Before the Green Bay Packers 27-15 win over the Detroit Lions, dialogue surrounding a 16-0 regular season was nothing more than anticipative thinking. Odds say that Green Bay would slip up at some point, and a Thanksgiving game in Detroit represented the contest that most thought would be the one.
But after watching the Packers dismantle the up-and-coming Lions on national television, the possibility of this team getting through the regular season unscathed has become more than fantasy.
In fact, it might be a bigger shock now if the Packers don’t head into the playoffs with the NFL’s third perfect regular season in history.
Let’s take a look at the Packers final five games to see where a potential ‘L’ could come from.
Dec. 4, at New York Giants
Why the Giants could win: Like the Lions, New York theoretically has the defensive line to pressure Aaron Rodgers without bringing extra guys on the blitz. On offense, Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw (who should be back from injury) represent a tough running back tandem, and Green Bay has had trouble tackling bigger backs. Quarterback Eli Manning is having a career year statistically.
Why the Packers will win: You don’t have to go back far to find the Packers’ 45-17 drubbing of the Giants in 2010. In fact, that win kicked off the Packers current 16-game winning streak. Rodgers threw for over 400 yards in that contest and the Packers offensive line contained the Giants’ front four.
Manning was a turnover machine last season and can still be counted on to give it away, especially against a Packers defense that leads the NFL in interceptions. The schedule also shapes up nicely for the Packers. New York will be coming off a Monday night beat down in New Orleans and have an important trip to Dallas following the Packers visit. The Packers, on the other hand, have a mini-bye week (10 days) to get healthy and prepare to take on the Giants.
Why the Raiders could win: The addition of Carson Palmer has helped stabilize an offense that possesses some explosive weapons. There is plenty of speed on the edges with receivers Denarius Moore, Jacoby Ford and Darius Heyward-Bey. In Darren McFadden and Michael Bush, the Raiders’ No. 3 ranked rushing offense features one of the top 1-2 punches in the NFL. Oakland is currently 4-1 on the road in 2011.
Why the Packers will win: The Raiders defense lacks playmakers in the secondary and has struggled to get to the quarterback at times in 2011. The unit ranks N0. 20 against the pass (240 yards/game) and No. 26 against the run (131.6/game). Rodgers and Co. will feel plenty confident after watching some of the film that the Raiders defense has put out this season. On offense, McFadden has fought a foot injury for weeks and could still be iffy be Dec. 11. Palmer has been susceptible to interceptions, as he’s thrown seven already this season after 20 in 2010 with Cincinnati. Also, don’t forget that the Packers haven’t lost at Lambeau Field since Oct. 7 of last season. That’s a stretch of 10 straight games without a loss at home.
Why the Chiefs could win: Arrowhead Stadium has historically been a tough place to play. Receiver Dwayne Bowe could cause some problems and rush linebacker Tamba Hali is one of the best at his position. The Chiefs claimed quarterback Kyle Orton to help mask the loss of starter Matt Cassel to a season-ending injury. Kansas City has shown a capacity to get hot, as they won four straight games in October to get to 4-3.
Why the Packers will win: Claiming Orton doesn’t hide the fact that the Chiefs simply aren’t very good at the quarterback position. Green Bay had some early struggles with Orton in Week 4 but managed to intercept him three times in a 49-23 win. He’s not a guy that’s going to scare anyone, especially since he’s going into a new offense. Losing explosive back Jamaal Charles has really hurt the Chiefs on offense. He was the central cog in the Chiefs’ AFC West championship last season. When the Chiefs have played good teams this season, like the Lions and Patriots, they’ve been outclassed. They were outscored 82-6 in those two games. And don’t forget the final preseason game this season, when the Chiefs played most of their starters into the second half. The Packers backups ended up winning that game, 20-19.
Why the Bears could win: Lovie Smith’s defense has historically been very good against Rodgers and Mike McCarthy. After starting the season with untypical performances, the Bears defense tighten up during their 5-game winning streak and now look like the unit of old. Julius Peppers, Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs all present difficult matchups. On offense, running back Matt Forte has been proven himself to be one of the NFL’s most complete backs. The Packers bottled him in the first meeting, but Forte can change the game in an instant. The Bears offensive line has also played considerably better of late, especially in the passing game.
Why the Packers will win: Tight end Jermichael Finley remains the game-changer against the Bears defense. Without him in the lineup, the Bears could concentrate their efforts on keeping the Packers receivers from beating them down the field. Finley’s presence opens up everything else that the Packers want to do offensively, and the Packers talented tight end really hurt the Bears in the first matchup with three touchdown catches. The Bears’ quarterback position remains a point of contention, as Jay Cutler is on the sidelines with a surgically repaired thumb. Maybe he can make it back for the Christmas game, maybe he can’t. I’d bet the Packers will see Caleb Hanie. Despite what Hanie did against the Packers in the NFC Championship game last season, he’s a downgrade from Cutler. In his first start on Sunday, Hanie threw three early picks. Overall, the Packers are 5-1 against the Bears since 2009. Green Bay also has Randall Cobb to help shift back any field position that Devin Hester may initially warrant.
Why the Lions could win: While kept mostly in check on Thanksgiving, the Lions still have a defensive line that can cause problems up front for the Packers. Defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh should be back from a sure-fire suspension by Week 16, and Cliff Avril has given right tackle Bryan Bulaga fits in two career matchups. A performance along the offensive line that doesn’t match Thursday’s could spell trouble. The Lions have an offense that can explode at any time, too. By Week 17, the Lions should be scratching and clawing for wins that could get them into the playoffs.
Why the Packers will win: The Packers showed their immature division brother a thing or two about championship football last Thursday. A Packers offensive line that was without Chad Clifton and Josh Sitton kept a mostly-clean pocket for Aaron Rodgers, who caught fire in the second half against a very suspect secondary. Unlike Detroit, the Packers kept their cool in a tough atmosphere and then manhandled the Lions over the final 40 minutes. The friendly confines of Lambeau Field won’t be a welcoming place for Suh and the rest of the goon Lions, either. They’ll get booed without hesitation. With NFL history potentially on the line in Week 17, you can look to history for another reason why the Packers will win. Detroit hasn’t beaten the Packers in Green Bay since 1991.
Will they do it?
I was initially among those who thought that 16-0 was nothing more than a pipe-dream for the 2011 Packers. Winning is a hard thing to do every week in the NFL regardless of opponent. Slip ups happen to even the best football teams. However, the Packers have shown over the last 11 weeks that they can win in any way and beat any kind of opponent. The Lions were the last type of team—one with a dominant front four and the ability to rush Rodgers without a blitz—that I thought could really give Green Bay trouble. The Packers showed on Thanksgiving that they have an answer for that move as well. I’m not going to sit here and say the Packers are a lock for 16-0, but I won’t be one to pick against them in any game left on their schedule. You can decide what that means about my thought process on the Packers’ chances at 16-0.——————
Zach Kruse is a 23-year-old sports journalist with a passion for the Green Bay Packers. He currently lives in Wisconsin and is working on his journalism degree, while also covering prep sports for The Dunn Co. News.
You can read more of Zach's Packers articles on AllGreenBayPackers.com.Follow @zachkruse2