Some random thoughts on the Packers from the cottage up Nort'.
* While I predicted a Packer loss this week on Cheesehead Radio, if it happens, I don't think it should send Packer fans into the emotional tailspin that we saw after the Bears, Redskins, and Dolphins. Like them or not (and I put myself in the "not" category), Rex Ryan and the Jets are among the elite of the AFC. The scary thing is that the Packers are probably still among the "elite" of the NFC.
The thing is, there's a huge difference between being one of the better teams right now in the AFC and one of the better teams in the NFC. No teams has really come out and taken the reins in the NFC, with even the Buccaneers making the claim they are the class of the conference (snark).
You may not like Rex Ryan and his approach, but he has this team believing that they can and should win it all this year. The Packers are beat up in the places that the Jets will hurt us most: along the defensive line, our offensive line, and their healthy secondary will force Aaron Rodgers to play a perfect game or suffer consequences.
Yes, the Packers may lose this game, but they have two important NFC games to follow (sandwiching a bye week), the desperate Dallas Cowboys at Lambeau, and a Viking team at home looking for revenge for their perceived stolen loss last week.
Losses in those games not only hurt the Packers more in the standings, but they are both teams they should beat. It is a major victory for the Packers to keep themselves in the game on Sunday and to be in a position to win it at the end. Playing well against one of the elite teams in the league and losing is nothing to be embarassed of, especially in the face of the number of injuries the Packers have endured (and again, facing an AFC coming off of a bye).
* Speaking of a weak NFC, the Packers have several players on the Pro Bowl ballot this year. Now, the Pro Bowl itself is a bit of a sham, what with fans stuffing ballot boxes and, for the most part, having players and coaches voting based on little more information that what fans have, or worse, only voting for players they have faced personally. Sad as it may seem, you have a little more respect for teams assembled by NFL writers who try and bring a bit of objectivity to their selections.
But, the Packers on the ballot have a shot, if nothing else, building off their reputations from last season in the face of the ups-and-downs they and nearly every other NFC team this year. The negative part will come from perhaps the most deserving of Packers who are bursting onto the scene this year but will got lost against the usual large-market favoritism and lack of name recognition.
Guys who fit into that first category would be Aaron Rodgers, Charles Woodson, and Nick Collins. All three have been there before, and all three have had seasons best described as "below expectations". Rodgers has had difficulties with his decision making and is on pace for 20+ interceptions on the year. His 89.0 quarterback efficiency rating ranks 4th in the NFC right now, but he's sandwiched among the top five with large-market quarterbacks that will likely steal the vote, all things being equal (Brees, Romo, Manning, and Ryan).
Woodson isn't even the best cornerback on the team anymore, but his Defensive Player of the Year honors last year will still garner more votes than he might have gotten otherwise. His play has been marred with giving up some big plays and being frought with penalties. He hasn't been bad, but having only one interception and competing against D'Angelo Hall, Asaunte Samuel, and Earl Thomas will be a hard road to a Pro Bowl unless Woodson starts playing at his DPOY level again soon.
Nick Collins is another that has name recognition, but has only one interception on the year, and while he hasn't hurt the team, he hasn't been particularly spectacular, either...certainly, not the guy who was pick-sixing three times in 2008.
On the other hand, we have a couple of players who are playing at a Pro Bowl level, but aren't going to have earned the props a small-market team like Green Bay needs for national attention. BJ Raji is on the ballot, and he has developed into a dominant nose tackle in his second season after not playing much of last year. In particular, he's been the only constant on the defensive line as injuries have decimated everyone playing around him. But, nose tackles are hard to get that "money stat", like interceptions with defensive backs or sacks with DE's and LB's. And, the more that teams copy what Minnesota and Miami have done, running the ball effectively against the beat-up front seven of the Packers, the less consideration Raji will get.
Cullen Jenkins has also put together a nice start to his season before injury hit, complimenting Clay Matthews with four sacks and applying pressure on the quarterback. Like Raji, however, the longer he is out of action, the more he doesn't pile up the sack "money sack", and the more teams rush the ball effectively, the less likely he is to get attention.
Tramon Williams also has to fall into this category. Among Packer fans, there's no doubt that he should be a shoo-in for a Pro Bowl ballot, and after other than Matthews, he's probably the second name clicked. But in the national spotlight, he's been a quiet story despite being the closest thing to a shutdown corner the Packers have. And, when Charles Woodson is on the ballot with you, it's going to be that much harder to have national fans and players from other teams vote for Tramon when they've already clicked on last year's DPOY. Not fair, to be sure, and I don't know if anyone on the team is more deserving of a spot this year.
Perhaps one of the biggest disappointments will be offensive guard Josh Sitton. You might remember the beginning of the 2009 season, when Daryn Colledge was being touted as having graded out as the best D-lineman of 2008. The tables turned very quickly, and Sitton went from being just another "competition body" to the most solid and consistent lineman the Packers have. If, like me, you've rewound the DVR and kept an eye on ol' #71, you've seen that he's been opening holes up the middle for Brandon Jackson, as well as not being the one letting defensive players in the backfield to meet Rodgers up-close-and-personal. Sitton's fortunes, however, ride of the success of the offense as a whole. Rodgers has to get the passing game going and keep avoiding sacks, and it will help if the Packers work on making the ground game a more consistent part of their attack. The better the offense does, the better the chance a national unknown like Sitton may get some consideration.
Desmond Bishop being on the ballot is a wash. Wile many of us have a ton of hope for him in the future, he shouldn't be garnering attention as a Pro Bowler even from Packer fans. Someday, absolutely. But, voting for Bishop is like the Cowboy fans voting for Jon Kitna. If Nick Barnett has struggled to make a Pro Bowl all these years due to the competition, it should be near impossible for Bishop, unless he strings some incredible games together between now and the end of the voting.
Greg Jennings and Donald Driver, unfortunately, will not garner a ton of attention. Driver has gone nearly invisible two out of the last three games, and neither receiver is on pace for a 1,000-yard season. Now, that may change a bit with Jermichael Finley out of the lineup, but there is a ton of receivers in the NFL that have nearly doubled up statistics on both.
Naturally, the most likely candidate for making the Pro Bowl (at least, on the first ballot) will be outside linebacker Clay Matthews, who has garnered some national attention by leading the league in sacks, but also simply being a disruptive force in the backfield and forcing a ton of pressures on the quarterback. Now, being held without a sack for two games (missing one due to injury), Matthews need to keep up his own pace to make sure he gets the vote at perhaps the most competitive position in Pro Bowl voting...OLB.