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How to get hot in December

Plus extensive thoughts on college football


Charlie from Bozeman, MT

This is the time of year when you want to be heating up and playing your best football. The hottest teams entering the playoffs are the most dangerous regardless of seed. What is the key for the Packers to getting hot in December?

Keep the offense in rhythm and Rodgers healthy, and generate turnovers on defense.

Nathan from Baltimore, MD

Mike, I know the goal is to run the table, but do you think the Packers will have to run the table in order to win the division?

As I laid out in my "plan" last week, I'm on the same wavelength as Vic that 9-7 with a sweep of the three division teams in Weeks 15-17 should do it. But if Detroit wins down in New Orleans on Sunday, then I think Green Bay will have to run the table.

Andy from Greenfield, WI

Insiders, there is a lot of praise for the play-calling and offensive approach used against the Eagles. Most of the comments seem to think the offense could have always been run this way. It's McCarthy being stubborn and/or inept that was the problem. It's almost as if success is a given, until a coach/play-caller gets in the way and screws it up. Isn't it possible that, in the other games, teams were playing a defense that didn't allow the "Eagles offense" to be successful? There's another team scheming and calling plays out there, too. I would love to see some analysis on this. How did the other teams play the Packers? Would that have made short passes and the like much harder?

But you're still stuck on scheme. The strength of the Eagles' defense was its front. When the Packers blocked as well as they did in the trenches, the matchups on the perimeter were in Green Bay's favor. No different than the advantage the Redskins had when the Packers' pass rush wasn't disruptive enough. In Philly, for example, Davante Adams made some nifty moves starting his routes at the line of scrimmage that spun cornerbacks around or made them stutter-step briefly, and he got open. But if those moves worked on every cornerback, he'd be open every play. What's the difference? The guy across from you.

Mike from Mount Prospect, IL

Gents, I watched the Denver-KC game last week and I was impressed with Denver's ability to tackle. So much is made of schemes, but simply being in the right place and not giving up extra yards goes a long way in establishing a top-flight defense.

Be careful. Talking about fundamentals is taboo to many an Inbox reader.

Daniel from Copenhagen, Denmark

What is the key to the Houston game? Personally, I think that if the O-line can block the Houston defensive front, we come out on top.

If the Packers' offensive line plays the way it did Monday night, I like this team's chances to win a lot of games. That's not a knock on anything the unit was doing earlier. It's an acknowledgement of just how well it played, on the road, against a formidable group. That defensive front destroyed Minnesota and it changed the Vikings' season.

Chase from Fort Huachuca, AZ

I think we match up well against our remaining opponents, who rank 29th, 23rd, 31st, 24th, and 19th in points scored. With an offense that seems it can't be stopped and a defense getting healthier, things might be lining up.

The defenses the Packers are facing down the stretch aren't slouches, though. Three of them are in the top 10/12 in yards/points allowed.

Nick from State College, PA

I attended my first NFL game, and you were right, Mike. I was shocked at how fast all the players (especially the linemen) look in real life. TV does not do them justice.

Cameras can desensitize us to the extraordinary. These guys are incredible athletes. The first time I saw an NHL hockey game live in-person, my brain couldn't keep up.

Mike from Edmonton, Alberta

Ravens coach John Harbaugh said he's an advocate of awarding a single point on kickoffs that go through the uprights. What are your thoughts on the idea?

I'm not big on gimmicks.

Jerry from Wilmington, NC

On the professional sports level, can the situation like Aaron Rodgers playing well through an injury inspire his teammates to play harder for him?

No question. One of the top four or five things I've ever witnessed at Lambeau was Rodgers re-emerging from the tunnel in Week 17 of 2014 to "M-V-P" chants and seeing the Packers dominate that second half for an NFC North title.

Leon from Ruckersville, VA

What's the diagnosis on Aaron Rodgers' leg?

It's still attached.

Caleb from Eau Claire, WI

Insiders, it's a critical third-and-10 in the fourth quarter, tie game. If forced to choose, do you shade a safety over the top on DeAndre Hopkins, or send him on a blitz at Osweiler?

I've got two safeties, don't I?

Matthew from Eugene, OR

Two years ago Mark Cuban said that, "Pigs get fat, hogs get slaughtered, and they're getting hoggy," in reference to NFL oversaturation with Thursday night games. The New York Times made a similar suggestion and mentioned talks of reducing/eliminating the Thursday schedule. Do you see them making such a decision to protect their brand (and players' health), or is it really just all about the benjamins?

The NFL often has tried to match up division opponents on Thursday nights, because the short prep time isn't as big an issue with familiar foes. But that creates as many good (Chicago at Green Bay, Oct. 20) as bad (Jacksonville at Tennessee, Oct. 27) matchups from a ratings standpoint. If the ratings don't support doing it, I don't see the need to play every Thursday night.

Eric from Tenvik, Norway

Mike/Wes, what's your feeling on the college bowl rankings? Vic puts OSU at No. 2, but how can a team contend for the national championship when it can't contend for its own conference championship? I say make the four best conference winners slug it out.

A lot of interesting debate amongst readers on this one. As much as I'm a Wisconsin fan and I'd love to see the Badgers win and get in, I have to confess, these "conference championship games" in split leagues with divisions have always felt a bit contrived to me. Look at the Big Ten. It has 14 teams. Only recently the league went from playing just eight to now nine conference games. There's no real equity in who plays whom, yet two "division winners" square off for the "conference title." I prefer to go by what I've seen and studied. I have no problem with Ohio State being in the playoff. The Buckeyes lost one game this season on a fluke, a blocked field goal returned for a TD. They're not in a manufactured conference title game. So what. I think either Washington or Clemson will have to lose in order for the Big Ten "champ" to get in the conversation, though I don't think the committee has punished Clemson enough for an overtime win over a sub-.500 ACC team made possible only because the N.C. State kicker missed a chip-shot walk-off field goal (but as I said, I'm a Wisconsin fan). Should Clemson or Washington lose and Wisconsin win, I think you can, maybe, justify putting the Badgers in the playoff over the Wolverines. Wisconsin lost in Ann Arbor by just seven; lost in OT to Ohio State, just like Michigan did; and won at Iowa, where Michigan did not. But I can see the argument for Michigan, too, with their win over UW and their OT loss to Ohio State coming in Columbus, whereas the Badgers lost to the Buckeyes in Madison. It really gets problematic, though, if Penn State wins and everyone screams the Big Ten "champion" should be in. You can't put a Penn State team in the playoff over a Michigan team that clobbered the Nittany Lions 49-10. You just can't. Thanks for indulging my long answer.

Andy from Ypsilanti, MI

Has anyone else noticed that generally speaking, when the Packers have success on offense, it means McCarthy was creative and when they don't it means they went vanilla? Last time I checked, "creative" and "successful" are not synonymous and neither are "vanilla" and "unsuccessful." Is there a special fans' and sportswriters' dictionary I don't know about?

I've always loved the classic James Jones line, "The other guys get paid, too." One of my own I'm starting to use more and more in this forum is, "Don't confuse results with intent."

John from Escanaba, MI

First Vic mailbox since Thanksgiving and no "Christmas Vacation" reference?

I was bummed, too. He must not have found a question from Margo.

Andy from Bend, OR

Might you agree there was a defensive pass interference non-call when Jordy's left arm was held by the DB in the second half? It would surely have been a TD. What's your opinion?

Might you agree there was an offensive pass interference non-call seven plays later when Jordy pushed the same DB to make the catch on fourth-and-5? It surely would have forced the Packers to punt with 2:58 left. Trust me, folks, it's easier if you can find a way to accept the capricious nature of a lot of this.

Eric from Knoxville, TN

Biff and Spoff, you've talked about a lucky bounce being a potential turning point in the season just to get in the win column again, but how about some lucky officiating? Not to take anything away from a great all-around performance by the team, but I thought the calls seemed to go our way most of the time. They weren't necessarily game-changing calls, although that argument could be made, but it was nice to feel like everything wasn't stacked against us for a change.

The OPI on the Sproles screen pass was fortunate, because that's not always called, but it was the correct call. The receiver was blocking before the ball was thrown. The bigger break might have been the low shotgun snap through Wentz's legs from the Green Bay 36 that lost 10 yards. The Eagles were on the verge of making it a one-score game with plenty of time left.

Kirkland from Killeen, TX

Referring back to the MVP question about "Brady, Prescott, Elliott," and Vic responding with Matt Ryan, where's the love for Derek Carr? Let's be honest. He has a mediocre overall defense that has its superstar and really no big names on offense, and he has led the Raiders to a 9-2 record. He is without question the MVP right now.

I think there's an argument to be made for Brady, Ryan, Elliott or Carr right now. But I'm not handing out an MVP on the first of December. More than 25 percent of the regular season remains.

Allen from Birmingham, AL

So what IS the official rule that allows the vicious blindside block on Matthews in this era of player safety?

According to what I found, a blindside block is only illegal if the initial contact is to the head or neck area. So it was legal. But that play is a good argument for having a "targeting" rule of some kind in the NFL. As another reader pointed out, Barbre's intent was obvious.

Mike from Mercer, WI

What about modifying the roughing the passer penalty to one like they have for roughing/running into the kicker? Might be an option?

Worth thinking about.

Doom from Shenzhen, China

Mike doesn't like the college overtime rules because it isn't football. Why change the rules and reward a different style of play when it matters most in the game? I think the NFL rule of incentivizing the first team try for a touchdown actually made overtime more like real football.

Me, too. I also don't like calling a timeout after a made basket in the NBA and being able to inbound the ball from across midcourt. Hokey rules bother me.

Dave from East Burke, VT

Can we take something from the Bucs game to help beat the Seahawks?

Sure, but that's next week's job.

Adam from Chicago, IL

Is it a coincidence Wentz threw high the play after being plowed by Datone Jones?

There's a reason quarterback hits are an official stat in the play-by-play.

Stephanie from Broken Arrow, OK

We all love to watch Rodgers make the defensive linemen jump to get a free play. Why is it that sometimes the refs whistle the play dead, and other times they let them play? I feel like we've been robbed several times from cashing in on that free play we work so hard for!

If the defensive neutral zone infraction causes an offensive player to move before the snap, the play has to be blown dead. If the ball is snapped while the defensive player is in the neutral zone but the offense hasn't moved early, it's a free play.

Connor from Greenville, SC

Would you sign up for two minutes left, down 21-16 with the ball at Ford Field for the division? I would.

In the immortal words of George Costanza, mark me down.

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