After stringing together a five-game winning streak that seemed to have them poised for a huge playoff run, the Green Bay Packers suffered a huge setback on Sunday Night Football with a 38-10 loss to the New York Giants.
The loss puts Green Bay at 7-4 and a game behind the Chicago Bears for first place in the NFC North, but due to their record, the Packers still have the pole position for the NFC's fifth seed in the playoffs.
Losing to the Giants exposed many of the same problems that the Packers have had throughout the season: inability to protect the quarterback (Aaron Rodgers was sacked five times), a defense that struggles to contain the run (the Giants rushed for 148 yards) and a secondary with issues all their own.
The other major issue Green Bay has is its health. The Packers were once again without wide receiver Greg Jennings against New York, which was a key missing piece on an evening when James Jones and Jermichael Finley struggled. Jordy Nelson was Green Bay's only consistent receiver.
Also missing for the Packers were safety Charles Woodson, cornerback Sam Shields, and linebacker Clay Matthews. These players are three of Green Bay's best on the defensive side of the ball, and their absence was a contributing factor in the Packers allowing New York to gain 390 yards while scoring 38 points.
So what's next for the Pack as they head into the season's stretch run? Surprisingly, despite all that happened in their loss to the Giants, Green Bay is firmly in control of their own destiny.
The Packers have four more NFC North games left on the schedule and are already 2-0 against the rest of the black and blue division. Green Bay's Week 2 victory over the Bears still looms large, as they hold the division tiebreaker over Chicago.
Their only non-NFC North game left on the schedule comes against the struggling Tennessee Titans at Lambeau Field, who are currently 4-7 and well out of the AFC's playoff race.
Green Bay is also expected to get healthier down the stretch. Greg Jennings could come back as early as next week when the Packers take on the Minnesota Vikings, per ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert.
The news isn't quite as good for Woodson and Shields. Woodson had been working out with the receivers as of last week but still has yet to be cleared for defensive work (h/t cbssports.com).
Shields, however, has suffered a setback to his recovery from an ankle injury he suffered in Green Bay's Week 5 victory at Houston, which has put more pressure on the Packers' secondary (per cbssports.com).
The good news is that despite the injuries to Shields and Woodson, Green Bay's secondary has performed well—aside from their loss to the Giants.
The Packers might have looked mortal (and probably worse) on Sunday night against the Giants, but they still have the NFC North in the palm of their hands. While their loss to the Giants will cost them seeding in the NFC—likely forcing them to play in the wild card round regardless of whether they win the division or come in as a wild card—Green Bay, at least, has a great shot of hosting that first playoff game at Lambeau.
Just hopefully not against the Giants, considering how their last two playoff games against them at Lambeau have gone.
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