Packing for the Playoffs?

prediction puts Green Bay in post-season after two-year drought

Luc Anthony

One of the usual presumptions in the annual Athletic Aesthetic Chippewa Valley Sports Media Football Poll is a playoff appearance for the Green Bay Packers. Since I started asking local media types in 2012 to predict the coming pigskin campaigns, the Pack has been one of very few teams in the regularly-unpredictable NFL to be penciled in for a playoff spot; usually half of playoff teams in a given season miss the playoffs in the following year.

Aaron Rodgers’ mere presence on the team gives the impression that the Packers are sure to play January football. And yet, we embark on the 2019 season with the Packers having stayed home for two straight years, watching the playoffs on TV just like you and me. Rodgers is still their quarterback. What gives?

For one thing, Rodgers’ body gave out, with injuries the past two seasons weakening Green Bay’s offensive effectiveness. Mike McCarthy was ousted mid-season last December due to increasingly stale coaching, and plenty of new personnel – including new coach Matt LaFleur – have joined the organization. The Packers needed fresh approaches to optimize what talent they had; we will now see if the solutions by management were correct.

The general consensus in the local sports media is that the Packers will finish about 10-6 or 9-7, barely making the playoffs as a Wild Card, but not going much further. Get ready for a slow start to the season, especially as Rodgers and the rest of the offense get familiar with LaFleur’s new schemes while simultaneously confronting some of the league’s toughest defenses. Meanwhile, watch how the defense fares in their second season led by one of the best defensive minds in the game, defensive coordinator Mike Pettine. Also, punter JK Scott could be in for a good year – which, with the potential early struggles of the offense, could be sneakily key to the Packers winning some September and October games.

The Wisconsin Badgers tend to be on the kind of postseason roller coaster one expects from your average NFL team. Bucky has bounced from nearly qualifying for the College Football Playoff, to merely making one of those bowl games ESPN owns because they know folks will watch almost any bowl, mixed with Wisconsin’s semi-regular New Year’s Day visits to central Florida and a really-good-but-not-great bowl game. You know the Badgers won’t be bad, but that’s about all you can say for sure.

Our local sports press has the Badgers near the top of the Big Ten West Division, probably coming up just short of a title and its attendant berth in the conference championship game. One of those central Florida bowls – the Outback Bowl or perhaps Jacksonville’s Gator Bowl – will be their reward. You will hear plenty of Heisman Trophy talk about star running back Jonathan Taylor; he is likely to finish in the top five of the Heisman voting. Meanwhile, Jack Coan will hold off much-hyped freshman quarterback Graham Mertz for at least the early games.

The Wesley Beschorner Era begins at UW-Eau Claire, and the team he inherits from former coach Dan Larson is likely to finish around .500, placing fifth or sixth in the WIAC, but with some potential for surprises during the season. UW-Stout will reside in a similar region in the conference standings, with UW-Whitewater your likely champ (though keep an eye out for UW-La Crosse to perform quite well).

Menomonie will mark its 30th-straight playoff appearance with yet another Big Rivers Conference title, their closest competition coming from River Falls and Eau Claire Memorial; Eau Claire North will again be in last place. The Old Abes’ Badger-committed running back Loyal Crawford is the player to watch from the BRC; his quarterback – Bryson Johnson – and River Falls’ Seth Kohel and Joe Stoffel will create a good number of Friday night highlights. A variety of teams got mentions as likely champions in the other western Wisconsin conferences, though Eau Claire Regis – particularly thanks to their defense – may have the best chance of any school to get to Madison in November.

Who will join us in watching the title games this winter on a TV, and who will be playing on those TVs? Watch throughout the autumn to find out.