The Green Bay Packers and San Francisco 49ers will get together for the second time this season when Saturday’s NFC Divisional playoff game kicks off at 8 p.m. ET on FOX. The champions of the NFC North and West divisions opened the season against each other, but the stakes aren’t the only things that have changed for this matchup.
Longtime divisional rivals set to face each other in playoffs for only the second time
The Minnesota Vikings and Green Bay Packers will face off for the second time in less than a week when their NFC Wild Card showdown kicks off on Saturday at 8 p.m. ET on NBC. The Vikings (10-6) beat the Packers (11-5) last Sunday 37-34 in Minneapolis to secure their playoff berth, while costing the NFC North champions a first-round bye in the process. Even though these teams have played each other 104 times, this marks just the second postseason matchup. Minnesota beat Green Bay 31-17 in an NFC Wild Card game at Lambeau Field on Jan. 9, 2005.
Who should you sit in Week 7? Well, with six teams on bye this week, every fantasy owner’s roster depth is sure to be tested. With players like Matt Ryan, Peyton Manning, Jamaal Charles, LeSean McCoy, Roddy White, Tony Gonzalez and many others not available, chances are you might be starting some unfamiliar faces. That said, here are a few names we would advise you to sit in Week 7, if at all possible.
The NFC North rivals will battle tonight at Lambeau Field.
The Thursday night game will feature the NFL’s oldest rivalry, with the Green Bay Packers hosting the Chicago Bears at 8:20 p.m. EST on the NFL Network. These two NFC North foes had very different experiences in their openers, as the Bears easily handled the Colts while the Packers ran into the juggernaut defense of the 49ers — losing 30-22 at home.
The NFC favorites highlight the opening Sunday around the league.
The marquee matchup of the NFL’s opening weekend will take place at historic Lambeau Field, with the Green Bay Packers hosting the San Francisco 49ers at 4:25pm EST on Fox. These two NFC stalwarts combined for 28 regular-season wins in 2011, and both clubs have Super Bowl expectations in 2012.
What can the Green Bay Packers do for you this fantasy season? Check out Athlon Sports' team report as we break down the rookies, veteran players to watch and avoid, fantasy playoff schedule and more to help you get ready for the 2012 season.
Inside the Locker Room
with Jason Wilde, ESPNMilwaukee.com
This year’s crop of tight ends is, without a doubt, the deepest in fantasy football history.
The undisputed heavyweight champion continues to be Antonio Gates, who has scored eight or more TDs in each of the last seven seasons and topped 900 yards five times — which doesn’t include the 782 yards he amassed in 10 games last season (his first year with fewer than 15 games played). On draft day, value Gates as a top-10 WR option who happens to qualify at TE.
Physical freaks such as Vernon Davis, Brandon Pettigrew and Jermichael Finley have shown signs of Gates-like (or Gates Lite) potential. Over the past two seasons, Davis has been Gates’ equal statistically — with 1,879 yards and 20 TDs to Gates’ 1,939 yards and 18 TDs — despite being drafted several rounds lower on average. But the workout warrior’s first three seasons combined (1,132 yards and nine TDs from 2006-08) produced numbers Gates can match in one All-Pro year.
On the surface, old reliables like Dallas Clark, Jason Witten and Tony Gonzalez seem safer than the young guns. But keep in mind that last year Clark played just six games (wrist), and Gonzo had his worst season since 1998. Witten, however, posted his fourth straight 950-plus-yard year with a career high nine TDs.
After those first seven are off the board, you can afford to wait a few rounds before debating on taking one-half of the Patriots’ second-year two-headed monster — Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski (a.k.a. Aarob Hernankowski) — or one of the power forward-framed upsiders — 6'6", 260-pounder Jimmy Graham (a Drew Brees favorite) and 6'6", 275-pounder Marcedes Lewis (10 TDs in ’10, 7 combined from ’06-09).
If a proven track record is more your style, keep waiting. There’s always Zach Miller and Chris Cooley, who both have quarterback concerns; or Owen Daniels and Kellen Winslow, who each have had injury issues. Further emphasizing the seemingly bottomless pool of this year’s tight end talent, there is a mix of breakout candidates — Dustin Keller, Jermaine Gresham, Tony Moeaki, Jared Cook and Kyle Rudolph — and familiar faces — Heath Miller, Benjamin Watson, Kevin Boss, Greg Olsen and Visanthe Shiancoe.
The tight end class is loaded. Pick a few options from each tier and then see how the draft plays out. Savvy drafters should get excellent value on a tight end with Pro Bowl (and fantasy stud) potential this year. Or, you can always just play it safe, take Antonio Gates in the third round and let everyone else in the room sweat it out.
What to do with Gronkowski and Hernandez
There is no reason both Patriots tight ends can’t be fantasy starters. They are different players. Hernandez is a better athlete with more ability in the open field, while “The Gronk” is a better blocker and plays a more traditional tight end role. So who should you draft first? It probably depends on your scoring system. They will be on the field together much of the year, with Hernandez lined up in the slot more on passing downs. He’s the better space player, so look for him to get more targets and therefore receptions and yards.
But look for Gronkowski to get the red zone and play-action targets, as the more physical player should be on the field more on running downs. Adjust your rankings to your scoring system accordingly.
An in-depth look at the Packers offense, defense and special team this year.
Aaron Rodgers fancies himself as something of an amateur NFL historian, so it hardly came as a surprise when the Green Bay Packers quarterback had his answer at the ready when asked during the offseason what he and the Super Bowl XLV champions must do for an encore.
GREEN BAY • Inside the Locker Room
With Jason Wilde of ESPNMilwaukee.com
Who is deserving of a higher draft pick: James Starks or Ryan Grant?
Grant. While Starks was a pleasant late-season surprise and showed flashes down the stretch, Grant had back-to-back 1,200-yard seasons before his 2010 campaign ended with a broken ankle at the end of an 18-yard run in the season-opener at Philadelphia. While Starks does figure to take some carries away from Grant in the Packers' pass-oriented offense, rumors of Grant's demise are greatly exaggerated.
Whose value is hurt the most by the return of tight end Jermichael Finley?
Entering the season, the Packers’ offense was designed to flow through Finley, whose size-speed combination created matchup migraines for opposing defensive coordinators. After Finley’s injury, Jennings became the focal point. With Finley healthy again, it stands to reason that Jennings' numbers could drop slightly.
How can fantasy owners expect to see rookie Randall Cobb used in the offense?
With the (expected) free-agent departure of James Jones, who had 50 catches for 679 yards and five touchdowns in 16 regular-season games, Cobb will have a chance to contribute. Still, he's likely to be, at best, the team's No. 4 receiver, and with a healthy Jermichael Finley back in the mix at tight end, his opportunities figure to be few and far between — especially after all the rookie draft picks missed out on the chance to learn the offense in the offseason, thanks to the lockout.
• Fantasy Playoff Run — Weeks 14-16: OAK, @KC, CHI
Does it really matter what the Packers’ playoff schedule is? The Packers are so potent and their weapons are so consistent, that you are advised to take whatever matchup may come their way. Just for the record: Once the Pack gets past the No. 2 pass D that is Oakland, they will face last year’s Nos. 17 and 20 pass defenses, Kansas City and Chicago.
• Athlon Best Bets
Sleeper: James Jones, WR Deep-Sleeper: Randall Cobb, WR Overvalued: James Starks, RB Top Rookie: Randall Cobb, WR Bounce-Back: Jermichael Finley, TE Top IDP: Clay Matthews, LB
• Try to Avoid
Donald Driver, WR
With Jordy Nelson and James Jones stepping up, Jermichael Finley returning and Randall Cobb joining the offense, the 36-year-old Driver’s value is greatly diminished after his worst season in Green Bay since 2001. WAIT UNTIL: 17th RD
• Draft Class Fantasy Impact
The rich simply got richer in the 2011 draft. The Packers gave Aaron Rodgers more weapons with the selections of Cobb, Green and Williams — all intriguing keeper options. Cobb will make his biggest impact right away on special teams. Green will serve as the No. 3 back this season.