GREEN BAY, Wis. - So far, in this disappointing 4-6-1 Packers season, there have been no “runs.”
A victory in the season-opener over the Bears followed by a frustrating tie with the Vikings. A win against the hapless Bills, then the debacle in Detroit. A triumph over the lowly 49ers entering the bye week preceded gut-wrenching losses at Los Angeles and New England. A victory over the Dolphins, then two disappointing defeats in Seattle and Minnesota.
With five games left, there is only one option for a shot at a possible NFC playoff berth: win out.
And a run must start Sunday against the 2-9 Arizona Cardinals at Lambeau Field, with weather conditions predicted that warm-weather teams don’t relish. Snow and near-freezing temperatures (high 36 degrees) with 20-25 mph winds are forecast, with 2 to 4 inches of snow.
“That’s Packer weather in December, perfect to host a team from Arizona,” said Mike Ditka, recuperating in Florida from a recent heart attack.
Ditka was resting and watching college football games Saturday afternoon, and the former Chicago head coach was in good spirits.
“It was a pretty good heart attack and I now have a pacemaker—but there’s good news because nobody thought I had a heart,” Ditka quipped. “I’m looking forward to the Alabama-Georgia game and resting—I have no choice. I’m breathless if I walk across the room.”
Ditka knows Green Bay’s playoff hopes are on life-support.
“The Bears are the best team in the division and are proving that,” Ditka said. “The Packers didn’t step up and get it done in Minnesota, and now they need help. A lot of help from other teams. It’ll take a small miracle, but life and football are made up of miracles. But hey, first they have to take care of business at home against the Cardinals. They only can control what they can control and that’s their own play. Focus on what they have to do to beat the Arizona Cardinals.”
With the team’s record and inconsistent play, Mike McCarthy is on the hot seat as the Packers are on the verge of missing the NFC playoffs for a second consecutive season. Local and national media are dissecting and analyzing the team’s issues and the relationship between the head coach and franchise quarterback.
“I have a lot respect for Mike McCarthy and Aaron Rodgers—they’ve had a lot of success together in Green Bay over the years,” Ditka said. “It’s very hard to sustain success in this league. This much I know: last time I looked there’s one head coach, he’s the boss. There’s one quarterback, he’s a team leader. I’ve been there—they won’t always see eye to eye. But they have to be on the same page. It’s tough when there’s adversity and scrutiny and you’re not winning. That’s the NFL, that’s the job. But they are the leaders of this team—we’ll see how they respond in these last five games.”
Green Bay has had its share of offensive issue, including inconsistent play from Rodgers, injuries to key receivers and offensive linemen, young receivers learning on the job, poor third-down conversion rate, and second-half struggles. Led by rookie quarterback Josh Rosen, the Cardinals offense ranks dead last in the NFL in every key offensive category: rushing, passing, points, and turnovers. Thirty-six percent of their offensive production comes from running back David Johnson and Arizona comes into Lambeau after a 45-10 loss to the Chargers, a contest the Cardinals led 10-0 before falling apart.
Arizona averages 232 yards—155 passing and 77 rushing—and just 14 points per game. The Packers defense should be bolstered with the return of cornerback Kevin King, but defensive lineman Mike Daniels was placed on injured reserve Saturday afternoon along with returner Trevor Davis. Rookie receiver and return Jake Kumerow was activated to the 53-man roster and will probably see his first regular-season action of the season.
Receiver Randall Cobb may also return against the Cardinals, adding firepower and a reliable possession target for Rodgers and the offense, which has struggled converting on third downs all season. Running back Aaron Jones may be primed for a heavy workload Sunday, especially in adverse weather where throwing the ball may be challenging.
In his post-game press conference in the bowls of U.S. Bank Stadium after the 24-17 loss in Minneapolis, Rodgers said the team must win out to have a chance at postseason play.
“We’ll see what we’re made of for the last five weeks,” Rodgers said. “Are we going to stick together through these tough times, or are we going to start splintering? I’d like to think that the leadership is in place that we can stick together through whatever happens, but these five weeks will show it.”
NFL Week 13 Picks
After failing biggest test of their 2018 season in Minneapolis, Green Bay rebounds against 2-9 Cardinals at Lambeau in the snow. Arizona averages a league-worst 14 points per game and yields 26.6 points. A run has to have a starting point. Packers 27, Cardinals 13.
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