In the NFL it’s often not who you play, but when you play them that is a key to victory. And even with a rash of injuries to playmakers on both sides of the ball, the Green Bay Packers are still in position to make a run at a third consecutive NFC North championship.
With the injury to Jermichael Finley Sunday afternoon the Packers are now missing three of quarterback Aaron Rodgers’ top four targets. Not to mention losing their starting left tackle Bryan Bulaga for the year in the preseason. The defense has not fared much better with defensive backs Casey Hayward and Morgan Burnett both missing time due to hamstring injuries, All-Pro linebacker Clay Matthews has a broken thumb and fellow starting linebackers Nick Perry and Brad Jones are sidelined right now as well.
Yet even with all of these injuries the Packers find themselves atop the NFC North after six games and they are about to start a stretch of games that will give them the opportunity to build upon that lead.
Of the 10 games left on their schedule, the Packers only have five games against winning teams. Two of those games come against the Chicago Bears, who just lost arguably their most important players on each side of the ball – quarterback Jay Cutler and linebacker Lance Briggs – for several weeks. The first five of those games are particularly manageable with the floundering Vikings on the schedule twice along with the woeful Giants, the injury-crippled Bears and a home tilt against an Eagles team that was just held to three points by the Dallas Cowboys. A 5-0 record in that stretch is not unrealistic and that would put the Packers at 9-2 at Thanksgiving.
The back five are a little more rugged, starting with a Thanksgiving Day game in Detroit against an improved Lions team. Detroit hasn’t fared well on Thanksgiving recently and the Lions were beaten soundly by the Packers at Lambeau Field earlier this season. But the Lions were without All-Pro wide receiver Calvin Johnson for that game which severely limited their offense.
This time it will be the Packers who will be without at least two of their top weapons as wide receiver Randall Cobb and tight end Jermichael Finley will both be out for that contest. It’s not an unreasonable to think the Packers will lose that game, dropping them to 4-1 in the division, but with a 9-3 overall record and likely still leading the NFC North.
The final quarter of the season should see the Packers getting healthy and poised to get on a roll headed into the playoffs. Week 14 has a struggling Atlanta Falcons team visiting Lambeau without Julio Jones and possibly still without Steven Jackson as well. Week 15 will feature a potentially pivotal conference game in Dallas against the Cowboys, the current leader of the NFC East. Adding intrigue to this matchup is the possible return of Randall Cobb from injury as he will finally be eligible to come back from injured reserve that week.
Week 16 will be the last regular season home game for the Packers, with a struggling Pittsburgh Steelers team visiting Green Bay. The Packers then close the season in Chicago which should have Cutler and Briggs back by the. But at that point, the Bears could be just playing out the season while the Packers could easily be competing for a first-round bye in the playoffs.
Even if the Packers drop their final three road games, an 11-5 record is easily within their grasp and 12-4 would not be a shocker either. That should result in a worst case scenario of having a home game in the playoffs in the wild card round, but it’s not a stretch to think that a 12-4 record could easily yield a first-round bye. That’s not bad for a team that started 1-2 and is currently missing nearly half of it’s starters on each side of the ball.