The Green Bay Packers’ bye week went by and things got both better and worse for the Pack … The NFC teams pumped as “better” than the Packers all lost (OK, the 49ers TIED the Rams in SF… still just as good for the Pack).
That included the Sunday night game where the Chicago Bears (who still suck, BTW) lost a sloppy game to the Texans. That helps the Packers in the NFC mix, but then the news that RT Brian Bulaga was put on IR for the hip injury he suffered versus the Cards came out. Who’d have thought that when he walked to the locker room against Arizona that he would be done for the season?
Injuries are part of the game, evidenced by four starting QBs being knocked out before halftime this week (Vick, Alex Smith, Cutler and Roethlisberger), so the Packers are not alone. Getting some of the playmakers back on the field against the Lions will be a welcomed sight.
It’s starting to get chilly in Central Wisconsin and gun-hunting season is already opening on Saturday. That means it isn’t too early to look at the path to the playoffs in the NFC.
The easiest path for the Packers would be to run the table which is entirely possible. But given the injuries and road games against the New York Football Giants and the Bears, I don’t see it as likely. If they do manage to beat both of those teams, dropping one of the four games against the Lions and the Vikings aren’t out of the realm of possibility. What I see is the Packers finishing at 12-4 or 11-5. Where does that fit into the playoff picture?
The Bears showed that they were who I thought they were on Sunday night. True, the weather was a factor, but it was the same for both teams. The Bears’ offense with or without Cutler is just OK. If they fall behind and NEED to pass, they will have trouble, but their defense can keep them close. That being said, the Bears D is good, but I don’t think they can count on getting a defensive TD every week to prop up the lack of offensive production. While the game against the Packers on Dec 16 will likely decide the NFC North, I’d like to have the Bears lose to the 49ers and the Seahawks before then.
The Bears aren’t the only “contenders” to deal with but I’m not a real believer in the Vikings. They have a brutal final 6 games facing both the Bears and Packers twice along with Houston (5 games against teams with a combined 34-11 record). Going 3-3 in the stretch run would be a great finish for the Vikings but that would only get them to 9-7. The Rams are the only team they can be confident to beat in that stretch so getting to 10 wins is going to be tough, much less 11 or 12. They just don’t have enough to make it through this year.
If the Packers beat the Bears in December and finish at 12-4, that should be enough to take the division.
The NFC Wildcard:
This is where I have to consider the possibility that the Packers don’t win the NFC North.
Obviously the wild-card route is something these Packers have taken before, so playing on the road through the postseason is not the end of the world. If the Packers only make it to 10-6, they will almost certainly make the playoffs.
They will need to win the Lions and Vikings games, as they should. If they do that, even a loss at Chicago, NY and Tennessee probably won’t keep them out of the playoffs. Losing games to either the Lions or Vikings AND losing both at the Giants and at the Bears will give the Saints or Cowboys a chance to get in over them, but it would take a 7-0 finish for the Saints and at least 6-1 finish for the Cowboys. I’d hate for it to come down to tiebreakers with anyone considering what happened in Seattle.
The Big Game:
While the Packers will want payback against Eli Manning and the Giants next weekend, the game the Packers need the most will come against the Bears on Dec 16th.
That may be for all the marbles in the NFC North and a first round bye, but another sweep of the Bears would be great regardless.
Jennings, Woodson, Benson and Matthews will be back by then, all fresh and ready for another Super Bowl run.