Packers back in NFC North race ahead of prime-time clash with Giants
Plenty went right for the Packers in the NFC playoff race in Week 14. Now, winning the division is suddenly back on the table.
The Green Bay Packers have a chance to keep pace with the Minnesota Vikings on Monday night against the New York Giants after the Vikes got a “thrilling” 3-0 win over the Las Vegas Raiders. With the Detroit Lions also losing to the Chicago Bears, forget the wild-card race … the NFC North crown can be worn by Matt LaFleur’s team once again.
Today's edition of The Leap breaks down the Packers' place in the NFC playoff race, the Jaire Alexander weirdness, and more.
Today's edition of The Leap is brought to you by Underdog Fantasy, an industry leader in daily and season-long fantasy contests. As a special offer, Underdog will double initial deposits up to $100 for our subscribers:
To lock in the special offer, use the promo code "LEAP" at signup or click our signup link here. It's a great way to play fantasy sports with real fans while also supporting the work we do at The Leap.
Thank you for reading and supporting our coverage. You can also support our work by following us on social media:
If you appreciate thoughtful, independent coverage of the Packers and NFL, please consider becoming a paid subscriber. Your support allows us to serve this community with the stories and reporting it deserves.
As always, thanks for making The Leap a part of your day.
Does the recent play of Detroit and Kansas City redefine the quality of the Packers’ wins over the Lions and Chiefs?
Peter Bukowski: Yes, and no.
Beating Patrick Mahomes always rings out, especially for a Packers team coming off the biggest win of its season the week before in Detroit. Whether or not the Lions are actually good doesn’t matter as much as how much it means narratively to beat them, not to mention what it does to the standings. They were, and are, leading the division. They’ve taken the place of lead dog this season; everyone is chasing Detroit.
Beating them on the road on Thanksgiving matters for myriad reasons.
To beat the Chiefs after that game and handle success that effectively shows some impressive mettle from the young Packers that could easily rest on their laurels, and they could save their laurel nap for tonight against the Giants. But beating a quality opponent, even for all the warts Kansas City currently sports, suggests that Green Bay won’t take Tommy DeVito and the G-Men lightly.
That demonstrates growth for this team as they learn how to win together. What’s more, who are the great teams around the league? The San Francisco 49ers are the top team, but who is the best team in the AFC? The team we all assumed filled that role came to Lambeau last Sunday night and got worked by Jordan Love. The division leaders in the NFC North got the same treatment 10 days prior. Who is putting together more quality wins in this version of the NFL than that?
It’s not a great year, but all the more reason for this team to take advantage. Oh, they aren’t Super Bowl contenders this year? Well, who do you like? San Francisco, sure. Dallas? The team whose next big playoff win under Dak Prescott and Mike McCarthy will be their first? And in the AFC, are we buying the Miami Dolphins as conference favorites? Or the Baltimore Ravens?
No one is particularly impressive, so parsing some of these quality wins feels faulty, especially for this version of the Packers. They needed them however they could get them. And they got them.
Is it time to start thinking about the NFC North for the Packers?
PB: Objection, leading the witness. But, yes. A better question would be what are the actual chances for Green Bay to catch the Lions? And the answer is if the Packers can run the table, they’ll have a decent chance.
Depending on the models you like, it’s about a coin flip. If Love and Co. win out and get to 11-6 -- and that’s still an enormous “if” -- they would hold the tiebreaker with Detroit by division record if the Lions also lost to the Vikings at least one time to go with another loss. Division record is the first tiebreaker and the Lions losing to Chicago opens the door for the North to be back open for business.
In fact, given the way the NFC East looks at present, that would likely put the Packers hosting the Lions at Lambeau Field in a Week 4, Thursday Night Football rematch, the kind of juicy narrative that would also feature a revenge match for last year’s Green Bay team that had a chance to make the playoffs but couldn’t win at home in Week 18.
That, of course, was Aaron Rodgers but still the same core. Love righting the wrongs of Rodgers’ last game ever played in a Packers uniform would almost be too on the nose. It would also be glorious.
There’s a long way to go still with almost a third of the season yet to play. We’ve seen the Packers arrive at these moments before this season only to fall on their faces against some aggressive mediocre teams. See also: the entire month of October.
But the Lions have opened the door for the Packers. They don’t quite control their destiny in the North, but if we took for granted losses in at least one Vikings game and to the Cowboys, Green Bay would be in control.
Run the Table Part II and reclaim the NFC North, now under new management.
Jaire Alexander won’t play Monday night, missing his fifth straight game. Is there something more to be worried about here?
PB: This was exactly the question ESPN’s Rob Demovsky asked Alexander Friday in a locker room interview before which the 2022 All-Pro cornerback told the assembled media he planned to lie during the interview. He then said he was only injured (a line some fans loudly don’t believe online), said the team supports him through his injury process, and he only wants to play if he can put his “best foot forward.”
Remember the comments Alexander made about playing the calls back in August when he said the players can’t worry about what defensive coordinator Joe Barry’s play call was, they had the talent to execute it no matter what. It wasn’t even a backhanded compliment, just a backhand. Clearly, some players don’t love the calls.
Go back to comments Barry made just a few weeks ago about Alexander looking good in practice before once again sitting out. All of this leads one to wonder if, as Demovsky asked, there was something more to Alexander’s hiatus on the bench.
For now, there’s no fire to go along with the smoke but Alexander’s eccentric personality only exacerbated online speculation and talk-show gossip about his future, whether or not the team would be smart to trade him (stop this), etc. There’s no reason to believe anything beyond injury is keeping him off the field. But the vibes around this situation are weird, especially if a usually chummy press corp. gets this dogged in pursuit of some explanation for why he has practiced for two weeks straight without playing.
It’s weird. That’s all it is for now until we know more, but it’s definitely weird.
The Leap is a reader-supported publication covering the Green Bay Packers and NFL with insights and reporting available nowhere else. To receive new posts and support our work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.