Hosting the Carolina Panthers, Tennessee Titans, and traveling to face the Chicago Bears is exactly how the remainder of the 2020 regular season finishes out for the Green Bay Packers. GB, who just locked up the NFC North divisional crown with their Week 14 victory over the Detroit LIons, coupled with the Minnesota Vikings loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, also lucked out as the New Orleans Saints fell to the struggling Philadelphia Eagles, giving GB the top seed in the NFC playoff picture.
By holding that tiebreaker over the Saints for the top spot, the Packers control their own destiny to finish out the year – win out, and they secure the lone bye for the first round of the playoffs. Now, postseason byes have given the Packers an advantage – and a disadvantage at times – but this team seems to be different and looks to be prepared much better than last year’s postseason meltdown at the hands of the San Francisco 49ers.
But the need to always look too far ahead gets teams in trouble, so focusing on the near future is exactly what can help keep this team successful moving through their three final games of the season. The Panthers, Titans, and Bears all offer up varying levels of difficulty and bring challenging offensive and defensive elements to the table, helping give the Packers a headstart on potential foes in the playoffs that could implore similar schemes.
The lone team that is clearly out of the playoff picture, the Panthers have enjoyed a bunch of buildable success in head coach Matt Rhule’s first season as head coach. Teaming up with Teddy Bridgewater, the former Temple HC has had to fight through the loss of star offensive weapon Christian McCaffrey for the vast majority of the year.
CMC’s availability still looks to be in doubt for the Saturday night game at Lambeau Field, so it looks like Mike Davis will suit up and immediately be plugged in as a top-10 RB option this week, spelling potential trouble for the Packers. But facing a team that relies on heavy involvement with its backs in both the rushing and passing attacks is certainly something GB could face in the playoffs.
While Davis is no CMC, he certainly fills that role better than most and could start for some teams if not for his current backup role, and his performance will – hopefully – help give Mike Pettine a chance to plan for potentially facing a Chris Carson or Alvin Kamara in the postseason, as both backs (more Kamara than Carson) are passing-game catalysts, an area that GB has struggled with mightily ever since Pettine was brought in.
Another element CAR brings to the table are two WR1-capable options in Robby Anderson and D.J. Moore, giving Jaire Alexander and Kevin King bonafide matchups to hone their skills against.
Alexander is Alexander and will command whoever their gameplan dictates, which could be a way to help cover for their middle-of-the-field issues they have been facing, as well as helping cover King’s coverage breakdowns.
A D.K. Metcalf – Tyler Lockett combo, or a Michael Thomas – Emmanuel Sanders combo, or even a Mike Evans – Chris Godwin combo could all be staring GB down in the playoffs, so learning how to successfully shut down two top pass-catchers is going to be super important.
Their offense revolves around Derrick Henry, but is not completely and totally Henry. Ryan Tannehill has been putting up an MVP-race season up to this point, but has been overshadowed by both Aaron Rodgers and Patrick Mahomes.
Having the bell-cow that Henry is certainly helps open up a ton of looks for Tannehill, both in the straight drop-back and play-action plays, something that helps keep this offense evenly distributed, as best as possible. But welcoming an absolute bruiser like Henry to the snowy confines of Lambeau does not bode well for Green Bay, something that could happen in the postseason if they somehow manage to lock up with the Vikings and Dalvin Cook, who took the GB defense to town.
The successful play-action style that TEN is able to roll out when not handing the rock off is something that the Vikings, as well as the Los Angeles Rams, use well, so being able to pick up on cues to not bite too hard on fakes is going to need to be a big element for this defense to work on.
Look, this offense is struggling on a weekly basis to remain relevant, but their recent easy schedule has certainly helped boost those numbers, especially for those of QB Mitch Trubisky and RB David Montgomery. Not to mention, the heavy target share that WR Allen Robinson receives on a weekly basis makes this upstart offense a bit more potent, especially with game script and flow in their favor.
But their defense is their best facet, even if Rodgers did torch them with ease earlier in their first meeting. And with how good DC Chuck Pagano is, it would probably come as a shock if Rodgers threw for four scores on only 29 pass attempts.
When Khalil Mack and Akiem Hicks are right, that 1-2 punch is plenty strong enough to put pressure on opposing QBs while also bottling up rushing attacks up the middle. Hicks has missed some time lately, and it has been a very obvious hole in that defense, as opponents have gone to the run in what has felt like a heavier dosage than usual.
But Hicks looks close to be returning, and his ability to block up running lanes could force GB to involve Aaron Jones, Jamaal Williams, and rookie AJ Dillon in different facets to remain balanced.
The Rams have a strong defense this year, led by All-Pro DT Aaron Donald and a strong secondary with CB Marcus Peters, the Washington Football Team has a scary front seven that could give GB fits, the Saints have a solid defense across the board that relies heavily on their DL pressure, and the Bucs have a strong front that gets to the QB and forces the issue quite often. All of these units bring different defensive elements to the table, and are all units that the Packers could face this postseason, so a tune-up against a stout unit like the Bears could do a ton of good.
However you want to look at it, the Packers will need to take a ton from their final three matchups before marching into the playoffs – and hopefully, these takeaways help them shed the label of not being able to clear that final hump, especially with boasting one of the more established rosters in the entire league.뿓뿓뿓
Mike Johrendt has been an avid fan of the Packers ever since he can remember. He is now a writer at PackersTalk and you can follow him on Twitter at @MJohrendt23