts, Bucks head coach Larry Drew needs to get Henson 30 minutes a game or be fired.

6) Brandon Knight (PG, LR 4): I want to give Knight the benefit of the doubt because his season got off to a horrible start with him pulling his hamstring in the first few minutes on opening night in New York against the Knicks but Knight has a -.1 PER in five appearances this season, which I did NOT think was even humanly possible.  Sure the sample size is low but that is a rough way to start off with your new employer.  Even worse, Knight looks lost at point guard.  Knight almost single-highhandedly sealed a loss against the Wizards by committing a crucial turnover with the Bucks up 84-81 with just over a minute to play.  The turnover was so bad that I honestly wondered if Knight was throwing the game.  Right now Knight just doesn't look like a confident point guard and I can't tell if that is due to injury or that he will never be a legitimate NBA point guard.

7) Larry Sanders (C, LR 2): Being out six weeks following thumb surgery from the fallout of a bar fight is unacceptable.  Before the injury Sanders was buried on the bench due in part to foul trouble and Drew's affinity for playing guys he knows.  Sanders was averaging just 2.7 points, 3.7 rebounds, and 2.0 blocks to amass a putrid 1.7 PER.  Sure it was only three games but clearly Drew favors re-treads like center Zaza Pachulia ahead of Sanders.  Given how much the Bucks invested in Sanders this off-season, may be they should have talked to Drew about how he envisioned using Sanders because so far icy would be a friendly way of describing the relationship between Drew and Sanders.  Don't get me wrong, Sanders said he had his off-the-court issues behind him but then hurt his thumb in a bar fight but when healthy, he better play regular minutes as a starting center otherwise Hammond has to cut Drew loose.

15) Carlos Delfino (SG/SF, LR 12): If Delfino was healthy to start the season he would have been in the Top 8 of my initial rankings since he had a good chance to start at small forward.  Given that Delfino was supposed to miss the first month or two of the season, I saw him as the biggest potential riser on The 15. According to Delfino's personal website though, he is not recovering as well as he thought so he is most likely out for the season.  That moved the signing of Delfino to a three-year, $9.75 million deal this off-season despite the fact that he was injured from a shrewd move to a potentially horrible signing.  That has been compounded by Drew starting Khris Middleton at small forward even though his ceiling is being a poor man's Desmond Mason. The one bright side of Delfino being out for the season is that it certainly helps the Bucks' chances of tanking for a Top 3 pick in the loaded 2014 NBA Draft.

Although my #FearTheMediocreDeer hash tag has not caught on yet on Twitter, it is looking spot on so far since this season already looks like a lost endeavor.  The Bucks probably need to go in full tank mode, which is possible given the youth on The 15.  No matter how the Bucks finish in the standings this year, they need to separate young building blocks (think The Greek Freak) from young over-hyped players (think Ekpe Udoh).  That is what makes Drew's lineups so puzzling.  I almost feel like Drew is trying to help the Bucks tank without developing any of the young guys based on how he is currently managing playing time, which is unacceptable.

Given that Sanders is currently hurt, my starting five would be: Knight at point guard, Mayo at shooting guard, The Greek Freak at small forward, Ilyasova at power forward, and Henson at center.  My first five off the bench would be Wolters, Middleton, Neal, Udoh, and Raduljica.  If a foolish NBA GM will give the Bucks any long-term salary cap relief in exchange for Butler or Pachulia, as long as it does not include surrendering any draft picks, I would make that trade in a nanosecond.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

The 53 - Packers Tie the Vikings at Lambeau Field

The Green Bay Packers lead their all-time series with the Minnesota Vikings 56-49-1 following their win over the Vikings in their last ever visit to The Humpty.  The Vikings were 2-8 heading into their corresponding match up with the Packers at Lambeau Field.  The inactives for the Packers against the Vikings were: Don Barclay (T, knee), Chris Harper (WR, healthy scratch), Johnny Jolly (DL, groin), Nate Palmer (LB, healthy scratch), Nick Perry (LB, foot), Aaron Rodgers (QB, broken collarbone), and Sam Shields (CB, hamstring).

Quarterback Scott Tolzien scored on a scramble to put the Packers up 7-0 in the first quarter.  After that Tolzien was mostly ineffective and was ultimately replaced by Matt Flynn early in the 3rd quarter.  The Vikings scored 23 unanswered points to lead 23-7 early in the 4th quarter.  Luckily Flynn engineered three scoring drives and the defense finally held the Vikings in check in the 4th quarter to force overtime.

The Packers won the toss and elected to receive to start overtime.  Thanks to a long completion from Flynn to wide receiver Jarrett Boykin, the Packers had a first and goal from the seven yard line on their initial drive of overtime.  If the Packers scored a touchdown they would have won the game.  Unfortunately the Packers could only muster a field goal to go up 26-23. For a great breakdown of whether Packers head coach Mike McCarthy should have gone for it on 4th and goal from the 2-yard line, check out the end of Bill Barnwell's post yesterday for

The Vikings matched the Packers with a field goal on the ensuing possession to tie the game at 26-26.  After trading 3-and-outs, the Packers got the ball back with two minutes left.  After picking up a couple first downs, the drive stalled out and the Packers were forced to punt with seven second left in overtime.  Ultimately the game ended in a tie, which was the first tie for the Packers since September 20, 1987 against the Denver Broncos at County Stadium.

Even though the Packers were starting a backup quarterback, with their playoff hopes on life support they should beat a Vikings team with a 2-8 record and Christan Ponder as their starting quarterback.  Here are my updated rankings of The 53 and thoughts on certain players following the Packers/Vikings tie at Lambeau:

The 53
1. Aaron Rodgers (QB, LR 1)
2. Clay Matthews (OLB, LR 2) 
3. Jordy Nelson (WR, LR 3)
4. Josh Sitton (G, LR 4)
5. T.J. Lang (G, LR 5)
6. Eddie Lacy (RB, LR 7)
7. James Jones (WR, LR 6)
8. B.J. Raji (DL, LR 8)
9. Morgan Burnett (S, LR 9)
10. Evan Dietrich-Smith (C, LR 10)
11. David Bakhtiari (T, LR 11)
12. Sam Shields (CB, LR 12)
13. Mike Daniels (DL, LR 15)
14. Tramon Williams (CB, LR 13)
15. Brad Jones (MLB, LR 14)
16. A.J. Hawk (MLB, LR 16)
17. Davon House (CB, LR 17)
18. Datone Jones (DL, LR 18)
19. Micah Hyde (CB, LR 19)
20. Don Barclay (T, LR 20)
21. Nick Perry (OLB, LR 22)
22. Jarrett Boykin (WR, LR 24)
23. Jamari Lattimore (LB, LR 23)
24. Tim Masthay (P, LR 25)
25. Jerel Worthy (DE, LR N/A)
26. Mike Neal (DL/OLB, LR 26)
27. Johnny Jolly (DL, LR 27)
28. Ryan Pickett (DL, LR 28)
29. Matt Flynn (QB, LR 43)
30. Andrew Quarless (TE, LR 29)
31. Scott Tolzien (QB, LR 30)
32. Jarrett Bush (CB, LR 31)
33. Mason Crosby (K, LR 32)
34. James Starks (RB, LR 33)
35. Brett Goode (LS, LR 34)
36. John Kuhn (FB, LR 35)
37. Derek Sherrod (T, LR 36)
38. M.D. Jennings (S, LR 37)
39. Jonathan Franklin (RB, LR 38)
40. Brandon Bostick (TE, LR 39)
41. C.J. Wilson (DL, LR 40)
42. Ryan Taylor (TE, LR 41)
43. Sean Richardson (S, LR N/A)
44. Chris Banjo (S, LR 44)
45. Marshall Newhouse (T, LR 42)
46. Andy Mulamba (LB, LR 45)
47. Jerron McMillian (S, LR 46) 
48. Myles White (WR, LR 48)
49. Lane Taylor (G, LR 49)
50. Jake Stoneburner (TE, LR 50)
51. Josh Boyd (DL, LR 52)
52. Nate Palmer (LB, LR 47)
53. Chris Harper (WR, LR 51)
Physically Unable to Perform
1. JC Tretter (T)
IR, Designated for Return
1. Randall Cobb (WR)
Injured Reserve
1. Jermichael Finley (TE)
2. Bryan Bulaga (T)
3. Casey Hayward (CB, LR 16)
4. DuJuan Harris (RB)
5. Robert Francois (MLB)
6. Greg Van Roten (C/G)
7. Sam Barrington (LB)
8. Seneca Wallace (QB)
9. James Nixon (CB, LR 53)
10. Kevin Dorsey (WR)
11. Sederrik Cunningham (WR)
1. Jeremy Ross (WR, Lions)
2. Michael Hill (RB, Buccaneers)
#2) Clay Matthews (OLB, LR 2): After suffering a Bennet's fracture against the Detroit Lions, Matthews missed the next four games and consequently the defense struggled.  When Matthews returned against the Eagles he was completely ineffective wearing a club that looked like an illegal weapon.  After arguing with the medical staff, Claymaker was able to wear a modified cast the last two weeks that let him use the rest of his fingers.  After registering two sacks and two tackles for a loss against the Vikings, it looks like Claymaker is close to finally be his old self.  Claymaker's game is predicated on using his hands effectively so I expect to see Matthews to continue to improve as he gets more use of his hands.
#6) Eddie Lacy (RB, LR 7): My affinity for Lacy continues to grow.  Lacy had 25 carries for 110 yards and a touchdown to go along with six catches for 48 yards against the Vikings before missing most part of overtime due to an asthma attack. That stat line is impressive for sure but it is the runs like his four yard run on 4th and 1 at the Minnesota 27-yard line when the Packers were trailing 23-13 that show how valuable Lacy is to the team.  On that particular play, Lacy was stuffed for a two yard loss that he turned into a four yard gain.  If Lacy doesn't pick up that first down, the game is over.  Luckily the Packers finally have a physical running back, which they haven't had since Ahman Green left town the first time. 

#8) B.J. Raji (DL, LR 8): I forgot to mention when breaking down whether to extend Raji what happened to another (former) Packer that turned down a big money deal to ultimately sign for less elsewhere in the end.  Going into the 2012 season wide receiver Greg Jennings reportedly turned down a deal worth $11 million a year. After an injury riddle season, Jennings hurt his market value and ultimately signed a five-year, $45 million contract with $18 million guaranteed with the Minnesota Vikings.  I get that Raji wants to test the free agent market but I would be surprised if he tops the $8 million a year offer the Packers currently have on the table.  Especially when you factor in that Raji is supposed to be the run stuffer for the defense but the run defense has been horrible for the last month.  Even when teams are in obvious running situations teams are still able to hand the ball off and shove the ball down the defense's throat.  Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson is an all-time great so I am not surprised that he gained 146 yards on 32 carries and scored a touchdown on the ground but allowing backup running back Toby Gerhart (eight carries for 91 yards) to almost eclipse 100-yards is unacceptable.  One player does not make an entire rush defense but Raji's case for signing a big money deal this off-season continues to diminish as the Packers run defense continues to struggle.

#16) A.J. Hawk (MLB, LR 16): I am not sure whether I've floated my "ultimate challenge theory" in this space before. The broad strokes are that every game each team gets one challenge on any aspect of any play.  Let's say a team thinks the refs made a questionable pass interference call on 3rd and 10 that resulted in a 40-yard gain for the offense. That might be the biggest play of the game but since you cannot challenge pass interference, the play would stand.  The head coach of the team on defense could use his "ultimate challenge" to have the refs review whether they made the right call.  I know this would end up being controversial but let's take an example from the Packers/Vikings game to illuminate why this would be useful. Hawk clearly grabbed the face mask of Peterson to slow him before knocking the ball loose early in the second quarter with the Vikings trailing 7-3.  Every turnover in the NFL is reviewed but when the refs reviewed that play they have to ignore that they missed a blatant face mask penalty.  If Minnesota Vikings head coach Leslie Frasier had an "ultimate challenge" he could ask the refs to determine whether Hawk committed a face mask penalty.  In this instance the Vikings would have retained possession where Peterson was tackled at the Green Bay 44-yard line.  When you add on the face mask penalty, the Vikings would have had a 1st and 10 at the Green Bay 29-yard line instead the Packers getting the ball at their own 45-yard line.  Don't tell me this slows the game down too much because each team would only have one opportunity a game.  Plus it would add another set of controversies to each game, which the EPSN's of the world would love.  Did Frazier use the "ultimate challenge" too early?  If Frazier didn't use the challenge and no other play was deemed worthy he would get even more heat.  I hope the NFL competition committee just read my thoughts because I see no downside other than highlighting more errors by refs, which we know happens a number of times each game already.

24. Tim Masthay (P, LR 25): The conventional wisdom goes that as the weather gets colder, kickers and punters struggle more.  Since the Packers were unable to move the ball on offense for large stretches of the game, the Packers were forced to punt eight times against the Vikings.  Masthay averaged 40.8 yards per punt with two of the punts getting downed inside the five-yard line.  If Masthay's performance is any indication of how he is going to punt the rest of the season then the Packers are in for a treat.  While we are here, one other special teams related note.  After Eddie Lacy's touchdown run in the 4th quarter, the Packers trailed 23-13 with 11:42 left to play.  Head coach Mike McCarthy decided to go for two points.  I still support McCarthy's decision despite the fact that the Packers did not convert.  I know that it mean Mason Crosby's field goal with less than a minute to go tied the game at 23 instead of giving the Packers a 24-23 win but McCarthy was actually following the correct decision process.  The Packers were struggling on offense and defense at that point so the thinking does that the Packers would have a hard time getting two stops and two scores.  Ultimately McCarthy and I were wrong since that is exactly what the Packers did but after McCarthy decided to punt last week against the Giants down 14 points with a little less than nine minutes to play, I like that he was aggressive this time around.  Any regular reads of this space know that I am very critical of McCarthy's in-game decision making process so when he makes a correct decision I have to give him his due.  Let's not confuse thought process and result.

#29) Matt Flynn (QB, LR 43): For the first time in a long time I got together with my buddies Fernando, Sug, and UP to watch the game at Sug's house.  Before the game started Sug asked if quarterback Scott Tolzien was ineffective should head coach Mike McCarthy turn to backup quarterback Matt Flynn.  I was firmly in the Tolzien camp.  Although Tolzien was cut by the San Francisco 49ers before the start of the season, the Packers have had Tolzien on the practice squad or The 53 since opening day while the Oakland Raiders and Buffalo Bills thought so little of Flynn that they cut him despite having quarterback issues.  As it turns out I was wrong. As the late great Jerry Orbach said in Dirty Dancing, "When I'm wrong, I say I'm wrong".  Flynn completed 21 of  his 36 attempts for 218 yards and a touchdown in relief of Tolzien to keep the Packers in contention to win the NFC North.  After Flynn's performance against the Vikings I am not sure how the Raiders and Bills thought so little of Flynn that they cut him but luckily for the Packers they have Flynn on The 53 and absent injury it looks like he is the guy until Rodgers returns.

#31) Scott Tolzien (QB, LR 30): There is no question that Tolzien is a hard worker.  There were reports that Tolzien essentially lived at the team facilities for the 49ers last year and the Packers this year.  I guess the fact that Tolzien threw for 339 yards against the Giants last week clouded my judgment because Tolzien struggled against the Vikings.  Despite rushing for a touchdown to put the Packers up 7-0, Tolzien was merely 7 for 17 throwing for 98 yards before getting pulled early in the 3rd quarter in favor of Flynn.  Absent injury I would be shocked if Tolzien saw the field again in 2013 but given his work ethic I would like to see the Packers keep Tolzien on The 53 in 2014 to see if he can develop into a quality backup that can perform in a pinch.

#43) Sean Richardson (S, LR N/A): Last week I gave an in-depth look at their impending free agents.  The one aspect I didn't cover was the overall positional depth of The 53.  In taking a look over The 53 for the Packers they really only have two glaring needs: tight end and safety.  The Packers were hoping that activating safety Sean Richardson from the physically unable to perform list would help fill one of those two voids but it is too early to tell whether Richardson filled one of those voids.

#45) Marshall Newhouse (T, LR 42): Over the last three games Newhouse has surrendered 3 sacks.  I presume Barclay will not be able to play on Thanksgiving against the Detroit Lions since he missed the Vikings game so let me reiterate for the 47th time that I think the Packers should give Sherrod a chance at right tackle ahead of Newhouse.  Worst case, Sherrod struggles.  Best case, Sherrod thrives and the Packers have to decide whether Barclay or Sherrod is their right tackle for the rest of the season once Barclay is healthy.

The NFC North struggled in Week 12.  The Chicago Bears lost on the road to the St. Louis Rams and the Detroit Lions lost at home to the lowly Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Through three quarters a tie would have felt like a victory for the Packers but after the fourth quarter and overtime, a tie against the Vikings felt like a loss.  Luckily due to the struggles of the Bears and Lions, the Packers only trail each of them by a half game with five games to play.

The Packers have a short week this week since they play the Lions on Thanksgiving.  Rookie running back Johnathan Franklin left the game with an apparent concussion and defensive lineman C.J. Wilson suffered what looked like a serious leg injury so I would be surprised to see either of those guys play against the Lions.  When you add in that the Packers already had five players inactive against the Vikings due to injury, the Packers could be hard pressed to field a healthy 46-man roster against the Lions.  If that's the case, why not make Rodgers the emergency quarterback?  That means if Rodgers plays before the fourth quarter, Flynn and Tolzien cannot re-enter the game.  I am obviously worried about the long-term ramifications of bringing Rodgers back too early but given the circumstances, the risk might be worth the reward. 

If the Packers make any changes to The 53 I will have a full breakdown, otherwise check back after the Packers/Lions game for full coverage.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Man City Report - City Thumps Tottenham

I was going to write a lengthy Manchester City post during the international to give an update on City's recent form but since City hosted Tottenham at the Etihad in their first match following the international break, I decided to wait for that match because I thought it would be a good litmus test for both clubs.  Before the season City and Tottenham looked like virtual locks for a Top 4 finish but going into their match Tottenham was 6th and City was 7th in the table.  That meant both clubs desperately needed three points from the match to keep their faint title chances alive.

As I covered a few months back, City spent roughly £85 million purchasing four players: midfielder Fernandinho, winger Jesus Navas, striker Stevan Jovetic, and striker Alvaro Negredo.  The jury is till out on Jovetic with injuries limiting him to a handful of appearances for City but as you will see in my updated rankings below, the other three signings were great business for City.

Tottenham went on a spending spree this summer purchasing Christian Eriksen, Érik Lamela, Paulinho, and Roberto Soldado for roughly £85 million.  So far Paulinho and Soldado have been useful but Tottenham had to expect more from the quartet given their collective price tag.

In order to balance the books, Tottenham sold winger Gareth Bale to Real Madrid for a record £85.3 million transfer fee, which eclipsed the previous record of £80 million that Real Madrid paid Manchester United for Cristiano Ronaldo. I understand why Tottenham made some of the purchases just discussed but unfortunately for Tottenham when you factor in the Bale sale it looks like they get two quarters and two dimes for a dollar.

With all of that as background, just 13 seconds into the City/Tottenham match I realized it was a great decision to delay my City update post till after the City/Tottenham match was in the books as Navas put City up 1-0 despite Tottenham kicking off to start the match due to a poor clearance by Tottenham keeper Hugo Lloris.  In the end Navas scored a bookend brace with a brace by striker Sergio Aguero, a goal by Negredo, and an own goal by Sandro in between as City went on to win 6-0.  Sandro's own goal could have easily been credited to Negredo to give City a trio of braces.  City bossed the match from start to finish to put together their best performance since Manuel Pellegrini took over as manager of City this summer.

Just to get you back up to speed since my last City post that focused on City's 4-1 drubbing of United.  City played 12 matches going 4-3 in the seven English Premier League matches, 2-0 in the Capital One Cup, and 2-1 in the UEFA Champions League.  After coming up short in their last three attempts, City qualified for the knock-out stage of the Champions League for the first time in club history.

For how well City played in the Champions League, they've been equally unimpressive in the EPL on the road with their most recent road struggles coming at Sunderland in a 1-0 defeat before the international break.  Lately City has had trouble on the road but losing to Sunderland when they were the 19th team (20 total) in the EPL is unacceptable.

Fortunately City has been borderline perfect in their six home matches in the EPL.  City scored 26 goals scored and conceded just two en route to earning the maximum 18 points at home thanks in large part to beating Norwich 7-0 and Tottenham 6-0 at the Etihad.  With all of that background out of the way, here are my updated rankings and player thoughts:

Player Rankings
1. Sergio Aguero (F, LR 2)
2. Yaya Toure (M, LR 1)
3. Alvaro Negredo (F, LR 9)
4. Vincent Kompany (D, LR 3)
5. David Silva (M, LR 4)
6. Jesus Navas (M, LR 6)
7. Samir Nasri (M, LR 12) 
8. Edin Dzeko (F, LR 10)
9. Fernandinho (M, LR 5)
10. Matija Nastasic (D, LR 7)
11. Pablo Zabaleta (D, LR 11)
12. Joe Hart (GK, LR 8)
13. Gael Clichy (D, LR 14)
14. Aleksandar Kolarov (D, LR 13)
15. Joleon Lescott (D, LR 18)
16. Costel Pantilimon (GK, LR 20)
17. James Milner (M, LR 15)
18. Micah Richards (D, LR 19)
19. Javi Garcia (M, LR 17)
20. Stevan Jovetic (F, LR 16)
21. Jack Rodwell (M, LR 21)
22. Martin Demichelis (D, LR 27)
23. Dedryck Boyata (D, LR 22)
24. John Guidetti (F, LR 23)
25. Richard Wright (GK, LR 24)
26. Alex Nimely (F, LR 25)
27. Erik Johansen (GK, LR 26)
1) Sergio Aguero (F, LR 2): Named EPL player of the month in October thanks to scoring four goals in three matches and might be adding more awards in November thanks to scoring a brace en route to beating Tottenham as discussed above.  Aguero now leads the EPL in scoring with 10 goals but that is not the reason that I finally moved Aguero above Toure.  No, the reason that I finally moved Aguero ahead of Toure was Lionel Messi's request that Barcelona purchase Aguero.  Despite being injured, Messi is unquestionable the best player in the world.  Part of Messi's affinity for Aguero might be the fact that they play together for the Argentinian national team.  There is no question that when healthy, they form the most potent national team scoring attack.  That duo could go a long way towards ensuring that Argentina wins the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.  In my recent trip to South America with Cheesehead Chick we got to experience the depth and breath of the rivalry between Brazil and Argentina.  Suffice to say, if Argentina wins the 2014 World Cup in Rio de Janeiro at the Maracana, there will be no Samba dancing following the match. 

3) Alvaro Negredo (F, LR 9): Last season Negredo was one of the leading scorers in the Spanish Premier League so he obviously has a nose for goal, I just thought it would take him some time to get acclimated to the EPL before going on a scoring binge.  Instead, Negredo picked up in the EPL and Champions League right where he left off in the SPL last season.  Case and point, Negrado notched a hat-trick to help City secure a spot in the knock-out stage of the Champions League.  Aguero and Negrado are playing so well lately that absent injury to one of the two, it looks like striker Edin Dzeko could be sold in the January transfer window since Dzeko's first team opportunities will be limited to substitute appearances for the foreseeable future.

6) Jesus Navas (M, LR 6): Going into this season, City's best winger was David Silva.  With Silva out a month due to a calf injury I thought Navas might not be as effective but given his recent form, Navas is making a run at Silva for the best winger throne.  Navas combines well with right back Pablo Zabaleta to form a potent attack that not only sets up goals for the likes of Aguero and Negrado but leads to goals for Navas as well.  I really enjoyed watching Adam Johnson pick apart defenses when he played for City so I was somewhat surprised that City unloaded him to Sunderland for £10 million.  I only saw Navas play a handful of times before joining City but after seeing Navas play the last few months, the differences between entertaining wingers like the Johnson and world-class wingers like Bale, Navas, and Silva are huge so now I understand the thought process.  That goes back to the point I made earlier about Bale.  You can replace guys like Johnson obviously but you can't replace players like Bale, which is a big reason why Tottenham have struggled so far this season.

16) Costel Pantilimon (GK, LR 20): Pellegrini has handled everything besides the keeper situation during his tenure so far.  I know Joe Hart made a couple gaffes for City but he still remains England's starting keeper.  Juxtapose that with Pantilimon fighting for his first team spot on the Romanian national team with Tătăruşanu and I just don't get the thought process for starting Pantilimon over Hart.  My guess is that there is something going on behind the scenes that will never get aired in public that would make the Pantilimon over Hart decision make more sense.  In an odd twist, Pellegrini committed to Pantilimon following the international break against Tottenham but following that match Pellegrini announced that Hart will start midweek in City's Champions League match.  City already qualified for the knock-out stages for the Champions League so it will be interesting to see whether Hart or Pantilimon start this weekend in their next EPL match at home against Swansea.

One final note.  Although City are already through to the knock-out stages, they host Viktoria Plzen on Wednesday before going on the road to face Bayern Munich on December 10th.  City currently trail Bayern by three points in the table and six goals in goal differential.  Given City's impressive form at the Etihad, if they beat Viktoria Plzen by four or five goals, they have an outside chance of winning Group D to get more favorable seeding in the knockout stage if they can knock off Bayern on the road.

As the January transfer window approaches, look for more City posts for how Pellegrini and Company should handle the transfer window.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Building The 53 - Hayward & Nixon Out, Richardson & Worthy In

Green Bay Packers general manager Ted Thompson was forced to make two changes to The 53 for the second time in less than a month.  As I covered a few weeks ago, Thompson placed tight end Jermichael Finley and linebacker Sam Barrington on injured reserve.  Thompson replaced those guys on The 53 with offensive tackle Derek Sherrod off the PUP list and quarterback Scott Tolzien off the practice squad.  This time around Thompson placed cornerbacks Casey Hayward and James Nixon on injured reserve.  Thompson activated defensive lineman Jerel Worthy and safety Sean Richardson off the physically unable to perform list to The 53.

With starting quarterback Aaron Rodgers still out with a broken collarbone, the Packers have had a ton of upheaval at the quarterback position.  Just one week after being the first African American quarterback to start a game for the Packers, Seneca Wallace landed on injured reserve with a groin injury.  Thompson replaced Wallace with quarterback Matt Flynn.  Despite Flynn performing well in his first stint with the Packers, Tolzien remains the starter for the Packers.

So far Tolzien performed much better than Wallace in place of Rodgers despite throwing five interceptions over the last two games.  Even factoring in all those interceptions, the Packers still should have beaten the Philadelphia Eagles at home and could have beaten the New York Giants on the road with better play calling by head coach Mike McCarthy and performance by the defense.

After missing almost two seasons due to a gruesome leg injury it looks like Sherrod will actually play meaningful snaps for the Packers this season.  Let's rewind to the start of the 2013 season to set the stage for why Sherrod could see action at right tackle sooner rather than later.  The Packers lost starting right tackle Bryan Bulaga for the year before the start of the season.  Luckily Don Barclay picked up right where he left off last season performing as an above average starter at right tackle.  Barclay suffered a knee injury against the Eagles that prevented him from playing against the Giants that will also preclude him from playing this weekend when the Packers host the Minnesota Vikings at Lambeau Field.

Marshall Newhouse, their starting left tackle from last season was underwhelming in place of Barclay.  I asked ESPN's Rob Demovsky in his most recent Twitter Mailbag, Packers Style whether Sherrod should replace Newhouse at right tackle?  Demovsky explained the conventional thinking is that since Sherrod is coming off a serious injury he cannot play a full game right away so one way to proceed is to bring back Sherrod slowly by inserting him at right tackle in place of Newhouse for a few series against the Vikings.  I understand the conventional thinking but consistency is paramount at offensive line and Newhouse has been consistently subpar at right tackle.  I know inserting Sherrod as the starter at right tackle subjects him to another serious injury but I am not sure it is physically possible to play much worse than Newhouse so it is time to replace Newhouse with Sherrod.

Turning to the two moves Thompson just made to The 53.  After being drafted in the 2nd round of the 2012 NFL Draft, Hayward lead the team with six interceptions playing primarily as a nickel cornerback to put together one of the best rookie seasons in franchise history.  After such a promising rookie season, it looked like Hayward was going to push cornerbacks Sam Shields and Tramon Williams to start at one of the two corenerback spots in the base 3-4 defense.  Even if Hayward could not beat out Shields or Williams, with how much nickel (three cornerbacks) the Packers play, it looked like Hayward would play extensively in 2013.  Instead Hayward only appeared in three games for the Packers after suffering and re-aggravating the 10,000th hamstring injury on the team this season.

Besides Hayward, the Packers lost another cornerback for the season as well.  While expectations were high for Hayward this season, there were no expectations for Nixon in 2013.  Apparently Nixon was one of the fastest players on The 53 but given that he has been a healthy scratch for most of the season, it is hard to tell whether Nixon is stopwatch or game fast.

With Hayward and Nixon out, Richardson and Worthy are in.  Even before adding Worthy to The 53, defensive line was the deepest position on The 53.  Just a few weeks ago adding Worthy to The 53 would have been purely a luxury move but with Johnny Jolly hobbled, the Packers will need Worthy to contribute this weekend.  Keep in mind that Worthy tore his ACL in the regular season finale last year against the Vikings at The Humpty.  Worthy is trying to pull a Peterson against the Vikings by returning to the field less than 12 months after tearing his ACL.

If defensive line was the deepest position on The 53, safety has been the thinnest position.  Starting strong safety Morgan Burnett was set to become a free agent after 2013 so before the season the Packers signed him to a four-year, $25 million contract extension with $8.5 million guaranteed to keep Burnett in Green Bay through 2017.  After starting the season injured, Burnett has been very underwhelming missing easy tackles while failing to create turnovers.  Sure some of Burnett's struggles are due to the trio of subpar guys (M.D. Jennings, Chris Banjo, and Jerron McMillian) vying to lineup next to him at free safety.

Well here comes Richardson, the savior at free safety.  The one thing that should temper that excitement is the fact that Richardson is coming off a serious spinal cord injury.  Much like Sherrod not being able to play much worse than Newhouse, Richardson can't play much worse than Jenings, Banjo, or McMillian.  As long as Richardson and Sherrod stay healthy, new blood is exactly what the Packers need.

Getting Rodgers back sooner rather than later will be the biggest determining factor in whether the Packers make the playoffs this season but make sure to keep an eye on Richardson, Sherrod, Tolzien, and Worthy because they will collectively go a long way towards determining whether the Packers make the playoffs too.  The stretch run to the playoffs continues tomorrow when the Packers host the Vikings.  Make sure to check back Monday for my full coverage of the Packers/Vikings game.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

The 53 - Packers lose on the road to New York Giants

The Green Bay Packers went 340 games using just three starting quarterbacks: Brett Favre, Aaron Rodgers, and Matt Flynn.  In the last three games, the Packers have started three different quarterbacks: Rodgers, Seneca Wallace, and Scott Tolzien.  This week the Packers lost on the road to the New York Giants after losing consecutive weeks at home to the Chicago Bears and Philadelphia Eagles.  I know this sounds like sour grapes but for the third week in a row the Packers lost a game they probably would have won with Rodgers under center.  Instead of being 8-2 en route to hosting a playoff game, the Packers are now 5-5 so they trail the Chicago Bears and Detroit Lions by one game in the NFC North standings.  If the playoffs were to start today, the Packers would miss the playoffs for the first time since 2008.

Besides Rodgers being out with a broken collarbone, the Packers were also without the services of Don Barclay (T, knee), Chris Harper (WR, healthy scratch), Casey Haywawd (CB, hamstring), Andy Mulamba (LB, ankle), Nick Perry (LB, foot), and Sam Shields (CB, hamstring) against the Giants.  Not having Barclay and Shields was problematic as Marshall Newhouse continued to struggle at right tackle while the Giants were able to throw at will, in part, because the Packers were without their best cornerback Shields.

Instead of giving a full breakdown of the Packers/Giants loss I thought I would take a look at how general manager Ted Thompson should handle having 15 unrestricted free agents and 2 restricted free agent following this season. Given that the Packers have roughly $10 million in salary cap space for this season, they could get a number of these deals done this year.  If the Packers are unable to extend some of their potential free agents, they will carry that money over to 2014.  Here are my thoughts on how Thompson should handle all of the potential Packer free agents.

The 53
1. Aaron Rodgers (QB, LR 1)
2. Clay Matthews (OLB, LR 2) 
3. Jordy Nelson (WR, LR 3)
4. Josh Sitton (G, LR 4)
5. T.J. Lang (G, LR 5)
6. James Jones (WR, LR 6) 
7. Eddie Lacy (RB, LR 8)
8. B.J. Raji (DL, LR 9)
9. Morgan Burnett (S, LR 7)
10. Evan Dietrich-Smith (C, LR 12)
11. David Bakhtiari (T, LR 10)
12. Sam Shields (CB, LR 11)
13. Tramon Williams (CB, LR 13)
14. Brad Jones (MLB, LR 14)
15. Mike Daniels (DL, LR 15)
16. A.J. Hawk (MLB, LR 17)
17. Davon House (CB, LR 18)
18. Datone Jones (DL, LR 19)
19. Micah Hyde (CB, LR 20)
20. Casey Hayward (CB, LR 16)
21. Don Barclay (T, LR 21)
22. Nick Perry (OLB, LR 22)
23. Jamari Lattimore (LB, LR 23)
24. Jarrett Boykin (WR, LR 26)
25. Tim Masthay (P, LR 24)
26. Mike Neal (DL/OLB, LR 25)
27. Johnny Jolly (DL, LR 27) 
28. Ryan Pickett (DL, LR 28)
29. Andrew Quarless (TE, LR 29)
30. Scott Tolzien (QB, LR 38)
31. Jarrett Bush (CB, LR 30)
32. Mason Crosby (K, LR 32)
33. James Starks (RB, LR 34)
34. Brett Goode (LS, LR 33)
35. John Kuhn (FB, LR 39)
36. Derek Sherrod (T, LR 31)
37. M.D. Jennings (S, LR 35)
38. Jonathan Franklin (RB, LR 36)
39. Brandon Bostick (TE, LR 42)
40. C.J. Wilson (DL, LR 45)
41. Ryan Taylor (TE, LR 37)
42. Marshall Newhouse (T, LR 44)
43. Matt Flynn (QB, LR 40)
44. Chris Banjo (S, LR 41)
45. Andy Mulamba (LB, LR 43)
46. Jerron McMillian (S, LR 46)
47. Nate Palmer (LB, LR 47)
48. Myles White (WR, LR 48)
49. Lane Taylor (G, LR 49)
50. Jake Stoneburner (TE, LR 50)
51. Josh Boyd (DL, LR 52)
52. Chris Harper (WR, LR 51)
53. James Nixon (CB, LR 53) 
Physically Unable to Perform
1. Jerel Worthy (DE)
2. JC Tretter (T)
3. Sean Richardson (S)
IR, Designated for Return
1. Randall Cobb (WR)
Injured Reserve
1. Jermichael Finley (TE)
2. Bryan Bulaga (T)
3. DuJuan Harris (RB)
4. Robert Francois (MLB)
5. Greg Van Roten (C/G)
6. Sam Barrington (LB)
7. Seneca Wallace (QB)
7. Kevin Dorsey (WR)
8. Sederrik Cunningham (WR)
1. Jeremy Ross (WR, Lions)
2. Michael Hill (RB, Buccaneers)
The only player that I would not even tender a contract to is Seneca Wallace (QB, $408,000, UFA) because in his limited playing time he showed that he is no longer an NFL quarterback.  Plus keeping Wallace would deprive other younger quarterbacks from taking important snaps in the off-season.

There are a number of guys that I would not offer more than a non-guaranteed one-year contract for the veteran minimum:

Robert Francois (LB, $725,000, UFA): Certain injuries take more than a year to receiver, a torn Achilles tendon is one of those injuries.  Since Francois suffered a torn Achilles tendon earlier this season I would be shocked if he was healthy by the start of training camp.  If Francois is healthy, his special teams ability make him worthy of a look.

Marshall Newhouse (T, $1.4 million, UFA): The Packers have at least four other more talented offensive tackles under contract for 2014 (David Bakhtiari, Don Barclay, Bryan Bulaga, and Derek Sherrod) and that doesn't even factor in that Thompson might draft a tackle in the 2014 NFL Draft.  I flirted with not even tendering Newhouse given how horrible he has looked the last two weeks but there is no guaranteed that Bulaga and Sherrod will be healthy in 2014 so you can never have too many offensive tackles.

Matt Flynn (QB, $261,176, UFA): Tolzien threw for over 300 yards against the Giants but also had three interceptions, one of which was returned for a touchdown by defensive lineman Jason Pierre-Paul.  Despite all the turnovers by Tolzien, I really don't see Flynn playing unless Tolzien gets injured.  If Rodgers is healthy soon, I could actually see the Packers cutting Flynn since spots on The 53 are very valuable.

Chris Banjo (S, $450,000, RFA): The safety play for the Packers has been so bad that Banjo has gotten some reps on defense next to Morgan Burnett instead of M.D. Jennings and Jerron McMillian.  Banjo is 5'10" with a slight build so he does not have the build to be an enforcer on defense, which is exactly what the Packers need at safety.  Banjo needs to continue to show promise on special teams, which would give him a slight chance to make The 53 in 2014.

C.J. Wilson (DL, $642,590, UFA): Going into the season I thought Thompson should take care of Wilson with a long-term extension before he priced himself out of Green Bay.  After being a healthy inactive three times this season, the only way Wilson is back in Green Bay next season is if all the defensive lineman I discuss become too expensive for Thompson to re-sign.

It will be virtually impossible to bring back the rest of the guys that I am about to discuss given their salary cap situation and how much the Packers like to skew young but I am still going to give my thoughts on the rest of the potential free agents from least important to most important when you factor in contract, age, and positional depth:

John Kuhn (FB, $2.5 million, UFA): With how much teams like to run the spread on offense, the fullback position is becoming the dinosaur of the NFL.  That hasn't stopped the Packers from using Kuhn extensively the last few weeks in a more traditional I-Formation with a running back and a fullback.  Add in that Kuhn is a special teams maven and the Packers will most likely keep Kuhn around in 2014.  Although it might be perceived as a slap in the face, I wouldn't offer Kuhn very much guaranteed money, if any, as a part of a two-year, $3 million deal to keep him in Green Bay through 2015.

M.D. Jennings (S, $555,833, RFA): There is no question that Jennings is the second best safety on the roster after Morgan Burnett.  The problem is that Jennings has not shown enough to merit being a legitimate NFL starter.  I like Jennings more as a rotational backup at safety.  I would tender Jennings a one-year deal at his original draft position.  Since Jennings went undrafted it will not be much more than $600,000 but those exact numbers will not be determined till the off-season.  Sure someone might tender Jennings so the Packers could lose him without any draft pick compensation, but I just don't see Jennings garnering that much interest, so the Packers could luck out and bring Jennings back on the cheap for 2014.  That is a long way of saying the Packers should not commit long-term or any guaranteed money to Jennings, instead they should add a safety early in the 2014 NFL Draft as long as it is not too much of a reach.

Jermichael Finley (TE, $8.75 million, UFA): Just a month ago I thought Finley was going to sign a long-term deal that averaged at least $6 million per year with at least $10 million in guaranteed money. Just a month later it looks like I might have seen Finley play his last snap in the NFL in-person when he suffered a bruised spinal cord when the Packers beat the Browns at Lambeau Field.  Finley's health off-the-field is the most important thing.  If Finley can show he is healthy enough to return to the field, the best he can hope for is to sign a one-year incentive laden contract.  If Finley's health checks out, I would totally support offering Finley a one-year, $2 million deal to play for the Packers in 2014.  Anything more seems too expensive even for a guy as talented as Finley given the injury risk and all the other deals the Packers need to make before the start of 2014.

Mike Neal (OLB, $920,000, UFA): When the Packers moved Neal from defensive line to outside linebacker at the start of training camp they salvaged his career because before the position switch it looked like Neal was going to get cut given all the depth the Packers had along the defensive line.  Neal has shown the ability to rush the passer in spurts but has been unable to put together full games yet.  Some are trying to make a comparison between Neal and former Packer outside linebacker Erik Walden.  Leaving aside Walden's headbutt from the weekend, I still think the Indianapolis Colts overpaid Walden giving him a four-year, $16 million last off-season.  I still don't even think Neal is at Walden's level of play so any more than a couple million dollar a year is too much for Neal given that he is not even guaranteed to start at outside linebacker with Clay Matthews and Nick Perry on The 53.  Personally I would let Neal leave via free agency but if the Packers attempt to re-sign him, the most I would offer is three-years, $6 million with $2 million guaranteed.

Jamari Lattimore (LB, $556,668, RFA): A big reason why I was against paying A.J. Hawk and Brad Jones big money is how well other guys have looked at middle linebacker in the 3-4.  Injuries hampered D.J. Smith's tenure in Green Bay but let's not forget how productive he was as a 3-4 middle linebacker for the Packers.  Lattimore performed very well at middle linebacker in the base 3-4 defense when the Packers were without middle linebacker Brad Jones due to injury. Lattimore was one of the only bright spots against the Bears a few weeks ago on Monday Night Football with a blocked punt and recovered an onside kick.  Leaving aside Lattimore's ability at middle linebacker because the Packers are financially committed to the Hawk/Jones combo, given that Lattimore has emerged as a special teams maven, the Packers should tender Lattimore at higher than his original draft position since he went undrafted.  Tendering Lattimore at a higher amount would either allow the Packers to get a draft pick if another team signs Lattimore to a bigger deal or retain Lattimore's services for 2014 for roughly $1 million.

James Starks (RB, $655,075, RFA): Evey time Starks starts to show promise he proceeds to get injured.  At one point I had Starks in the one-year veteran minimum group but he is too talented even when you account for his injury problems.  Rookie running back Eddie Lacy's physically running style makes me wonder whether he will have similar injury issues to Starks because much like Starks, Lacy was injured throughout his college career.  Although the Packers also have rookie running back Johnathan Franklin, keeping Starks around will allow the Packers to share carries amongst their running backs to keep everyone fresh.  Much like the Neal contract discussed earlier, I would not offer Starks more than three-years, $6 million with $2 million guaranteed.

Andrew Quarless (TE, $1.4 million, UFA): Much like Starks, Quarless had some injury issues couple with some of-the-field issues as well.  When the Packers lost Finley they turned to Quarless as their starting tight end.  It looks like Quarless finally put his off-the-field issues behind him and has actually been relatively healthy in 2013.  I like what I've seen out of Brandon Bostick as a hybrid tight end/wide receiver while I like Quarless as a standard tight end, especially when you factor in his blocking prowess.  I wouldn't go much higher than four-years, $10 million with $3 million guaranteed but I would actually make a push to keep Quarless long-term even though I could see the Packer using a draft pick on a tight end in the 2014 NFL Draft.

Ryan Pickett (DL, $6.7 million, UFA): The Packers a ton of depth along the defensive line so I would be shocked if Pickett played for the Packers in 2014 given that he is 34-years old and will still command an expensive salary.  Getting Pickett on a two-year, $5 million deal would be good business for the Packers but the fact that Pickett had a cap number of $6.7 million in 2013 makes me question whether Pickett would play for so much less.

James Jones (WR, $3.75 million, UFA): After the 2010 season Jones hit free agency but garnered little interest so he signed a three-year, $9.7 million deal with $2.25 million guaranteed.  This time around Jones will not be overlooked when he hits free agency.  The 10th highest paid wide receiver in the NFL averages $5 million a year, which I bet is the low-end of what Jones will be looking for this off-season.  A four-year, $20 million deal with $8 million guaranteed seems fair but that is still less than the Packers will have to pay wide receivers Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb in the next 12 months so it is probably more prudent to save their money instead of extending Jones.

Johnny Jolly (DL, $715,000, UFA): After being out of football for almost three years due to drug problems that landed Jolly in jail, just the fact that Jolly has been clean this year let alone a legitimate contributor along the defensive line makes him one of the feel-good stories in the NFL. I see Jolly as a cheaper version of Pickett when you factor in the chance that Jolly could relapse.  A three-year, $7.5 million deal with $2 million guaranteed seems reasonable given that Jolly will be 31 before next season.

Sam Shields (CB, $2.0 million, UFA): The Packers are going to have to decide between keeping Shields or cornerback Tramon Williams.  Next season Williams carries a price tag of $9.5 million because he will be in the last year of his five-year, $38 million with $11 million guaranteed.  There is a chance that Williams would accept a pay cut to stay with the Packers, which would allow the Packers to keep Shields and Williams, but I would be surprised given Williams's stature on defense.  The franchise tag for cornerbacks will most likely be $11 million in 2014, which is way too much for Shields especially given all the young talented the Packers have at cornerback (Casey Hayward, Davon House, and Micah Hyde).  I think Pickett is a long-shot to return to the Packers in 2014 but I would actually be more surprised to see Shields playing for the Packers in 2014 than Pickett.

B.J. Raji (DL, $6.6 million, UFA): Apparently the Packers have an $8 million a year offer on the table for Raji.  That seems a little rich to me but given how important Raji has become as a cog in the center of the defense, I no longer think the Packers have the option of letting Raji leave via free agency even when you factor in all their depth along the defensive line.  If the Packers cannot agree to a long-term deal with Raji they better use the franchise tag on Raji, which should be in the neighborhood of $9 million in 2014.

Evan Dietrich-Smith (C, $1.3 million, UFA): After the Jeff Saturday debacle at center last season, the Packers finally identified their center of the future.  The 10th highest paid center in the NFL is Kyle Cook of the Cincinnati Bengals with an average salary of $2.5 million a year.  The Packers would be lucky to get EDS for that amount.  Give that EDS will turn 28 before next season I would support the Packers offering him a four-year, $12 million deal with $4 million guaranteed.  That probably will not be enough to lock EDS down long-term but it provides a starting point.  Despite the fact that I have EDS as the most important player for the Packers to retain for 2014, given the Packers have a ton of money invested in their guards (Josh Sitton and T.J. Lang), the highest that I would for EDS is four-years, $16 million with $6 million guaranteed.

If there are any changes to The 53 before the Packers host the Minnesota Vikings this Sunday, check back for my full coverage.  I am not ready to throw in the towel on the season just yet but if the Packers do not right the ship against the Vikings then their post-season hopes are essentially done.