Dear Packers fans, the next time quarterback Aaron Rodgers tells you to R-E-L-A-X or something similar, listen to the future Hall of Famer. Or simply calm down in the first place and trust in your guy.
In 2014, Packers Nation was panicking after three games and a 1-2 start. That's when Rodgers said that famous "relax" quote. Green Bay was just fine that season, winning the NFC North for a fourth straight season and going to the NFC title game, which the Packers should have won in Seattle. Rodgers calmed the nerves of Packers fans when his team lost four of five midseason in 2015 and dropped the final two games as well to cough up the division title to the Vikings. But the Packers went to Washington and smashed the Redskins in the wild-card game before losing in overtime in Arizona in the divisional round.
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Those annoying Packers fans were calling for Coach Mike McCarthy's head last year when the team lost a fourth straight game in Week 11 to fall to 4-6. The seven-year playoff streak looked in jeopardy, but then Rodgers went on perhaps the greatest run of his life as the Pack won their final six regular-season games and stole the NFC North title from Detroit.
Rodgers led a blowout of the Giants in the wild-card game and was spectacular in the 34-31 upset in Dallas in the divisional round. I hate the Packers, but Rodgers' late 36-yard completion to tight end Jared Cook (gone now) that set up the winning field goal was one of the five best throws I've ever seen. Mason Crosby kicked a 51-yard field goal on the next play as time expired to win. I wasn't about to bet against Rodgers in the NFC title game, but he couldn't play defense against Matt Ryan & Co. and the Falcons rolled 44-21.
At what point do you make big changes even if you are having success? Every franchise in the NFL other than New England would kill for Green Bay's streak of eight consecutive playoff appearances. Yet the Packers have reached just the one Super Bowl. It's easy to see Tom Brady continue to play at a high level and think Rodgers, 33, can do so for another 6-7 years, but those championship windows can close quickly. I do think McCarthy is a bit on the hot seat this year. You can't have a singular talent like Rodgers and make a lone Super Bowl (sorry Dan Marino fans).
Green Bay was 4-4 on the road in 2016, 4-4 against the spread and 6-2 "over/under." The Packers travel to four playoff teams this year: Atlanta, Dallas, Pittsburgh and Detroit. It's one of the tougher road schedules in the league, and I only see one sure win. I'll project another 4-4 record, though. Odds listed for the home team.
Sept. 17 at Falcons ( -2.5): Sunday night. Green Bay off what should be a physical home opener against the Seahawks. This opens Atlanta's spectacular new Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Green Bay was in this same position in Week 2 last year and lost in Minnesota. This will mark the third consecutive time Green Bay has faced the team it played in the NFC Championship the next regular season (Chicago and Seattle). Green Bay not only lost last year's NFC title game in the old Georgia Dome but also a 33-32 thriller in Week 8 to Atlanta. Nine of the last 10 regular-season matchups between the two have been decided by eight points or fewer, including six by three or fewer. Key trend: Pack are 0-4 SU & ATS in past four September road games as a dog.
Oct. 8 at Cowboys (-3): Green Bay will have extra time to prepare for the Cowboys after hosting Chicago on Thursday night in Week 4. Rodgers' heroics beat Dallas in the playoffs, but the Cowboys won at Lambeau in Week 6, 30-16, as Rodgers had two turnovers with an interception and then fumble on first-and-goal at the Cowboys 1 with 1:10 left in the third quarter. Key trend: Pack are 3-7 ATS in past 10 at Dallas including playoffs but have covered past two.
Oct. 15 at Vikings (+1.5): Green Bay has won five of the last seven at Minnesota but fell 17-14 in Week 2 last year to christen U.S. Bank Stadium - the host of this year's Super Bowl. Rodgers was under siege all night, sacked five times, throwing an interception and fumbling three times, losing one. Key trend: Pack 4-6 ATS in past 10 as road favorite in series.
Nov. 12 at Bears (+6.5): Short week for Green Bay off Monday night home game vs. Detroit. The Pack have won 20 of their past 24 at Soldier Field including playoffs. Green Bay has scored at least 30 points in the past four. It was 30-27 in Week 15 last year. Rodgers hit Jordy Nelson with a 60-yard pass to set up Crosby's 32-yard field goal as time expired on a bitterly cold day in Chicago. Key trend: Pack are 6-0 SU & 5-1 ATS in past six as road favorite in series.
Nov. 26 at Steelers (-3): A rematch of Super Bowl XLV, won by Green Bay 31-25 in Arlington, Texas. Barring another Super Bowl over the next few years between these two, it could be the last time Hall of Famers Rodgers and Ben Roethlisberger face off. Green Bay is 19-15 overall against the Steelers. McCarthy is a Pittsburgh native. Key trend: Pack 3-6-1 ATS in past 10 as road dog in November.
Dec. 10 at Browns (+9.5): Green Bay off a home game vs. Tampa in Week 13. It is Green Bay's first regular-season trip to Cleveland since 2009, a 31-3 Packers win. The Packers have won four of the past five in the series overall. Key trend: Pack 8-2 SU & 5-5 ATS in past 10 as road favorite of at least 7.5 points.
Dec. 17 at Panthers (+2): Either Green Bay or Carolina has played in the past three NFC title games. The Packers are 9-5 overall against Carolina, with wins in six of the last nine including playoffs. Key trend: Pack are 5-3 SU & ATS in Charlotte.
Dec. 31 at Lions (TBA): No Week 17 lines with too much potentially up in the air on the final day of the regular season. The Pack are off a Saturday home game vs. the Vikings. Green Bay closed last season at Ford Field for the NFC North title and won 31-24. Rodgers threw for 300 yards and four touchdowns. That improved the Pack to 8-3 at Detroit under McCarthy. Key trend: Pack are 7-3 ATS in past 10 at Detroit.
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Read more articles by Alan Matthews
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