The Green Bay Packers entered their bye week with a solid 3-2-1 record, tied with the Bears and Vikings at three wins in the division. As they prepare for Week 8, the Packers find themselves right in the thick of things in the NFC. They hold the sixth-best record in the conference and are a half game back of Minnesota in the NFC North.
While Green Bay is in a favorable position right now, they are about to enter a five-game stretch that could very well determine whether the Packers are legitimate contenders or poised to miss the postseason for the second straight year. It’s not often that teams face season-defining moments so early in the season, but playing in a crowded conference and arguably the NFC’s top division make the next five weeks–four of which are on the road–vital to Green Bay’s playoff chances.
That stretch begins next week, as the Packers travel to Los Angeles to play the Ram’s the NFL’s lone unbeaten team. And this Rams team is no joke. They’ve scored at least 33 points in all but one game, and boast an offense and defense that both rank in the top 10 in yards per game.
Todd Gurley and Jared Goff have been nearly impossible to slow down for opposing defenses, while reigning Defensive Player of the Year Aaron Donald leads the league with eight sacks. Fortunately for Green Bay, the Packers tend to play well coming off bye weeks. For a chance at the upset, they’ll have to put together a complete game and play better than they’ve been through six games.
Things don’t get much easier after that, as the Packers must travel across the country to New England to take on Tom Brady and the Patriots. It will be the second career match up between the top two quarterbacks of the 2010s, with Aaron Rodgers and Green Bay winning the first meeting in 2014. Road games in Foxboro are never easy, and the Packers will be looking for their first win there since 2002. The next two weeks, against Los Angeles and New England, are undoubtedly the toughest match ups the Packers have all year, and escaping with a 1-1 record would be a major hurdle cleared moving forward.
But if Green Bay can’t pull either upset, putting them at 3-4-1, they’ll likely need a clean sweep on the remaining three games in this tough stretch to have a decent shot at the postseason. Some relief comes in Week 10, as the Packers return home to play Miami. The Dolphins haven’t been a pushover this season, but are definitely a “must-win” game, especially at Lambeau.
Then things get tough again. Green Bay heads west on short rest for a Thursday night match up with Seattle. This Seahawks team is not what it used to be, especially its 28th-ranked offense, but it’s still worth noting that the home team has won each of the last seven contests between the two.
The Packers follow that up with a divisional match up (again on the road) against the Vikings. Minnesota, like Green Bay, has been very inconsistent through the first half of the season, and this game could easily determine which of the preseason favorites to win the division actually takes home the NFC North title. The 29-29 tie in Week 2 left both teams and their fans pretty disappointed, so they’ll both be looking for a statement win against a rival.
It’s generally hard to call games “must-win” until the last few weeks, but the Packers’ impending five-game stretch seems like one where Green Bay has to post a winning record. Emerging with a 3-2 record to go to 6-4-1 overall would at least give the Packers the chance to go on another December run. Posting 4-1 or 5-0 records would be incredible, while coming away with a 5-5-1 record (or worse) would make it very difficult for Green Bay to snag a playoff spot.
There’s a decent chance the Packers are underdogs in four or five games, so they’ll need to be at their best to steal a few upsets in some crucial conference match ups. The talent is good enough to contend, but this stretch will determine whether the team can turn potential into results.——————
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 .