Packers at Texans Sunday Night
PACKERS HOPING TO AVOID 2-4 START WITH SUNDAY NIGHT UPSET IN HOUSTON
There's been a bit too much drama already about the Green Bay Packers being on the "verge"of elimination from the playoffs. The media went overboard on the "what if that bad call by a replacement ref keeps the Packers out of the playoffs"bandwagon a few weeks ago after a Monday Night game. And, the doom and gloom after a blown game in Indianapolis features Packers players sniping at each other through the media.
Well, let's get one thing straight up front. Green Bay is currently 1-0 against NFC Central opponents, and still has FIVE games left against the Bears (1), Vikings (2), and Lions (2). If you win the division, you make the playoffs regardless of what you're record is. Green Bay controls almost all of its own fate in terms of winning the division given these standings:
Green Bay 2-3
Stick two losses on Minnesota, and you bring them back to you while holding the tie-breaker. Stick another loss on Chicago, and you're within range while owning the tie-breaker. Detroit may or may not be a factor this year. You have a chance to make some hay at their expense.
Also of note:
Green Bay lost to powerhouse San Francisco. Chicago still has to play them.
Green Bay could lose to Houston tonight to fall to 2-4. Both Minnesota and Chicago will also have to play Houston though, and this is a year where all three could fall to the Texans.
Green Bay will be clear favorites the next three weeks over the likes of St. Louis, Jacksonville, and Arizona. That's followed by a bye week that is well-timed to prepare them for the final seven games.
It's not "do or die"time for the Packers just yet given how the rest of the season shapes up. The most important factor to US isn't that they've had some bad luck with officiating...or that they've lost two heartbreakers in the final seconds. IT'S THAT THEY'RE JUST NOT PLAYING VERY WELL!
The problem in Green Bay isn't that bad luck is kicking them in the groin. It's that they're not doing what it takes to seal the deal against teams that they should be beating. A run through our standard preview numbers will provide a better sense of that.
GREEN BAY PACKERS at HOUSTON TEXANS (8:20 p.m. on NBC)
Las Vegas Spread: Houston by 3.5, total of 48
Even though Houston has been getting a lot of respect from the market this year (and last year when healthy), they're barely laying over a field goal here...which means oddsmakers and sharps see them as only slightly better than the Packers. Houston would get the bare nod on a neutral field. Green Bay would be a slight favorite at home. Green Bay HAS fallen behind Houston according to most ways of looking at the game right now. If you're this close to Houston in the Power Ratings though, you're still in good shape to finish strong and make the playoffs.
Green Bay: 2-3 (vs. San Francisco, vs. Chicago, at Seattle, vs. New Orleans, at Indianapolis)
Houston: 5-0 (vs. Miami, at Jacksonville, at Denver, vs. Tennessee, at NY Jets)
It's still too early to determine if Green Bay has played a killer schedule or just a decent one. Depending on the week, Chicago and Seattle can look like playoff teams or non-entities. New Orleans is better than its record, even if they're on a short list of respected underachievers with the Packers. What's unmistakably obvious is that Green Bay has played a much tougher schedule than Houston. The Packers would likely be at least 4-1 vs. Houston's schedule. Houston would have had to play at a high and consistent level to go 5-0 against the Packers' slate. Remember as we go through the numbers that Green Bay has played the tougher schedule.
Green Bay: -1
One of the big hidden issues for Green Bay this year has been on defense in this stat. They forced four turnovers in their win against Chicago...but only ONE combined in their other four games! They're not getting cheap points off of field position. They're not killing the hopes of trailing opponents with picks or forced fumbles. The defense has been too passive outside of the night when they embarrassed Jay Cutler in a short preparation week. Houston's been great in this stat...but it has come against a weak schedule. If they keep winning the risk/reward stuff against better opponents...then we're looking at a Super Bowl team for sure.
Green Bay: 338.0 yards-per-game on 5.2 yards-per-play
Houston: 371.8 yards-per-game on 5.5 yards-per-play
Wow...that's WAY too low for a Green Bay team that used to move at will up and down the field. They should be in the high 300's or low 400's on a regular basis...and they should be making a run at 6.0 every week. That's already a potent negative combination...Green Bay's offense has dropped off from last year, and they're not getting cheap field position points because the defense doesn't force turnovers. The offensive stats for Houston may or may not tell the full story. Yes, they've played a weak schedule...but they've tended to just run clock with a lead...meaning they're saving bigger production for when it's needed. Right now, Houston has the better offense in our view.
Green Bay: 344.2 yards-per-game on 5.2 yards-per-play
Houston: 275.6 yards-per-game on 4.8 yards-per-play
The road game at Denver provided the only real test for the Houston defense to this point, and they passed that with flying colors. Let's see what they do against Aaron Rodgers and company here. For now, Houston has the much better defense. Maybe schedule strength will loom larger than we're realizing here. But, eyeballing the games and the numbers, Houston gets the nod on both sides of the ball.
LAST WEEK'S BOXES
INDIANAPOLIS 30, GREEN BAY 27
Total Yardage: Green Bay 356, Indianapolis 464
Rushing Yards: Green Bay 141, Indianapolis 119
Passing Stats: Green Bay 21-33-1-215, Indianapolis 31-55-1-345
Turnovers: Green Bay 1, Indianapolis 1
Third Downs: Green Bay 31%, Indianapolis 40%
Vegas Line: Green Bay by 7, total of 48
The Packers built a big first half lead, only to completely lose their focus on both sides of the ball in the second half. The defense wilted. Rodgers kept getting sacked. This was clearly a BLOWN WIN that should never have gone down to the wire. The biggest red flags for us that you see above from the Green Bay perspective are in offensive third downs and defensive turnovers forced. We don't list sacks...but Rodgers going down five times against what's basically an expansion team is a big problem indeed. Given that this nailbiter came on the heels of nailbiters against New Orleans and Seattle makes it clear that the Packers have lost a few steps from last year's juggernaut.
HOUSTON 23, NY JETS 17
Total Yardage: Houston 378, NY Jets 286
Rushing Yards: Houston 169, NY Jets 69
Passing Stats: Houston 14-28-1-209, NY Jets 14-32-2-217
Turnovers: Houston 1, NY Jets 2
Third Downs: Houston 40%, NY Jets 29%
Vegas Line: Houston by 8, total of 41
The Jets had a kickoff return touchdown, which is why Houston failed to cover despite one-sided statistics. You see strength up and down the boxscore there, which is a great sign as a road favorite in a Monday Night game. Execution and focus, outside of the special teams error. Houston's for real. Or, at least clearly better than all of the 5-11 caliber or worse teams they've been facing so far.
We'd argue that the math says Houston should be favored by something like 5-6 on their home field given the numbers we've just run through...given Green Bay's issues with forcing turnovers...and given the general flow of the season. Green Bay may be melting down. Houston is in steamroller mode, taking care of business as they try to keep Matt Schaub healthy for the duration. The market has it lower, respecting the potential of what Green Bay hasn't shown yet...and possibly penalizing Houston for a short preparation week.
JIM HURLEY knows what the math says...but he also knows what his on-site sources have been telling him about the mindsets of each team. If Green Bay really is melting down before our eyes...then Houston wins by at least two touchdowns and deserves serious play as a cheap favorite. If Houston is getting overconfident just as they face a short preparation week...then the underdog has a great chance to win outright or at least force another nailbiter finish.
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