Mike's Mid-Week Chat: How will wild-card weekend shake out?

Senior writer Mike Spofford answered fan questions in his weekly live chat.


Hi everybody. Thanks for logging on today. Hope everyone is off to a Happy New Year. Let's get started.

Who do you see as the most likely upsets this weekend? AFC and NFC?

I don't know if any results in the AFC could be considered upsets. All 3 of those games are toss-ups in my book. Should be some really entertaining stuff. As for the NFC, it feels very different. I think Seattle, Tampa Bay and New Orleans are very clear favorites. But in the NFL, having all 3 go as expected is never a given. Which one might not? I have no idea.

Mike, thanks for the chat. We missed you being on there and all, but Larry did a great job on Unscripted! I want to sit and watch a game with him at a bar sometime. Great knowledge and great way in which he shares it.

Big props to Larry for stepping in when I couldn't be in the office yesterday. He can make himself at home in any situation, and it looked like Wes had some fun, too. I've had the opportunity to sit in a bar, usually at the Combine in Indy, with Larry and our digital/video crew and listen to some stories. He's a treat.

Hey Mike, what happened to Rashan Gary during the beta game? I barely saw him. Was he used sparingly as part of the scheme against a specific opponent?

He played around half the snaps on defense, I think. Maybe a little less. I'm guessing since he's been banged up here and there the coaches were judicious with his snaps to help get him fully healthy for the playoffs. I thought when he was in there Sunday, he was impactful.

Hey Spoff, who do you think will need to be the biggest playmaker in order for us to win in these playoffs other than Aaron Rodgers of course?

It never hurts to have a surprise someone make a big splash play or two, but in the playoffs it most often comes down to your best guys, which for the Packers on offense are Davante Adams and Aaron Jones, along with Rodgers. They will carry the offense as far as it goes.

Mike, Elgton Jenkins's versatility has been discussed in detail as well but I am really impressed that Billy Turner has played guard and both tackle positions so well. That signing looks better all the time.

His versatility was a big reason for the signing in the first place, and it's paid off.

Woodson seems like a lock to get into the HOF this year. What do you think are Butler's chances, given the quality of the class?

I've said before that while I fully believe Butler is deserving and he will get in at some point, this year might be a tough class to crack. You've got two sure first-ballot guys in Woodson and Manning, and maybe a third with Megatron. If they all get in, that leaves only 2 spots for the other 12 modern-era finalists. Those aren't great odds. But we'll see.

Will " Snacks" and AJ Dillon get more snaps in the playoffs?

Damon Harrison played a dozen snaps in Chicago and I'm not sure he'll play much more than that. Maybe if an opponent has a run-heavy plan he will. Dillon is hard to gauge. I'm sure the plan was to use him more against the Bears but the Packers only had 44 snaps on offense. Usually a team is in the mid-40s for snaps by the end of the third quarter.

Is Tavon Austin going to be given another chance or did he blow his shot for the post season run?

I don't know. The three coordinators are speaking with the media shortly after this chat, so we'll see what Mennenga says. The Packers would love to get more out of their return game, and Austin gives them that chance, but they aren't going to push for it at the expense of ball security. It's not worth it when you have an offense this good.

On Monday an II question asked what ARs passer rating would have been if Marquez Valdes-Scantling had caught the 53 yd. TD pass? for what it's worth 122.7.

I don't think it works that way. The drop by MVS was with 13 minutes left in the third quarter. There's no way to know how the rest of the game, and therefore Rodgers' overall passer rating, plays out if that play ends in a TD. As I noted in Monday's Inbox, if MVS catches that TD, in that very moment, Rodgers' season passer rating topped his 122.5, but it would have had to stay there for the last 28 minutes on the clock. I'm not saying he couldn't or wouldn't have done that, but we'll never know.

Are any of our injured reserve players coming back this season?

I've heard no updates. The Packers are practicing on Thursday and Friday this week. We'll be out there to see if anyone is back in the fold.

Mike, who's your pick for X-factor for the Pack in the playoffs? I know a lot of people are expecting Dillon to be a force, but I think Dominique Dafney would be my pick. He's playing a role LaFleur wants on offense, and we spent a high pick on. Now that he's shown he (Dafney) can handle it, I expect him to be almost a staple in the offense for the next 2 weeks.

It might be the Big Dog on offense before Dafney, but I could see either making an impact in the passing game. On defense, if I were to pick an X factor I'd say Kevin King. QBs aren't throwing at Jaire Alexander much, and King gets INT opportunities here and there. If he cashes in on one or two, he could change a game.

Are the Packers still allowed to sign someone off a PS from a non playoff team? Could they target a pure kickoff returner if they wanted to?

Non-playoff teams are usually signing their PS guys to reserve/future contracts right when the season is over so they can't be poached.

Greetings Mike, and Happy New Year to Wes and you! What will the Packers be doing this week, since they don't yet know who their next opponent will be?

We're putting in a normal work week, for the most part. As mentioned, the team is practicing on Thursday and Friday. There's just no game to cover on the weekend, which frees us up to watch the wild-card contests. I'll be writing a story for the site as soon as GB's opponent is determined Sunday evening.

It is said to beat a team three times in a year is extremely difficult. Should the football gods deem the Bears to be the team the Packers meet next week, do you see any truth to this saying? Or does the Packers see this as any other game.

I don't know. I don't think the Bears are interested in playing the Packers but they'll have no choice if they win. Both sides would have to make adjustments to their game plans because they just played each other.

So is the HOF game the Raiders/Colts or Packers/Colts...Will that show how Woodson is viewed?

We're a long way from knowing anything like that. I don't know if the HOF can be sure about having the big ceremony it normally has in August. Time will tell.

What game are you most looking forward to this weekend Mike?

I think it's Indy at Buffalo, to be honest. Indy because the Packers played them in a tight, down-to-the-wire game, and Buffalo because it's fun watching Josh Allen's fearless play at QB.

If you had to pick another WR besides Adams to step up in the playoffs, who would it be? My sense is that LaFleur and Rodgers will keep giving MVS opportunities. Even if he only cashes in on half of them, it would still be worth it.

Don't sleep on Allen Lazard. He's been a bit quiet since returning from that long layoff due to injury, but he could be due for a big game.

Last Wednesday, I asked "if with so much riding on the Bears game if it might benefit the Packers in the long run?" In hindsight has it? Will it?

Rodgers said after the game "it's good to go in playing," meaning go into the playoffs. I think the Packers played two pretty high-stakes games the last two weeks and that never hurts. The bad news was losing David Bakhtiari in practice in the meantime, but nothing anyone can do about that.

Since they don't play this week, will we still see an official injury report or do we have to wait until next week?

No, there will be no injury report this week. Next week we'll see the first one on Wednesday if the Packers are playing Sunday, or Tuesday for a Saturday game.

Do you think the progression of our D has leveled the field if we face the Bucs?

For sure. I think the Packers are a better team now than they were in mid-October. But the Bucs are playing well, too. I don't think the first game, which went sideways quickly and got out of hand, would mean much if a rematch develops.

Ingwe....the correct answer is Rick Wagner's knee. If it holds up and we can go 3 games with the line we had against the Bears I like our chances.

Good point.

Hi Mike! I know it's a big "if" at this point, but if Tampa Bay is the Packers next opponent, what do you think the Packers need to focus on or improve to prevent a similar outcome as the last game?

I don't know if it's about anything specific. That game just got out of hand. It happens. The biggest thing offensively is preparing for that inside LB duo of David and White, coming up with ways to attack them.

For all the talk about beating a team 3 times in one season, teams that beat an opponent twice in the regular season have gone 14-7 against them in the playoffs since the merger.

There you go.

Who do you think the best two tacklers are on our defense?

Kenny Clark and Adrian Amos, with Rashan Gary and Krys Barnes not far behind.

I'm so looking forward to a Bills Chiefs AFC Championship game, how about you Mike?

The AFC could go a lot of different directions, but my gut says the Bills have the best shot at knocking off the Chiefs.

How is the schedule of the postseason created? As far as I know it is affected by the TV channels, but how does it work?

It's all the league's doing. The networks that have playoff rights have a certain number of games, but I think the NFL decides on the assignments and time slots, etc. I don't know if the networks get to put in any preferences, like they can for the regular season schedule.

History doesn't seem to favor the MVP winning the ultimate prize. If Rodgers were to be robbed of the MVP, it wouldn't bother me as much as losing the SB. If anything, not getting the MVP might give AR even more motivation...as if he needs it. What's your take?

He's not going to know if he's won or lost the MVP until the night before the Super Bowl. His focus is solely on getting there.

Enjoyed seeing Larry on "Unscripted". What a fun and knowledgeable guy. But you and Wes make the show. Was it a challenging transition for you to go from "all print" to multi-media in your career?

In a word, yes. If you had told me when I got this job back in 2006 that it would evolve into all sorts of on-camera appearances and other avenues, I would have been skeptical how I'd adjust. I did some TV in my newspaper days, but not a lot. I still consider myself first and foremost a writer, but I've always tried to be open to new ideas, not resistant, and do my best to make it work.

What's your sense of this team's energy and internal motivation? Can they stem the tide of a bad quarter in these big games without the fan energy? I was impressed with how they handled adversity against Chicago in the third quarter. I wasn't expecting that frankly.

Playoff games are full of momentum swings. Always are. I think the last two games -- where Tennessee and Chicago made comebacks and then the Packers had to respond -- were good prep for what playoff games will feel like.

When do we find out if we're playing Sat or Sun? I'll be late for work if it's the late game Sunday, 1:30 a.m. k/o in the U.K.!!

The league will be announcing the divisional weekend schedule after the wild-card games are played. I'm thinking we might find out during the last wild-card game, the Sunday nighter.

Is Barnes the Packer rookie of the year?

It would be hard to pick anyone else. He's turned into a real find.

As odd as it may seem, the two top seeds do not meet in the SB as often as one may suspect. Looking into your crystal ball, is this the year we do see such a matchup?

It'll certainly test the value of the bye, because only the top seed in each conference got one.

One of the by-products of the significant TOP advantage the Bears had was the Packers O-line had fewer snaps than one would generally expect. While the line acquitted itself well, I am a bit concerned about reading too much into such a small sample size.

44 snaps is not a lot, as mentioned, but that Bears' defensive front is as good as they come. Hicks, Mack, Quinn, with Trevathan at LB. The Packers got a break when Roquan Smith left the game with an injury. He's a tough guy to replace and the Packers took advantage.

Hi Mike. Do you think Bakhtiari will be on the sidelines during the playoff games? Is he allowed to be?

He's allowed to be, as far as I know, as long as he's continued to get a Covid test daily, but I can't speak to his preference or what his timetable is as far as surgery and the aftermath, etc.

What do you think happens with Cleveland, with Stefanski and multiple players out? On the other hand Pittsburgh has lost 4/5, and had to have a massive comeback to beat the Colts.

The Steelers rested some guys last week. Big Ben, T.J. Watt and some other sat out I believe. That team needed a break, and I think Tomlin will feel better about the rest some players got, with the way their last month was going. The situation with the Browns is really something. Those coaches who can't be there, including Stefanski, can't communicate with anyone either. There's no outside communication with anyone on the sideline.

Regardless of how the post season ends up for the Packers, I truly feel grateful for a special season. Mostly a rejuvenated and dominant Aaron Rodgers. It has been a blessing to witness a full regular season across the league. GO PACK GO!!!

It's been a fun ride, for sure. No reason to end for a while yet, though, right?

Enjoyed seeing Larry and Wes on unscripted today, but we missed mike. Also, noticed they didn't make it to your sponsors without you there.

Larry probably just distracted Wes too much.

Of the NFC games this weekend, who do you feel has the best chance for an upset?

I really don't know. All three underdogs (Rams, Washington, Bears) have solid defenses, so that gives each a chance. But they all have such offensive limitations (if Goff doesn't play for LA). You'd normally say the home team, Washington, except home field this year isn't the same. If Goff plays, I'll give the Rams the best chance to pull the upset.

How do you feel about some of these defenses in the playoffs? I mean, Bills are looking scary. But I have a healthy fear of Tampa. Not just because its Tom Brady. I don't expect that to be an easy game. I mean, they are not going to be run against. And they have what it takes on defense. I think people are discounting them.

I don't think anyone is discounting the Bucs. That offense has been lighting things up the last few weeks, putting up big points, and the defense has been solid all year.

Does it surprise you that teams still throw Jaire's way? If he doesn't get a pick or at least a PBU, he just might force a fumble.

You can't spend a whole game ignoring a top receiver just because of the opponent. Jaire has had an outstanding year, but top-level QBs like Brady, Wilson, Brees, etc., aren't going to shy away from him as much as some others might.

What head coaching position do you find more favorable, Jacksonville with the draft capital and available cap space or L.A. Chargers with Herbert and the overall talent on the roster?

If you've got a QB of the future in place, which the Chargers clearly do, that's an attractive job. I'd say the same about Houston with Watson. He had a great year and that position is a huge starting point for any new coach. Just ask McCarthy and LaFleur.

What is the biggest difference between last year's team and this team?

Mainly the offense, if I were to pick one thing. This offense has been one of the best in the league since Week 1. The offense was nowhere near this level last year, at any point, really.

Did you see the targeting call during the Clemson-Ohio State game? I can't take NCAA's "player safety" initiatives seriously until they penalize ridge swivel players for lowering their head to initiate contact as readily as they penalize defenders for making form tackles.

That was frustrating, to be sure. It's a tough deal. Where I will give the NCAA credit, though, is using replay for the safety rules. It doesn't guarantee that they get every call right, as last week proved, but it's better than the NFL's way of fining guys later for safety violations that could have been flagged in the game but weren't, and there was no replay recourse. That's never made sense to me.

A certain cranky South Carolinian seems to want to trade Aaron Rodgers. I think this is preposterous. What do you think?

I just talked to him last week, and he made no mention of that to me.

I think the biggest concern for the Packers is players coming down with Covid and not being able to play. Is the team taking extra precautions to keep players from getting it?

They're sticking with the same strict protocols they've used for the bulk of the season. The Packers have been very vigilant and diligent and hopefully (knock on wood) they continue to have success with their approach.

How good is Washington with a healthy Alex Smith in addition to their pass rush? In other words, how hard would you root for them to beat TB?

Washington's pass rush vs. Brady will be a huge factor in that game. I'm just not sure Washington can score enough against that Bucs defense. But that's why they play the games.

I am rooting for Alex Smith and the WFT to knock out Tompa Brady and the Bucs. Doesn't that feel right to you?

I would have no problem with any of the teams with worse records in the NFC beating the teams with better records, if that's what you're asking.

We never play well after a bye. What makes you think this time will be different?

Never is a tad strong. Last year's playoff bye preceded a big home win over Seattle.

What has been the cause of the big improvement at the Safety position?

I think it's a combination of Amos getting more comfortable with the system in his second year, and the natural development of a highly talented young player in Savage. This is exactly what the Packers envisioned for the position when they revamped it with those two guys in 2019.

What do you think of the Badgers basketball chances this year?

I'm excited. They have a veteran-laden squad that'll be fun to watch. The Big Ten is a meat grinder of a league, though. Mercy.

Is the full playbook opened up for the playoffs…or is there still an Ace up the sleeve in anticipation of a super bowl appearance?

Mostly, you do what you do best. You do what got you to 13-3. There's a wrinkle or surprise in almost every game plan, playoff game or not. It's just whether the opportunity presents itself to make the call.

I think our D is still flying under the radar despite a top 10 finish. I don't see anyone talking about how the Packers D climbed into the top 10 only in the last few weeks. The turnaround has been drastic imho and looking at the last four weeks alone might be more accurate of an assessment.

The defense down the stretch turned it up a notch, which is what you want. The performance against Tennessee was the most impressive. This is a unit looking a lot different from, say, the Indy game.

LaFleur mentioned he wasn't happy about King playing 10 yards off the LOS on a 3rd and 3. Was that a message to Pettine/King? I share his frustration.

It sounded like he was giving a preview of some things he was going to discuss with Pettine, yeah.

Rodgers has stated for years about the opportunity to host a championship game. Now that the opportunity is here, do you think it puts more pressure on him?

Rodgers seems pretty impervious to pressure. He's been in plenty of tough situations before. He embraces the opportunity, however it presents itself. He's talked all season about mentally being in a good place. I don't see that changing.

Do you think Brees has lost the snap in his passes? When I've seen him it looks like everything floats.

I don't think his arm is what it was 15 years ago, but he was never known as having a cannon or anything. His style has been different most of the way. His accuracy is still amazing to me, no matter how hard he's throwing the ball.

In net points for the season, we sit between the Saints and Buccaneers for third highest in the league. Those are the scariest teams and why it is important that any warm weather teams need to come to Lambeau.

Agreed. That's why the Packers worked for this opportunity. Now we'll see how it plays out. With that, I have to go, folks. Thanks for all the great questions today and we'll talk again next week. Take care and enjoy wild-card weekend. Best, Mike

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