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Inbox: All those happened again

It’s going to come down to which team gets hot

DL Kingsley Keke brings down Panthers QB Teddy Bridgewater

Mike from St. Louis Park, MN

Vic's December friend has arrived.

Just now? Where have you been?

Patterson from Lynchburg, VA

Win one out of the next two and we are the No. 1 seed?! For a team that still hasn't reached its apex I'm really excited. I love January football!

Not exactly. The Packers can get the No. 1 seed with just one more win if that win is against the Bears in Week 17. Or a win over the Titans would do it, as long as the Seahawks lose one more.

Tom from Dollar Bay, MI

Spoff, by my count, even if we lose next week, we clinch the No. 1 seed with a Week 17 win over the Bears. Best New Orleans or Seattle could do is tie us; head-to-head tiebreaker with the Saints, and we would have the conference record over the Hawks, correct?

Precisely. In that scenario, the Packers would own the two-way tie against either team. In a three-way tie, the Seahawks would be eliminated first based on the worst conference record of the three, and then the head-to-head over the Saints would apply.

Roger from Dowagiac, MI

Another good weekend for the Packers. A sloppy win followed by a Rams and Saints loss. So next weekend, if Green Bay goes 1-0 against the Titans and the Rams beat Seattle, we will have home-field advantage. Given the schedule and our game Sunday night, we will know before the game starts. Go-Pack-Go!

Now you guys are really catching on.

Larry from Freeport, IL

The Packers' defense seems to be average at best. What can be done going into the playoffs, as I am concerned the offense can only do so much. If this defense cannot play any better than they have shown lately, this could be a short-lived playoff run.

As I harped on last week, this Packers defense is what it is – it has to make a key play or two at the right time, and it has to avoid the momentum-swinging letdown. All those happened again Saturday night. Krys Barnes punching the ball out on the goal line, and then Kingsley Keke and Preston Smith pressuring Bridgewater into the late intentional grounding, were both huge plays. Allowing a quick slant to rupture into a 40-yard gain, when three tacklers converged to end the play and failed, is the type of breakdown that has kept opponents in games repeatedly.

Bill from Raleigh, NC

Hi II, did the Panthers make defensive adjustments at halftime and we couldn't figure out how to respond to them? Our OL has been great at pass protection this year. Was their DL just better than our OL?

The Packers had their worst game in pass protection, by far, since Tampa Bay. The Panthers played soft coverage to invite the quick horizontal throws, and then charged up and tackled well. The Packers also didn't stick with the run enough, which LaFleur admitted. The ground game always helps pass pro, and I don't think they actually made the Panthers stop the run. The Packers stopped themselves there.

Kevin from Green Bay, WI

A lot of negativity after the win but the Saints have lost two straight and the Rams just lost to the Jets. I say we take the win and move on.

Nobody in the NFC has this thing figured out. It's going to come down to which team gets hot. The Bucs were down 17-0 at halftime. All they did was dominate the second half the way the Packers dominated the first. The Seahawks were up 20-3 against a team playing a backup QB and barely hung on, 20-15. The Bears suddenly have the hottest offense in the conference. Go figure.

Steve from Land O' Lakes, FL

It's a win! Maybe even an ugly win, but still a win. I'm afraid though, that a letdown on offense one week or a letdown on defense a different week will come back to haunt the Pack. There is still some time before the playoffs. Do you think this late in the season the Pack can string together a series of complete games?

I don't know. I don't expect a major transformation at this stage, but that level of offensive malaise has been rare. A rut like that has to be minimized and they have to get out of it, which normally they've done. It's still about finding a way each week, and the next two opponents are playing better right now than anyone the Packers have faced the last three weeks. The last four weeks, actually, because that Bears team a month ago was nothing like the current one.

Kaya from Hoback, WY

Yet again, Mr. Crosby, take a bow!

They keep making it harder on him than it has to be, too. Last week it was the false start losing five yards. This week it's first down from the 29 with five minutes left and they throw it three times, losing eight yards on a third-down sack. It's huge when your kicker can cover for other blunders.

David from Minneapolis, MN

I felt bad about our win over a weak foe. Then Indy barely beat a four-win team, the Seahawks almost lost to the WFT, the Bucs almost got beat by the Falcons, the Rams lost to an 0-13 team. Week-to-week league indeed. Also, as an anesthesiologist taking care of COVID patients I get my vaccine tomorrow. Stay safe and be smart. There is a light at the end of the tunnel but we still have to keep walking the tunnel. Be smart. Be kind. Stay safe.

All well said.

Jeff from Black River Falls, WI

Haven't seen this asked yet, so I was wondering if the NFL has tried to get COVID shots for the players as a priority status?

No. The league said it would not "jump the line" based on how priorities are established.

Janet from Auburn, WA

Tiebreaker scenarios are so confusing. The Jets and Jaguars have one win each and the Jaguars supposedly own the tiebreaker for the top pick in the draft. How can this be the case if they have a better conference record (one win!) than the Jets? I thought conference records played a significant role in tiebreakers.

Not for draft order. The tiebreaker for draft order is the combined winning percentage of opponents. That's it. Whoever's is lower gets the better draft pick.

Eric from Elkhart, IN

How can the Packers stop Derrick Henry from taking over the game?

Get multiple tacklers to the ball. Trying to tackle him one-on-one in space is a losing proposition.

Perry from Ishpeming, MI

What in the blue blazes does a team need to do to stop Derrick Henry? The dude just keeps pounding and pounding. I sure hope no Packer defender gets posterized by one of his stiff arms Sunday night!

See above. It's hard for him to stiff arm a guy if other guys are right there, too. But if anyone can stiff arm more than one guy at a time, it's probably Henry.

Anthony from Sturgeon Bay, WI

Just want to dish out a northwoods YOWZA to Mike for totally personalizing games with his live blog. The ability to spontaneously interact whether being chosen or not offers a new level of game enjoyment. Let's face it, Mr. Spoff is a blogging machine!

We didn't quite set an audience record Saturday night, but the participation was robust and lively.

Cliff from Alexandria, VA

Insiders: Why do trailing teams kick off at the end of games and try to make a defensive stand? (Saints game, for example.) If your hopes rely on a defensive stop why not try the onside kick, and even if you don't get it, try for your defensive stop then? Seems like the yards are less valuable than the chance at getting the ball back outright.

That's one school of thought. The other is that onside kicks are such low-chance propositions now that the 25-30 yards of field position is worth more. It turned out in the Panthers' case they cost themselves 20-plus yards with the penalty on the punt return.

Michael from Portland, OR

Were you as surprised as I was that Carolina didn't take a couple shots at the end on first down at the GB 15? Was the reasoning if they took too much time off the clock they'd have to then try an onside kick?

Exactly. I thought it was smart strategy, dictated by having only one timeout left and preferring/needing to use the two-minute warning on defense. I talked a lot last year about coaches having to rethink end-of-game comebacks because of the kickoff rules. Carolina burning that first timeout early in the fourth quarter proved big.

Mike from St. Louis, MO

I was listening on radio, so I didn't see the touchback with 2:04 to play. Any chance we could have run that back from deep in the end zone, even if only to the 10-yard line, so that the two-minute warning would expire on the kickoff instead of the first play from scrimmage? If so, Carolina's final drive would have started with around 10 seconds.

I wondered the same thing at the time. The kick was really deep but perhaps could have been caught in front of the end line. Maybe the Packers would have taken that approach if Williams had still been back there, I don't know. I would have sold my soul to kill those four seconds, field position be damned in that case.

Kurtis from De Pere, WI

Talking about replacing a preseason game with an additional wild-card game on Friday, II stated "those two extra wild-card playoff games will mean way more money to the league than one week of preseason action." Wait, what? Really? Two playoff games would rake more than 16 preseason games? I get they are preseason but...surely this can't be true.

I'm not privy to exact numbers, but nationally televised NFL games with an exclusive audience – which playoff games are because there are no other games going on simultaneously – make the league a boatload of money in TV rights. They're monstrously profitable before a single ticket is sold. Preseason-game revenue is based on cheap tickets (not all of which are sold), lots of no-shows (so less concession and other ancillary income than usual), virtually no TV money, minus all the expenses of conducting the game. Are two playoff games worth more than 16 preseason games? My guess is yes.

Lambeau Field hosted a Week 15 matchup between the Green Bay Packers and Carolina Panthers on Saturday, Dec. 19, 2020.

Jim from Bluffton, SC

Shout-out to Mark Murphy. He has NU in the B1G championship game and the reorganized Packers in the hunt for the No. 1 NFC seed. Keeping NU competitive is no easy task. His reorganization plan had many skeptics. He seems to have success at whatever he touches. Yet seems to have an unusually low profile. What makes MM so special?

He's a leader who knows how to recognize leadership qualities in others that breed success, as he did in hiring Pat Fitzgerald and Matt LaFleur. That's the simplest way I can put it.

David from Cable, WI

Thinking about the Packers' offensive success. Realized that I have never seen a time in Aaron Rodgers's career when the play-action game was so effective. That goes back to the work done last year in the running game and Aaron Jones' great year. That laid the groundwork for this year.

No pun intended.

Michael from Granite City, IL

Mike invited us "fans" to research the TDs vs. punts stats. I found the following: In 2018, Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs had 50 TDs, and only 45 punts. In 2011, Drew Brees and the Saints had 46 TDs, and 46 punts. In 2007, Tom Brady and the Patriots had 50 TDs, and 44 punts. And way back in 1990 the Oilers and Warren Moon (33 TDs) plus Cody Carlson (4 TDs) combined for 37 TDs, and 34 punts.

Van from Newmarket north of the border was on this, too. It'll be tough for the Packers to get back on the right side of that equation again with Rodgers now at 40 TDs and Scott at 44 punts.

Izzi from Raleigh, NC

This team seems to not play well when they have a good lead early. I hate clichés like "killer instinct," but I can't figure out this issue. What do you make of it?

It's the NFL, and the other guys get paid, too. Seriously, though, the Packers aren't the only team with this "issue," because it's not easy to just put teams away. Maybe focusing on that actually makes it harder, if you know what I mean.

Packers WR Malik Taylor celebrates his birthday Dec. 21. Take a look at photos of him from the 2020 season.

Chip from Seattle, WA

What is the lowest amount of passing yards for Aaron Rodgers in a Packers win? I feel like Saturday night's 143 yards has got to be close?

It is the lowest, if my quick research is accurate. The next closest I could find was 156 yards against Minnesota in 2014.

Joe from Swansea, IL

Hey, Inbox – Sometimes you win in this league when maybe you should have lost. And sometimes you lose when you deserve to lose. Put another way: This isn't figure skating, where they award style points. That said, how concerned are you that this team seems to have trouble reversing the tide when the game swings the other way? Or are you heartened that the elusive firing-on-all-cylinders game remains to be played by the Pack? Better that game come in January than mid-December, I suppose.

This team's best game is still out there. I felt that way last year, too, and I don't think it ever came. Maybe it's due. As for reversing the tide, when it initially started going the wrong way, it felt self-inflicted. Allen Lazard dropped a pass at the end of the first half that could have meant three points. (Did anyone else notice that was a reprise of the Jared Cook play in Dallas in the playoffs? Executed to a T except for the catch.) Then Davante Adams dropped a slant to start the second half. From there the Panthers really cranked it up defensively, but the Packers poured them that juice. I guess my point is this team can look at the film and know they brought on the lull themselves. It's always better to know it starts with you more so than with them.

Joseph from Salt Lake City, UT

So the Jets beat the Rams who beat the Patriots who beat the Raiders who beat the Chiefs. Jets are the best! It's science right?

Something like that.

Douglas from Bloomington, IL

With the game on Friday this week, will this be the first season that had a game on every day of the week?

You may be onto something there. Happy Christmas week, everybody.