You may have noticed that the Green Bay Packers have been on just a bit of a roll in recent weeks.
The Packers have won six of their last seven games after starting the season by losing two of their first three games and looking pedestrian and predictable.
Green Bay has ridden the extremely hot right arm of Aaron Rodgers to break the 50-point mark in each of the last two weeks, and there may not be any slowing down of this express train the rest of the way.
While the rest of the world goes on about the New England Patriots and Arizona Cardinals, the Packers are on a roll right now and the only thing that may keep them from finishing the season on top in the NFC is a series of unforeseen injuries.
When looking at the Packers, you always start with quarterback Aaron Rodgers. While it’s an old story, he is the best quarterback in the NFL and he is on top of his game right now. No offense to Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Andrew Luck or Drew Brees, but when Rodgers is under center, he simply refuses to make mistakes and turn the ball over. Just look at the 28-3 TD-interception ratio, that no other quarterback can come close to matching.
His numbers are the best in the game, but there’s a lot more to his game than just having fabulous stats. He plays football like a chess master, and he knows that he can set opponents up for big plays late in the game by what he does in the first quarter.
Take his relationship with Jordy Nelson, who is performing like one of the best receivers in the NFL even though he may not have the speed or natural talent that several of his competitors possess. Rodgers likes to throw one deep ball to Nelson running down the right sideline early in every game. The play often results in a 50-, 60- or 70-yard completion.
But it does a lot more than that. It sends the message to the defense that Nelson is the Packers’ best and most dangerous option, and it forces their hand to double-cover Nelson from that point forward. That’s why Randall Cobb, Davante Adams, Eddie Lacy and Andrew Quarless are able to make key plays later on in the game.
Rodgers is a given and has been one since inheriting the starting job from Brett Favre in the 2008 season. There have been subtle variances in his output and performance since then, but the production has always been at the upper echelon of the spectrum.
The Packers appear to be the most dangerous team in the league right now because they are getting better every week. Take a look at the aforementioned Lacy.
He burst on the scene last year with 1,178 yards and 11 touchdowns. Lacy did not get off to the same kind of start this year, but head coach Mike McCarthy did not panic. He made some changes to the gameplan, but he did not panic and move away from Lacy.
Lacy has improved as a receiver and he is starting to get back to the running form he had last year. He has gained 547 rushing yards and his 4.1 yards per carry average is just a tick below the 4.2 he averaged last year.
So while the passing game is in top form and has been since Week Four, the running game is becoming more viable every week.
The Packers made a bold move on defense prior to their Week 10 thrashing of the Bears. McCarthy and defensive coordinator Dom Capers saw their team getting gashed on the ground nearly every week, and they were unwilling to just take it and figure they could outscore every opponent.
They took their best defensive player in Clay Matthews and shifted him from outside linebacker to the inside LB position. This is a huge move, because Matthews is a six-year veteran who has proved himself to be a gamechanger from his established position.
But Capers got Matthews to buy in and the results have been sensational in the first two weeks. The Packers held the Bears to 55 rushing yards in Week 10 and limited the much more explosive Eagles to 109 yards.
“I’ve said around here, we play our best defense in the second half of the season if you look over the time that we’ve been here,” Capers said. “So you want to just keep working to keep that arrow pointing up because we know that November and December are the critical times you’ve got to be playing your best football.”
The Packers were willing to move their stud inside because Julius Peppers is having a sensational year. Peppers appeared to have slowed down dramatically when he was with the Bears last season, but he has 5.0 sacks, two interceptions (both returned for touchdowns), two forced fumbles, three fumble recoveries and eight passes defensed.
If Peppers had not been such a monster, the Packers never would have been able to consider such a move. But the gamble has paid off so far, and it looks like the dividends will continue.
The Packers have six games remaining, and a 5-1 or 6-0 finish seems likely. They will have a tough assignment in Week 13 when the Patriots come to Lambeau Field, while the Lions also come to Green Bay for the regular-season finale.
More than those numbers, they have more firepower than any team in the NFC, and their defense is getting better.
The Packers won the Super Bowl following the 2010 season as a Wild-Card team. They could repeat that championship this year because they have the best quarterback in the game, an explosive offense and a defense that made a dramatic adjustment and is getting much better.