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Divisional Playoffs: Who should stay and who should go in Green Bay?
January 9, 2014 - Matt Wellens
Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers was right. The Packers should have beat the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday at Lambeau Field.
Despite the 49ers being the better team — hands down — the Packers found themselves one play away from forcing overtime or even sealing a trip to Carolina.
Green Bay is short on veteran playmakers, however, and that’s why the team was tossing its locker room belongings into garbage bags Monday instead of preparing for the Panthers.
A dominant pass-catching tight end like Jermichael Finley was needed when the Packers were unable to score the go-ahead touchdown on first-and-goal from the 49ers 9 yard line with just over five minutes to play.
A sure-handed, fourth-year veteran cornerback like Sam Shields would have not only picked off the 49ers QB Colin Kaepernick’s pass on second and 10 from the San Fran 31-yard line, he would have returned the interception to the end zone to put the Packers up 27-20. Instead, rookie DB Micah Hyde was there with the ball in his hands, only to drop it.
With 1:13 to play and the Niners facing third and 8 from the Green Bay 38 — just outside of field goal range in sub-zero Lambeau — Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers blitzed seven against San Fran. It was a great call, but poorly executed, specifically by cornerback Jarrett Bush, who broke contain and instead of getting to Kaepernick, he was halted by running back Frank Gore. That was the ball game.
The Packers have 17 players up for free agency this offseason, and there are a number of proven playmakers in the bunch, like Shields and Finley. But who should general manager Ted Thompson keep, and who should he let walk?
If I’m Thompson, I do my best under the rules of the salary cap to re-sign defensive tackles Ryan Pickett and Johnny Jolly while letting defensive tackle B.J. Raji and end C.J. Wilson go. Despite being older, Pickett and Jolly are the better defensive linemen, and their veteran presence will be needed as Green Bay rebuilds at that position group.
Considering how thin the Packers are at linebacker, Thompson should bring back Mike Neal on the outside, as well as unrestricted free agent Jamari Lattimore. Robert Francois will be the odd-man out.
Shields is a must-sign considering he may be the best defensive back the Packers have. Letting him go means the Packers will continue to struggle with an even younger secondary that is never allowed to develop.
On offense, Evan Dietrich-Smith has proven to be the team’s franchise center, while John Kuhn may be the best fullback in the NFL. Keep both.
In addition to Raji and Wilson, the Packers can part ways with quarterback Seneca Wallace, running backs James Starks and Kahlil Bell, tight end Andrew Quarless, offensive tackle Marshall Newhouse and safety M.D. Jennings.
All are expendable, with Quarless not being the red-zone threat needed. Starks is likely to command too much money. With Eddie Lacy, DuJuan Harris and Jonathan Franklin all on the roster, that money can be spent elsewhere.
Three players the Packers needs to wait and see on are QB Matt Flynn, wide receiver James Jones and Finley.
Like former safety Nick Collins, Finley’s career is probably over even if he doesn’t want it to be. If by chance he does get cleared by doctors, the Packers should re-sign him.
With Rodgers at QB, the Packers need a solid career backup like Flynn. If his arm can return to 100 percent, he’s worth keeping.
As for Jones, he’s probably expendable with Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb and Jarrett Boykin all back. However, if Thompson can get Jones for cheap again like the last time the wide out unsuccessfully navigated free agency, then do it.
Now onto teams that are actually still playing football this weekend. Here are my picks.
New Orleans Saints at Seattle Seahawks
4:35 p.m., Saturday, FOX
I was a little nervous picking the Saints on the road last week considering how poor they play away from the Super Dome. Not this week. Seahawks 34, Saints 24
8:15 p.m., Saturday, CBS
My AFC Championship is now happening in the divisional round because the Chargers upset the Bengals. I still stand by the Colts. Colts 28, Patriots 27
1:05 p.m., Sunday, FOX
The conditions at Lambeau brought the 49ers down to the Packers level. Kaepernick should flourish in Carolina. 49ers 31, Panthers 21
4:40 p.m., Sunday, CBS
Lions fans should be rooting against San Diego so the Lions can interview and hire Chargers offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt as their next coach. Broncos 35, Chargers 17
Last week:3-1. Overall:159-100-1.
Matt Wellens is Sports Editor of the Mining Journal. Check out his Armchair QB column every Thursday at MiningJournal.net. Email him at email@example.com.
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San Francisco 49ers defensive back Perrish Cox (20) tackles Green Bay Packers running back James Starks (44) during the second half of an NFL wild-card playoff football game, Sunday, Jan. 5, 2014, in Green Bay, Wis. (AP Photo/Mike Roemer)