NFC North’s Last Stand

The Green Bay Packers went down in a blaze of glory and did two things before they exited the NFL in 2015. The first thing Green Bay did was exploit an Arizona Cardinals Offense that looked extremely shaky at best in scoring just 20 points in regulation. In addition they proved that Aaron Rodgers is by far and away the best passer in the NFL. Rodgers managed to drive his team 96 yards with no timeouts in less than two minutes while at one point facing a 4th and 20 to tie the game and send it to OT. Rodgers found a no name receiver in Jeff Janis twice on the drive and completed another inconceivable hail mary over the top of arguably the best defensive back in the league.

Now of course all this was for not because the Cardinals in just a few plays scored in OT to advance to this Sunday’s NFC Championship, but the way the Packers played on Saturday Night while being so undermanned was something to behold. Green Bay many would say should’ve won this game, and it’s mainly because of the fact that Arizona’s Offense and in particular Carson Palmer played horrific in front of their home crowd. Palmer threw an endzone pick early in the game that took points off the board and nearly gave the game away to Sam Shields who had a interception go right through his hands before the Cardinals scored to go ahead. After that it was all Rodgers and Janis who put on a show with 1:55 left.

Now while the Cardinals seem extremely vulnerable heading into their championship contest against the now 16-1 Carolina Panthers, the thoughts have to be brought back to the Bears and just how far away they are in terms of competing for a title. After watching Rodgers bring his team back from the dead twice in less than two minutes, the idea that Jay Cutler could do what he did is laughable. The Bears have an atrocious defense that takes away from what their identity is as a franchise. While the former regime of Phil Emery and current GM Ryan Pace continue to try and put pieces around Cutler so that he can succeed. What we know is that the best player in the conference is a few hours north, and you need to stop him first before you try and outgun him.

The Bears were a playoff team in the beginning of this decade because they had an opportunistic defense to go along with a complimentary offense. That’ll still work, and if Ryan Pace continues to miss on high draft picks like he did so badly last year, he’s not going to remain long. Lamarr Houston, Pernell McPhee, and Antrel Rolle did nothing to turn the defense around. The Bears ranked tied for second to last in the NFL with just eight interceptions, and 22nd in sacks with 35. The Bears had no defensive touchdowns and were tied for 19th in the league in turnover margin with a -4, the league leader in that category was the Carolina Panthers with a +20. In fact four of the top five teams in turnover margin all played last weekend, with three of them playing on Sunday.

It’s not hard to see what wins in the NFL, yet Ryan Pace and dating back to Phil Emery just two years ago continue to draft on offense like they’ll figure out a way to score 35 points every weekend and become the greatest show on turf. Aaron Rodgers is a great quarterback, he’s in the prime of his career and there doesn’t seem to be any letdown for the next several years with how he’s playing and with the way the NFL loves it’s scoring. Ryan Pace saw twice this year that Rodgers will not quit until the 60th minute of any game.

The NFC North is a phenomenal division now with some very good teams in it. The Vikings have put together a phenomenal defense and they would’ve been playing this past Saturday had Blair Walsh not become the laughing stock of the season with his missed extra point like field goal that would’ve assuredly sent them on to Arizona. The Lions have a good quarterback, and will look to emulate the blueprint of their foes to the northwest by adding pieces on defense instead of paying Calvin Johnson perhaps.

After this weekend it’s easy to see that Aaron Rodgers did not lose that game, and in fact did everything in his power to win it. The Cardinals look like they’re heading into their impending doom in Carolina, and the Bears are nowhere near a title contender. If I’m the McCaskey Family I have GM Ryan Pace on a very short leash and tell him it’s imperative you make tougher decisions as to how you improve this defense. The proof is in the pudding and the honeymoon is long over for this young executive. The Bears need to stop making dumb personnel decisions and look to figure out a way to get themselves back to respectability in a very tough division that appears to be clearly second to only the NFC West.