The Green Bay Packers have won the NFC North each of the past three years. The last time the Packers didn’t win their division was 2010…when they won the Super Bowl. Last year, even losing Aaron Rodgers for eight games and playing poorly without him didn’t prevent Green Bay from getting to the top of the NFC North.
Whether it’s the Packers achieving excellence or their rivals giving away opportunities, Green Bay has seen things work out, which is why proclaiming them to be in serious trouble has to be done with caution.
But things change, and there are certainly alarm bells going off about Green Bay. They’ve lost two of their first three games and looked physically overmatched. From a handicapping standpoint, they’re a moneyburner, failing to cover in all three games. Here’s a brief look at the Packers' record…
They opened the season on a Thursday night in Seattle and lost 36-16 as a 5 ½ point underdog. The game was most noteworthy for the refusal of Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers to throw at Seattle corner Richard Sherman, even though the Packers have solid wide receivers in Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb.
Green Bay then comes home to play the New York Jets as (-8) favorite and promptly digs themselves a 21-3 hole. Rodgers pulls a few rabbits out of his hat and they hang on 31-24, helped in no small part by the Jets calling a timeout that nullified a game-tying touchdown pass from their own quarterback, Geno Smith.
Last week in Detroit, the Packers lose to the Lions 19-7 as a (-1.5) underdog, with the running game non-existent and Green Bay being dominated at the point of attack.
You can forgive the Seattle game—not many teams, if any, are going to play well at night in the Pacific Northwest and the emotion was extra hot for the Seahawks as they celebrated last year’s Super Bowl win with the fans.
It’s harder to understand why Green Bay didn’t come out with similar emotion against the Jets, their own first home game. And it’s downright alarming that the Packers were so overmatched up front against the Lions—Detroit is a good team, but they aren’t a great one. They’re one of the two teams (including the Chicago Bears) that Green Bay has to beat in order to win the NFC North again, and the Lions are the caliber of team that a true playoff-caliber squad should at least match up with.
If Detroit had gotten a great game from Calvin Johnson, it could be dismissed as just homefield advantage. But there’s nothing the Lions did to the Packers that couldn’t be repeated in a cold, outdoor environment later in the season.
A review of the game films from all three games give further reason for alarm. The Packers have only one offensive lineman, Josh Sitton, playing anywhere close to playoff-level football. Everyone else is grossly inadequate. The front seven on defense is being consistently overmatched, and that includes outside linebacker Clay Matthews. The secondary has been merely mediocre, but Morgan Burnett has been a disappointment.
That doesn’t provide a lot of reason for optimism, and when you consider that Green Bay seemed to be taking a step back from elite status anyway, and that they went 2-5-1 in games last year where Rodgers didn’t start, it’s not a stretch to say the Packers’ time atop this division has run its course. There are now public reports of Rodgers and head coach Mike McCarthy having disagreements over offensive strategies. That could be creative tension—but if such tension existed from 2010-13, it never leaked into the media.
Before we start shoveling dirt on the Green Bay grave though, let’s take a step back. Rodgers is one of the handful of NFL quarterbacks whose mere presence on a field makes a team instantly competitive. It’s fair to say that Aaron Rodgers alone gets you to 8-8, with the caliber of the rest of the team deciding how much higher the ceiling is.
And the ceiling is not likely going to be high—probably not more than 10-6 to win the NFC North. The division is balanced, but until we see the Lions string together several good games in a row, including on the road, we’re going to assume that they’ll find a way to lose a couple they shouldn’t. Chicago has put together nice wins over the 49ers and Jets, but the Bears also lost at home to Buffalo.
Furthermore, the schedule dynamic is going to favor Green Bay. They have to visit Soldier Field in Chicago this week. That means by the time September is done, the Packers have gotten road trips to the Seahawks, Lions and Bears off the agenda. Even if Green Bay loses and falls to 1-3, they can get back to health with games against Minnesota and Miami and then move forward from there.
On a week-to-week basis, the Packers are still going to be a risky team to go against, because of the presence of the competitive Rodgers. The key for handicappers is to identify spots where their lack of physical play in the trenches is going to create problems so larger that a quarterback can’t overcome them.
The key for the Packers is going to be fixing that problem so it’s no longer an issue. We’ll be watching closely on Sunday. If Green Bay’s interior personnel can’t match up against Chicago’s, it’s tough to see who they’ll match up with.
Jim Hurley has been a successful public handicapper since 1985, when he founded the Jim Hurley Network. Hurley brings a team approach to handicapping, consulting with statistical analysts, personnel experts and Vegas insiders to narrow the NFL and college cards down to the most bettable games each and every week. Visit him online at www.jimhurley.comBack to the NFL Newsfeed