This week I started wondering about which teams are hot in the NFL right now and how the Pack might fare against them if we met them in the playoffs.
First of all, I don’t think season-long record gives an accurate indication of who’s hot right now. Case-in-point, Indianapolis began the season like they ended last season, losing two of their first three games. However, since then they’ve gone on a tear and have won seven of their last eight games.
The chart below shows the teams that have really turned it on in the most recent eight games of the 2012 season. Look it over and then we’ll talk about each of them.
|Green Bay 7-1||Denver 8-0|
|Atlanta 6-2||New England 7-1|
|Dallas 5-3||Indianapolis 7-1|
|New York 5-3||Houston 6-2|
|Washington 5-3||Cincinnati 5-3|
|Seattle 5-3||Cleveland 5-3|
Now, I don’t really consider a team that’s gone 5-3 in the last eight games a team that’s “hot” right now, but the fact remains that a couple of these 5-3 teams in the NFC may be in the playoffs come January. So, we’ll talk about them as well.
The Packers have reeled off 7 wins in their last 8 games. It hasn’t been pretty though. They’ve resembled a wounded soldier staggering through the battlefield taking bullets to the shoulder and leg but somehow, someway managing to take down enemies along the way. Injuries to key players have the Pack working from deep in their depth chart and still managing to put Ws on the board. With Greg Jennings back in action and the return of Clay Matthews before the end of the season, the Packers are gearing up for a late run.
Atlanta started the season in grand style chalking up eight straight wins before New Orleans finally knocked them off their pedestal. However, in recent games the Falcons have revealed their vulnerability. In week 14 they lost to a Carolina team that has only posted three wins in the last eight games. Will Atlanta be able to find their rhythm going into the playoffs or will it be more like the promising and dangerous team of 2010 that the Packers embarrassed on their way to Super Bowl 45?
With the way the Cowboys have been playing this season, I’m shocked to see that they’ve pulled off five wins in the last eight games. Most of their wins have been very close including games against Cincinnati (20-19), Philadelphia (38-33), Cleveland (23-20), and Carolina (19-14). Granted a win is a win, but none of these opponents strike fear in people’s hearts, and each of these wins should have been more decisive if Dallas was a team to be concerned about.
New York was struggling up to their bye week. A strong win over the Packers had everybody thinking the Super Bowl champs were back. But then they turned right around and lost to the Washington Redskins in a contest in which they only scored 16 points. The team has a lot of weapons and can really dominate a game, but their lack of productivity against the Redskins has probably put all those doubts right back into the heads of the team and the fans.
The Skins have been winning but they’ve relied too much on RGIII. That’s a problem because Robert had a knee injury in their last game. Much of Robert’s threat is his ability to run. Take that knee out of the equation and reduce his mobility and that becomes a serious problem as the playoffs approach.
I grew up in Wisconsin and spent most of my life there. So, I’m still a big UW Badger fan. As such, I’ve had fun following Russel Wilson’s career in Seattle. I’m happy things are going so well for the guy and Seattle’s done some impressive things under his leadership (laying an embarrassing 58-0 pounding on the Arizona Cardinals). Still, I don’t think the Seahawks are ready for the big time yet. Losses to Miami (3-5 in the last 8 games), Detroit (2-6), and St. Louis (3-4-1) suggest that they aren’t a force to be reckoned with.
You have to be impressed with Denver’s 8-0 record in their recent eight games. It’s difficult to put together a string of eight wins. Add to that the veteran leadership of Peyton Manning and you have to take Denver seriously. On the other hand, the Broncos have played nothing but mediocre teams in the last eight games (San Diego, New Orleans, Cincinnati, Carolina, Kansas City, Tampa Bay). When they met Atlanta, Houston, and New England they lost all three of those games. I don’t think their 8-0 record tells the whole story.
Every year these guys are a team you have to worry about. They’re always in the mix at the end of the season. They don’t have a frightening defense, but they continue to score points like no other team in the league right now. They posted 59 points in a win against the Colts, 49 points in a win against the Jets, and an impressive 42 points as they took down a good Houston team.
The Colts started the season looking like the Colts of last season. Then something changed. In the last eight games the Colts are 7-1 and they’re doing that with more than just a little Luck. Of course the competition level hasn’t been that stiff. The Colts have beaten Detroit, Buffalo, Tennessee, Jacksonville, and Cleveland. Not exactly teams that are dominant in the league right now.
The Texans started the season looking like a serious playoff contender. Since then they’ve quietly stocked up on wins. Nothing earth shattering but solid wins. They did have some key losses to talented teams (Packers and Patriots) which makes me wonder if they can match up against playoff caliber teams and win.
Ignoring the teams that are 5-3, there are some interesting stats about the hottest teams in the league.
For instance, it seems the NFL’s top teams are winning in spite of their defense. Denver has a fairly good defense. They rank #4 in that category, and the Texans are ranked #7 in defense. But the rest of the top winning teams have defensive efforts that are par or even sub-par. The Packers currently rank #17 with Atlanta at #20, Indianapolis at #22 , and New England has gone 7-1 in the last eight games with a defense that’s ranked #26.
These top teams are riding the wave on their offense alone. These six offenses are ranked #1, #4, #6, #7, #8, and #17. The Packers are taking up the rear in this group, which brings us to another surprising stat.
The Pack has somehow been able to put together a 7-1 run and they rank #17 in both offense and defense. Somehow the Packers have been able to get key stops and the necessary turnovers to get the job done. The return of Greg Jennings should boost their offensive stats leading up to the playoffs and the return of Clay Matthews should boost their defensive ranking.
The timing seems right for the Packers to start playing some of their best football.