You know the stakes for the Green Bay Packers: at 4-4-1, every game from here on out is going to be a fight for their (still very theoretical) playoff lives.
What can we expect from this year’s team? Will they rally for a run-the-table remix? Or will they see their playoff chances evaporate by the end of November? And who will be the studs and duds along the way? Our writers took their best shot at clearing up a clouded picture.
Matub - Same ol’ same ol’
The Packers team that we have come to know and love over the last 3.5 seasons is still here. The team struggles early due to offensive ineptitude, defensive confusion, and injuries. Over the next seven games they will find a way to play competently enough to take over a mediocre division that would have been decimated by the 2014 team. The Packers will manage to fall a**-over-teakettle into the playoffs just to get bounced out early by a team that actually deserves to be there.
Paul Noonan - A sneaky playoff berth
I’ve been down on the team seemingly all season, but I’m cautiously optimistic going forward (though the Seattle game may change that in a hurry). There are some signs that things may be turning around, and after Thursday I think they’re better, or at least as good as any opponent remaining on the schedule. The defense has been quietly and steadily improving, and the pass defense is currently 9th in DVOA. While I’m generally against running the ball too much, Aaron Jones has been so good on a per play basis that he may legitimately help set up the passing game. And while the passing game has struggled, partially due to inexperience in the receiving corps and partially due to some sloppiness from Rodgers, there is a decent chance it improves over the second half of the season.
I suspect they get to 9 wins and put themselves in position to sneak in as a wild card. If Rodgers can get himself right, a “run the table” moment isn’t out of the question.
Wendi Hansen - Hope
This season has made me go through more cases of Miller Genuine Draft than I care to admit. That being said, I do think that last week’s game against the Dolphins sparked some hope back into Packers fans, myself included. Aaron Jones’ performance was one for the books, and proved that he is a force to be reckoned with. The defense has been slowly improving as well, but are these efforts a little too late to get them into prime playoff contention? I think Thursday night’s game against Seattle will be a big deciding factor in that.
Evan “Tex” Western - A a big finish from Aaron Jones and Davante Adams
I’ll go statistical and aim for individual milestones down the stretch. I think that Aaron Jones makes it to 1,000 rushing yards this season, and that it won’t be particularly close. The rankings of the Packers’ final seven opponents’ rushing defenses by DVOA are as follows: 20th, 4th, 13th, 31st, 2nd, 17th, and 25th
Those rankings average out to 16th, with three bottom-tier, two mid-tier, and two top-five units remaining. Jones, who leads all qualifying NFL running backs in yards per carry and all backs with 15 or more carries in DVOA, should be licking his chops, starting this week in Seattle.
With 494 yards on the season, Jones needs just 73 yards per game to crack the thousand-yard mark, which would make him the first Packers back since Eddie Lacy in 2014 to hit that mark. Jones is averaging 102 yards per game in the last three, and he should be able to blow past that milestone as long as Mike McCarthy keeps giving him the football.
The second is about Davante Adams. Before week one, I predicted that Adams would crack 1,400 yards receiving, which has happened just five times before in Packers history. Take a look at Adams’ pace: with an average of 87.4 yards per game, that puts him on track for 1,398 yards (he’s also headed for 16 touchdowns). Now I’m going to predict that he improves on that pace and passes 1,500 yards instead.
That would require Adams to average 102 receiving yards per game the rest of the way, a tall order but an achievable one if Aaron Rodgers means his recent comments about feeding Adams the ball more often. He hasn’t seen fewer than seven targets in any one game, but I am hoping that number is closer to 10-12 on a consistent basis, particularly if the Packers get back to utilizing play-action more frequently. Play-action would also lead to more deep balls going his way, increasing his yards-per-catch average and putting 1,500 in reach.
Like with Jones, Adams will have some chances to feast against opposing defenses and some tough matchups. Per DVOA, the rankings of the Packers’ remaining opponents against #1 wide receivers are 16th, 1st, 4th, 30th, 5th, 13th, and 32nd. There will be opportunities for Adams to rack up some really big games down the stretch.
Jon Meerdink - Two more 100-yard games from Marquez Valdes-Scantling
Sticking with Tex’s theme, I’d like to make a statistical prediction of my own: I think Marquez Valdes-Scantling breaks the century mark twice in the Packers’ final seven games.
All of what Tex laid out applies to the speedy MVS as well, and we’ve increasingly seen defenses doing whatever they can to prevent Davante Adams from beating them. Since the Packers will face some potentially exploitable secondaries, I think it’s not unreasonable to expect the fifth-round pick will get a few more chances to beat defenses deep. At the rate he collects yards, two 100-yard games might be underselling him.
Bob Fitch - Kyler Fackrell leads the team in sacks at the end of the year
With how up and down this season has been, literally everything is within the realm of reason. Maybe they run the table? Maybe they lose every game? Maybe Aaron Jones is half a second late on a blocking assignment in the first quarter against Seattle and doesn’t ever see the field again? Green Bay is tied for the lead in team sacks in 2018 with 31, and Fackrell is tied with Kenny Clark at 5 sacks a piece. Pettine has used a full rotation of outside linebackers this season, so Fackrell has seen nearly as much time on the field as Clay Matthews. While it might not always be pretty…
Only Kyler Fackrell could manage a negative grade on a play he was credited for a sack on.— Andy Herman (@SconnieSports) October 2, 2018
(For the record Fackrell never touched him, Allen tripped over his own lineman and it should have been a play on).
This is why you can’t always trust a box score ; ) pic.twitter.com/PLtJ2itmZZ
...he certainly has the determination. But quite honestly, this sack against Miami was actually half decent. The Freak (™) will continue to get the playing time and go against one-on-one blocking, and he’ll end the year with 9, which is about 9 more than anyone anticipated this year.
For whatever issues this team has (and they’re myriad), lackluster play in the NFC North and a ridiculous schedule to close for Minnesota could leave the Packers in position to steal a playoff spot that they, to this point in the season, have done nothing to deserve.
The Dolphins game hinted at a blueprint for this team getting better and we still haven’t seen the best of Aaron Rodgers this season. We haven’t even seen 80% of that player. There’s some reasons for optimism this team can play better than it has. Not shooting itself in the foot on special teams would be another good place to start. That said, there are enough winnable games left on the schedule to make @ Minny and @ Chicago the inflection points of the season. Beat the Vikings, and Mike Zimmer’s team is almost certainly dead given their closing schedule. Sweep the Bears, and a 9-6-1 season could be within reach for Green Bay, a record that could be enough to sneak into the NFC playoffs.
Whatever happens in January, or whatever doesn’t happen, we’ll look back at those two games and say “If they had” or “Luckily, they did.”
Kris Burke - Where there’s an Aaron, there’s hope.
Spoiler alert: The Aaron I am speaking of is not the one with the surname Rodgers.
Aaron Jones has all the looks of a bona fide superstar, something it seems Mike McCarthy finally woke up to on Sunday against Miami. Given the fact that Aaron Rodgers can’t seem to get out his own head, Jones is primed for huge second half of the season and could have an Eddie Lacy circa 2013 impact on the Packers and this time with Rodgers under center instead of Matt Flynn.
As for the schedule, Thursday’s game plus contests against the Vikings, Falcons and Bears are really the toss-ups. Provided Jones stays hot and Rodgers starts to heat up (which could happen at anytime because he’s still Aaron Freaking Rodgers), the Packers only lose to the Vikings the rest of the way and finish 10-5-1.
That tie could come back to haunt them however come playoff time as they’ll still need the Bears to crumble a bit. Will that happen? Well, it’s the Bears. Don’t count out the Vikings either and if they do beat Green Bay next week that tie will look large.