That’s right, Packers fans. Entering Week 10 of the NFL season, we are nowhere close to where we want to be in terms of the division standings in the NFC North. At 4-4, the Packers are mired in a tie for second place with the Minnesota Vikings. The Packers travel to Minneapolis this weekend to take on the Vikings in the Metrodome, as the Vikings try to avenge their 24-19 defeat to the Packers suffered in Week 1. While the Vikings and Packers go at it, the Chicago Bears sit atop the division with a 5-3 record and one game cushion. The always hapless Detroit Lions sit in the basement with an 0-8 record and are about to become (if they haven’t already) the laughingstock of the NFL.
But what is going on with the Packers? Early season prognosticators would have had them at about 5-3 or 6-2 at this point in the year with a comfortable division lead, not at 4-4. They would not have expected the Packers to lose to the likes of the Atlanta Falcons, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and Tennessee Titans. Aaron Rodgers was thought to be the preseason bust; not Ryan Grant. Rookies would not be calling out their quarterback (cough, Jermichael Finley, cough), and the team would be more united after trading Brett Favre to the New York Jets. But the Packers are struggling with these issues. They are forced to take “moral victories” as they did after the Titans loss.
The main problem for the Packers this year has been injuries. Last season, the only major injury I can think of off the top of my head was losing cornerback Charles Woodson for the game against the Dallas Cowboys with a broken toe, a game in which the Packers sorely missed him. The defensive line also had numerous injuries last year, but none to the same magnitude of the Woodson injury. This year, however, the injury tide has turned against the Packers. Woodson hurt his toe again. Al Harris ruptured his spleen. Nick Collins, Aaron Rouse, and Atari Bigby have all been banged up in the secondary. Grant, after reporting to training camp late, hurt his hamstring, an injury he still hasn’t fully recovered from as he has yet to hit his stride. Rodgers suffered a severe shoulder injury in the 30-21 loss to the Buccaneers, but has Favred-up and played through it. The offensive line has been beset by small nagging injuries, such as the ones to Scott Wells and Chad Clifton, causing a lack of unity which could also be affecting Grant’s abilities. Last season, these injuries weren’t a huge problem for the Packers. This year, they have been.
Luckily for the Packers, though, the rest of the NFC North has stumbled. The Vikings, a sexy preseason pick for the Super Bowl (I’m looking at you, Dr. Z), have stumbled to the same 4-4 record as the Packers. Tarvaris Jackson was not the quarterback they (and I) thought he was at the beginning of the season and he has been benched for Gus Frerotte. Adrian Peterson has performed, but he hasn’t had the 295-yard game everyone has been looking for. On a good note for the Vikings, Bernard Berrian, acquired as a deep-threat in the offseason, has been coming on strong; look for a good matchup between Berrian and Harris on Sunday. The Vikings pass defense, thought to have been shored up with the acquisition of Madieu Williams in the offseason, has been an utter failure. Despite the great pass rush generated by the defensive line, they can’t defend the pass game.
The Bears have been a surprise this year. Lovie Smith gave the job to Kyle Orton and Orton responded nicely, leading the Bears to a 5-3 record so far. However, Orton suffered an ankle sprain, giving the keys to the offense to everyone’s favorite quarterback, Rex Grossman. Orton is going to miss at least a week, possibly two, making everyone ask themselves, “Is Sexy Rexy going to rear his ugly head anytime soon?” For the Packers, hopefully yes. The Bears have been winning the close ones, hanging in tough and pulling it out at the end. The Packers have had a little difficulty coming back late in close games, which they will need to do, as the meet the Bears twice in the last eight weeks of the season. Remember, Chicago swept the Pack in 2007, costing the Packers homefield advantage in the playoffs (not that it mattered anyway).
The Lions. Ah, the Detroit Lions. Matt Millen is gone. Rod Marinelli is still there (for now at least). What isn’t there is a quarterback. Jon Kitna‘s season ending injury gave the offense over to Dan Orlovsky. Who was horrible. Flat. Out. Horrible. I don’t think I’d seen a worse quarterback in the NFL. Besides him running out of the back of the end zone in the game against the Vikings, he just didn’t have it. His throws were lame ducks. And he couldn’t run a two-minute drill. Orlovsky trying to drive the Lions downfield at the end of the team’s 25-17 loss to the Washington Redskins on October 26 was one of the most comical things I have ever seen. It made me want to cry. And now the Lions are supposedly going to start Daunte Culpepper on Sunday. Daunte Culpepper. Yes, that Daunte Culpepper. It’s ridiculous. The Detroit Lions have gone from lovable losers (to an extent) to an absolute joke. It’s not even inept management anymore. It’s just like God is screwing with the people of Detroit now. It’s that bad. They could actually go winless. I wish they were playing the Cincinnati Bengals this year. Now that would be a game to watch.
There is a lot of time for the NFC North to shake up, at least the top three spots. The Packers have four divisional games left this year, and all will be critical to the postseason push. The schedule doesn’t get any easier, either. Besides two dates with the Bears, a date in Minneapolis, and the Lions in Lambeau to close out the year, the Packers have games at the New Orleans Saints and Jacksonville Jaguars, along with home dates versus the Carolina Panthers and Houston Texans. The Saints sit at 4-4 with a dangerous offense consisting of Drew Brees and Reggie Bush and whoever Brees will throw the ball to. Harris and Woodson will both need to be at full strength for that match, as New Orleans will want to turn it into a track meet. The Jaguars have disappointed this year at 3-5, but have a dangerous defense and are a superb two-minute drill run by Ben Roethlisberger and the Pittsburgh Steelers away from the .500 mark. Jake Delhomme‘s Tommy John surgery has not had a negative impact on this season, as the Panthers sit atop the NFC South with a 6-2 record. The Packers are 0-2 against the South so far this year, and will want to even that mark against New Orleans and Carolina. Finally, the Texans, at 3-5, look like the easiest team remaining on the schedule, but with young playmakers Andre Johnson and Steve Slaton, anything can happen when Houston comes to town. That being said, the Packers still hope to finish up strong.
Best case scenario for the Packers looks like them finishing 10-6. The only way into the playoffs looks like through the division crown, as the NFC East teams are tearing up the league and making it difficult for any team to rip a wild-card berth away from that division. Of course, a 12-4 or a 4-12 finish isn’t out of the question, but 10-6 looks like a happy medium.
Tags: Aaron Rodgers Aaron Rouse Adrian Peterson Al Harris Andre Johnson Atari Bigby Atlanta Falcons Ben Roethlisberger Bernard Berrian Brett Favre Carolina Panthers Chad Clifton Charles Woodson Chicago Bears Cincinnati Bengals Dallas Cowboys Dan Orlovsky Daunte Culpepper Detroit Lions Dr. Z Drew Brees Green Bay Packers Gus Frerotte Houston Texans Jacksonville Jaguars Jake Delhomme Jermichael Finley Kyle Orton Lovie Smith Madieu Williams Matt Millen Minnesota Vikings New Orleans Saints New York Jets Nick Collins Pittsburgh Steelers Reggie Bush Rex Grossman Rod Marinelli Ryan Grant Scott Wells Steve Slaton Tampa Bay Buccaneers Tarvaris Jackson Tennessee Titans Washington Redskins