Watch Your Kneecaps: Packers Show New-Found Toughness During Playoff Push

The 2022 Packers may be less talented than in previous seasons, but they're Matt LaFleur's toughest group yet.

The 2022 Green Bay Packers are the worst team in the Matt LaFleur era, at least if you look at their record.

After three straight years of 13-win regular seasons, the Packers sit at an underwhelming 8-8.

But while on the face of it this group is a disappointment compared to seasons of old, the reality is that this team may be the toughest one that Packers fans have seen under LaFleur.

Green Bay has taken the hard, improbable road to the doorstep of the playoffs, now just needing a home victory over the Detroit Lions to punch their ticket to the postseason after winning four consecutive games and receiving a boatload of help from the rest of the league.

In hoisting themselves back from the brink, the Packers have shown a resilience that was never required (at least in the regular season) by the 2019, 2020 or 2021 groups.

The 2019 Packers somewhat resembled this year’s Vikings team.

In LaFleur’s first year, Green Bay won a lot of close games on the path to an NFC North title, but their weaknesses were often exposed by stronger opponents, and this ultimately led to a blowout loss to the San Francisco 49ers in the playoffs.

In 2020 and 2021, the Packers were front runners. They looked dominant against inferior teams, and rarely ran into much trouble after building a lead. But they wilted when adversity struck, and unfortunately for them, their first true experiences of adversity struck in the postseason.

Losing David Bakhtiari was the hurdle Green Bay couldn’t overcome in 2020 as they lost a second consecutive NFC Championship game, this time to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Bakhtiari’s absence was felt once again in 2021 as the Packers offense found itself stuck in the mud during a divisional round loss to the 49ers, but an historically bad special teams unit was what doomed the Packers to another crushing playoff exit.

But the 2022 Packers? They’re different. This team has been forged by the fire of a tumultuous season and has now risen from the ashes.

A five-game losing streak. Rookie receivers driving Aaron Rodgers crazy. Rashan Gary lost for the year. Green Bay has been through it all this year and has become stronger for it.

This team is rugged and at times unrefined, but they fight like hell, and that’s the identity they seem to have found just in time.

The Packers have shown growth in all three phases of the game in recent weeks, culminating in an emphatic win over the Vikings on New Year's Day.

On offense, the combination of an efficient and dynamic running game along with Christian Watson’s big-play ability has made opponents fearful again. Bakhtiari’s return to health and All-Pro form has also made an enormous difference.

Almost impossibly, the defense has turned around its underwhelming season in the last few games. Joe Barry’s unit is now flying around with confidence and aggression, forcing turnovers left and right.

With the talent at his disposal, Barry’s defense never needed to be complicated, it just needed to put Green Bay’s star players in a position to succeed. That mission seems to have finally been accomplished.

‘Special teams’ used to be the two words which could strike fear into any Packers fan’s heart, and while it’s still not perfect, Rich Bisaccia’s group has become an asset, not a liability.

That’s mainly thanks to Keisean Nixon. His sudden ascension to the best kick returner in the NFL is emblematic of Green Bay’s late season win-streak. No-one expected it, or knows quite how it’s happening, but it’s exciting, nonetheless.

Of course, the job isn’t done yet. The Packers will need all the grit they’ve shown over the last four games to fend off Dan Campbell’s knee-biting Lions team, but everything they’ve shown in recent weeks indicates they’re up to the task.

 

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Mark Oldacres is a sports writer from Birmingham, England and a Green Bay Packers fan. You can follow him on twitter at @MarkOldacres

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7 points
 

Comments (45)

Fan-Friendly This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.
PackyCheese500's picture

January 02, 2023 at 06:35 pm

Everything except the punt protection unit was great. All we have to do is beat the Lions and we’re in! Go Pack Go!

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Guam's picture

January 03, 2023 at 08:41 am

The League didn't do Detroit any favors with the scheduling. If the Seahawks beat the Rams on Sunday afternoon (which is likely), Detroit will lose any playoff motivation since they will be out even if they beat the Packers. It will still be a divisional rivalry game for Detroit, but only the Packers will be playing for a playoff spot on Sunday night. Really odd scheduling.........but thank you NFL.

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T7Steve's picture

January 03, 2023 at 09:16 am

Guam, the Lions won't quit if they're eliminated. They're playing the Packers. They were written off early in the season and kept fighting. For years an NFC North (and others) HC kept or lost his job based on the result of a Packer game. This will be a real game that will be hard fought.

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Guam's picture

January 03, 2023 at 10:59 am

I don't expect the Lions to roll over and play dead, but it has to hurt that your playoff chances died before you could even play. It may not help the Packers, but it certainly can't hurt them. My point was not so much that I expect the Lions to quit as this was really odd scheduling. Usually the NFL goes out of its way to make sure this kind of thing doesn't happen.

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T7Steve's picture

January 03, 2023 at 11:30 am

Agree with you. The NFL wants Rodgers and the Packers in the playoffs. The Lions themselves will be disappointed but have to be excited that they even have a chance and have come so far in a build year with their 2nd year coach. Rams-Seahawks is a division game too. The Rams still might be giving more to help the Lions. How weird is that?

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jannes bjornson's picture

January 03, 2023 at 12:06 pm

Dan Campbell has made clear, his squad aims to be spoilers, one way, or another. The Pack has to play better than they did vs the Purple.

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Guam's picture

January 03, 2023 at 03:16 pm

It would certainly seem the NFL and the Networks are rooting for the Packers.

The Rams help Detroit either way - they win and give the Lions playoff life: they lose and Detroit gets a better draft choice since they have the Rams #1 from the Stafford trade. Wow!

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Coldworld's picture

January 03, 2023 at 10:21 am

The passing game was not great by any objective measure.

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wildbill's picture

January 03, 2023 at 11:43 am

A couple non called Pi would have helped a lot , but it seems like we don’t get a lot of those calls

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Coldworld's picture

January 03, 2023 at 01:56 pm

Not many do. It’s not necessarily a bad thing that defenders are allowed to play a bit, and we have had the same. If it’s the same for all it’s not a justification, and I think it mostly has been.

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MainePackFan's picture

January 02, 2023 at 06:55 pm

Good article Mark. Turn the dogs loose. Until yesterday, we hadn't seen multiple helmets flying to the ball on defense since the SF playoff game last year. Will they win, I have no idea, but I can tell you that I am enjoying this damn the torpedoes approach.

We were left for dead. As far as I am concerned we are playing with house money. Joe Barry is playing with house money. He has nothing to lose by letting his best players play aggressive football. Could they get burnt, hell yes. I don't care, I would rather go down fighting than showing no fight at all.

At some point in this run, I believe Aaron Rodgers is going to put this team on his back. I realize that statement may cause angst from some of the CHTV crowd who see AR as the son of Satan, but I truly believe if the Packers take care of business against the Lions, they are as capable as any team in the NFC of going to the Super Bowl.

Or they could lose on Sunday night : )

Whatever happens, Go Pack Go!!!!

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BirdDogUni's picture

January 02, 2023 at 09:16 pm

LMAO... (Son of Satan) That was funny.

I love AR12. Especially how much angst it causes in the Anthony Fauci Cult Followers. (That's hilarious.)

I do agree we have to take care of business against the Lions. I suppose we could blow them out or have one of those everything that could go wrong goes wrong games, but I'm feeling pretty good about playing at home in Prime Time on Sunday night right now!

Win and we're in, so

(This as far as I got in my comment before Damar Hamlin went down on MNF.) Doesn't seem important now...

May God pull this young man through.

9 points
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Oppy's picture

January 02, 2023 at 10:40 pm

Hi, 'Son of Satan' president over here.

You know what gets the Packers bounced from the playoffs? When Aaron Rodgers thinks he has to put the team on his back.

Run the offense, trust your team mates- all of them- to be play makers, and facilitate a team win. That's what the Packers need to do to have a strong playoff push.

When Rodgers 'puts the team on his back', he does stupid shit like hurling up a bomb to a triple-covered Davante Adams on a must-have 3rd down when there's two other WRs running free underneath the defense but ahead of the sticks.

No more 'putting the team on his back', it's what has led to offensive stalls all year. Just run the offense. Hand the ball off. Hit the open WR in progression. Move the chains. Stop with all the fiddling at the LOS. Don't try to do too much.

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croatpackfan's picture

January 03, 2023 at 12:44 am

Mr. President excellent diagnosis.

I'm with you. ACR needs to be self accountable for his performance and to adapt his performance to the team. He posses that talent, just very often he put that away. And I believe he has hard time to accept that his physical traits start to diminish. He is not ready to adapt himself to that fact, as well.

Stiill, he can help his team to play better with his football knowledge and experience, taking in consideration his age and physical traits.

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Coldworld's picture

January 03, 2023 at 10:22 am

Well, for that to happen LaFleur is going to give him dramatically more options. Rodgers would have to use them of course. Cobb/Lazard/Watson is almost inevitably going to lead to long balls to Watson.

It’s interesting that the two most effective receivers per snap by Miles were Doubs and Tonyan last week. Tonyon looked better but also was a beneficiary of a totally blown coverage. Both had very limited snaps and targets. Both seemed to coincided with some semblance of rhythm from Rodgers. The passing O is being deprived of a very necessary dimension by LaFleur. Without it, Rodgers is actually driven to hero ball.

5 points
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MainePackFan's picture

January 03, 2023 at 06:19 am

Oppy....sorry, Mr. President ; ). I am not talking about ARod throwing willy nilly (Hero Ball) all over the field. Nobody wants to see that. I'm talking about making plays within the context of the offense.

It's fair to say that AR has been off in terms of his accuracy and vision this year. I am talking about him making those MVP level throws that he has been missing.

For example: The overthrow to Watson on 4 and 1 in Miami. Rodgers makes that throw in his sleep, that's why he was so pissed at himself.

One could argue that the play shouldn't have been called considering that AR has been off this year and that would be reasonable. However, if he makes that throw for a TD like he has for years, I assure you that no one would have complained.

My point is that I believe he starts consistently making those throws when those throws are needed. Think the throw to Jared Cook on the sideline against Dallas in the playoffs (2016 I believe).

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Guam's picture

January 03, 2023 at 08:52 am

I think you and Oppy are saying much the same thing MPF, but I lean toward Oppy's version simply because Rodgers may try to do too much (Hero Ball) and screw up the offense. I think in his mind Rodgers believes is still an MVP level player who can carry a team while many of us fans see the decreased accuracy and decreased mobility that have come with advancing age.

I would love to see Rodgers regain his MVP form, but I think Father Time has spoken and those days are gone. Rodgers may flash his former greatness at times, but he needs to play within the offense, not be the offense, for this team to succeed.

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MainePackFan's picture

January 03, 2023 at 10:50 am

"Rodgers may flash his former greatness at times, but he needs to play within the offense"

Guam, this is what I was saying in the first line of my response to Oppy, and one of the points of my post. I do not want hero ball any more than Oppy. However, where we differ is that I don't believe the vast majority of throws that Rodgers has missed are father time related.

Could he still make that same throw to Cook which I referred to in my response to Oppy? Probably not. But I have no doubt in my mind he is fully capable of making the one to Watson.

My main point is, if the Packers are to continue on, they will need Rodgers to play closer to his MVP ability "within" the context of the offense. The throw to Watson I mentioned is a perfect example of a play within the offense that should have and would have worked had AR made an accurate throw.

That's what I a meant in my original "put this team on his back" post that Oppy responded to.

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Ritzy's picture

January 02, 2023 at 07:01 pm

strange as it may seem, the Packers have a much worse record than the previous 3 years, but they may be better positioned to make a serious postseason run with Bak and Jaire healthy and playing well. In the playoffs who knows what can happen. This could be 2010 all over again if Rodgers starts clicking again

6 points
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BirdDogUni's picture

January 03, 2023 at 08:09 am

Totally agree! Thinking back to 2010, we were all talking about the draft a month before the playoffs started, because we were playing like trash. We had 16 or 17 guys on IR. It looked like it was going to be a lost season before we turned it around, got hot, went on a run, and went to the Super Bowl, and beat the Steelers.

1st we have to show up on Sunday Night and beat the Lions. Once our ticket is punched to the playoffs anything can happen. Nobody considered us a threat in 2010. Nobody is currently thinking we're a threat this year...

Right now, we're not the best team in the NFC. That doesn't mean we can't fight, show up, and determine our own fate the rest of the way.

Go Pack Go!

4 points
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bjkdad44's picture

January 03, 2023 at 04:28 pm

🙏🏻🤞🏻🙏🏻

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Jgilmor08's picture

January 04, 2023 at 07:56 am

This may be the biggest ‘hmmm’ comment that made me stop and ponder. You are absolutely correct on this. This might be the healthiest the packers have gone into a post season (if they were to make it) they’ve been the past three post seasons.

What were the downfalls of those teams? San Fran has 5 sacks plus a massive blocked punt to score their only touchdown. Year before was Tampa throwing the ball wherever they wanted and sacking Rodgers I think again 5 times. Both times without Bahk. The NFL has always been which teams get hot at the right time not who is the best wire to wire. The giants had no business the last year they won it going to the Super Bowl but they sure as hell beat GB. They were 9-7 and defensively ranked in the high teens and offensively mid teens. They beat an undefeated patriots team in the Super Bowl. I’ll take the hot team at the right time. This team is also fresh having had their bye week only a few weeks ago.

0 points
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ricky's picture

January 02, 2023 at 07:49 pm

Barry knows he is on the hottest of hot seats. So, he is finally designing defenses that can be effective? It's about time! But let's face it, when the Vikings lost two OL starters in the first quarter, they were weakened in an area that wasn't all that strong. But finally letting the defensive backs to actually challenge the WR's, rather than having them give ten and twelve yard cushions, also helped. Of course, once the Packers took a big lead into halftime, Barry had to resort to his patented "soft coverage". Did it work? This time, yes. Would it work against a tougher opponent? We'll see, if the Packers make it past the Lions Sunday night. But, honestly, it's much better to be even more hopeful, than hoping the team won't blow its chances of getting a higher draft pick next year.

2 points
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Minniman's picture

January 02, 2023 at 08:50 pm

To the point circulating that the loss of 2 offensive linemen was the critical straw that broke Minni:

It’s something that we somewhat take for granted as Green Bay fans that we have so many versatile players that can at least cover a position.

Kudos to the Lambeau field crowd for making the replacement C’s life hell - that too is often under appreciated….. be in full voice next week brothers and sisters!

6 points
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croatpackfan's picture

January 03, 2023 at 12:47 am

"Barry knows he is on the hottest of hot seats. So, he is finally designing defenses that can be effective?"

This sounds that he has knowledge to do it, just on perpose he did not want to use that knowledge. I'm not sure that is the truth!

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LambeauPlain's picture

January 03, 2023 at 09:47 am

My view is Barry insists the talent on the D plays to his script...keep the game in front of you with lots of zone, limit chunk plays, blitz infrequently. He has been very stubborn about this.

Rather than taking inventory of player talents...and on this D there is a lot of it...and adjusting his scheme to maximize his guys strengths to opponent weaknesses, his blinders stay on.

Shoot, even against Miami the D gave up 9 chunk plays of 15 yards or more.

Imagine what this D could be with successful DC...something Barry has not been in 3 tries. And this D roster is the most talented he has ever been given.

Maybe MLF is bending Barry's ear now. IDK. But he is finally sending a bit more pressure and man coverage.

Regardless of what happens next, the DC position needs a huge upgrade similar to the STs last year. MLF is really slow to hold his coaches accountable.

3 points
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jannes bjornson's picture

January 03, 2023 at 05:21 pm

On condition he has two shutdown corners and three Aaron Donalds.

1 points
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Leatherhead's picture

January 02, 2023 at 08:25 pm

I know that it was just a couple of weeks ago that I was reading about how soft we are.

I think that if you tried to play 17 games with the intensity we showed last night, we'd have about 8 guys finished with injuries by now. This is when it counts.

I expect more of the same next week, and I don't think the Lions will be any more successful. The playoffs have already started for us, we're in playoff form, and we've played 6 really good quarters of football in a row , and I think we'll keep doing it at home in the season finale. Some guys will be playing their final home game with the Packers. There's going to be a boatload of energy and we're going to leave no doubt.

4 points
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Minniman's picture

January 02, 2023 at 09:04 pm

It was such a night and day moment watching Alexander play this week - I’ve been critical of his tackling prowess of late, but there was a critical element missing.

If you try and make him play like a strong safety, then that is the worst possible use of that mans talents.

If you allow him to play the serial pest role - like he’s part of his opponents uniform - then he’s in his all-pro best element.

He’s better at eliminating guys before they catch the ball, as opposed to cleaning up after they’ve caught it.

It has me thinking about Stokes and Savage - and Wyatt and Walker - how do the Packers unleash all of that 1st round talent so that they emulate Alexander’s ascension and play in the pros like the dominant players they were in college?

3 points
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jannes bjornson's picture

January 02, 2023 at 11:00 pm

He picked the wrong Bulldog corner. Stokes cannot breakdown. His running mate Tyson Campbell looks to be slotted as a 2nd team ALL PRO. Picked in the second round.

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Minniman's picture

January 03, 2023 at 12:48 pm

Possibly.

Gute seems to have this notion that corners need to be as tall as the receivers that they cover - to me King and Stokes have very similar playing styles. Stokes has more straight-line speed, but that's about it..... and compared to Alexander's intuition, it shows for both of them.

Hopefully the change to man coverage benefits Stokes too and he can demonstrate more of an intuitive playing style....... with 4.25 40 yard speed, no-one is going to burn him off once he's up to speed, so maybe playing him off and in zone is negating this advantage.

1 points
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SinceLombardi's picture

January 03, 2023 at 05:05 am

I don’t think they played six quarters of strong football. Miami had a QB that was obviously playing the 4th quarter with a concussion.. the 4th against the Vikings was all back ups ( and they didn’t play well)
I’d say it was three strong quarters, with a lot of help from a bad Vikings O- line.

0 points
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nygary's picture

January 02, 2023 at 09:32 pm

I would like to ask everyone to pray for Damar Hamlin of the bills tonight. He is in critical condition and has been intubated.

10 points
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LambeauPlain's picture

January 03, 2023 at 09:50 am

Indeed. Pray for him.

I just heard that thankfully his vitals are now looking good!

4 points
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Slim11's picture

January 03, 2023 at 07:01 pm

According to news reports here in SW Ohio, his vitals are stable and he’s on 50% oxygen now. It sounds hopeful.

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Starrbrite's picture

January 03, 2023 at 01:53 am

Unlike the Vikings, who for most of the season were a 2nd-half team, the Lions have been a 1st-half team.
If the Packers limit their scoring in the 1st-half, I see us winning by a touchdown—or more.
I hope Jaire is attached to the hip of St.Brown and we pressure a Goff into mistakes.
We should be able to score 27 on their defense.
Go Packers!!!

4 points
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jannes bjornson's picture

January 03, 2023 at 12:20 pm

Jameson Williams is back on the field. DJ Chark is a 4.3 guy. The safeties have to show up in a big way, as they did last game. Hutchinson succeeds JJ watt as the next dominant DE.

3 points
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Starrbrite's picture

January 03, 2023 at 02:06 pm

Good points—the lions are definitely trending up.

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SinceLombardi's picture

January 03, 2023 at 04:58 am

I really don’t agree. This team has shown little heart all year. The offense has been underwhelming most of the year. Even with Gary the defense was soft as hell. The Cowboys game was the hardest I’ve seen them play in 2022. The first half against Miami was more of the same. The Dolphins gift wrapped the second half.
The stop after the blocked punt against the Vikings was perhaps the best series for the defense all year. The Vikings collapsed in the same manner three other times this season.
Joe Barry still needs to go, and let’s not forget how MLF had no answers at 4-8. In fact they were lucky to not be 4-9.
It’s great that they came back to .500 , but after all this is one of the highest paid teams in the league. They were the #1 seed in back to back seasons.
Anything less than a deep playoff run should result in a house cleaning of the staff and front office ( and roster)
This team has repeatedly failed as the favorite in the post season. They were pushed around this year by the Jets, Lions, Eagles and several other teams. You can’t forget all that if they should beat the Jared Goff led Lions ( at home no less)and finish 9-8. Beat the Lions, go out to SF and knock them out and then I’d say they showed some grit…. not because they beat a Vikings team that had rolled over in a similar manner three other times and was damn lucky to come back from being down 33-0 vs a bad Indy team.

4 points
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Ferrari-Driver's picture

January 03, 2023 at 10:58 am

I think I overheard some say "Nixon" for President. I say he is more valuable as our kick returner.

2 points
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TXCHEESE's picture

January 03, 2023 at 02:15 pm

Those who think Green Bay has an advantage if Seattle wins and eliminates the Lions prior to the kickoff, need to realize that is a double edged sword. That takes all the pressure off the Lions players and coaches, who will then pull out every stop to win...why not, they then have nothing to lose. If the game is truly a win and in for both teams, strategy changes for the Lions, knowing they can't just throw caution to the wind with fake punts and flea flickers....see 2021 finale.

3 points
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T7Steve's picture

January 03, 2023 at 02:36 pm

It will be their Superbowl. All in.

1 points
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SinceLombardi's picture

January 03, 2023 at 06:25 pm

You make a very valid point. To me this is a game where the O line, 33 and 28 need to dominate and dictate the flow of the game.

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jlc1's picture

January 03, 2023 at 04:11 pm

A key moment for me in this season was the first time Nixon returned a kick. It was from several yards deep and I thought, touchback, that is as far as the ST can get the ball. But he ran it out with every purpose of going all the way. I said well at least one Packer came to play this year. It was a fire that seems to have spread.

4 points
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DeezNutz's picture

January 03, 2023 at 09:41 pm

Let’s also sign Jamal Agnew from the Jags as a return man in the off-season to join Kesian. Guaranteed to have two return men in the Pro Bowl next year. Vote Nixon-Agnew in ‘23!

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