The Green Bay Packers got back in the win column with a 34-20 victory over the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday. The victory ended a three-game skid and came thanks to what was arguably the team’s most complete performance of the season.
In reality, defeating Atlanta did little to salvage the 2018 season. After Week 14, the Packers hadn’t technically been eliminated from the playoffs. FiveThirtyEight gives Green Bay a 3% chance at a wild card berth, and some analytics put that number as high as 6%. But the likelihood remains that the Packers playoff hopes, much less their Super Bowl aspirations, have been dead for a while.
So the “smart” thing to do would be to just accept the year is over and play for the best draft pick, right? While some might see it that way, the Packers should avoid the tank talk and continue to try and win while playing well like they did against the Falcons. The road to the postseason may be tough, but there are individual and team-based reasons for Green Bay to try.
For starters, the most obvious reason is that the Packers are still mathematically alive in the playoff push. While the Chicago Bears eliminated Green Bay from the NFC North by defeating the Rams, everything else went the Packers’ way in Week 14. The four teams directly ahead of Green Bay–the Panthers, Eagles, Redskins, and Vikings–all lost. They still need to win out and get a lot of help, but a postseason path is open.
But even if it can be assumed that the Packers will be done come January, they should still be trying to win their final three games. The team undeniably had a tumultuous 2018 season, the first under GM Brian Gutekunst. It seems likely that there will be a lot of roster turnover in the offseason. Aging veterans like Bryan Bulaga, Randall Cobb, Clay Matthews, and Nick Perry could all be restructured or released in the spring.
With such uncertainty surrounding next year’s roster, it is important for the Packers to see what pieces should be kept around in 2019. The best way to do that is to keep fielding a team where next year’s guaranteed starters (like Aaron Rodgers, Davante Adams, and Kenny Clark) are still on the field with guys looking to prove their worth. By continuing to play the team’s top players, it will also make it more obvious which deficiencies need to be addressed in the draft and free agency.
On a more individual level, many of the Packers’ top players are approaching major milestones. Davante Adams has already set career highs in receptions (92) and receiving yards (1,196), and needs just one more touchdown to set a new high in that category. He’s also got an outside chance at two single-season franchise records. Adams needs 21 catches to pass Sterling Sharpe’s team-record 112 receptions and 324 yards to eclipse Jordy Nelson’s mark of 1,519. He’d need to average seven catches and 108 yards over his final three games, which he’s already done in a three-game stretch earlier this year. He’s also got a very real chance to lead the league in receiving touchdowns if he can tack on a couple more.
Aaron Jones also needs to finish strong to hit some season milestones. He needs 280 rushing yards (94 per game) to reach 1,000 for the season, which would be doubly impressive given his criminal under-usage early in the season and missing two games to suspension to start the year. If Jones can find the end zone one more time, he’d also reach double digit touchdowns for the first time in his young career. Aaron Rodgers is also trying to hit 4,000 passing yards and 30 touchdowns for the seventh time in his career.
Add in how great it would feel to sweep the Bears and hurt their playoff seeding with a victory next week, and there’s plenty of reasons for the Packers to continue trying to win down the stretch. Sure, a top 10 pick in April might be nice, but the team has the draft capital to move up if they really want a certain player. They’ve already got two first rounders, so finishing the 2018 season strong could do just as much for the future of the team than playing poorly for better draft position.——————
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 .