The Green Bay Packers are NFC North champions, once again.
Since the NFL’s 2002 realignment that led to the creation of the NFC North, the Packers have won the division 11 of a possible 19 times, which means they’ve won the division more than the other three teams have combined.
The only team to have won its division more times since NFL realignment is the New England Patriots with an absurd 16, including a streak of 11 that will come to an end this year.
The recent dominance is equally impressive. Under head coach Matt LaFleur, the Packers are now 10-1 in the NFC North, with a chance to improve to 11-1 in week 17 against the Bears. That level of dominance is almost unheard of, especially for a relatively new head coach.
You watch teams like the Lions and Bears cycle through coaches every few years, and the Vikings constantly fail to live up to preseason expectations, and it gives you an even greater appreciation for what the Packers have accomplished over the last several decades. This is a team that is consistently a contender, and its “down years” never last for long.
The Bears haven’t been able to get the quarterback position right since the 1940s. You can count the number of Lions playoff victories since the 1950s on one hand. The Vikings have made ‘choking’ something of a brand identity.
This is just the first step for the Packers in their 2020 campaign, but it’s an important one. Winning divisional games is crucial not just for getting a home playoff game, but also for positioning yourself well for tiebreakers against other teams in the conference for seeding purposes.
The Packers are now in the driver’s seat for the top seed in the conference and the lone bye under the new playoff format. It’s due in large to their ongoing divisional dominance, and here they are in a favorable position.
If Aaron Jones doesn’t come back, it won’t be due to his new agent
The internet was abuzz on Monday when it was announced that Aaron Jones had replaced his previous agent with the infamous Drew Rosenhaus. The jokes immediately began pouring in that the move essentially sealed Jones’ fate with the Packers, and that he’d be playing elsewhere in 2021.
And, let’s be real, the odds have always been that the Packers would let Jones walk. Though there was mutual interest reported earlier this season in an extension, the numbers are tight right now, and the recent history of running backs signing mega-deals has not exactly been great from franchises’ perspectives.
So if Jones doesn’t return in 2021, it won’t be because of anything Rosenhaus changes. Jones undoubtedly would love to remain a Packer, but this is his one shot at a big payday, especially as a running back. Rosenhaus will be a fierce advocate to be sure, but ultimately his becoming Jones’s agent really doesn’t make much of a difference with regard to Jones’s future, memes aside.
One guy to watch this week
This week’s guy to watch isn’t for particularly good reason: Christian Kirksey.
Kirksey has been, to put it mildly, a liability all over the field for the Packers this season, and it’s getting hard for me to see why he continues to get so much playing time even over young players who have shown some spark. He’s bad in coverage, easily taken advantage of against the run, and doesn’t really seem to have any discernible strengths that are helping this defense.
So what I want to see is: how does Mike Pettine use him this week? Does he adjust his packages at all? Do we get more Kamal Martin and Krys Barnes, or is he going to keep insisting on putting Kirksey out on the field?
Kirksey almost certainly won’t be back on the team in 2021; his production nowhere near justifies his contract. So it doesn’t make much sense to me to continue emphasizing him in defensive packages. Play the other guys with more upside and get them valuable game experience, because you know they’re going to be around next year.
Thursday Night Prediction
It’s an AFC West showdown tonight, as the Los Angeles Chargers take on the Las Vegas Raiders.
The Raiders are sitting at 7-6 and just outside the playoff picture. Given the way the competition is trending in the AFC, the Raiders will probably need to win out to get in. A big victory at home, on a short week against a divisional opponent, would be a good way to start.
The Chargers are occasionally dangerous, but poor coaching has held back their development this season. I like the Raiders to pick up a much-needed victory and keep the pressure on other bubble teams like Baltimore, Miami, and Indianapolis.
Two Minutes’ Hate: Carolina Panthers
I have no idea why, but I’ve always harbored a general disdain for the Panthers, despite them being an almost-perpetually mediocre franchise with a bland brand and character.
When I think of the Panthers, I think:
- Rae Carruth murdering his girlfriend
- Steve Smith being an absolute massive asshole, and for some reason, everyone loving him for it
- Former owner Jerry Richardson being an unapologetic racist
- Cam Newton making a business decision by not diving on a fumble in the biggest game of his life
- Fullback Brad Hoover running all over the early 2000s Packers
Now, granted, not a single one of these people has anything to do with the franchise anymore. I know next to nothing about new coach Matt Rhule, so I’ll just assume he probably sucks.
What I do know is that the only thing more fragile in North Carolina than race relations is Christian McCaffrey.
Their quarterback is Teddy Bridgewater, a guy Vikings fans slurped for years as being a superstar quarterback of the future despite still never having thrown for more than 14 touchdowns in a single season (he could set a career high this weekend against the Packers by getting his 15th!).
Look, I get that Vikings fans live by the “beggars can’t be choosers” rule with quarterbacks, and the Panthers didn’t exactly have a whole lot of available options this year, but when you’re placing your hopes and dreams on a dude who doesn’t score, can’t throw for more than 15 yards and has a leg held together by duct tape and hope, you’re going to have a bad time.
The Panthers’ stadium is garbage, the team can never pick a standard uniform, the name is boring, and any team that plays animal noises or horns or whatever else when they get a first down is honestly the worst. RAAAWWWWWWRRRRRRRR it took Teddy Bridgewater four completed passes to gain 10 and a half yards!
Packers get to kill off another ‘cat team’ and Christian McCaffrey breaks three ribs while laughing about how hard he fleeced the Panthers in contract negotiations this offseason.
Green Bay Packers 31, Carolina Panthers 17