Are the Packers Officially Doomed in the NFC North Race?

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Are the Packers Officially Doomed in the NFC North Race?
Leon Halip/Getty Images

The Green Bay Packers' chances of staying alive in the NFC North race were dealt a decisive blow when the division-leading Detroit Lions routed Green Bay on Thanksgiving Day. 

Now 5-6-1, the third-placed Packers can't even rely on the return of Aaron Rodgers to salvage a season that once looked Super Bowl worthy. This is a fractured football team with deficiencies across the board, and it must now be perfect—and receive help from the Lions—to have a chance at keeping the division crown for a third straight season. 

There is a scenario where the Packers win out with Rodgers back, the Lions lose two of their last four games and Green Bay sneaks in at 9-6-1. But that plot unfolding looks like a long shot considering how poorly the Packers are currently playing. 

"We don't feel very good about ourselves right now," Packers head coach Mike McCarthy said, per Jason Wilde of ESPN Milwaukee. "We're a wounded team that got drilled today."

The facts and numbers from Detroit's 40-10 conquest are almost hard to fathom. 

No Contest: Packers-Lions Box Score
GB DET
Plays-Total Yards 42-126 79-561
Yards Per Play 3.0 7.1
First Downs 7 30
Passing Yards 102 320
Rushing Yards 24 241
Sacks Allowed 7 1
Turnovers 3 4
Time of Possession 19:34 40:26

Source: ESPN

The Lions outgained the Packers by 435 yards (561-126), marking the biggest yardage discrepancy in an NFL game this season. Late in the fourth quarter, Green Bay still hadn't cracked 70 total yards. Meanwhile, the Lions set a new season high for yards. 

On defense, Detroit gave up as many first downs (seven) as the number of times Matt Flynn was sacked.

Green Bay ran 42 offensive plays but gained just 126 yards. Overall, the Packers held the football for under 20 of the 60 minutes. The Lions threw for 320 yards and ran for another 241, while averaging over seven yards per play. 

The Packers converted just two third downs and failed to pick up a first down rushing. The Lions had 30 first downs and finished 9-of-12 on third down. 

And maybe most amazingly, Green Bay forced four turnovers but still managed to lose by 30 points. The Packers haven't lost by that large of a margin since falling 35-0 to the New England Patriots way back in 2006. 

In the process, the Packers squandered an opportunity to jump the Lions in the division standings. Detroit is now 7-5 and in firm control of the NFC North, especially with a head-to-head tiebreaker over the Chicago Bears (6-5) and a division record that is guaranteed to finish better than Green Bay's. 

To even have a chance, the Packers would need the Lions to lose at least two of their final four games. Detroit finishes with road games in Philadelphia and Minnesota and home tilts with Baltimore and the New York Giants

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But maybe more stressing, Green Bay will likely need to go on a four-game winning streak to close 2013, a task that looks more and more daunting every week. 

Rodgers has 10 days between Thursday's loss and next Sunday's matchup with the Atlanta Falcons, which should give him a good chance of playing in Week 14. But is the former NFL MVP capable of masking the problems that have plagued a team lacking a win since Rodgers fractured his collarbone?

A defense that was playing as well as any in football from Weeks 3 to 8 has suffered through a rapid regression. 

Three times in the last four weeks, an opposing offense has rushed for 200 or more yards against the Packers defense. Five straight quarterbacks, including Detroit's Matthew Stafford on Thursday, have finished with a passer rating above 90.0.

As a result, the defense is allowing 29.4 points per game since Nov. 4. 

Packers Defense, Last Five Games
Points Total Yards Passing Yards Rushing Yards
CHI 27 442 271 171
PHI 27 415 211 204
at NYG 27 334 256 78
MIN 26 447 215 232
at DET 40 561 320 241

Source: Pro Football Reference

Rodgers' ability to extend drives and keep the defense off the field will eventually help, but even he can't fix a defensive line that is being dominated at the line of scrimmage or a secondary that continually allows opposing receivers to run free. Dom Capers and his defense have multiple faults that are now being exposed. 

Guard Josh Sitton affirmed that thinking after the game:

Rodgers playing against the Lions probably wouldn't have changed Thursday's result. Detroit manhandled the Packers from start to finish, and Green Bay's offensive line gave Matt Flynn little time to operate or maneuver in the pocket. Expecting Rodgers to top 40 points with the protection Flynn received wouldn't have been realistic. 

The wounded Packers now have to find a way to shake off a five-game stretch that has likely tested the confidence of a team that has made the playoffs every year since 2009. 

Rodgers has always possessed the rare ability to elevate those around him, but Thursday's loss highlighted just how poor the Packers are right now in so many facets of the game. 

All of the strengths that were powering a 5-2 team have since become glaring deficiencies. And thanks to a 0-4-1 record in games Rodgers hasn't started and finished, the Packers have gone from division front-runner to a long shot to make the postseason. 

Green Bay's season isn't officially over, mathematically or in reality. Much can change in four games. 

However, the Packers have put enough stress on the season's final month that it now appears unlikely Rodgers will return and lead a late playoff charge. This finally looks like the Lions' year. 

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