Back to Work: How the Packers Stack up Against the NFC

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Sunday’s dismantling of the Vikings was the Packers most enjoyable win in a long time. The game has already been adequately covered on this blog, so in an attempt to get Packers fans re-focused on the rest of the season, I thought I would take a look at the bigger picture in the NFC and try to figure out where the Packers fit and how they stack up against the other top teams in the conference.

I’ll start with a basic set of NFC power rankings. From there, I’ll break down the top six teams with a focus on how they match-up against the Packers. This is not a predictions piece (I learned my lesson the last time I tried to make predictions). Rather, it’s an examination of where the NFC stands right now, factors that could influence where it might be at the end of the season, and how the Packers might figure into the whole thing.

By now, the hangover from the win over the Vikings should have worn off. It’s time to get back to work.

NFC North Power Rankings

1.       Eagles

2.       Packers

3.       Falcons

4.       Saints

5.       Giants

6.       Buccaneers

7.       Bears

8.       Redskins

9.       Rams

10.   Cowboys

11.    Seahawks

12.   Lions

13.   49ers

14.   Vikings

15.   Cardinals

16.   Panthers

Eagles

The Eagles sort of remind me of the 2009 Vikings. They have a quarterback that is exceeding expectations, an all-around threat in DeSean Jackson (kind of like Percy Harvin) an emerging receiver receiver in Jeremy Maclin (Sidney Rice) and a defense that plays well with a lead.

However, no matter how well he is playing, the wild card for the Eagles is still Vick. Can he stay healthy? He’s already missed three starts and has carried the ball 29 times since returning (that’s a lot of hits). Can he hold up in a close game? The Packers appear to have the right combination of offense and defense to always be in games. I am still not convinced that Vick is capable of leading a composed and methodical drive down the field late in a game to rally the Eagles to a win.

The Eagles might have the most weapons in the NFC, but they also had plenty of weapons last season. When the Cowboys shut down the big plays and forced the Eagles to try and sustain long drives in the playoffs, the Eagles folded. The same could happen this season. Then again, the Eagles could just as easily maintain their explosiveness all the way to the Super Bowl.

Packers

We will find out for sure who the second best team in the NFC is on Sunday, but for now I am giving the nod to the Packers because of the way they are winning. The Packers have won their last three games by a combined score of 85-10. The defense has allowed 10 points in the last 12 quarters while forcing seven turnovers. Aaron Rodgers has played himself into the MVP discussion. The Packers have outscored their opponents by 106 points.

Everybody is bemoaning the lack of a dominant team in the NFL. You cannot get much more dominant than 85-10 and a point differential of 106.

That said, the real test for the Packers defense has yet to come. This defense will come back down to earth a bit against the Falcons, the Patriots, and probably the Lions. They will get burned occasionally and give up points against these teams. We will find out for sure how good this defense is by the adjustments they make and how they pick themselves up after getting knocked down.

Falcons

Jason Wilde said on Monday’s Green and Gold Today that the Packers were not overly exuberant after beating the Vikings. A few weeks ago, I wrote about “unquantifiable areas” that made Mike McCarthy a good coach. The Packers’ reaction to Sunday’s win is the perfect example of this.

It would have been acceptable if the Packers went crazy after winning Sunday, but they didn’t. McCarthy appears to have connected with this team and has them focused regardless of the circumstances. Because of this, I don’t anticipate a letdown from the Packers this Sunday and neither should the Falcons.

The Falcons are 18-1 at home with Matt Ryan as the quarterback and there has not been much of a secret to their success. The Falcons come at you with a couple of bruising running backs and then open things up with Ryan, Roddy White and Tony Gonzalez.

The Packershave only allowed two receivers to go over 100 yards this season. The way Woodson/Williams/Shields/Collins/Peprah are going, I like the Packers’ chances of containing White and company. The Falcons also have a tendency to force the run even when it is not working. That puts the Falcons in a lot of third down situations, which they have been able to regularly convert, but might struggle a bit against a defense like the Packers.

Ryan also tends to force the ball to White (White has been targeted 116 times, tied for first in the NFL), so it will be interesting to see what happens if the Packers take White out of the game.

All in all, I like this matchup for the Packers. But I would like it a lot more if it was at Lambeau.

Saints

How can the defending Super Bowl champions fly under the radar? I am not sure, but the Saints have been one of the better teams in the league recently, and they have done it without getting much attention. Drew Brees is not throwing for 400 yards every game and the Saints are not dismantling opponents like they did last season, but this is still a scary team.

What could bring the Saints down is a schedule that has them playing four of their last six on the road, including a run against the Ravens, Falcons and Buccaneers to end the season.

The Saints have won four of their last five, with all four wins coming by double digits. They appear to be a team on the rise, and I still don’t feel like they have played their best football yet. Getting Reggie Bush back should provide another boost, but the Saints have to be a little concerned about their defense after giving up 300 yards passing to a wounded Matt Hasselbeck.

How do the Packers match up against the Saints? Sort of the same way they match up against the Falcons. If the game is at Lambeau, I like the Packers. If the game is not at Lambeau, it’s a tossup.

Giants/Buccaneers/Bears

The Bucs play at the Ravens, home against the Falcons and at the Redskins the next three weeks. If they manage to go 2-1 over this stretch, this team might be for real. And if you believe that talented young teams improve as the season goes on, the Bucs  — the youngest team in the NFL — might be for real.

The Bucs lack of a pass rush was concerning heading into last Sunday, but they managed six sacks against the 49ers. Sure, it was the 49ers, but if the Bucs manage to get a decent pass rush the rest of the way, they might be for real. Josh Freeman has blossomed into a playmaking quarterback in his second season, if he keeps it up, the Bucs might be for real.

Might be for real is the key phrase with the Bucs. In reality, the only reason the Packers should worry about playing the Bucs in the playoffs is if the game is in Tampa Bay. I don’t need to go over how poorly the Packers play in Tampa. However, I wasted a good 30 minutes at the office yesterday going over possible playoff scenarios, and it looks highly unlikely that the Packers will have to travel to Tampa for a playoff game.

Faithful Jersey Al reader “bill from jersey” thinks the Giants are frauds. He might be right, but are they worse than the Bears? Or the Redskins? Or the Bucs? Or whoever finishes second in the West? If the Giants miss the playoffs, it is going to be because two of those four teams made the playoffs (I’m assuming the Eagles win the East, which probably means they won’t).

While Bill thinks the Giants are frauds, I still think the Bears are frauds. Either the Bears or the Giants (or the Bucs) are going to fraud themselves out of the playoffs, and my money is on the Giants holding it together long enough to outlast the Bears (I probably just ensured that the Bears will win the Super Bowl).

Five of the Bears remaining seven games are against bona fide playoff contenders. The Giants have two games against bona fide playoff contenders (Eagles and Packers) and three against quasi contenders (Jaguars and Redskins twice).

Can the Bears rely on teams like the Eagles, Patriots and Jets to continue dropping Jay Cutler interceptions? Will Tom Brady or Michael Vick get hurt and miss the Bears game? That’s how this season has gone for the Bears so far, so who knows what could happen.

If the Bears continue to win ugly, there will definitely be a lockout next season. However, the lockout won’t happen because a new labor deal could not be reached. It will happen because nobody will ever want to watch football again after having to endure this Bears team reaching the playoffs.

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Adam Czech is a freelance reporter and a Packers fan living in the Twin Cities. Follow Adam on Twitter. Read more of Adam's writing on the Packers here.

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  • PackersRS

    Great look Adam.

    But you’re still insisting with the Eagles team. Yes, Vick, and the whole team, are playing much better. But so are we, and our defense.

    The teams that I fear, in the NFC and AFC? The Steelers and the Saints. Are IMHO the only teams with a QB capable of killing us, coupled with a defense that is great against the pass.

    • PackersRS

      Why did I say great look? I meant great article. amn edit button.

    • Adam Czech

      You won’t get much of an arguement from me if you put the Packers in front of the Eagles. If the Packers and Eagles end up meeting in the playoffs, it won’t surprise me one bit if the Packers win. But at this time, I think the Eagles are the best in the NFC (barely). Vick is in a different world. There’s a good chance he comes back down to earth and the top 7 are totally different two weeks from now.

  • Taryn

    This game against ATL will decide the #2 in this ranking and may hurt ATL more than some will want to believe.
    This home game against the Pack is even more crucial and stressful as they go on a 3 game road battle and perhaps peeking over the shoulder at TB,lest NO to boot.The Panthers are easy but Sea is a tough team at home and then closing with NO and Car.They may be looking just enough ahead to a division game at TB more than this one.

    I think the Falcons are prime for the home field magic to end.This win does leaps and bounds more for the Packers then many realize also.

    • http://allgbp.com Jersey Al

      I have the same feeling, Taryn. One team gets exposed as pretenders this game, and I think it’s the Falcons.

  • Russell

    Al, I think your rankings are on point. Home field advantage throughout the playoffs may be the main factor in who wins the NFC.
    ..the Bears are frauds!

    • http://allgbp.com Jersey Al

      This was Adam’s article, Russell, but I’m glad you liked it…

    • Adam Czech

      If the Bears win this week, we might have to start rethinking the Bears are frauds arguements. I still think they’re a slop team, but they have a good vibe this year. A good defense mixed with the ball bouncing your way is a dangerous combo.

      • Adam Czech

        And don’t forget special teams. Too often, fans consider special teams success luck. I never understood that. Special teams requires skill like any other part of the game.

        • Taryn

          I don’t believe in luck either,but I don’t think the SPT’s of Chicago will do what it did(SB) again to go far.In fact,IMO I find it hard to see them in play-offs.Their schedule is sooo against them.

          • PackersRS

            The Bears’ D is for real. Maybe not #1 like they are, but they’re for real. And their ST is great also.

            But when they went to the SB, they had a great running game.

            Their O is awful. Nothing short of awful. They won’t make it far.

  • Chad Toporski

    As much as I can’t stand the Bears, their coach, or their fans, I still think they’re better than the Buccaneers.

    I think the top four teams you ranked are all about equal when you get down to it. On any given Sunday…

    • http://allgbp.com Jersey Al

      I;ve said it since preseason. The Bears have one of the best defensive front sevens in the league. Their defense will keep them in games. It’s then up to whether Cutler implodes or doesn’t.

      • PackersRS

        It’s not just Cutler. Their only good weapon is Olson, their Rbs are great pass catchers, but that’s it.

        And, most of all, their OL is THE worst in the league. Bar none. The reason they haven’t given up MORE sacks is because Cutler. It’s not necessarily a good thing, because 1/3rd of the time it’s an INT instead of a sack…

  • Russell

    Happy Thanksgiving to everyone in Packers Nation!