The Pack is back.
Not that they were ever really out of it, or anything, though some would have made the argument a few weeks back that they were facing must-win games and entering crisis mode. But anyone thinking Green Bay somehow wasn't going to be a factor in the postseason, or didn't have the chops to win it all this season, had better recognize.
Sure, they still have their faults, but keep in mind this is a season of extreme parity, even by recent NFL standards, so there aren't too many clubs flirting with perfection or looking like the complete package.
Everyone has to be graded on a curve, and over the past two weeks, I defy you to find anyone playing any better at his position than Aaron Rodgers is at quarterback.
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This is vintage stuff, maybe the best this perennial MVP candidate has ever looked. The absence of Greg Jennings is almost a moot point, with Rodgers alternating between making Jordy Nelson or Randall Cobb or James Jones look like a dominant No. 1 receiver -- depending on the drive. He is doing the sublime, like rolling out, stepping up and throwing a perfect cross-field bomb for 39 yards to Cobb to put away the Rams, for instance, and making it look ridiculously easy.
And you get the feeling, coming off the early season criticism, Rodgers isn't letting up anytime soon.
Rodgers went 30 for 37 for 342 yards with three touchdowns in the 30-20 victory at St. Louis. He had seven completions of 15 yards or more to five different receivers. This comes a week after he destroyed the previously unbeaten Texans, throwing six touchdowns in the process.
So in the past two weeks, Rodgers is 54 for 74 for 680 yards, with a 9/0 TD/INT ratio. OK, I'm going to type that again. Rodgers is 54 for 74 for 680 yards with a 9/0 TD/INT ratio (he's the first QB with that ratio over two games since Tom Brady in 2007). That's merely a 141 rating, folks. Nothing to see here.
Remember all the hand wringing about the lack of a running game, and the loss of Cedric Benson and the issues on the offensive line? Well, the Packers had similar issues in past years and Rodgers transcended them. Says here he does it again.
Remember all of those bemoaning the demise of Nelson? Where were all the big plays and touchdowns? Um, well, Nelson had nine grabs for 121 yards and three touchdowns against the Texans and had eight grabs for 122 yards and another touchdown Sunday. So, my elementary math shows 17 catches for 243 yards and four TDs in two weeks of work. He has scoring grabs for 21 and 41 yards and six catches of 15 yards or more in that span.
The defense isn't elite, I concede, but with this kind of scoring behind it, does it have to be? There still are enough playmakers on that side of the ball and they should be getting healthier coming out of the bye with guys like defensive tackle B.J. Raji working to get back on the field.
As much as that Week 5 loss to the Colts hurt, dropping the Packers to 2-3, let's keep it in perspective. It was an AFC loss, which lessens tiebreaker ramifications, and the one that could sting, the Monday night loss to Seattle, obviously controversial, is also hardly a killer. Consider, the Packers (4-3) will play host to the Jags and the reeling Cards the next two weeks. Assuming they take care of business, they'll head to the bye 6-3 and riding a four-game winning streak.
Not too shabby.
And then, in the final seven weeks of the season, five games come against NFC North foes -- they are already 1-0 in the division having beat Chicago in Week 2 -- which puts them in position to make a run for a division title, home playoff game, possible bye, all that good stuff. The non-divisional games are against the Titans and Giants, so you would think they can split those.
Take care of business against the North, and look out for Green Bay in the postseason.
Things remain bleak in Buffalo
How long before we get some kind of shakeup in Buffalo?
One defensive coordinator, Philly's Juan Castillo, already has been let go, and the Bills are exponentially worse defensively than that Eagles unit, and came into the season brimming with promise about a renewal on that side of the ball. Yet they came into Sunday's game allowing a franchise-high 32 points a game == and managed to let the Titans top that in a 35-34 defeat.
Chris Johnson, the guy carrying a 2-yards-per-carry average around with him much of the season, had more than 100 yards rushing in the first quarter alone. Even with C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson taking turns gashing the Titans' defense, the Bills could hold no lead and lost a game that could damn them.
Buffalo has allowed 35 points or more in five of its first seven games, and three of the past four. Opponents were gaining 5.8 yards per carry -- think about that, people -- before Sunday's debacle. And, opposing quarterbacks are floating with a 100 rating against them, which is made all the more shocking by the fact they've faced Mark Sanchez, Brandon Weeden, Matt Cassel, Alex Smith, Kevin Kolb/John Skelton, and, yes, Tom Brady, but that's not exactly a wing in Canton we're looking at here.
With the Texans and Patriots coming up on the road coming out of the bye, a change this week would not surprise me at all, given coordinator Dave Wannstedt's struggles. The pass rush is no more fearful despite being much more pricey now, and yet another season is threatening to spiral away far too soon in western New York.
• I understand Titans coach Mike Munchak's contention that Jake Locker is his starter and will take over when he's healthy, and all that good stuff. So they better find a way to hold that injury back. Matt Hasselbeck has the complicated offense going much better now, the run game works better with Hasselbeck under center. So if I'm Munchak I'm taking my time with Locker and giving him very limited practice reps and allowing that shoulder every extra week to heal. At 3-4 now, after seemingly being lost in the abyss, the Titans are back in the hunt in the wide-open AFC. Hasselbeck has much better chemistry with Kenny Britt, and with what is suddenly a big divisional game with the Colts next week looming, give me the veteran under center.
• Robert Griffin III and the Redskins deserved better Sunday than a bitter defeat in his first NFC East game. This kid had the Giants defense guessing, rookie running back Alfred Morris was dragging Giants all over the field when he wasn't running them over, and had Washington been able to hold on to the ball -- the normally reliable team coughed it up four times in the second half -- this was their game. I'm amazed the defense has kept the scoring down for the most part, given their lack of defensive backs and massive injuries. They will really be tested now should inside linebacker London Fletcher miss time because of a hamstring injury.
• Few teams need the bye right now as much as the Ravens, who on top of all their injuries had Haloti Ngata and Ed Reed hobbling around as their defense again got walked all over on Sunday. Consider that in the past three games, the Chiefs held the ball against them for more than 34 minutes, the Cowboys held it for more than 40 minutes, and the Texans held it for more than 38 minutes in their 43-13 thrashing of Baltimore. With each week, the Ravens set new franchise depths for rushing yards allowed, or points allowed. Unless their offense learns to pack its big-boy game on the road -- Baltimore and Joe Flacco are considerably more productive at home -- it's going to be hard to keep up this pace in the standings. Coordinator Cam Cameron needs to get Ray Rice more involved and show more patience with the run game. The lack of production from young tight ends Dennis Pitta and Ed Dickson has been striking. On the bright side, it was utterly shocking to see how many reps Terrell Suggs got, and how effective he was, in his first game back from a rapid return from an Achilles injury.
• It must kill new Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie, still in Green Bay a year ago when Oakland gave up a ransom for Carson Palmer, to watch the aging quarterback now and think about what he could have done with those draft picks. Even in a wacky, comeback victory Sunday, it was hard not to cringe when watching Palmer operate in some critical situations. With Terrelle Pryor getting no time, you have to think the Raiders are in the market for a quarterback next season rather than pay Palmer $13 million.
• The Cardinals allowed seven more sacks Sunday, and Minnesota wasn't even bringing numbers in the pass rush. John Skelton, godspeed my friend. I expect the Cards to audition free-agent quarterbacks or consider trade options before the deadline. They're going to need depth at that position with the abuse being administered to their passers on a weekly basis.
• How did Vincent Jackson make a 95-yard play and the Bucs fail to get anything out of it? Josh Freeman, who had a stellar game against New Orleans, could not convert on fourth down. As much as the penalty that negated an apparent last-second, tying touchdown will receive much attention, the Bucs had other potential turning points in that game that kept them from pulling out of the deep hole they dug. Tampa Bay's secondary, once a strength of that team, is a total train wreck, by the way. We'll see if getting Aqib Talib back from suspension in a few weeks helps at all.
• Poor Brandon Weeden. His receivers continue to drop critical, at times winning or game-changing passes. Josh Gordon was the latest, with a perfect throw that could have put away the Colts falling through his hands. No receiving corps undermines its quarterback quite like this group.
• The spirit, effort and togetherness the scrappy Jets have displayed, in particular since Darrelle Revis and Santonio Holmes have returned, has been stirring. They outplayed the Patriots in the second half Sunday, were more physical than New England, had more precision in the downfield passing game for the most part and damn near won the game. It's obvious how much these guys love their coach and they have learned from some humbling defeats early and seem much better for it now. The mere fact the Jets extended it to overtime in New England -- despite the talent imbalance and while trailing by 10 late -- also shows the Pats have lost some of that cutting edge that used to define them. New England's defensive issues are very real, and this offense hasn't been fooling people lately, sputtering with the lead in the second half far more than we're accustomed to seeing.
• With Indy rebuilding, the Patriots more than mortal, the Ravens and Steelers defenses a shell of what they used to be, and San Diego -- for years the annual AFC West champ -- now thoroughly in damage-control mode, this is the strangest start to a season we've seen in this conference for a long time. After Houston, good luck figuring out the next best team in this 16-team field.