GREEN BAY, Wis. – Somehow, the Green Bay Packers have survived a barrage of injuries to stay in the race for the No. 1 seed in the NFC playoffs.
The Packers improved to 9-3 by beating the Los Angeles Rams 36-28 on Sunday at Lambeau Field. They’re a half-game behind the Arizona Cardinals for the best record in the conference despite the extended absences of four Pro Bowlers – left tackle David Bakhtiari, outside linebacker Za’Darius Smith, cornerback Jaire Alexander and left guard-turned-left tackle Elgton Jenkins – amid a litany of other injuries.
“I’d say that that’s a pretty damned good start,” said quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who accounted for 307 passing yards and three total touchdowns despite a broken toe.
Following their long-awaited bye, the Packers will enter the home stretch of the regular season and continue their pursuit of the No. 1 seed – a prize that means the only playoff bye and homefield advantage.
It’s a three-team race between Arizona (9-2), Green Bay (9-3) and Tampa Bay (8-3). None of the teams face a difficult finishing schedule.
Green Bay: home vs. Chicago (4-7), at Baltimore (7-3, pending Sunday night vs. Cleveland), home vs. Cleveland (6-5, pending Sunday night vs. Baltimore) home vs. Minnesota (5-6), and at Detroit (0-10-1). Total: 22-31-1. Two of the five games will be against teams .500 or better. Three of five at home.
Arizona: at Chicago (4-7), home vs. the Rams (7-4), at Detroit (0-10-1), home vs. Indianapolis (6-6), at Dallas (7-4) and home vs. Seattle (3-7, pending Monday night vs. Washington). Total: 27-38. Three of the six games will be against teams .500 or better. Three of six at home.
Tampa Bay: at Atlanta (5-6), home vs. Buffalo (7-4) and New Orleans (5-6), at Carolina (5-7) and the Jets (3-8), and home vs. Carolina (5-7). Total: 30-38. One of the six games will be against teams .500 or better but only one game (Jets) will be against a truly bad team. Three of six at home.
“This was an important one,” Rodgers said. “There’s still a lot to be figured out in the conference, but I like where we’re at. I like or football team. We’ve got some more home games down the stretch. These are the type of winter games where we can and have effectively thrown the football. We’ve controlled the clock for almost 40 minutes. This is what makes it so difficult to play in Lambeau. So, we’ve got to win our division first, secure that home playoff game, and then we have the tiebreaker over Arizona, so we’re right on their heels right now.”
The midseason win at Arizona means the Packers only have to draw even with the Cardinals, though their Week 14 game at Baltimore might be the toughest on any of the schedules.
That’s way too far down the road for coach Matt LaFleur to consider. He was thrilled to get to the bye with a victory over the talented Rams but there’s work to be done.
“We’ve battled through a lot of adversity,” he said. “There’s room for improvement in all three phases, which is always exciting, and we know that there’s a lot of challenge left in front of us. When we’re back in this building, we have to attack it on a daily basis, which I think our guys embrace, and they take that to heart. We never look too far in front of us. We always try to focus on and stay as present as possible. Our guys have that mentality. And I think that’s the mentality that it takes to win games in this league.”