Aaron Rodgers

What’s next for Aaron Rodgers, Mike McCarthy, Matt LaFleur after explosive report

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I think my biggest takeaway from Tyler Dunne’s excellent unpacking of the Packers/Rodgers/McCarthy/Thompson story is this: Mike McCarthy is going to have work hard, and repair his tarnished image significantly in the next nine months, to have a real shot at a head-coaching job in 2020. With the broadsides he’s taken since getting fired by the Packers late last season, McCarthy has a chance to be Brian Billick—a Super Bowl-winning coach damaged so much late in his tenure that he never got a chance to coach another team.

I think there’s a journalism tale in Dunne’s story too. He got significant parties to the story—most notably Ryan Grant, Jermichael Finley and Greg Jennings—to go on the record about a very sensitive topic involving one of the great players in recent history on a storied franchise. A franchise, I should add, that has been excellent at keeping dirty laundry in-house. What Dunne did is penetrate the bubble, and in today’s NFL, with so many filters between the media and the players, that’s an incredibly hard thing to do.

In today’s media, what’s also hard, and what Bleacher Report deserves credit for, is giving a writer four months to work on a story. I talked to Dunne on Friday (he’ll join me on my podcast dropping Wednesday), and he started reporting this story in early December. He talked to more than 50 people for it. Kudos to Dunne, and to his bosses, for realizing what a gold mine the story was, and taking the needed time that so few media entities allow today.

I think Matt LaFleur had to be quaking reading that story. Here’s LaFleur, four years older than Rodgers, never been a head coach, never been in charge of a veteran, star quarterback, and now he’s got to run a team after reading a story that portrays Rodgers as a vindictive, you-better-do-it-my-way guy. LaFleur’s never had to walk in front of a room of 90 guys and command them, which is a daunting enough task. Reading Dunne, LaFleur has got to worry about what kind of partner he’ll have in Rodgers. I hope Packers president Mark Murphy, in the search process, saw enough signs in LaFleur that he’ll be able to handle a quarterback like Rodgers and be able to lead a team.

I think, come to think of it, that Dunne probably just helped Aaron Rodgers prepare to be great again in 2019. Rodgers will understand that many now will view him as a controlling home-wrecker, and he’ll be supremely motivated to show what a team guy, and a winning guy, he is. He’s not going to want to be known as the 800-pound gorilla. He’s going to want to be known as a great leader and winning player. That’s my guess anyway.

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No, Aaron Rodgers did not get Mike McCarthy fired

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Now that Mike McCarthy has been fricasseed from coast to coast, and gotten fired by the Packers with a quarter-season to go, I’d like to take a moment to praise McCarthy’s accomplishments in his 12.75 seasons as coach of one of America’s teams. Did he win enough? Probably not, particularly with Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers as his quarterbacks. But he won a lot, and he continued the Packer rebirth that Ron Wolf and Mike Holmgren (and Favre and Reggie White) began 27 years ago.

• McCarthy won 135 games, averaging 10.4 wins per season, and stands 25th on the all-time NFL wins list (playoffs included). He is nestled between Hall of Famers Hank Stram with 136 and Weeb Ewbank with 134—though admittedly they coached in mostly 12-game seasons, not the 16 of McCarthy’s era.

• No coach other than Bill Belichick has won more than McCarthy’s six division titles since 2006. (Mike Tomlin also has six, and could win a seventh this year.)

• McCarthy’s teams were 35-16-2 against the Packers’ two arch-rivals, Chicago and Minnesota.

• As a third-year, 44-year-old head coach in 2008, he navigated (along with GM Ted Thompson) the ugly and rocky transition from a legendary quarterback who wanted his job back, Brett Favre, to the unproven Aaron Rodgers. I remember his stolid voice over the phone on the crucial weekend when McCarthy and Thompson decided to move on to Rodgers: “This is the way it’s going to be.” Like, next question.

• Curly Lambeau, part of the founding of the Packers almost a century ago, coached the team for the first 29 years of the franchise. In the 69 seasons since 1950, Green Bay has had 15 coaches. McCarthy’s tenure, 12-and-three-quarters years, is the longest of any coach since Lambeau.

Last Wednesday, the Packers wisely let McCarthy return, three days after a firing he did not expect, to address the team. “We’ve got a guest coming in today,” interim coach Joe Philbin told the players at the morning meeting. In strode McCarthy, who got a standing ovation. “It was very emotional,” said left tackle David Bakhtiari. “He brought it all back to Green Bay—the community, the organization, what a privilege it was for us all to be here, and the great opportunity we had here. It was deep. Walking out of that meeting, I thought it was great closure for the team, and for him.”

Bakhtiari on McCarthy’s legacy: “Sustaining success in the NFL is very hard, month to month, season to season. His ability to coach, his ability to lead, his character, is what I’ll remember. I was fortunate to play for him for six seasons. He treated the players so well. Every year, either in training camp or minicamp, he’d break up the monotony and bring the whole team to his farm, his house. We’d have the McCarthy Olympics. That was a great day of team-building.”

I’ve been bothered by the rush to either discredit McCarthy for not winning enough with Rodgers, or by the tendency to jump on Rodgers for whatever part he played in McCarthy’s firing. I don’t like either (although I have said I think McCarthy could have and should have been more imaginative in his game plans and play-calling). The team had gotten stale. Was it McCarthy’s fault? Should Rodgers have been more aggressive, or could he have done more? You could see Rodgers wasn’t himself, for whatever reasons, this year; he’s good at keeping private things private, so I can’t answer the question. But the storyline of Rodgers got McCarthy whacked, I believe, is dangerous and unfounded.

“Things have been a little tainted in the media,” Bakhtiari said. “Through my experience with both of them, they’re both strong guys. You’re going to have differences of opinion. But I don’t see the things between them that people on the outside are focusing on. I guess it grabs headlines; so be it. I can just tell you how many times I’d see them with chuckles and grins, walking out after a private meeting.”

MORE: Read Peter King’s full Football Morning Morning in America column by clicking here

Sunday Night Football: Steelers favorites against Packers

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The Pittsburgh Steelers have been indomitable in prime time, while the Green Bay Packers were a shaky play in tough road games even when franchise quarterback Aaron Rodgers was healthy.

The Steelers and veteran quarterback Ben Roethlisberger are listed as 14-point favorites against the Packers with a 43-point total for the Week 12 Sunday Night Football matchup, according to sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark.com.

Pittsburgh is 6-0 against the spread in its last six games at night and is also 14-2 straight-up in its last 16 home games as the favorite, according to the OddsShark NFL Database. Green Bay is just 3-8 against the spread in its last 11 November road games.

The Packers are 5-5 SU and 4-6 ATS on the season, which of course includes being 1-4 SU and ATS since the game when Rodgers suffered a broken collarbone. Fill-in quarterback Brett Hundley offers mobility and a strong arm, but is still very raw in his mechanics and pocket awareness, which will likely limit the impact that WR Jordy Nelson, WR Davante Adams and WR Randall Cobb will be able to make against a Steelers pass defense that allows 6.7 yards per attempt, 12th in the NFL.

Pass protection could also be an issue, given that DE Cam Heyward and the Steelers are second in the NFL in sacks while the Packers have allowed the second-most.

Green Bay, which is 2-7 ATS in its last nine road games against teams with winning records, may be drawn down to rookie RB Jamaal Williams with starter Ty Montgomery hobbled.

The Steelers are 8-2 and 6-4 ATS, but the whole has been less than sum of its parts on offense, where they rank 27th in the NFL in yards per rush and have also tossed 10 interceptions. With the Packers having SS Morgan Burnett in the lineup to help with containment, there is a chance Green Bay can keep the scoreline tight, especially if the Steelers remain intent on feeding the ball to Le’Veon Bell instead of trying to force the issue downfield.

In the passing phase, it’s probably just a matter of when WR Antonio Brown will bust loose for some big plays, especially against an opponent that is allowing 7.7 yards per pass (27th in the league).

That said, the Pittsburgh passing game could be affected by the absence of rookie WR JuJu Smith-Schuster (hamstring). Either Eli Rogers or Martavis Bryant would draw in as the No. 2 wideout.

The total has gone over in 13 of Green Bay’s last 17 games, but much of that is attributable to the absent Rodgers. The total has gone under in eight of the Steelers’ last 10 games as a favorite, and given Green Bay’s offensive woes they would likely have to account for a lion’s share of the points for the over to hit on the 43 total.

For more info, picks and a breakdown of this week’s top sports betting news check out the new OddsShark podcast with Jon Campbell and Andrew Avery. Subscribe on iTunes, or check it out at OddsShark.libsyn.com.