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At the time of my re-watch, this game was only about a month+ old. In that short of time, I had already forgotten the playoff implications for this game – it was for the NFC North title. Both teams had already qualified for the playoffs going into the Sunday night game, but the winner would be crowned the division winner.
Just weeks prior to kickoff of this game the Lions were a media darling team ‘of the moment’ – running out to a two-game division lead and having pundits proclaiming Matt Stafford as a top MVP candidate. At the same time, the Green Bay Packers were in the early stages of their season-ending winning streak. Back then, the slow start to 2016 still had people skeptical about the Packers, but things were turning around quickly. Around Weeks 10–12 the Packers were starting to gear up, but it seemed like they had dug themselves too big a hole to get out of. Minnesota was still a threat and the Lions looked like they would capitalize on the opportunity.
Of course, it didn’t turn out that way.
The Lions started playing some of the hottest teams in the NFL down the stretch – and were losing. At the same time, the Packers continued destroying everything in their path. By the time they hit this Week 17 game the Packers had all the momentum. They were road favorites in a playoff-like game being held at Detroit.
My fuzzy memory of this game before I re-watched it was that the Packers were white hot and crushed the Lions to seize the NFC North the title…as many people believed would happen leading into this game. Re-watching it several weeks later – that’s not entirely what happened. The Lions led this game 14–10 at halftime. Zach Zenner had finally become a revelation. It looked like the Lions were going to give the Packers all they wanted. After three quarters, Green Bay pulled ahead 17–14. It was still very much a ball game to start the fourth quarter…the Packers were not spanking the Lions as most people thought they would.
Said spanking would occur in the fourth quarter as the Packers went on a tear and Matt Stafford completed 2-of-7 passes on his first couple drives of the fourth quarter, stalling out the offense as Green Bay started to roll. The final score was 31-24 Packers, but only that close as the Lions scored a garbage touchdown with 13 seconds left. Green Bay would win the division and go on to make a valiant Super Bowl run while the Lions would head to Seattle and get punted out of the playoffs quickly.
I had noted it in the preseason – that the Lions 2016 schedule looked very favorable for a potential wild-card playoff run. I never thought the Lions team was all that great as I watched them unfold. They were a decent team that caught some schedule breaks — and when the schedule turned on them later in the season they could not answer the bell. There’s no crime in that, and Lions fans should enjoy a successful season…it just played out in a strange way that left Lions fans flat at the end. The schedule giveth and then taketh away.
Player notes from this game…
— As I’m watching this game, several weeks later, I had to laugh at the Green Bay rushing attack. Aaron Ripkowski (9-61-0) led the team in rushing. Ty Montgomery (8-44-0, 3-17-0/6 targets) was still a non-factor…after hitting the scene with a bang as a WR-to-RB convert, Montgomery was used sparingly down the stretch. Christine Michael (3-6-0) even a couple of touches.
Watching all of this really reminded me of the surreal season Christine Michael had. One of my best scouting calls of 2016. Around Weeks 4-5, How many fantasy analysts went with the crowd and started discussing Michael has the Seahawks future at running back? The entire time I’m trying to tell everyone that this was just something for the moment. That Michael is not being considered as the future by Seattle nor was he talented enough to hold it even if he was. I seemed like a lunatic dog howling at the moon as Michael patched together a couple of solid fantasy performances while Thomas Rawls was sidelined. Almost per my predictions, Rawls got healthy and immediately jumped ahead of Michael…an then when saw Michael get released just a few weeks later. Christine Michael went from future of the Seattle backfield to released in the span of about five weeks. I smile with delight at how many of you heeded my advice and sold Christine Michael at the absolute peak of his valuation.
Michael wound up with Green Bay as they sought answers to their running back turmoil, but he was just a warm body ‘just in case’. He didn’t make much of an impression in Green Bay. Michael’s career is slowly coming to an end as he’ll just be and expensive, veteran hand in spots of emergency. Teams will pass him over because he’s too expensive for the nothing that he provides – they can get the same things out of undrafted free-agent rookies.
So what will Green Bay do for a running back in 2017? They’ll do what they’ve done in the past – they’ll draft a couple of running backs. They’ll target one guy as a physical back while adding a third down type change of pace guy. I really don’t think they’re going to seriously push Ty Montgomery as an answer in the backfield – just an option they can use as needed.
If I were the GM of the Green Bay Packers, I would monitor of the draft rumors to see where Leonard Fournette may end up. If he was going to go around and pick #10 overall, I would trade draft picks and trinkets to move up into the top ten to take Fournette. Can you imagine the Green Bay offense with Leonard Fournette at running back? You think they are Super Bowl favorites for next season now, just wait to see those odds if Fournette happens.
It would take some balls for such a trade, and I don’t think the Packers GM is really into that type of stuff. I think he prides himself on being stoic. It would be a mistake on his part. It’s not like Aaron Rodgers is going to play for forever – Green Bay is built to win now and they should be doing things to win now. Landing a franchise running back would give them another thing they’d have over Dallas – Dallas has a great young quarterback and a talented young running back as cornerstones…Aaron Rodgers andLeonard Fournette would be better than both of the two key Cowboys’ weapons. Leonard Fournette would make Green Bay the better version of the Dallas Cowboys from 2016. For that reason, I think Green Bay should shove all their chips in the middle and go for it. If I know the NFL…no such thing will occur.
— And then there’s the Lions backfield…
I can scream and piss and moan about Zach Zenner (20-69-1, 4-41-0/5 targets) and Dwayne Washington all I want. This coaching staff is absolutely committed to Ameer Abdullah and Theo Riddick. The Lions are two injuries away from being a phenomenal offense in 2017 – injuries to Abdullah and Riddick. Zenner and Washington make a perfect ‘thunder and lightning’ duo.
It probably wouldn’t matter if Abdullah/Riddick did go down because Detroit showed in 2016 they really don’t know how to use such weapons. Zenner’s been sitting in front of their face the whole time and they refused to push him. They did push Washington midseason, which was promising, but then they never got him out in space – they just ran him up the middle. FYI, Dwayne Washington was a wide receiver in college at first and then moved to running back. He has NFL wide receiver skills. Lions fans – did you ever remember seeing Washington used as an out of the backfield, downfield passing threat/surprise? You don’t – it never happened. Did you ever see Washington get purposeful screen passes? Theo Riddick is treated like Jerry Rice in this offense…and Riddick is smaller and slower than Washington. Riddick is capable, I don’t mean to denigrate him, but Washington is the type of talent that takes a simple screen pass and turns it into a 70-yard touchdown. He was doing that type of stuff in the preseason. Once the Lions were forced to use Washington in the regular season they treated him like he was John Kuhn.
I love Zenner and Washington as prospects…but I hate them on the Lions in 2017 until Abdullah comes down with his annual injury.
— I wonder what the Packers are going to do with free agent Jared Cook (4-56-0/8 targets). He started building chemistry with Aaron Rodgers late in 2016. He had that one incredible catch in the playoffs versus Dallas. All of that can gloss over the fact that Cook dropped passes a little too much throughout the season – and that has plagued him for his career. Cook is just not a fully reliable tight end. He has moments, but he also causes frustration.
The 2017 NFL Draft is loaded with more tight end prospects that in any year I can remember. The Packers need a tight end weapon to make that Super Bowl run. I wonder if they’ll try to draft one or just overpay Jared Cook to stay. I have a feeling that the way Aaron Rodgers talks about Cook, he ends up getting re-signed with the Pack.
— Remember when Marvin Jones (5-76-0/9 targets) was a WR1 the first few weeks of 2016? The guy’s fantasy value was white hot…and then he did the same exact thing as he used to do in Cincinnati – have great numbers for a game or two and then totally disappear for 1 to 3+ weeks. I thought it was a Cincinnati game plan situation, but it looks like this is who Jones is – a solid/average wide receiver talent who might be a backup elsewhere but is a starter for the Lions…an expensive starter for what he brings to the table.
Marvin Jones and Golden Tate might comprise the least excitement per dollar spent of any starting receiver duo in the NFL.
— I almost forgot…this was the Geronimo Allison (4-91-1/6 targets) ‘breakout‘ game. Allison got some fantasy people all excited because Aaron Rodgers said some nice things and Allison scored a touchdown.
I said it when I first saw him at the college All-Star games last January and right up into the mini excitement he created late in the 2016 season – Allison is not a breakout fantasy prospect WR for the future. He’s a very thin framed, questionable hands, hard-working #4/#5 type wide receiver for an NFL roster. Given he doesn’t offer much besides playing receiver, I imagine he’ll bounce around the league quietly for years before disappearing.
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— Packers rookie LB Blake Martinez (3 tackles, 1.0 sacks) caught my eye in this game because he had a sack. It made me think about his rookie campaign and look over his 2016 results. He really started out solidly – 6.1 tackles per game in this first 10 games. And then Jake Ryan got hurt and Green Bay was falling apart on pass defense so Martinez dropped in the coverage more and his tackle numbers eroded a bit.
Martinez was one of our top three linebacker prospects coming out of the 2016 NFL Draft. Arguably, the case could be made he was the best linebacker prospect if you were looking for a guy who could sit in the middle but also covers receivers out of the backfield like no other linebacker I’ve ever seen. And that’s exactly the way the Packers started using him.
I really like Martinez’s game, but I believe he’s a much better NFL player than he is a viable IDP upside option. He’s just not going to get the tackle counts because he is so good in coverage. At some point, the combination of Jake Ryan and Blake Martinez will be known as one of the best linebacking duos in the NFL. But Ryan is the one to have for IDP.
— Speaking of defenders, I also watched Ezekiel Ansah (3 tackles, 1 QB hit) in this game. Man, what happened to this guy? 2.0 sacks this season after 14.5 sacks last season.
I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt. Ansah hurt his foot early on, missed several games and probably came back too quickly. He obviously lost some of his burst. It’s the only explanation, outside of him just rolling over. He doesn’t seem like he’s that kind of guy.
The other thought I had about Ansah’s 2016 – remember when he was getting drafted and ‘age’ was a question? That his age may be understated because of birth certificate controversies from his homeland? If there’s any truth to that, then maybe his decline in performance is age degeneration related? Just to throw out a random thought I had…