While injuries continue to dominate the headlines for the Green Bay Packers, it seems reasonable to consider them a long shot to make any real noise in the 2010 playoffs.
There is no shortage of reasons to be skeptical. It's been well documented that the Packers have lost several key players such as Ryan Grant, Nick Barnett and Jermichael Finley for most, if not all, of 2010 as in Grant's case.
I could go on but I think we get the point.
Despite all that, I think they are still NFC contenders and here's why.
The NFC for starters. While it seems a tall order right now to match-up with some of the AFC leaders like Baltimore, Pittsburgh and the Jets, no clear leader has emerged in the NFC. The AFC has five teams with only a single loss while the NFC has only three.
Until a few more teams begin to separate for the inside track to home field advantage, the door to winning the NFC remains open—not to mention the slow start for preseason NFC contenders such as Dallas and Minnesota. One team will emerge from their contest this Sunday at 1-4 and the other will still be a game below .500 at 2-3.
As far as the injuries are concerned, let's consider the depth in some areas.
Nick Barnett has been a solid veteran linebacker for years in the Packer defense. But over the last several years backup Desmond Bishop has been pushing for playing time.
Barnett brings great leadership and steady play to the defense. Desmond Bishop seems to have that unique ability to deliver punishing tackles that can sometimes create a big play or turnover. He was credited with 13 combined tackles, a sack and a pass defense in a solid debut against Washington.
Bishop will face a big challenge this Sunday versus the run heavy, wildcat running Miami Dolphins. I do not foresee a real big drop off at this position as Bishop has finally gotten the golden opportunity he's been waiting for.
No doubt Jermichael Finley is a tremendous target for Aaron Rodgers. But he has not yet established himself as a full time player in the NFL. He wasn't an every down player until midway through the 2009 season and missed time with injury also.
Rookie TE Andrew Quarless demonstrated his ability to stretch the field while being forced into action with the departure of Finley and veteran Donald Lee early in the first quarter against Washington. He grabbed four catches for 51 yards.
That provided a healthy dose of game action for the rookie and he'll be preparing as the starter until further notice. He's no Jermichael Finley but should still present a legitimate pass receiving option from the TE position.
Some help is also on the way.
Following the Miami game three more players will be eligible to get to work again as CB Al Harris, S Atari Bigby and RB James Starks come off the PUP list. It seems Starks will be the most ready of them all health-wise to join a running game that coach McCarthy hasn't shown much faith in.
Let's revisit a couple items looking back at the 2009 Packers. In a similar fashion, the Packers stumbled to a 4-4 start and essentially the second half of the season was like the playoffs as they had to keep pace with fast starting teams like Minnesota, Dallas and New Orleans.
Despite the excruciating start, McCarthy ultimately was able to rally his team to a 7-1 finish and a solid 11-5 record. One can only hope the disappointing loss at Washington will be the wakeup call his team inexplicably needs in order to close out games much like 2009's loss at Tampa Bay seemed to be.
The 2010 defense has been getting good pressure leading the NFC with 21 sacks while the secondary appears to have more depth than the 2009 squad that repeatedly got torched in big games during that season.
The offense still presents challenges with a solid receiving core that needs to drastically improve their play. Numerous drops and fumbles from the wideouts have been major setbacks in recent weeks. It would be a surprise to see them continue to play so poorly.
Especially considering their opportunities should only increase with Finely's absence.
Ultimately, it seems to be very similar to 2009 except in a weaker NFC, a defense that appears to be improved and an offense that should be able to produce good numbers (maybe just less than we expected).
However, this is based on what appears to be the rather large assumption that they have a similar turnaround in 2009. The play-calling improved, the penalties were reduced and the team overall seemed more focused once the preseason Super Bowl hype became a distant memory.
And you know what can happen you start assuming things.