NFL Pick: Packers Control NFC With Win Against Kansas City Chiefs
Saturday, December 17, 2011
by Aengus Moorehead
When asked about his plans for the final three weeks, Green Bay Coach Mike McCarthy said "our players still want to play". His pitch may change soon. Green Bay will try to secure home-field advantage throughout the playoffs on the road Sunday against the Kansas City Chiefs. The injury-riddled Chiefs, who fired coach Todd Haley on Monday, don’t figure to threaten the second-longest winning streak in NFL history.
Both men will get an opportunity to reprove themselves in league circles when the Kansas City Chiefs attempt to shock the still-unbeaten Green Bay Packers Sunday at Arrowhead Stadium in a Week 15 interconference clash with some added intrigue.
The floundering Chiefs made what was believed to be an inevitable move into a reality when the organization fired head coach Todd Haley on Tuesday, two days after the team was handed its fourth loss in a five-game span with a miserable 37-10 throttling by the New York Jets this past Sunday.
Though Kansas City surprised nearly every observer by winning 10 times and capturing an AFC West title in Haley's second season at the helm in 2010, the regression of an offense that's been one of the league's poorest this year coupled with the fiery Haley's reported frosty relationship with general manager Scott Pioli triggered the change in leadership.
In his place steps in Crennel, well-regarded as a defensive assistant but who went 24-40 during a failed four-year stint as the Cleveland Browns' sideline boss from 2005-08. The 64-year-old, who had served as the Chiefs' defensive coordinator the past two years, will guide the team on an interim basis for the final three games in what could be an audition for the permanent job.
Crennel's first decision in charge was to elevate Orton to the top of the depth chart at quarterback. The two-time 3,000-yard passer had been working in a backup capacity to Haley preference Tyler Palko after being claimed off waivers from Denver last month, and his progress had been stalled by a dislocated finger he suffered during a brief relief stint at Chicago two weeks ago.
Ironically, Orton's penultimate start as a Bronco before being supplanted by popular youngster Tim Tebow came against the Packers in Week 4. He threw for 273 yards and three touchdowns in Denver's 49-23 loss, but was also intercepted three times.
The Chiefs produced a 1-3 record and a meager 32 points in Palko's four starts in place of injured regular Matt Cassel, with the offense held under 255 total yards in the three most recent contests. In last week's setback, Kansas City mustered just four total yards and one first down in falling behind to the Jets by a 28-3 score.
Green Bay hasn't had such problems, nor has it lacked consistency. The reigning world champions are riding a 19-game winning streak dating back to last season into Sunday's bout -- the second-longest run in NFL history -- behind a dominating offense that leads the league in scoring (35.8 ppg) and has put up 42 points or more on five occasions thus far in 2011.
The Packers were in top form once more in a 46-16 shellacking of AFC West contender Oakland last Sunday, though the defense had a hand in the rout as well. Green Bay forced five turnovers against the Raiders, while scoring a defensive touchdown as well as a safety.
Green Bay secured a first-round bye in the upcoming NFC Playoffs with the victory and can wrap up the conference's No. 1 overall seed by topping the Chiefs.
The Packers will have to do so without their leading receiver and perhaps their top rusher, however. Pro Bowl wideout Greg Jennings will miss a minimum of two weeks after spraining his left knee in the Oakland game, while running back James Starks is likely to sit out a second straight test due to an ankle injury.
The Packers and Chiefs have met nine times previously in regular-season play, with Kansas City winning six of those matchups and the teams also battling to one tie. The Chiefs had bested Green Bay five consecutive times prior to a 33-22 Packers' triumph at Arrowhead Stadium in 2007, and the Green and Gold's only other positive result in the series was a 23-3 road decision in 1987. Kansas City last topped the Packers via a 40-34 overtime shootout at Lambeau Field in 2003.
These two franchises also squared off in the first-ever Super Bowl, held at the Los Angeles Coliseum in January of 1967, with Green Bay coming out on top by a 35-10 count.
Crennel is 1-0 against the Packers as a head coach, having led the Browns to a 26-24 win at Lambeau Field in 2005. Green Bay's Mike McCarthy, who spent six seasons as a Chiefs assistant from 1993-98, is also 1-0 lifetime against his former employer and will going head-to-head with Crennel for the first time.
Time & Venue:
- 1:00 PM ET, Sunday, December 18, 2011. Arrowhead Stadium, Kansas City, Missouri
NFL Football Odds: Packers -14.5, O/U 46
The Packers are seeking to become the first defending Super Bowl champion to start 14-0 and just the fourth team in NFL history to accomplish the feat. Their 19th straight win moved them into sole possession of the second-longest winning streak in NFL history. Only the New England Patriots' run of 21 straight wins from 2003-04 is longer.
Aaron Rodgers passed for 281 yards and two touchdowns against Oakland before sitting out the fourth quarter, while Ryan Grant ran for two scores and the defense recorded four interceptions. The mood was dampened by the loss of Jennings (knee), who suffered a sprained MCL in the third quarter and is out two to three weeks. Still, it’s a loss that the Packers can absorb thanks to arguably the deepest receiving corps in the league. The Packers' defense has been under siege all season, but it leads the NFL with 27 interceptions, which helps make up for the chunks of yards it allows (394.7, 31st).
Haley led the Chiefs to an AFC West title last season, but injuries and a general lack of competitiveness marred the end of his tenure. The final straw was Sunday’s 37-10 blowout loss to the New York Jets. Kansas City managed a staggering four yards in the first half. It also committed 11 penalties for 128 yards – including an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on Haley. Crennel’s first move as interim coach will be to bench Tyler Palko, who has been extremely ineffective in four starts (749 yards, 2 TDs, 7 INTs) in place of the injured Matt Cassel. He was 3 of 8 for 11 yards in the first half last week. Crennel said Kyle Orton (dislocated index finger) will make his first start with the Chiefs, assuming he is healthy enough. If Orton can’t go, fifth-round pick Ricky Stanzi would make his first career start.
How Orton fares in his return to the field will go a long way towards determining whether the Chiefs can conjure up enough offense to hang with the NFL's most prolific scoring team. The battle-tested quarterback certainly provides his new team with more of a vertical presence than Palko, but he'll need to shake off some serious rust and show he's got a grasp of the system. And a three-interception effort like he had in his last appearance against the Packers would be an absolute crippler.
Realistically, Green Bay shouldn't be seriously tested by a Kansas City squad that's scored only 15 offensive touchdowns all season and is in the midst of a coaching shakeup if it's focused and business-like in its approach. But with the Packers all but assured of having home-field advantage in the playoffs and getting an injury scare in the form of Jennings last week, it's not out of the question that McCarthy rests a few nicked-up regulars and treats this game like a tune-up for the bigger prizes that lie ahead.
Kansas City's only hope of preventing Rodgers and his cast of playmakers from lighting up the scoreboard at will is if a pass rush that's turned it up a notch as of late can be a factor. The Raiders were able to cause a few problems for the razor-sharp signal-caller with their pressure packages last Sunday, with Rodgers sacked four times and completing just 17-of-30 pass attempts, well below his usual standards
Rodgers' next touchdown pass will break the franchise record of 39 set by Brett Favre in 1996. He will also try to top the NFL record of 13 straight games with at least two touchdown passes.
Haley was 19-27 in two-plus seasons with Kansas City, which was his first head coaching job.
The total has gone OVER in 4 of Kansas City's last 5 games when playing Green Bay
The total has gone UNDER in 5 of Kansas City's last 5 games at home
Kansas City is 2-6 SU in its last 8 games at home
Green Bay is 1-5 SU in its last 6 games when playing Kansas City
Green Bay is 1-5 ATS in its last 6 games when playing Kansas City
The total has gone UNDER in 12 of Green Bay's last 18 games on the road
The Chiefs will have a different look than what they've shown over the course of the season, and it's reasonable to believe both the insertion of Orton and the more-relaxed atmosphere that Crennel will bring as opposed to the stern and demanding Haley can pay some immediate benefits. It's not going to change the Packers' customary results, however.Kansas City will still be hard-pressed to keep the defending world champions from nearing their normal offensive output, and there's little debate that the Chiefs don't have anywhere near the firepower to keep up in a high-scoring affair. The final two games will offer a better indicator of whether Kansas City's modifications will lead to an overall improvement, as the Packers are simply in another class.
NFL Football Pick: Take Packers.
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