Clear as day, the Packers as a team are fluttering, not peaking, as the postseason looms. It’s going to be another ultimately disappointing playoff season for Green Bay unless the team hurriedly resurrects its game. In particular, all phases of the defense are in decline – in the past five games, the Pack has given up 34 points (Vikes), 28 (Rams), 30 (Bears), 30 (Ravens) and 22 (Browns).
Almost all 32 NFL teams have been compromised this season by either COVID or a spate of injuries. To their credit, the Packers have been disrupted by the pandemic less than many teams. On the other hand, not only have half a dozen or more of the team’s stars suffered serious injuries, but many of those injuries have lingered for half a season or longer. As for Bakh, Jaire, and Z, unless the Pack gets at least two of them back for the playoffs, I can’t see a path to the Super Bowl for Green Bay.
It could be that the team with the most players willing to essentially quarantine themselves throughout the postseason, to make it unlikely they’ll get infected – and proceed to have it spread throughout the locker room – will have the best chance of taking home the Lombardi Trophy. For the greater good, serious social sacrificing by every player is in order.
A Deceptive Record
Right at the time Coach Matt LaFleur is finally being recognized for his superb leadership, in my opinion he and his staff have put up the two weakest coaching displays of MLF’s entire tenure. Against both the Ravens and the Browns the Packers were flat to start the game, and then after getting solid leads they squandered them in the fourth quarter. They had trouble getting 11 men on the field, and they continued to waste timeouts to avert mess ups. They did almost no stunting, blitzing, or other defensive tactics to confuse their opponents. Whatever you call it, prevent defense, soft coverage, or bend-don’t-break, the Packers have been putting on clinics for much of the season, on how to permit inferior teams to have opportunities to win games in the final minute or so.
By my count, the Packers have put themselves in a position to lose games that they barely or miraculously won, five times on the season. Green Bay’s record could easily be 7-8 or 8-7. Some serious humility and realism is in order here.
The hottest team heading toward the playoffs is the AFC’s Kansas City Chiefs. After a 3-4 start, when QB Mahomes was going through an interception virus, the Chiefs have gone 8-0. The next longest streak belongs to the Dolphins – though only 8-7 on the season, Miami has reeled off 7 wins in a row.
The Packers, Rams, and Cowboys have each won four in a row. While Green Bay has won its last two by a total of three points, the Rams have been more dominant. However, it’s the Cowboys who appear to be the most primed among these three teams for a long postseason run, as evidenced by their 56-14 demolition of the Washington Football Team on Sunday.
Two other teams are rounding into form as the playoffs approach: the Buccaneers and the Colts. The Bucs have won five out of six, with their only recent loss being to the Saints in Week 15. The AFC’s Colts have quietly won six out of seven, to push their records to 9-6.
Bearing in mind that I’m not thoroughly versed as to all 32 NFL teams, and based largely on which teams are playing the best at this time in the season, here are my rankings of the most playoff-ready teams: 1. Chiefs; 2. Cowboys; 3. Bucs; 4. Packers; 5. Rams; 6. Bills; 7. Cardinals; 8: Bengals. For what it’s worth, I spent more time picking the number eight team than I did the other seven combined – the Bengals have won four of their last six, to reach 9-6, including a masterful display by Joe Burrow on Sunday against the Ravens.
Here are how the quarterbacks of the above eight teams rank, based on their current passer ratings, and how those ratings rank league-wide:
KC, Patrick Mahomes, 97.9, 11th
DAL, Dak Prescott, 100.5, 5th
TB, Tom Brady, 100.2, 7th
GB, Aaron Rodgers, 110.8, 1st
LAR, Matthew Stafford, 104.3, 3rd
BUF, Josh Allen, 96.6, 12th
ARI, Kyler Murray, 100.5, 6th
CIN (9-6), Joe Burrow, 105.0, 2 nd
Highly ranked-QBs who are not on my list include: Kirk Cousins (MIN), 101.3, (4th best); Jimmy Garoppolo, 99.8 (8th), Russell Wilson 99.4 (9th), and Justin Herbert, 98.7 (10th).
Teams not making my top eight, based largely on average or below quarterback play, include:
IND (9-6). Carson Wentz, 96.4 (13th)
NE (9-6). Mac Jones, 90.2 (18th)
BAL (8-7), Lamar Jackson, 87.0 (21st)
MIA, (8-7), Tua Tagovailoa, 94.0 (16th)
TEN (10-5), Ryan Tannehill, 84.8 (27th)
The Packers have much work to do, including early-game offense, red-zone offense, and defense across the board, but especially in the fourth quarter, if they are to match or beat their playoff results of the past two years. Basically, this is a talented team that suffers major slumps – or loses its focus – at predictable points during its games. What say you?