Every year since 2011 before the season we keep hearing the favorites of the NFL to win it all. It changes most each year though the Patriots still rank up as the favorites. However, one team is constantly up there on a yearly basis aside from the Patriots and to a lesser extent, the Pittsburgh Steelers: the Green Bay Packers.
Now early on in that span, yes, they deserved the love and credit. They won the Super Bowl in 2010 and had the best record in 2011 and winning the NFC North in 2012 and getting to the divisional playoff. So, in that case, yes, they earned in that time period. After 2012, while the Packers have been atop or near the top of the NFC North, they go into playoff games really not having a better team. Some of the games they have won in the playoffs, they were the better team (Cowboys, Giants in 2016). But we’ve seen Green Bay lose playoff games in what can really only be considered “magnificently” since 2010, getting blown out at home by the Giants, blown out against the 49ers, losing to the Niners at home, blowing a big lead in Seattle, letting Larry Fitzgerald run amok in Arizona, getting walloped by Atlanta, etc.
But to me after the 2016 run Green Bay had when they got spanked by the Falcons, the team was left exposed, notably on defense. And no major upgrades were made on either side for the 2017 season. So when the 2017 season started, who was the projected favorites? The Packers. Not the Falcons, who had a more complete team that year. Not the Seahawks, who projected to still have a stout defense and Russell Wilson. Not the Vikings, who also had a pretty strong defense. Not the Cowboys. Not the Eagles. Nothing.
Of course, the Packers started out 4-1 and then Rodgers got hurt before the season crashed and burnt on Green Bay, ending 7-9 (as Rodgers made a last-ditch attempt to save the team). The defense was being shredded, the offense without Rodgers was woeful. Players got injured as well and the moves they did make, they did not pan out well.
So…….2018 begins and guess who is one of the favorites of the NFC? Yep, Green Bay. Of course there were three arguments: “We have Aaron Rodgers!” “We dumped our defensive philosophy and our coordinator Dom Capers!” and “We have Aaron Rodgers!”
Let’s move to the defense bit. The Packers defense, which has been without question a major weak link over the past 3-4 seasons, has gotten mixed results. The passing defense is actually pretty stout. They are second in yards allowed (though teams aren’t attempting to pass as much on the Packers). They’ve had 16 sacks as well so that part of the defense has been fine. The defense against the run has been a problem as it has struggled (4.2 yards allowed despite being a middle-of-the-road 15th in overall yards per game). So the defense has been upgraded to pretty good this year though the running game will be an issue if the Packers defense remains to be not 100% healthy.
But let’s hammer out why I don’t view the Packers are a contender not only for the Lombardi, but also their own division notably from the Bears and Vikings.
(1) Injury issues: Every team has it. Randall Cobb and Geronimo Allison were out against Detroit in the Packers 31-23 loss to the Lions and from the looks of it doesn’t seem like they will play against San Francisco Monday. Muhammad Wilkerson is on IR and while the Packers run game is inconsistent, the times they are down, they get religiously gashed (Adrian Peterson, Bears run game, Lions at times). Nick Perry, Jaire Alexander, and others missing also hurt this team that just lacks depth on defense.
(2) Defense Improved, but….: Granted last week for the Packers was an epic disaster in Detroit on numerous angles. But trying to make key stops on third down both in the air and on the ground stung the Cheese. And also, some of the Lions players played very physical on the Packers defenders (i.e. Kenny Golladay on Ha Ha Clinton-Dix). So Green Bay, while the numbers look much better, once they face off against the likes of the Rams and Patriots in a stretch of 4 of the next 5 games after the bye week are away from Lambeau (the other two being a surprisingly not bad Seahawks team and the Vikings). If the Packers struggle in those games, then you have to think the defense is far away from that vast improvement from Dom Capers.
(3) Mason Crosby: We know the guy for his time in Green Bay has been overall money. Was what Crosby had in Detroit (1-5 on FG and 0-1 with XP) an anomaly or was it maybe a sign of things to come? Crosby from 2013-2016 had a FG % of 80 or higher. Last year he was under that. He missed a game-winning FG against Minnesota before that game went into a tie. And he missed two extra points in the last two weeks against Buffalo and Detroit. So maybe it is something to look very close at as this is been quietly going on. And even the best kickers have that moment when they just lose it. Happened to Jason Elam in Atlanta.
(4) Running game: Green Bay’s running game is not bad, but not utilized as they should. Which is stunning because Aaron Jones, Ty Montgomery, and Jamaal Williams isn’t bad. But are they afraid of making one of the guys a feature back and getting stuffed after, or of the injury issues over the years at that spot and really gets no consistency at times.
(5) Aaron Rodgers/Mike McCarthy: When we look at the top quarterbacks in the NFL with Rodgers such as Tom Brady, Drew Brees, and even the likes of Ben Roethlisberger and Matt Ryan, you see there has been pretty much the same coach there (save Ryan), and those guys and the quarterbacks for the most part are on the same page. It seems like while Rodgers and McCarthy have been there forever together, it isn’t really harmonious. You see the likes of Brady, Brees, and others follow suit of what the coach wants. They may not like it but the displeasure that is voiced is private (save last year with Brady). They don’t seem to undermine the head coach. With Rodgers and McCarthy, it doesn’t seem that way. If McCarthy makes a move, it seems like Rodgers has to voice his displeasure whether in the public or to his close pals. It doesn’t bode well for that relationship that needs to be on pace. Yes, there are guys or assistants that quarterbacks would want the team and the coaches to keep, but they just can’t do it. Rodgers as well is also showing more and more frustrations when he is playing like he plays sometimes when he is down. Even when the Packers had a shot in the 4th quarter in Detroit, it felt like in the last drive, Rodgers was somewhat nonchalant and somewhat had given up on the game. Also, what effect does it have on his teammates especially the ones who are replacing the guys he likes? Jones, Montgomery, and Williams have been at the very worst serviceable and have done their part. Rodgers has to understand while he is the franchise, he needs to grin and bear some of the decisions his coach makes and his GM makes.
(6) Offensive line woes: Rodgers gets hit often especially with what you have to figure a bum knee since Week 1 against Chicago that what most people believe won’t be better. On top of it, the Packers in 4 of their 5 games so far the quarterbacks have been sacked, which puts Rodgers in big trouble with that knee. Two of the sacks the Lions had on Rodgers was out of the pocket and caused fumbles, which alongside the missed Crosby FG’s sealed Green Bay’s fate. It’s not going to get any better, but far worse if it continues.
I was at the Packers/Lions game last Sunday in Detroit but heading back home and listening to NFL Network, I couldn’t believe the mess I was hearing about how Green Bay was the favorites in the NFC North as Minnesota (who beat Philadelphia on the road) and Chicago (since the addition of Mack has been legit) are not? I didn’t get it. Yes, I know there may be questions on the Vikings and Bears, but compared to the questions on Green Bay, they are minor and very few. And honestly, how better are the Packers than the Lions right now? I’m not saying Green Bay is the WORST team in the NFC North, but to say they are a favorite and a contender right now, it’s a joke.
I know the NFC has issues as only 4 have over .500 records. But nobody can say the Packers are as good or better than the Saints, Eagles, Rams, Bears (I know they won Week 1), etc. and even the next crew of the Panthers, Vikings, Redskins, etc. The argument of “well they have Aaron Rodgers!” can work for so long. Even the Saints with Drew Brees had 7-9 seasons until the team answered questions with the running game and the defense. But even with Rodgers, and if he isn’t overly happy with the team situation, I am more inclined to think Green Bay may be more of a poisonous place than an ideal place.
The Packers are a talented bunch, but they don’t have anywhere the same balance as the teams I mentioned. Yes, Rodgers can solve a lot of issues, but not all of them, and again, if he is frustrated with the team, it can be more of a hindrance than a help. But either way, the Packers are far from a contender.
-Fan in the Obstructed Seat