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Can the Packers Salvage the Season?

Nov. 18, 2016
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claymatthews
The answer, unfortunately, is “probably no.” They are not totally out of it yet, but they are far more likely to miss the playoffs than make the playoffs. I had some confidence in them after the Atlanta game, but the desire to make the changes necessary for a drastic improvement just don’t seem to be present, and while the offense has been decent at times, truly good offenses put up 30 with some frequency. I have seen mid-20s Packer scores heralded far too often this season, and the lack of truly impressive offensive performances makes me seriously question what their ceiling is. But even if they fix the offense, they really need the secondary and Clay Matthews to get healthy or it won't matter much. Health will remain an issue no matter what as there is no indication that Sam Shields will return, or that Quinten Rollins is on the verge of finally getting back to 100%. Even if you believe that a rush of healthy players will bail them out 3 games from now, that is likely too late. The schedule does them no favors.

What looked like a relatively easy schedule at the beginning of the season has morphed into a murderer’s row of very good teams teams due to the strength of the NFC East, the Falcons, and the Seahawks. To borrow a concept from Nate Silver, due to their schedule the Packers have far more paths to failure than to success.

They need to go 9-7 at worst (probably) to get into the playoffs and so they need to win 5 more games. Their remaining schedule is:

 

  • @WAS - 8th in DVOA
  • @PHI - 1st
  • HOU - 30th
  • SEA - 2nd
  • @CHI - 24th
  • MIN - 12th
  • @DET - 26th


Let’s assume for the sake of simplicity that the Packers will lose in Philadelphia and at home against the Seahawks. This is the NFL and anything can happen, but those seem to be very likely outcomes. That would mean running the table against everyone else, including a very good Washington team in Washington, and the Vikings, who already own a win over the Packers, and those are just the difficult games. The Bears will be getting Alshon Jeffery back just in time to face the Packers, and the objectively bad Texans have been plucky, and actually lead the AFC South in spite of themselves. Finally, Detroit has been on a nice run after getting a few defensive players back (most notably Ziggy Ansah) and is no longer the pushover they were in their first meeting. Winning 5 of 7 games is always tricky, even if your team is favored in every game, but if you become an underdog in just a few it gets much more difficult and I suspect the Packers will be underdogs in at least 3, and maybe 4 of these.

Football Outsiders runs a playoff odds report (available on ESPN Insider) and they currently have the Packers at only 23.3% to make the playoffs, and it’s not hard to see why. In fact, that actually sounds optimistic to me. While every game of the NFL season is always the most important game, the next two Packer games will probably decide their playoff fate. If they lose a tough road game to Washington this weekend, they will absolutely need to beat either Seattle or Philadelphia, and that Philadelphia game could be crucial both to stay alive, and to give the Packers more tiebreakers over potential Wild Card teams. If the Packers lose both and return to Lambeau 4-7, those playoff odds will be hovering right around 0. 


What could save them?


The Packers have 2 things going for them.

1.     They play in a terrible division.

2.     They own a win over the Giants.

The first of these is far more important as any Packer playoff birth is much more likely to come from winning the North than winning a wild card. The other teams of the North have shown themselves more than capable of completely falling apart in the past and the Vikings have been cratering as of late. The problem for the Packers is that the Vikings remaining schedule is very easy (25th according to DVOA), and they are likely to finish with 9 wins at least. Detroit’s remaining schedule is more difficult with road games against the Giants and Cowboys looming, but it is not out of the question that they finish above .500 as well, even if the Packers managed to defeat both of them. 

The wild card gives them an out, but Giants are 2 games ahead of the Packers, and Washington is a game and a half up on them. If the Packers drop their next two games they will not only fall an additional game behind Washington and Philadelphia, but forfeit the tiebreaker to the Eagles, and the Eagles are not even in the playoffs currently (Washington has a tie this year and so tiebreakers with them are not a concern). In short, if the Packers win their next two road games against tough NFC East opponents, it will boost their playoff chances immensely, both within the division and for the wild card. If they split they will remain alive, but just barely. If they drop both, they are effectively done. Given how they have played recently, I am not optimistic. If they are not going to get healthy by Sunday, they need to get smart.  They need to steal a game under difficult circumstances to make this happen, and they need to do it soon.


Good Coaching For a Change

Watching the Patriots-Seahawks on Sunday night was such a breath of fresh air. The Seahawks ran long-developing plays and used CJ Prosise (read Ty Montgomery) over new Packer Christine Michael (read James Starks) knowing the Patriot pass rush is now a weakness in the wake of the Jamie Collins trade,

and they picked them apart as a result. If you look at advanced metrics the only weakness on the Seattle defense is power running, and whenever the Patriots were in short yardage they ran effective sneaks (disguised out of normal sets, not out of “power” bunch formations) and LeGarrette Blount power runs near the goal line. This was a fantastic display of two smart organizations going at each other, and highly entertaining as a result. They are two of the best teams for a reason, and the current staff of the Packers are not smart enough to match either.

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