With the Colts coming to town, before the team heads off on a three game road trip, I thought I’d take a quick look at the Pack’s remaining nine games, split nicely into three groups.
The Packers have three games left against the AFC South, including the next two. They have three division games left and three tough matchups with winning NFC teams. At 4-3, there’s not a lot of wiggle room in a congested NFC field of playoff hopefuls. Let’s start with the AFC games: the Pack needs to sweep them. Two are at home (Colts and Texans) and they’re at Tennessee next week, which figures to be the toughest of the three. But since the Packers are solid at what the Titans do best (stopping the run), I like their chances next week and believe they’ll sweep the AFC South.
The tough NFC games include a December home game against the Seahawks and back to back road prime timers against Washington and Philly. The Pack needs to win at home and do no worse than split the two road games to go 2-1.
The division games include road games in Chicago and Detroit and a home game against the Vikes on Christmas Eve day. It’s hard to know what the Week 17 matchup in Detroit will mean to either team, but Green Bay needs to do no worse than go 2-1 in these three games.
If it falls that way, the Pack will finish 11-5 and stamp an invitation to the playoffs, and maybe a division title. There’s a little wiggle room…10-6 might get them to the post season, but for now 11-5 needs to be the target.
On paper, Sunday’s matchup with the Colts might be the easiest game left on the schedule, despite the presence of Andrew Luck. Indy has been dreadful this season, with what is considered one of the worst 1-53 rosters in the league. Their dip into free agency last season to add pricey veterans like Frank Gore and Andre Johnson didn’t move the needle. Their days of ruling over this mediocre division appear to be over, with Houston and Tennessee playing better.
Luck has been very good and he will provide a stiff test for the Pack’s depleted secondary. But he’s not that good when trying to throw while on his back, which is where he’s spent a good amount of time this season. His offensive line may be a trifle better than the Vikings’ but it’s close–they rank dead last in the league in pass blocking and Luck’s been sacked a league leading 31 times.
Luck should have his favorite target, TY Hilton, who’s dealing with a hamstring injury (I guess players on other teams get those too). Hilton returned to practice on Thursday and is coming off a one-catch performance last week, when he was limited with the injury. After Hilton, the Pack will keep an eye on Donte Moncrief, who returned last week after missing five weeks with a shoulder injury and former first rounder Phillip Dorsett, an undersized guy who hasn’t lived up to expectations. Luck is developing a nice chemistry with tight end Jack Doyle, so the Pack needs to make sure he’s taken care of.
While Gore remains their primary ballcarrier, he’s no longer the player he once was and the running game should be no match for the Pack’s stout run stopping front seven.
Defensively, it sounds like Clay Matthews will return and Quentin Rollins has a chance. With Demetri Goodson in the concussion protocol, getting Rollins back would be huge against a team that figures to throw it 40-50 times.
When the Packers have the ball, they should be able to move it at will. The key question mark revolves around Indy’s best defensive player, corner Vontae Davis, who’s in the concussion protocol, but returned to practice on Thursday wearing a red jersey. The Colts’ secondary has been dreadful this season; getting Davis back would be huge for them and he’d likely get the assignment to cover Jordy Nelson. The rest of the guys on the back end are just ordinary and teams have been throwing all day on them.
It doesn’t help that the Colts’ pass rush has been weak and banged up. Their two best D linemen are out and their best rusher may be former Packer Erik Walden. Robert Mathis is still there, but he’s getting long in the tooth. The Colts are 30th against the pass and 29th overall defensively, so there will be plays for Rodgers and the Packers all day.
It sounds like Cobb and Montgomery would return after missing last week’s game. Montgomery figures to share the ball carrying duties with Don Jackson, but look for the Pack to use the run as a change of pace. Rodgers should have lots of time to throw and should be able to find open receivers all day.
The Colts come in at 3-5 and in desperation mode, after getting spanked by the Chiefs last weekend. But they’re not talented or healthy enough to keep pace with a Packers team that is still far from healthy, but one that knows it can’t afford to lose its only home game in the month of November. The Colts haven’t won in Lambeau since 1988. That won’t change this Sunday.
Packers 30 Colts 20