Packers can still right the ship

SPORTS BEAT
Greg Ceilley  Review Sports Editor

Despite all of the Green Bay Packers’ struggles recently, they are right in the thick of the NFC North Division race.

The return of quarterback Aaron Rodgers will of course boost the Packers’ playoff hopes but in the meantime, the defense, solid quarterbacking by Scott Tolzien and a strong ground attack should be enough to propel the team to some wins. The rest of Green Bay’s schedule isn’t real difficult, even without Rodgers.

The Packers’ remaining three home games are very winnable (versus Minnesota, Atlanta and Pittsburgh). Their two toughest games will probably be at Detroit on Thanksgiving Day and the regular-season finale at Chicago on Dec. 29.

The Packers must improve their turnover ratio (a minus-six through 10 games), finish more drives with touchdowns, and buckle down on defense in the final stretch of the season or you can kiss the postseason good-bye. During their three-game losing streak, the Packer defense has given up too many big plays, not forced enough turnovers and has been unable to stiffen in crunch time.

With the offense plagued with injuries, it’s not as explosive, so it’s paramount that the defense create good field position for the offense. In addition to forcing more turnovers, the defense must tackle better. Poor tackling has plagued the defense in several games.

In the North Division, Detroit — which is tied for first with Chicago at 6-4 (Detroit holds the tiebreaker by virtue of its two wins over the Bears) — has the edge in the title chase because of a less-difficult schedule, having four of its last six games at home. The Packers are one game back at 5-5. A 9-7 record may be good enough to win the division but at least 10-6 seems more likely.

There are several teams in the NFC contending for the two wild-card playoff berths but it will be tough for the North Division to earn one of them. Either New Orleans or Carolina from the South Division stands a good chance to nab a wild-card spot, with one of them winning the division. San Francisco appears to be the leading contender for the other wild-card berth.

Look for the Packers to bounce back with a strong victory over Minnesota this Sunday. If they improve in the needed areas, there’s no reason why they can’t stay in the division title chase. However, the Packers will probably need Rodgers to make the playoffs.


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