Before the season began, the Green Bay Packers were the overall favorite to be crowned Super Bowl Champions at the end of the 2015 campaign.
Through the first six weeks of the season, Green Bay (despite some obvious flaws) still looked like one of the top teams in the NFL. A 6-0 start, including wins over previously-troublesome teams like the 49ers and Seahawks, had the team and its fans feeling pretty good.
But since that hot start, the Packers have gotten themselves into a rut. Green Bay has dropped four of its last five games to fall to 7-4 and second place in the NFC North. The first two losses were simply brushed aside; after all, there is little shame in losing to two undefeated teams on the road. But the team’s other two defeats have been far more surprising.
The Packers lost to Detroit at home for the first time since 1991. After a convincing win on the road against the Vikings that seemed to get the team back on track, Green Bay returned home and lost in another major upset to the Chicago Bears. In the two defeats, the Packers managed a combined 29 points, just a year after Green Bay averaged a league-best 30.4 points per game.
If someone said that the Packers defense would hold Detroit and Chicago to 18 and 17 points, respectively, at Lambeau Field, it would seem to be almost a given that Green Bay came away victorious. But the 2015 team has struggled immensely to score. While the defense has shown significant improvement from last season, giving up the sixth-fewest points in the NFL, the offense has not held up its end of the bargain. The big question now is whether the 2015 Green Bay Packers are still realistic Super Bowl contenders.
Vegas and other bettors have taken notice of Green Bay’s struggles. After opening the season as the favorites to win, the Packers have slipped to sixth at 12-1 odds.
Despite the recent struggles, the answer to whether the Packers are contenders this year remains “yes.” Quarterback Aaron Rodgers has not played like his normal self over the Packers’ recent rough patch, but he has remains one of the best quarterbacks in football. The passing game could click at any moment and allow the offense to get back on track.
Similarly, the running game looks like it may have finally turned a corner. Eddie Lacy, hampered by injuries and seeing relatively few carries, posted back-to-back games with over 100 rushing yards against the Vikings and Bears. If he continues to play like he has the past two seasons, he can bring balance to the Green Bay offense as well as open up play action.
Surprisingly, the biggest strength of the 2015 Packers has been the defense. In losses to the Bears and Lions, it was largely the defense that gave Green Bay even the opportunity to come away with last-second victories. In wins against the Rams and Chargers, the defense was what allowed the Packers to emerge victorious. If the defense can consistently maintain the level of play it has demonstrated for much of this season, it would be a huge boost to the Packers’ chances.
That being said, there are a lot of “ifs” that have to take place for Green Bay to remain a contender for this year’s Super Bowl. Rodgers and the offense cannot continue to have games where the team fails to move the ball for large periods of time. The wide receivers need to be better at executing their routes and holding onto the ball. Running backs must continue to give the Packers a strong ground game. The defense needs to continue to perform the way it has thus far in the year.
For now, Green Bay needs to just focus on making the playoffs. The Packers sit one game behind Minnesota in the NFC North with five games left on the schedule. The number two seed is not out of the question, but Green Bay would need a lot of outside help to pass the Cardinals.
The Packers first chance to get back on track comes on the road against the Lions on Thursday. The divisional record could have huge implications in case of a tie with the Vikings, and every game from here on out becomes important.
While winning the NFC North would be ideal, it is not necessary. The Packers just need to work out their kinks and find a way to get back into the postseason for what would be the seventh straight year. The last time the Packers won the Super Bowl, they barely squeaked into the playoffs as a wild card and got hot at the right time. If they can make the postseason, anything is possible.——————
Sean Blashe is a Packers fan who grew up in Bears territory and is currently a journalism and history major at Marquette University. Sean is a writer with PackersTalk.com and you can follow him on twitter at @SeanBlashe .