“There goes the season.” This thought flashed across the mind of every cheesehead in the nation as they watched their star quarterback angrily leave the field following a rough hit. Looking at history, there is no reason to think they are wrong. There is no blueprint for replacing arguably the best quarterback in the NFL. With Rodgers eligible to return in Week 15, Packers fans were initially hoping that Brett Hundley would play just well enough to keep them in contention in a relatively open division. No one could have predicted just how rough life without the King of the North would be.
Hundley had been sitting on the bench since the Packers drafted him in 2015 before being called in to replace a future hall of famer in the most football-crazed city in the nation. That pressure and inexperience has shown. Upon replacing an injured Rodgers against the Vikings, Minnesota took advantage of the young signal caller, picking Hundley off three times in a dominating 23-10 victory. Things did not get easier for Hundley the following week against a suddenly resurgent Saints squad. Hundley only threw for 87 yards, though on the plus side, was only picked off once. After another costly division loss, this time to the Lions, Packer fans could be heard murmuring to themselves, “he’ll be back soon. He’ll be back soon…” Hundley could have given in to all of the whispers and doubters, but he did not. Instead, he marched into Soldier field and took down the rival Bears and their underrated defense. Hundley also showed he can make a play at crucial point in the game, most notably on a late third down when he hit Davante Adams for an incredible 42-yard play. Rodgers himself was even impressed on the sidelines.
With that exciting win, the Packers are 5-4. Tied with the Lions just outside of a playoff spot, and two games behind the division-leading Vikings (7-2). That considered, maybe Packer fans don’t need to start focusing on next season after all. That being said, Week 15 should not be the benchmark for hopeful fans. Rather, with the Packers slated to play a tough road game against the aggressive Panthers defense in Week 15, the Packers may need to do the unthinkable and consider keeping Rodgers out until at least Week 16. I know, I know Packers fans… it sounds insane. But when you really think about it, is it? If Hundley can keep pace in the NFC North until Week 16, Rodgers can return for the final two games: The Vikings (home) and the Lions (road). If the Packers can win now, they can save Rodgers for the final playoff push.
Here’s how it goes down
Week 11 V. Baltimore (Packers Win): Arguably the toughest Packer game to predict out of the bunch, this game can really go either way. The Ravens and their wide receivers may wreak havoc all game against that Packer secondary. However, if the Packers can keep the game close, and make Flacco uncomfortable all day, they can edge out the Ravens and earn a much-needed W.
Week 12 @ Pittsburgh (Packers Loss): After their recent performance against the Titans on Thursday Night Football, the Steelers have appeared to regain their offensive form. This spells trouble for the Packers. Expect Big Ben to have similar numbers as those against the Titans, and the Steelers should cruise to a lopsided victory.
Week 13 V. Tampa Bay (Packers Win): The Battle of the Bays screams field goals and we know how the Bucs do in those scenarios. The Packers win an uneventful game, and are still alive.
Week 14 @ Cleveland (Packers Win): When fans came across this matchup on the Packers’ calendar this past summer, everyone assumed this would be a bloodbath with Rodgers slated to put up record breaking numbers. While it will not be the blowout that was previously expected, the Packers should have little trouble dismantling the Browns. Cleveland’s desperation will make it a tight game, but the Packers should emerge with the W.
Week 15 @ Carolina (Packers Loss): In what was supposed to be Rodgers’ return to action, the Packers decide to sit him out one more week, ensuring he has another full week to get back into football shape. This means that Hundley is in for a day. Despite his best efforts, he is no match for the Panthers and their experienced defense. Hundley will be feeling this loss for a while. The good news is that he gets to return to the bench and heal. For now, he has saved the Packers’ season, going 3-2 in the crucial five-game stretch that kept the Packers’ playoff hopes alive while Rodgers returned to full strength. With a record of 8-6, this sets up two enormous games for the Packers to close out the season.
During the Packers’ stretch, Minnesota and Detroit have been focusing on their own paths.
From Weeks 11-15, the Vikings play the Rams, Lions, Falcons, Panthers, and Bengals. While there are some potentially difficult matchups, the Vikings can go 3-2 during this stretch, bringing their record to 10-4 by the time they play Green Bay in Week 16.
The Lions, meanwhile, have a much easier road. During the same stretch, they play the Bears, Vikings, Ravens, Bucs, and Bears again. The Lions should rack up wins during this time and should be 9-5 by their Week 16 matchup with the Bengals.
If Rodgers returns in Week 16, and manages to end the season with two straight wins, the Packers will finish the season at 10-6. This record won’t be good enough for the division title, as the Vikings should get that much needed 11th win during Week 17 when they get the Bears. Despite this, the Packers can still surpass the Lions, either by a tiebreaker, or by the Lions doing what they do best and blowing it in spectacular fashion. If this happens, the Packers may very well squeak into a wild-card spot.
Needless say, the path to a playoff spot for the Packers is a tough but do-able one. With such lackluster opponents on deck to face Brett Hundley, the Packers couldn’t really ask for a better schedule with their star quarterback out. If they can just hang on long enough, they’ll find themselves in the second season with one of the best in the game at the helm. And then, well, you just can’t count out the King of the North.
Photo courtesy of: Daily Mail