When the Green Bay Packers return from the bye week, they will be in the thick of the race for the top seed in the NFC.
One of the largest factors in that position is an incredible record against a competitive NFC West division. There are many reasons for that type of success - a budding defense, late-game heroics, and some well-timed home-field advantage. However, the biggest reason might just be the depth of the Packers’ roster.
Today’s musings reflect on that 4-0 record against the West, while taking a look at the Packers’ impressive accumulation of players.
Yosh Nijman has gone from roster-hopeful to money-maker
When the Packers signed Nijman as an undrafted free agent in 2019, they knew they were getting an athletic player that looked the part of a muscular NFL left tackle at 6-foot-7 and 324 pounds. Lance Zierlein at NFL.com described Nijman as an enticing specimen with pass-blocking holes.
He’s a developmental right tackle in need of extensive coaching for improved pass sets and greater consistency of aim with his run-blocking landmarks. If the coaching lands, he could become a Day 3 value draft pick if medicals check out.
Through his initial two regular season outings, Nijman has started to look like the value addition that Zierlein describes at an all-important left tackle spot. After years of the Packers trying to find a quality backup tackle, they were spoiled this season with Elgton Jenkins swung out to tackle in the midst of David Bakhtiari’s injury and performed admirably, and once again as Nijman held up against the likes of Nick Bosa and Von Miller. When Green Bay signed Dennis Kelly, many would have anticipated him to be a fixture on the line in the event of injuries at tackle. Instead, it has been Nijman who has emerged as a building block.
The Packers’ patience with Nijman has been rewarded after injuries and practice squad stints, but he will be an interesting commodity to watch as a restricted free agent this offseason. With Bakhtiari under contract through 2024 but Billy Turner’s deal set to expire after next season, could the Packers see Nijman as a long-term starting tackle option? They may be in a position to have to match an offer sheet this spring if his success continues.
Brian Gutekunst and the coaching staff deserve praise for the team’s depth
The Packers’ General Manager was under fire during the offseason with the hoopla surrounding Aaron Rodgers, and perhaps Gutekunst and the team’s front office deserves some blame for the rift in the relationship. However, one cannot deny how instrumental Gutekunst and Green Bay’s coaching staff have been in creating a championship-caliber team for the past several seasons. From a roster depth perspective, it would be difficult for another team to outdo the Packers in 2021.
While the other GMs in the state of Wisconsin have received plenty of attention for their moves, both aggressive and shrewd, a high percentage of Gutekunst’s moves have also turned to gold. The aforementioned Nijman might be a diamond in the rough, but the offensive line as a whole has been impressive after numerous injuries. The draft choices of Jenkins, Royce Newman, and Jon Runyan have been integral and the signing of Turner a few years ago has proven to be worth every penny.
Up and down the roster, injuries have brought out contributions at just about every position. Rasul Douglas has been a godsend as an in-season addition. Eric Stokes has turned into a number one corner quicker than anyone anticipated as a rookie. De’Vondre Campbell and Krys Barnes have made up one of the team’s best inside linebacker duos of the decade after being relatively non-sexy additions early on. Oren Burks and Johnathan Garvin have stepped in to take on reps that would have gone to Za’Darius Smith. The defensive line has seen TJ Slaton take on extended snaps during times of injury on the interior. AJ Dillon has stepped in just as expected when Jamaal Williams departed. Randall Cobb has had his own moments since returning to the team. The jury is still out on Jordan Love, but even quarterback has been tested.
Yes, the Packers would love to see more from its special teams, especially one newer addition in Amari Rodgers. However, it is hard to deny how strong this team has been, especially with some groups absolutely ravaged by injuries. Credit the minds that sought out and developed the talent.
The Packers finished an amazing 4-0 against the NFC West
Back in July, this writer speculated that the matchup with the Los Angeles Rams would be one of three games to define the Packers’ playoff chances. A rested Rams team, even on the road, could have been the hardest test of four individual battles against the NFC West. At the beginning of the season, if one would have mentioned that the Packers would finish the season undefeated against that particular division, eyebrows would have raised.
Determining which of the four wins was hardest for the Packers, however, is difficult to say. The Packers won a thriller against San Francisco on the road behind a miraculous drive from Rodgers and the Packers’ offense in the closing seconds. They pulled off another unlikely win when they defeated Arizona on the road with an end-zone interception from Douglas. The end result deviated from what Packers fans have come to expect from their defense in the waning seconds, especially in Arizona. Even in a shutout win versus Seattle and an eight-point win at home against LA, the Packers had to churn out hard-fought victories.
Green Bay’s 9-3 record is impressive and the Packers are still in the hunt for the NFC’s top seed. Much of the Packers’ current postseason seeding right now is a product of their wins against the West and those wins might pay extra dividends if a tiebreaker is ultimately necessary.