Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers were mauled by the Detroit Lions on Sunday. Are the playoffs still within reach? Elsewhere, the Patriots continued their trail of destruction through the NFL and the Eagles remain top dogs in the NFC East…for now.
Week Two Headlines
Was that the end of the 2010 Green Bay Packers?
Even before Aaron Rodgers’ head slammed into the turf at Ford Field, the Green Bay Packers were in for a long afternoon. The relentless Detroit pass rush had pressured, flustered, and battered Rodgers and the Packers passing game for the entire first half. Gregg Jennings dropped a deep pass that should have resulted in a touchdown but instead fell into the lap of a Lions defender for an interception. It was just one of those afternoons – an afternoon that should be expected from a team with a lopsided offense.
While losing to the Lions didn’t eliminate the Packers, it made their chances of reaching the playoffs more difficult, to say the least. The loss to Detroit was felt most in the division standings. Because the Packers now have two division losses to Chicago’s zero, the Packers will lose to Chicago on a tiebreaker (if they finish with identical records) unless the Vikings can topple the Bears in week 14.The likelihood of the Packers winning in New England in week 14 is slim. Near impossible if Rodgers remains out.
Therefore, assuming they lose in New England and beat the Giants and Bears, the Packers would still need to finish a game ahead of the Bears to win the division outright. Even a Chicago loss to Minnesota and a tie in the standings with the Bears at season’s end would require the Packers to beat the Giants and hope for a Chicago loss to the Jets to ensure Green Bay wins the NFC North. As you can see, this won’t be easy.
The Packers’ playoff lives now depend on winning at least two of three against opponents with a combined 29-10 record, and getting help along the way from a flailing 5-8 division rival. Who says the Detroit Lions are worthless?
First in NFC East and full of uncertainty
My Eagles are 9-4, good enough for first place in the NFC East and a legitimate shot at the NFC’s 2nd seed. Still, I’m nervous. The Eagles haven’t played a complete 60 minutes of football since thrashing the Redskins in week 10. As prolific as the offense is, it disappears throughout games, sometimes even quarters at a time. It gets worse. The defense has surrendered 24 points or more in 9 of the team’s 13 games, including 6 of the last 7. The offense relies heavily on big plays and the team’s star player absorbs what I can only imagine equates to about 4-5 car wrecks per week. Forgive me for not dancing up and down my driveway just yet.
Vick has been amazing this season, there’s no questioning that, but his recent play does raise some concerns. His turnovers are up; he’s overthrowing receivers, taking unnecessary hits, and opponents have been mostly effective in forcing him to beat them from within the pocket. I’m not blaming Vick for all (if any) of the Eagles’ struggles, because without him, they’re a .500 team. Also, it doesn’t help Vick any that Andy Reid refuses to run the ball 20-25 times a game. It also doesn’t help that the Eagles struggle to sustain long scoring drives that don’t include a big play or two. Shorter passes to Brent Celek and the slot receivers, combined with a balanced running attack will not only open up the big plays, but also keep Vick upright and healthy. Dropping Vick back in the pocket for 5-7 seconds is asking for trouble. Quicker throws and a running game early will frustrate a defense. More importantly, Vick won’t get hit 12-15 times a game, either. It’s imperative that Reid adapts his offensive strategy to protect Vick. If Vick isn’t healthy, or has an off game, the Eagles will struggle because the defense continues to underachieve.
Gone are the days when a Jim Johnson defense took pride in protecting the end zone and limiting opponents to 17 points per game. I understand there’s a lot of youth on the field, but that youth isn’t on the defensive line where the Eagles once again struggle to pressure opposing quarterbacks. The Eagles traded Chris Clemons this offseason because, according to them, Clemons wasn’t good enough. Well, Clemons has 9.5 sacks in Seattle, more than any Eagle, including Trent Cole. Perhaps the Eagles need to reevaluate their defensive strategy and consider replacing a certain coordinator or position coaches. This is a problem that has plagued the Eagles since Hugh Douglas’ career ended half a decade ago.
For the Eagles to be a true Superbowl contender, Reid will need to do more to protect Vick than demanding penalties from his press conference podium. He’ll need to protect Vick on Sundays. That entails a more balanced offense, shorter, quicker passes, and some defensive relief. Vick is a superstar, but even he can’t do it all.
Someone take them to Chic-Fil-A (NFL’s top 5)
1. Patriots – The Patriots are head, shoulders, knees, and toes above the rest of the league. I should kick everyone else out of the top five to demonstrate how good the Pats are. I don’t know this for sure, but Tom Brady’s performance on Sunday (27/40, 369, 2 TD) has to be the best snowstorm performance by a quarterback ever. (Ok, second to his performance on that tuck rule play.) Plus, it was on the road against a top five defense. Incredible.
2. Saints – It’s time. The Saints look poised to defend their crown. For whatever reason, I’m not too worried about the Eagles going into Atlanta in the playoffs and winning. Winning in New Orleans is different. Thankfully, the Saints (@BAL, @ATL, TB) have a much tougher schedule over the season’s last three weeks than the Falcons (@SEA, NO, CAR). Thus, the Falcons should hold onto that top seed.
3. Falcons – The Falcons keep winning. I’ve run out of reasons to doubt this team. Atlanta hosting Michael Vick and the Eagles in a playoff game should be a good time.
4. Steelers – Winning ugly is still winning. However, at some point, the Steeler offense is going to need to find a rhythm. Pittsburgh’s offense has scored two touchdowns in its last three games, and one of them was handed to them by the Flacco fumble. So, all in all, the Steeler offense has produced one touchdown drive over the last three weeks… and it came on their very first drive in Buffalo. Yeesh.
5. Ravens – Probably should put the Eagles here but I’m afraid to Jinx them. The Ravens look indestructible for stretches and then inept at the most crucial times – end of the Atlanta game, Flacco fumble, 4th quarter collapse in Houston. Two weeks ago, the Jets and Ravens were shoe-ins to knock off the AFC West and AFC South winners in the first round of the playoffs. Now, I’m not so sure.
(Last Week: NE, NO, ATL, PITT, BAL)
Not even Ramen Noodle worthy (NFL’s bottom 5)
28. Lions – Beating the Packers bumped the Lions up a spot, but that’s it. The Packers looked disinterested and ill-prepared, Aaron Rodgers got concussed, and Matt Flynn played like Matt Flynn. Amazingly, the Lions looked worse in their win over Green Bay than they did in any of their previous three games (all losses).
29. Redskins – Clock mis-management again haunted Donovan McNabb. Isn’t this something that can be taught/learned? I feel like it is. Regardless, it’s not McNabb’s fault that kicker, Graham Gano, couldn’t connect from 34 and 24 yards.
30. Cardinals – There are few teams in the NFL I completely ignore on Sundays. The Cardinals are one of them. Only Arizona, Denver, and Carolina have been outscored by their opponents by more than 100 points.
31. Broncos – I don’t know his name, but Denver’s interim coach surely won’t be considered for the vacancy at head coach. Losing to the dreadful Cardinals is unforgiveable. Remind me again why Tim Tebow isn’t starting? What’s the worse that could happen? We learn Josh McDaniels made horrible personnel decisions? Already knew that. The Broncos lose another game? After you lose 10 games, additional losses don’t matter as long as you don’t lose 16. Just put him in. Give your fans something to look forward to.
32. Panthers – I don’t even know what to say anymore. Jimmy Clausen better work hard in preparation for the 2011 season, because carrying a clip board, Andrew Luck’s jacket, and Luck’s sideline hat could be a challenge for Clausen.
(Last Week: TENN, DET, BUF, CAR, AZ)
Stock rising (but not in top 5, yet)
Eagles – That was a big win for the Eagles on Sunday night. The win keeps them ahead of the Giants for another week and gives Philadelphia the opportunity to secure the division with a win this Sunday in New York. A win in New York would guarantee the Eagles the NFC East with just one win in their final two games.
Giants – Winning three in a row has kept New York on the Eagles’ heels. A win against Philadelphia on Sunday would give the Giants the inside track at the second seed in the NFC playoffs. However, the Giants still must go to Lambeau to face a desperate Packer team, so they need this win even more than the Eagles do.
49ers – Miraculously, the 49ers can win the NFC West by winning out and hoping the Falcons beat the Seahawks. While the Seahawks losing to the Falcons is likely, the 49ers beating the Chargers this Thursday is not. Still, the 49ers will have a fighter’s chance even though they’ll need both the Rams and Seahawks to lose twice in the final three weeks.
Stock falling (but not in bottom 5, yet)
Packers – Isn’t it poetic, as the star of Brett Favre fades away, the Packers season does as well? That was a devastating, devastating loss in Detroit. As a result, Green Bay will need to win at least two of their final three – all against current playoff teams. On the bright side, the Bears have a tough schedule. On the dark side, unless the Bears lose to the dreadful Tarvaris Jackson Vikings, the Packers will need to finish a game ahead of Chicago.
Texans – Another season that begin with optimism and hopes of the franchise’s first playoff berth ends the same as all its predecessors. Turns out a good offense is worthless if there’s not a reliable defense to match it. Who knew? I for one, hope Houston retains Gary Kubiak. From a football standpoint, it would be totally foolish to hang onto an underachieving coach who hasn’t gotten the talented Texans into the postseason. However, Arian Foster is on my fantasy team and I have the option of keeping him for the 2011 season as a 6th round draft choice. Kubiak is a master of the cut-back running style that Foster has thrived in this season. A new coach could disrupt that. Please Houston, keep your mediocre coach.
Jets – While it would take an epic collapse for the Jets to miss the playoffs, it doesn’t appear they’ll hang around too long once there. Mark Sanchez has looked dreadful over the past month and the vaunted Jets running game that propelled them to the AFC Championship game last season has been non-existent. The solution? Move LaDainian Tomlinson to second fiddle and give Shonn Greene the rock.