What have you done for me lately?
It’s a question that permeates life in general, and especially life in the National Football League.
The Green Bay Packers, led by first-year head coach Matt LaFleur, ran their record to 10-3 on Sunday by virtue of a 20-15 win over the Washington Redskins on Sunday—though you might not know it based on the reaction of the fanbase.
Even as LaFleur set a new mark for most wins by a rookie head coach in franchise history and the team took another step toward its first playoff berth since 2016, the only sentiments dominating headlines and social media were those lamenting the Packers’ lack of rhythm and consistency on offense. Inevitably, comparisons were immediately drawn in the wake of the San Francisco 49ers 48-46 shootout win over the New Orleans Saints Sunday afternoon, yielding only one conclusion to those drawing them: the 2019 Packers could never, ever hope to compete with the likes of those teams.
Despite a convincing primetime loss to the Rams Sunday night, even the Seattle Seahawks still pose a great threat to the listless, fraudulent Packers, according to most. In fact, Green Bay is apparently in such trouble, they should be shaking in their boots as they prepare to host a scorching hot, 7-6 Chicago Bears team that has exactly one victory against winning teams this season. And don’t get me started on the Minnesota Vikings—yes, the same team the Packers beat back in week two and whose nine wins have come against teams with a combined 34-67-1 record, including zero wins against teams who are currently .500 or better.
Yet, somehow, it’s the Packers who sit at 10-3 and currently hold the number-two seed in the NFC playoff race with three weeks to go. It’s the Packers who truly control their own destiny when it comes to both winning the NFC North and securing a first-round bye in the playoffs.
Since comparisons are en vogue at the moment, let’s take a trip down memory lane all the way back to 2010—the last time the Packers won the Super Bowl. That year, the Packers didn’t exactly look like world-beaters when they lost consecutive overtime games to the Redskins and Dolphins, who went on to finish the season 6-10 and 7-9, respectively. And they certainly weren’t “peaking at the right time” following a 7-3 loss to an abysmal, Drew Stanton-led Detroit Lions team in week 14. In fact, at the time, at least one reporter called that game the worst loss of the Mike McCarthy era. Green Bay went on to lose at New England the next week to fall to 8-6, requiring them to win their last two games just to sneak in as the sixth-seed in the NFC playoffs—with what I imagine most would agree was a far more talented offensive roster, mind you.
Of course, it’s easy to look back and point to a season that ended with a Super Bowl title as reason for an optimistic perspective. But the truth of the matter is you only have to go back as far as…let me check my notes…last year to truly appreciate a Packers team sitting at 10-3 and squarely in the hunt for a first-round bye.
Exactly one year ago, Green Bay was 5-7-1 on the heels of their first win under freshly-minted interim head coach Joe Philbin. They were clinging to playoff hopes of the win-out-and-and-get–help-from-five-different-teams variety. They lost, rendering the final two weeks meaningless. A season before that, the Packers were 7-6, praying Aaron Rodgers’ return from a broken collarbone would save their season. It did not, and the final two weeks were, once again, meaningless. Those two seasons both ended with humiliating defeats at the hands of the Lions, sparking even more outrage and calls for change.
That change finally came a year ago, and in January, the Packers hired a new head coach for the first time since 2006. Still, the pessimism continued. How can such a young coach reign in the diva quarterback? That will never work. The power structure created by Mark Murphy is a farce that will doom the franchise and relegate them back to the cellar of the NFL. They’ll need a year or two to really adapt to a new system and rebuild. 8-8 would be a successful year.
None of this is to say the 2019 edition of the Green Bay Packers isn’t without flaws. Sure, the offense hasn’t been as explosive recently as it was at times earlier in the season. And yes, the defense has regressed from what many thought it could be after the first three weeks. Many fair and deserved criticisms have been thrown around. LaFleur himself admitted after the Redskins game they left a lot to be desired.
But for those who look at this season as a whole and can only comment on how seemingly far behind the Packers are compared to the other contenders in the NFC, I have two questions:
- Think back to last December, or January, or April, or July. If you’d been told the Packers would be where they are today, what would your reaction have been?
- After thinking about that, can you take a second to truly appreciate how whiny and entitled it sounds to complain about a 10-3 team after enduring the two worst seasons in the last decade?
I’m sure a lot of people in that crowd will interpret this as an attack on how they choose to be a fan. I assure you it’s not, but I do have to wonder whether you’ll bother even watching the last few weeks of the season and the playoffs if you’ve already determined how things are going to play out. I don’t know what’s going to happen in the playoffs any more than the next person; all I know is I’m glad the Packers are going to be in with a chip, a chair and a chance to turn an unexpectedly fruitful season into a truly magical one.