After losing three of their past four games, the Green Bay Packers must defeat the Tennessee Titans.
Losing has become too commonplace for a franchise led by Aaron Rodgers. Since the Packers’ flying 6-0 start in 2015, they have lost 11 of their past 20 games, five at Lambeau Field.
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Rodgers’ Packers are associated with winning, his name always amongst the candidates for league MVP, his team always a force when the playoffs arrive. A regular postseason lock, this year’s team sit on the brink, in danger of failing to extend their season beyond December.
No shame can be taken from a loss in Atlanta, especially when the Packers lost by a single point. Even dropping a home game to Dallas could be put down to a bad performance against one of the league’s best teams.
Last week’s loss to Indianapolis was different. Until the fourth quarter there was no urgency. The Colts wanted the game more than the Packers, the home team coasting their way to another defeat.
Giving up a touchdown on the opening kickoff immediately put Green Bay behind the eight ball, but this would simply be shrugged off in years gone by. “Nice try”, they’d say, before Aaron Rodgers would take command of the game and sprinkle the ball around the Lambeau turf.
Mike McCarthy’s teams have rarely led with defense, but they’ve often done enough to allow the offense to win. Not anymore. This defense, plagued with injuries, can’t get off the field at the critical moment, and even when they do they are let down by an erratic offense.
Sunday’s trip to Nashville is the first of three on the road. Two tough NFC slates with Washington and Philadelphia soon follow, and a loss to the Titans would spell danger for the Packers’ lofty playoff ambitions.
The Titans may be sat at 4-5 on the year, but this should be viewed as a very winnable road game for the Packers. Halting a powerful run game led by DeMarco Murray along with the versatile threat young quarterback Marcus Mariota presents won’t be easy, but it’s an assignment Dom Capers’ No. 1-ranked rushing defense is capable of handling.
Tennessee’s defense is no pushover, but they are vulnerable through the air, an area the Packers should excel. That hasn’t been the case often enough over the past calendar year. This must change in a hurry.
The Packers haven’t sat below .500 after nine games since 2008. Should they enter a two-game road stretch with Washington and Philadelphia at 4-5, missing the playoffs would suddenly become a realistic possibility.
The status of the NFC North helps. Minnesota threatened to run away with the division crown after starting the year 5-0, but now sit 5-3 in free fall. Detroit is 5-4, but inconsistencies continue to plague them. They face tough road trips to New Orleans and Dallas before the season concludes.
The NFC North may well be settled by the late-season divisional games featuring the Packers, Vikings and Lions, but Green Bay must ensure they are in the mix by the time those games roll around.
Lose at Tennessee, and the Packers will face a steep uphill battle to resume their impressive postseason record.