ESPN.com’s NFC North blogger Kevin Seifert wrote a blog last Wednesday on broken tackles from this past season. He received his information from Football Outsiders, a website that tracks all kinds of stats, and revealed some pretty interesting numbers on NFC North tackling.
The first stat, percentage of tackles offensive players “broke,” slotted the Packers worst in the league at 3.3 tackles broken out of every 100 attempts. In comparison, the Vikings ranked second (7.6) while the Lions finished 29th (3.8) and the Bears 31st (3.5). The Carolina Panthers led the league with 8.4 percent.
The Packers increased their 2009 playoff chances in a big way by defeating the Baltimore Ravens 27-14 last night. In Green Bay’s second true test from the AFC, their top-ranked defense stifled Ray Rice and Joe Flacco while Aaron Rodgers passed for 263 yards and three touchdowns. The win pushed the Packers to 8-4 and they currently own the sixth seed in the NFC if the season were to end to day.
While the Falcons stumbled in a big game against the Eagles, the Giants, in a do-or-die situation, defeated the division leading Cowboys at home and kept their playoff hopes alive. The division leaders outside of the NFC East continue to gain ground on second place, with the Saints clinching the South last weekend. In addition, the Vikings’ magic number is two over the Packers and the Cardinals hold a three game lead over the 49ers with four games to play.
Due to a Week Nine victory in Philadelphia, the Cowboys hold a tie-breaker over the Eagles for the lead in the NFC East at 8-4, with the Giants sitting just one game out at 7-5. The Falcons are 6-6 but reeling fast so, for now, they will not be in the playoff discussion.
So the question for Packers fans is who to cheer for the rest of the way?
The Philadelphia Eagles have put together a fantastic season and have themselves in great position to take a Wildcard spot this year. Their 8-4 record has them tied for first place but more important is their 7-2 conference record, which gives them the first tie-breaker advantage after head-to-head match-ups. The Eagles have away games at the Giants and Cowboys left on the schedule and home meetings with the 49ers and Broncos sandwiched in between.
If the Eagles can defeat the Giants next week and the Packers take care of business in Chicago, the Giants would be two games out of the last Wildcard spot with three games to go and also have a lackluster 5-4 conference record, meaning their shot at the playoffs would be all but over. Just as it was for the Falcons last week, the Packers would love to see borderline teams lose and fall out of the playoff race. Once this happens, the Packers can focus on moving into the fifth spot instead of wondering if they will get in.
Another factor that comes in cheering for the Eagles is the hope that they can catch the Cowboys in the NFC East and move Dallas into a Wildcard spot. The Packers’ head-t0-head victory against the Cowboys in Week 10 puts them ahead of them in any situation, assuming their records are the same. Not only would this help the Packers make the playoffs, but they would move up to the five seed, giving them a slight chance of avoiding the Saints at home.
So now that we know what we want to happen, what is likely to happen?
Looking at the Packers remaining schedule, it seems they could start Matt Flynn and at least go 2-2. While the rivalry between the Bears and Packers allows for anything to happen on a given Sunday, the two teams are headed in opposite directions and it should be a win for Green Bay. Seattle is not a pushover but their 1-5 record outside of Seattle suggests that a snowy Lambeau Field will be rough going for Jim Mora and company. Even the Steelers are looking very beatable right now, especially if Troy Polomalu is still out when the two teams meet in Week 15.
One team the Packers are sure to watch are the Cardinals, who sit at 8-4 and have a very favorable schedule remaining. While their NFC West crown is all but theirs, beating out the NFC East Division Champ would ensure the third spot in the playoffs and a guarantee of missing the Saints in the Divisional Round. After playing the 49ers this week they play back-to-back games against the Lions and Rams, meaning 11 wins would almost be a given if they can take down San Francisco.
With three NFC East inter-division games still to be played, 11 wins should wrap up the third seed for the Cardinals, meaning their Week 17 game against the Packers would have no meaning. With the Eagles playing the Cowboys and the Cardinals playing the Packers in Week 17, there’s a chance those same match-ups occur that next week in the first round of the playoffs.
The Giants could make things very interesting if they beat the Eagles next Sunday night. With the Redskins and Panthers still left on the schedule, they have the potential to get to 10 wins in the next three weeks. They then play the Vikings in Week 17 who would be playing for nothing and would more than likely rest their starters. However, the Giants’ aforementioned conference record of 5-3 means a loss to the Eagles would basically take them out of theplayoff equation.
The Cowboys have the toughest schedule remaining of any team in the NFC with home matchups against the Chargers and Eagles and a trip to New Orleans. Even a road game against Washington looks a little more difficult than it did a month ago. Because the Giants have defeated the Cowboys twice, there is an outside chance they can leapfrog Dallas for the last spot.
Packers fans should hope the Cardinals win their next three games while the NFC East opponents beat up on each other the rest of the way. Where it stands right now, it looks like ten wins should get the Packers into the playoffs. Looking at the schedule, that is a very reasonable goal and one that could be obtained before the last week of the season.
After the Green Bay Packers disposed of the Detroit Lions on Thanksgiving day in a 34-12 rout, they were able to sit back and enjoy Sunday’s slate of NFL games. At 7-4, the Packers find themselves in good position to nab one of the two NFC Wildcard spots at the end of the season. They sport a decent conference record at 6-3, better than any Wildcard contenders other than the Eagles (6-2). Still, the Packers were looking for a little extra help this weekend from some of the bottom teams in the NFC. Unfortunately, things did not go as planned. Here’s a look at the Packers’ situation and reviews of how each Wildcard contender did this past weekend.
Green Bay Packers, currently 7-4
The Packers play the Ravens and Steelers over the course of three weekends and, while it looked more difficult at the beginning of the season, both games will be difficult. Both teams sit at 6-5 and are very beatable, especially the Ravens at home and the Packers will most likely need to take one of them to keep their playoff hopes alive.
If they lose one of those games, the good news is it will not count against their conference record, the first tiebreaker in determining the Wildcard spots. They also play two games in which they should be favored against the Seahawks and Bears. To close the season out, they go to Arizona to play the Cardinals. The caveat there is that the Cardinals, who hold a two-game lead on the division, could very well have wrapped up the NFC West by then and will be resting their starters, making for a much easier game.
1. Dallas Cowboys, 7-3 entering Week 12
The Cowboys were sure thankful for whoever scheduled them to play the Raiders on Thanksgiving Day. America’s Team pummeled the Raiders 24-7 and now find themselves in the driver’s seat to win the NFC East at 8-3. Someone has to win the NFC East by rule, but Packers’ fans were hoping that it would be the Cowboys vying for a Wildcard spot due to the head-to-head advantage they hold against them from the Week 10 victory in Lambeau Field.
The Eagles sit at 7-4 and are still very much alive in the NFC East hunt, but instead of worrying about tie-breakers and conference records and such, it would be best if the Cowboys won the rest of their games, including match ups against the New York Giants and Eagles. Their schedule the rest of the way is tougher than their NFC East counterparts, but they should win the East if they win their division games.
2. Philadelphia Eagles, 6-4 entering Week 12
If it weren’t for some 4th quarter heroics from Donovan McNabb, the Eagles would have been looking at a 6-5 record and a 2-game difference in the NFC East. They trailed the Redskins by eight points in the fourth quarter but ended up winning the game in the last two minutes, 27-24. It would have been a huge gain for the Packers if the Eagles had tripped up, but alas they pulled it out.
The Eagles have a better conference record than the Packers because they have played one less game and do not play the Packers head-to-head. They will face Atlanta next weekend who is also fighting for their playoff life as well as the Giants and Cowboys, so chances are the Eagles will either knock out one of the NFC East opponents or be knocked out by one of them.
3. New York Giants, 6-4 entering Week 12
After beginning the year 5-0, the wheels are starting to come off for Eli Manning and the Giants. They missed a golden opportunity to stay tied with Philadelphia and within a game of the Cowboys, but dropped their Thanksgiving Day match up against the Broncos, 26-6. They face the Cowboys next week who they already beat in Dallas, meaning they could have taken possession of first place had they won last week.
However, a win in Dallas would not only keep their playoff hopes alive, but their division hopes alive as well. The next week they play the Eagles, meaning that the next 14 days will all but determine the playoff hopes for the Giants. If they win both, they will be in very good shape to win the division. Lose both and they will probably be on their couches for the second season.
4. Atlanta Falcons, 6-4 entering Week 12
The Falcons were about 30 seconds and one down away from seeing their 2009 playoff chances fade away, but a Roddy White touchdown catch to beat the Bucs 20-17 kept them alive in the hunt. They now sit at 6-5 and are still on the outside looking in, but face the Eagles next week in a matchup that, if won, would let them leapfrog the Eagles in the standings.
After the Eagles, the Falcons play the Saints at home and then do not face a team with a record over .500 the rest of the year. Sounds good for them if they can beat the Eagles, right? Not so fast. Quarterback Matt Ryan and running back Michael Turner both left Sunday’s game with injuries and the offense will go nowhere fast, regardless of who they play, if the two of them can not go. They could sneak in the playoffs with a win over the Eagles, but keep a very close eye on those injuries.
While the difference in the victories against the Detroit Lions (26-0) in week six and the Cleveland Browns (31-3) Sunday was just two points, the blowouts were about as different as they could be and showed what exactly the Packers have in store for the rest of the season.
Say what you will about the Browns easily being one of the worst teams in the league and that it is hard to gauge just how good the Packers really are based on two straight victories against teams with a combined record of 2-11, but Sunday’s contest wasn’t even close. After Phil Dawson connected on a field goal to give the Browns a 3-0 lead, the Packers reeled off 31 straight points to coast for the win.
Don’t let anyone fool you: the Browns are bad. They are very bad. But it wasn’t as if the Packers struggled to find rhythm on offense and were making mistakes on defense like they did against the Lions. They found a bad team at the wrong time and absolutely destroyed them in all aspects of the game, something great teams do.
Defensively, the Packers did what they had to do, forcing two turnovers and holding the Browns to just 139 yards on offense. What helps is that they did most of their damage out of normal sets, making sure not give much away for next week’s matchup against Minnesota.
Call it a tune-up, but the Packers have used the last two weeks to become more comfortable within their defense and players like A.J. Hawk and Nick Barnett are finally starting to get things down. Aaron Kampman has been able to rush the passer more and has three sacks in the last four weeks, and Charles Woodson reminded the NFL why no one should throw his way as he picked off a pass and forced a Josh Cribbs fumble.
The Lions rank 22nd in total offense and the Browns 31st, but the Packers did what they were supposed to do and then some. While some may say their stats are inflated from the last two weeks, the fact of the matter is their defense ranks 3rd in total defense and is giving up just 16 points per game, good for fifth in all of football.
The big play threats are still there and are coming at the expense of trying to force turnovers, but that is something the Packers are hoping will cancel out by season’s end. Their 13 takeaways rank third in the league and their turnover difference of +8 is second in the league.
Leading the way in that department has been the play of quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who has feasted on lesser opponents and seen his quarterback rating soar. Rodgers has eight touchdowns in his last three games and has had a passer rating over 110 in each of his last four contests. For the season, only Peyton Manning has a higher passer rating (114.5) than Rodgers (110.8).
His two interceptions have kept Packers’ drives alive and are a big part of the reason why the Packers rank fifth in the league in total offense and points per game.
The offensive line finally put together a rock solid outing, regardless of who it was against, in not allowing a sack and rushing for over 200 yards against the Browns. T.J. Lang made his first start at left tackle and was solid all day in his potential warm-up for Jared Allen next week. The right side of the line created holes all day and helped Ryan Grant to his best outing of 2009.
All in all, the last three weeks have been exactly what the Packers needed. Defensive adjustments were clearly made during the bye week as the Packers not only beat up bad offenses, but completely shut them down. Regardless of how bad the Lions and Browns may be, the Packers’ defense could not have played any better.
Offensively, the Packers continue to get better every week, improving their total yards in each of the team’s first six games. They have also gone over the 400-yard mark on offense in each of the past four games. Question marks arose in the first two weeks about Rodgers’ consistency, the dropped passes, and the offensive line, but that has not been the problem as of late. If Rodgers’ can get time, the Packers’ offense is a top ten unit.
With just 16 games on the schedule, no team ever looks past games, but the Packers’ might have peeked at their matchup next weekend against the Vikings. The past two weeks have allowed the Packers to try out new things during blowouts and also disguise others. Coming off a bye week and two blowouts is surely different than the Vikings, who have yet to play their bye and have battled to the extremes against two AFC powerhouses in the Ravens and Steelers the last two weeks.
The Vikings might not be tired but they will not be as well rested as the Packers. While it’s too hard to judge whether or not the Packers’ wins over the Lions and Browns just met expectations or were a start of something new, it’s no secret the Packers have momentum coming into next week. Not only are they playing great football, but the NFC North is on the line and the winner of the game will have that title all to themselves.
When breaking down the schedule for NFL teams, many coaches and staffs like to break the season down into quarters, much like an actual game. In that sense, the Packers completed the first quarter of their season and stand at a reasonable 2-2. They have not set the world on fire like they did in the preseason but are still in good position as they begin quarter number two of the season.
The Packers have looked solid in some places (defensive line, cornerbacks) while they have struggled in others (offensive line, linebackers), but the fact of the matter is .500 football the rest of the way is not going to cut it in the NFC this season. Teams like the 49ers and Falcons look rejuvenated under their young head coaches, three teams are undefeated, and only six teams currently have losing records in the NFC.
There needs to be a stretch run where the Packers can distance themselves from the middle of the pack and take a shot at regaining the top spot in the NFC North. It will not be easy considering the Vikings are 5-0 and the Bears are 3-1, both ahead of the Packers, but if there was ever a “quarter” for the Packers to move up, the upcoming four games are it.
In week six, the Packers come home to visit the last-place Lions. As if it wasn’t bad enough that the Packers have not lost to the Lions in Green Bay since 1991, the Packers are also coming off a bye week in which they have had an extra week to prepare for Jim Schwartz’s ballclub.
Making matters worse is the fact that Calvin Johnson suffered a knee injury and was not able to return in the Lions’ week five loss to the Steelers and starting quarterback Matthew Stafford sat as well. Regardless of whether the Lions’ two best offensive players suit up Sunday, the odds are with the Packers to take this game.
In the NFC North, the Vikings will take on the Baltimore Ravens at the Metrodome, in a battle of two top teams this season. The Ravens seem to have found their stride on offense while their defense has come alive once again through veterans Ray Lewis and Ed Reed. It will be a tough game for both teams, but it would not be a shock to see either team come out on top.
The Bears, coming off their bye week, meet up with the Falcons on Sunday Night Football in week six. The Falcons, fresh off their bye week, crushed the 49ers 45-10 last week and are on a roll as it stands. It will be a tough game for the Bears to win with the Falcons playing so well, so there’s a chance the Packers could pick up a game on both teams.
In week seven the Packers travel to Cleveland to take on the Browns and, while road games are never sure things, the Browns are just 1-4 with a win over Buffalo to their name. The Browns rank last in the league against the run and have already given up eight rushing touchdowns. Brandon Jackson should be back for the Packers and join with Ryan Grant to get the ground game going again.
While the Packers are taking on the Browns, the Bears and Vikings will be taking on a pair of AFC opponents. The Vikings draw the Steelers in Pittsburgh and Troy Polamalu is expected to be back for the Steelers. While they are surviving without him, the dominant safety will help in shutting down Adrian Peterson and helping out in pass protection.
The Bears will take on the resurgent Bengals on the road in what suddenly looks like a good game as Carson Palmer and the Bengals are atop the NFC North with a 4-1 record. Clearly the Packers have the easiest game on the week seven schedule and should gain ground on at least one of their NFC North mates.
If the Packers are able to defeat both opponents over the next two weeks, they would stand at 4-2 heading into a week eight matchup with the Vikings. Assuming the Vikings drop one of their previous two games, the top of the NFC North could once again be on the line when the two teams meet. As much pressure as everyone thought was on Brett Favre in week four, the butterflies will really be floating around his stomach when he walks onto Lambeau Field.
The Packers are sure to make adjustments and play well against the Vikings. In my schedule breakdown, I noted how much added incentive there would be for the Packers if the Vikings won in week four. After a 30-23 defeat in the Metrodome, the Packers are going to want this game bad.
The Bears will host the Browns in week eight in what will probably be an easy victory.
Rounding out the second quarter for the NFC North contenders, the Bears will stay at home and take on the Arizona Cardinals in what looks to be a shootout. The Cardinals have been very inconsistent this season and it will be interesting to see which team steps on the field for Ken Whisenhunt.
The Vikings have their bye so the Packers have the potential to pick up a half a game on them when they travel to Tampa Bay to take on the struggling Buccaneers. The transition to Raheem Morris has not been smooth at all, and with quarterback problems as well as pass defense issues, the Packers should be favored on the road.
Two road games over the next four contests are never sure things, and with the way the offensive line has played, there is always the possibility of a slip-up against one of the three sub-.500 teams. The game against the Vikings will be huge because there’s a chance for Minnesota to run away with the division if they can enter their bye week at 7-1 or 8-0.
In the “second quarter”, the Packers will face teams with a combined record of 7-13, with five of those wins coming from the Vikings. The Bears’ opponents currently have a combined record of 10-8 while the Vikings will take on a combined record of 8-6. Clearly the opportunity to get their name back in the running for NFC North is there. Not to say their hat is not in the ring for the North, but they should go 3-1 at worst over these next four games, making them 5-3 and in prime spot to make a late run at the division.
No NFL team is easy or a cupcake, but working the kinks out on defense will be easier against the 18th, 29th, and 30th ranked offenses in the league. Just as the bye week came at the right time for the Packers, it seems the easy part of the schedule is as well.