Packers' title hopes fading, not lost
The Green Bay Packers’ odds to win the Super Bowl are 12-1 and heading the wrong way.
To put that in context, when they were unbeaten after six games in late October, the Packers’ odds were 3-1, according to Bovada.lv.
But here’s the thing about the NFL: Teams’ prospects rise and fall, often several times, over the course of 16 games. Maybe the hardest thing to do when following the league is not becoming a prisoner of what’s happened most recently.
Sure, there are good reasons to think the Packers won’t win or even get to the Super Bowl. They’ve lost four of their last five games, and something has been drastically wrong with their offense for at least that long and probably longer. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers isn’t playing well, there have been multiple issues among the skill positions, and there’s nothing to say it won’t stay the same or even get worse over the final five games.
But if those Super Bowl odds are decreasing, the Packers still are tied with Seattle for the sixth-best chance to win the Super Bowl. That just as accurately captures the picture.
To be clear, this not a prediction that the Packers will make it to San Francisco in February. I have no idea, and neither does anyone else. I would have bet on them in October and wouldn’t now. So what. The landscape will look different in a month than it does today.
Recent NFL history shows teams that are strong in a key area, even if they underachieve to the degree the Packers’ offense has recently, can still win big in the end. They also can die quietly, and sometimes they implode.
But you need only look at the 2010 Packers to find a decent team that didn’t appear headed anywhere special. They were 3-3 at one point, and after losing at New England on Dec. 10 were 8-6. I remember getting emails that demanded coach Mike McCarthy’s firing. Then Rodgers took off, a young roster came together, and a 10-6 team seeded last in the NFC playoffs won the Super Bowl.
Or the 2008 Arizona Cardinals. They lost four of five games from late November through mid-December, including 47-7 at New England in the second-to-last game of the year. 47-7! The Cardinals squeaked into the playoffs at 9-7, and on the back of a hot quarterback (Kurt Warner) and elite receiver (Larry Fitgerald) advanced to the Super Bowl, where they lost to the Pittsburgh Steelers on a last-second touchdown.
Or the 2011 New York Giants. They lost four straight and five of six in November and December and finished 9-7. But with a premier defensive line and a hot quarterback of their own (Eli Manning), they went on to win the Super Bowl.
Yes, these are more exceptions, not norms. But that’s three examples from the last seven years. Anybody dismissing the Packers as Super Bowl contenders because they’ve lost four of their last five games is jumping the gun. Same for the Seahawks, who are only 6-5 and just lost tight end Jimmy Graham to a season-ending knee injury. I wouldn't count them out until they're out.
Not that the Packers don’t have vulnerabilities. They do, and right now they look huge. But remember how bad things looked for Detroit less than a month ago? The Lions were 1-7 and had just fired their general manager and president. They appeared to be in disarray, and it looked like coach Jim Caldwell and quarterback Matthew Stafford were on their way out, too.
Three weeks later the Lions are 4-7. Nobody’s calling them a playoff team, but Caldwell and Stafford might have a future there after all. Stay tuned.
The point is, the Packers still have the talent of a team that was among the Super Bowl favorites in September and October for good reason. With Aaron Rodgers at quarterback, their season can turn in a week.
One of the reasons — probably the main reason — they’ve lost four of five is that Rodgers isn’t playing well (81.3 passer rating in the last five games). But as he has shown going back to 2010, he’s capable of performing better than anyone in the league for long stretches. If he finds his form with this year's batch of receivers, the Packers’ chances are as good as anyone’s. If he doesn’t, they’re in a battle for their lives to make the playoffs.
This is where NFL coaches make their money. Mike McCarthy’s $6 million salary ties him for eighth highest among head coaches in the league, according to Coacheshotseat.com. And maybe the biggest and hardest part of the job is adjusting on the fly to whatever problems or unexpected weaknesses inevitably pop up on the field during the season.
It’s up to McCarthy and his coaching staff to make the right personnel changes, put together the right game plans and emphasize the right details to get their offense functioning at a high level. With Jordy Nelson, this should have been one of the more prolific offenses in NFL history. Without him it still should be among the top five or so in the league.
Which way will the Packers go? I don’t know.
The prevailing winds are to the south, and they’re strong. But that's only what has happened most recently. Maybe it will be clear by late December that this team just doesn’t have it. But I’m not ready to go there yet. Are you?