Cory's Corner: Five NFC Contenders In Second Half

Inconsistency abounds in wacky NFC. 

The Saints' demolition of the Bucs on Sunday night told us one thing: the NFC has five legitimate Super Bowl contenders. 

The Seahawks, Packers, Saints, Buccaneers and Rams are surefire bets to represent the NFC. I only like the Rams because they have the best defensive player in the league. Every single one those teams has warts. The Seahawks don't have a worthy defense that can stop anything, the Packers cannot stop the run, the Saints have a quarterback that cannot push it downfield like he used to, the Bucs have too many offensive egos but only one ball and the Rams have a quarterback that turns into Andy Dalton when he's under pressure. 

So what does this mean? The second half of the season is going to be interesting because all five of these teams have only shown flashes of consistency. Seattle has escaped with wins over the Patriots, Cowboys and Vikings before Russell Wilson threw two picks — including one in the red zone — in a loss to the Bills. Conversely, the Packers earned blowout wins over the Vikings, Lions, Falcons and Texans and getting blown out by the Bucs. The Packers haven't been able to stop the run and even though it's been a balmy 70-degrees in Wisconsin, stopping the run will soon be imperative. The Saints are very interesting. They have blown out the Bucs twice — who many have predicted to win the NFC — but have also lost to the lowly Raiders and squeaked past the iffy Bears. The Saints have a solid defense led by Marcus Davenport and Cameron Jordan, but relying on Drew Brees to throw 7-12-yard passes isn't what wins playoff games.

The Bucs have blown out the Packers and Raiders and eked out a win against an overmatched Giants team. Tampa Bay's offense is a Who's Who of offensive stars. Chris Godwin, Mike Evans, Antonio Brown, Rob Gronkowski, Cameron Brate, Leonard Fournette and LeSean McCoy have all starred elsewhere. Even though Tom Brady has been there before, that doesn't mean that being band leader of this crazy chorus is going to be easy. 

And that leaves the Rams. They blew out the hapless Eagles, Washington, and Bears and losing to the injury-ridden 49ers and young Dolphins. I really like the Rams because they are one of the best defenses vs. the pass. However, Jared Goff is 24th in the league in completion percentage and tends to get happy feet when forced to make a decision. 

The reason this is interesting is because we usually know quite a lot about teams at the halfway pole of the season. But it's been so topsy-turvy in the NFC, that we don't have a surefire team. Look at the AFC. The 8-0 Steelers and 8-1 Chiefs are clearly the class of that conference.

Whoever, pulls ahead in the NFC is going to be determined by two things: 1. Matchups and 2. Home field. It's clear that the Bucs cannot matchup with the Saints and the Saints cannot stop the Packers and the Seahwaks will need Wilson to pull a game out of the fire a few more times before this season is over.

In order for the Packers to assure themselves a spot in Tampa for Super Bowl LV, the Packers must force the issue on defense. The Packers will face Jaguars rookie quarterback Jake Luton on Sunday, the immobile Philip Rivers in Week 11, overmatched Nick Foles in Week 12, inconsistent Carson Wentz in Week 13, injury-riddled Matthew Stafford in Week 14, unproven Teddy Bridgewater in Week 15 and back to Foles in Week 17. This is the time that the Packers need to get after the quarterback. Everyone knows that they cannot stop the run. Might as well do what you can in order to make the opposing quarterback as uncomfortable as possible. The Packers are ranked 18th in the league in blitz percentage at 25.6. The leader is Baltimore at 39.1 followed by Tampa at 38.7. There's a reason why those defenses are doing so well — because they aren't letting quarterbacks sit back and pick them apart.

With a soft second half schedule, it's time for Pettine to blitz a lot more. Green Bay didn't add a defensive lineman via trade, so there's not much he can do about that glaring need, but he can get after the quarterback in an effort to get off the field.

In order for the Packers to get where they want to be, they need to take more risks. And that all starts with defensive coordinator Mike Pettine. 

 

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__________________________

Cory Jennerjohn is a graduate from UW-Oshkosh and has been in sports media for over 15 years. He was a co-host on "Clubhouse Live" and has also done various radio and TV work as well. He has written for newspapers, magazines and websites. He currently is a columnist for CHTV and also does various podcasts. He recently earned his Masters degree from the University of Iowa. He can be found on Twitter: @Coryjennerjohn

__________________________

4 points
 

Comments (34)

Fan-Friendly This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.
fansince1959's picture

November 10, 2020 at 07:45 am

If you can't stop the run and can't tackle, i'm afraid we're headed for yet again, another lost season----"defenses win championships" and the blame has to go to Ted, Gute, coaches, and players

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fastmoving's picture

November 10, 2020 at 12:31 pm

so you basicly blame everyone beside yourself.........?
And so you are Superman or just a crybaby?

But of course there is not much to blame but I guess that would hold you back.

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fansince1959's picture

November 10, 2020 at 04:00 pm

how can i blame myself???? i'm not employed there----just sick of the defense since 2009----we wasted Rodgers years when a blind man can see the problems

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croatpackfan's picture

November 11, 2020 at 03:39 am

You said "WE". Who are WE? If you said "them", I would agree with you that you did not include yourself in the situation.

More you Packers fans are whining, less good energy will be around the team and less success will come.

Yes, sure, Packers have problems. But, as Cory said, every team has weaknesses to explore. Let's talk how to win, not how we are afraid we will lost!

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fansince1959's picture

November 10, 2020 at 07:45 am

If you can't stop the run and can't tackle, i'm afraid we're headed for yet again, another lost season----"defenses win championships" and the blame has to go to Ted, Gute, coaches, and players

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PeteK's picture

November 10, 2020 at 08:11 am

If we're healthy going into the playoffs we will be in the SB. When Lazard and Bak come back our offense will once again dominate. On the defensive side, we at least have some mediocre depth to throw at teams.

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Leatherhead's picture

November 10, 2020 at 10:11 am

PeteK, I agree that if we’re healthy, we’re as good as anybody. The offense rocks, even through injuries.

The author must be reading my stuff. I mentioned yesterday that we’ve got some easier teams on the schedule, and that our defensive rankings were going to improve as a result. We’re already 17th in scoring defense and an improvement of a FG per game would move us to about 11th. Despite the general consensus here, we are not horrible....we’re average. We’re better than Seattle.

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Stroh's picture

November 10, 2020 at 09:33 pm

Playing crappy teams and getting better defensive stats doesn't make them better. It just serves to mask the issues.

There's no doubt the Packers are SB contenders, but the D needs to improve substantially in order for the Packers to get into and win the SB. Better stats don't mean crap.

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croatpackfan's picture

November 11, 2020 at 03:46 am

Maybe ploaying against crappy teams makes you a possibility to: 1. teach your D through the season, and, more important, 2. your players have better chance to be healthy when it counts!

Many complaints why we are playing "preventive D" when we have big lead. Did you, maybe, thought that in the 4Q Packers have mostly back ups players on D, helping them to gain some NFL experience and experience of some schematic models they might be called in the future to replace injured starter?

There was no pre season for those guys, and trainings are not realistic enough for that.

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Leatherhead's picture

November 11, 2020 at 03:41 pm

No. That never entered into anybody’s thinking. Not that I recall.

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Stroh's picture

November 11, 2020 at 07:47 pm

Have you been watching the games? The D might be slightly better in some ways but not significantly anf they aren't creating turnovers or getting stops in the red zone like last year.

Do you really think the D stats are due to 4th qtr prevent defense? I thought not!

They have a lot to improve on and the only way to know its better is by shutting down goid teams, not patsies!

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RCPackerFan's picture

November 10, 2020 at 08:16 am

When trying to figure out who may be there at the end, I think you have to look at which teams have the best QB and defense combined.
After that I think you need to decide who can improve the most between now and the end of the year. No one wins the super bowl in September thru November. Teams have to build towards the super bowl.

I will argue that Rodgers is the best QB in the NFC this year. His accuracy has returned. Outside of the Bucs game, his throws have been pin point. He has done this so far without a #2 WR for most of the year. Without his top RB for a few games. With an OL that has been shuffled around.
After Rodgers I think Wilson is next. Followed by Goff/Brees/Brady. I think all 3 of those guys are lumped together because they all have flaws and can be beat.

As for Defenses I think Rams have the best defense. Followed close with the Bucs. After the Bucs is probably the Saints, Packers and then Seahawks.

This is where I think the Packers could gain some ground on the other teams. I think by the end of the year the Packers defense could improve significantly. Will it will be the next question. But we have Clark who is now healthy. Gary is now healthy. We will be getting Kirksey back, but in the mean time our 2 rookie ILB's have gotten more opportunities and have definitely flashed skills! Raven Greene has been one of our best defenders who is probably our best tackler. We have one of if not the best CB in the league. We are getting our CB 2 back soon. I think Savage is starting to find his best role in the defense. This last game he was used more towards the LOS and he was flying around a lot more. I hope they keep using him in ways like that.
If the Smith Bros. start emerging like they did last year, this defense could take the biggest leap among the other teams.

I also think the Packers could take a bigger step then the other teams because they will be getting Alan Lazard back. Lazard in 3 games had 13 catches for 254 yards and 2 TD's. In his absence MVS, Taylor, Shepherd, and EQ have not emerged. Combined those 4 guys have 20 catches for 259 yards and 3 TD's in the 5 games they played without Lazard.
None of them really stepped up. That being said this last game MVS had 2 TD catches after a dropped 3rd down pass. IF that was building blocks towards something better the offense could be poised to be even better then what they have been. And they have been averaging 31 points a game. MVS as the 3rd option is a lot better for the offense. Also EQ is getting back into game form. He is a guy that these final 8 weeks could really emerge as well.
Another guy to watch for is Sternberger. He started out slow, but he has the skills to be really good.

I think the Packers have the ability to improve the most out of teams listed above. Meaning I think they have as good of a chance as anyone in the NFC to make a serious run!

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Leatherhead's picture

November 10, 2020 at 10:18 am

RC.....Individually, the other WRs did not step up, but as a group they replaced Lazard’s production

Our defense is going to improve, for the reasons you mentioned . Also, we have some weaker offenses coming up so that’ll help. And games in general are lower scoring in cold weather. We’re giving up 25.5 ppg in the first half of the season. We’re going to see that improve.

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RCPackerFan's picture

November 10, 2020 at 10:46 am

They really didn't match his production though.
He had 13 catches for 254 yards in 3 games that he played in. He averaged 4.3 catches and 84.6 yards per game.
In the 5 games without him the other WR's had 20 catches for 259 yards. They averaged 4 catches for 51.8 yards per game combined.

Did they hold up and we get by without him? Sure I guess, but Getting him back is a huge improvement!

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Coldworld's picture

November 10, 2020 at 04:19 pm

Fair point but I also think some of it is due to matchup, the TEs coming in and also the RBs in the passing game. Lazard improves the offense but not to that extent.

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Coldworld's picture

November 10, 2020 at 08:20 am

Pettine needs to find a way to make the D line adequate. To me that means using OLBs more like last year and surrounding Clark with Adams, Keke Lancaster (NT only) and Winn not Lowry. Perhaps we saw that realization sinking in last week.

We are a much better defense with Raven Greene. Can he stay healthy and is there anyone able to grow into his back up?

Although Barnes has been an exciting find and Martin looks to be one also, they need to play behind a more effective D line and they need time. Like most rookies, for all the good plays they also are prone to be in the wrong place. Playing time will help that. 8 games could bring significant improvement.

We don’t need a great D. Cook showed last week that he is a true premier back, which is somewhat distorting. That said, we need to be able to force QBs to pass to beat us and to get pressure. I believe we have the players to do that if we use them better.

Jus as If the D line improves it helps the ILBs, so ILB improvement helps the safeties. I also believe better play from the D line will improve our rush which further aids the back field.

To me there is a fair chance that the D line is the key to this whole puzzle. I think injuries have not helped, but that the root cause is coaching decisions. Have we, can we learn and stop inhibiting players and let them play to their strengths? If not I think it may take Pettine’s departure if last week turns out to be a flash in the pan.

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Thegravedigger's picture

November 10, 2020 at 11:46 am

I know its a small sample size. But when billy winn is in the game he seems to fill holes. Why is he not active? And raven greene is huge for covering backs and making open field tackles. On 3rd and long dumpoff passes, you can trust him to make the tackle and get us off the field. Against a team like the saints, hes the guy you want on kamara and jared cook. Hes not gonna stop a guy like kamara, but hes the most trusted guy on that defense to not get embarassed. With him and martin and barnes growing each week, this dfense can improve by january.

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stockholder's picture

November 10, 2020 at 08:26 am

I prefer less Risks and a healthy team. !. Just turn the smiths loose. 2. Kirksey return should help. Especially Preston. 3. I also prefer Martin. 4. Remove Lowrey. The packers know the problem now. Remove him. 5. I'm ready to replace Savage. Now might be the time to move him and try someone else. Like King.

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Thegravedigger's picture

November 11, 2020 at 10:19 am

King at safety? I like it. Hes a hard hitter and a ballhawk. The only issue is he is not gonna be down at all. Its a contract year. Safetys dont get paid. But yeah lowrys gotta go.

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Leatherhead's picture

November 11, 2020 at 12:25 pm

“Lowry’s gotta go”. Let’s look at that.

If we release him, $3 million of his signing bonus is applied to the 2021 cap, thereby lowering our cap space from $6 million to $3 million. We save his salary and roster bonus, so that’s about $5 million, which is a net increase of $2 million, giving us $8 million to work with.

It also creates a hole in the roster. We already have to resign or replace six guys on our game day roster: Jones, Williams, Bakhtiari, Linsley, Adams, King. Lowry makes hole #7. How do you add 7 quality people with 7 draft picks and little money? And what if it’s more than 7? Lewis could retire. We could want some super duper WR.

Me, personally, I’d keep Lowry and ADD a high draft pick to replace Adams in the offseason.

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cheesehead1's picture

November 10, 2020 at 09:34 am

IMO defense still wins and up to this point and last year as well, our D has been soft against the run and can’t get it done overall against the elite teams. Pettine surely has to change things up and take a few more chances. Now is the time for Gary, Preston, Savage and even Kenny Clark to pick it up.

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Leatherhead's picture

November 11, 2020 at 01:55 pm

What teams do get it done against elite teams? Aren’t they considered elite because they’re hard to stop?

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Jonathan Spader's picture

November 10, 2020 at 10:04 am

Rams don't belong on this list. They've been extremely mediocre in 2020. You mention the Saints beating the Bucs twice and Packers lising to them but somehow skip that the Packers have beat the Saints head to head.

All of these teams have been streaky. I'm hoping with improved health that the Packers can look explosive on offense again. I have no faith in our defense and hope they can slow the opponent out while we blow them out on offense. Packers will go as far as Rodgers can carry us.

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cheesehead1's picture

November 10, 2020 at 10:36 am

Rodgers can only do so much. This D has to step up but I’ve yet to see it. I don’t consider improvement against SF second stringers to be the start of a turnaround on D.

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TarynsEyes's picture

November 10, 2020 at 10:19 am

Five NFC contenders?

What happened to the belief that if you make the playoffs you're automatically a contender and anything can happen? I'm under the impression that there will be 7 teams in the playoffs in contention not 5, or has the author dismissed two, regardless of who, as irrelevant which would create a tsunami of rage if GB was ever placed into such irrelevance in such a cavalier manner. In fact, the NFL has now suggested an eight team playoff system, which likely will allow a team like Minn with Cook to be a possible opponent again for the GB run defense. Ouch! Heck, even SF can get 'healthy' and become the eight team. Another ouch!

The more the suggested top five continue to show a deep inconsistency on either side of the ball or its coaching, the more the seating at the playoff table becomes irrelevant, especially when the table has to add the extender to accommodate the late arrivals of uninvited, unexpected and disrespected chaos creators.

When writing about the possible playoff teams, let's mention all eight possibles, even if the names are changed weekly, because all eight can do harm and get harmed because it's the playoffs after all, a place where anything and everything can happen, as GB has shown often. Right?

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jlc1's picture

November 10, 2020 at 10:22 am

The only way the Pack has to slow down a running game is to take a lead. So MLF has to put the offense on the field first every game he wins the toss. He won't of course because that is not trendy but it is a key to winning football games for this team.

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splitpea1's picture

November 10, 2020 at 11:28 am

The immobile (and aged) Philip Rivers can still cause us plenty of problems if we don't get some heat on him and play too loose in the secondary. The Colts have a pretty solid defense, too. I am looking forward to playing more challenging teams and hoping the Packers are up to the task.

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ricky's picture

November 10, 2020 at 11:50 am

Which team will make it to the SB? The team that gets hot at the right time. The Giants had two mediocre seasons, got hot at the right time, and eked out wins over the Patriots on freak plays. In 2010, the Packers barely got into the playoffs, then Rodgers raised his game to an unprecedented level, and they won it all. Forget seeds or home field (without fans, who cares?). Just get hot, baby. And as far as making QB's uncomfortable, this goes for any QB. Rodgers under pressure by Tampa became Trent Dilfer. But pressure means blitzing, because the Packers DL is Kenny Clark and the JAG's.

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Thegreatreynoldo's picture

November 11, 2020 at 02:15 am

The Giants didn't get hot, they got healthy.

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PatrickGB's picture

November 10, 2020 at 02:36 pm

I am not a big fan of all out blitzes when Alexander is out, Savage is playing poorly and Clark is at nose tackle. I agree that he might be better suited at DE. Fast and decisive linebackers would help us frustrate the team that wish to run on us.

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Packer_Fan's picture

November 10, 2020 at 02:45 pm

Here is my assessment for the balance of the season. First, they will make the playoffs. They are too good of a team for most NFC teams.

Now, the offense. They need four players to be ready for the playoffs. Adams and Jones are the stars, given. But Lazard and Ervin are needed to keep defenses honest. And Lafleur and Rodgers need to get them in the game early. Tonyan and Williams are complementary players. The offensive line I think is in good shape if injuries don't happen.

On defense, the secondary. Alexander, King and Sullivan need to be ready for the playoffs. Then Greene and Redmonds. I don't like Jackson. In big games he is too prone for holding and interference penalties. Those are killers. For Ilb's, I don't see anyone excelling. It is what it is. Olb's, Z Smith has come on and I hope Preston Smith gets going. Gary will flash some talent now and again. The Dline is a weak point and we will have to live with it. I wish they would pick someone up. Maybe like Daniel's.

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Starrbrite's picture

November 10, 2020 at 09:19 pm

Outstanding article—also enjoyed the additional comments. I’m always impressed by the the depth of knowledge of packer fans.

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davidfreeman's picture

November 12, 2020 at 10:55 am

wow

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sdfdsfdf's picture

November 12, 2020 at 01:44 pm

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