The Packers Are Worse than Bad - They're Irrelevant
Every year at about this time, NFL analysts start to roll out sound bites, tweets, blog posts, and columns that begin with the phrase “if the playoffs started today.”
The playoffs, of course, don’t start today. The playoffs don’t start for months. These pieces are inherently silly and represent little more than an effort to infuse a little urgency into a period of the schedule in which the ultimate goal of the season is still far off.
If the playoffs started today, nobody outside of the state of Wisconsin would be worrying about the Packers. Nobody is thinking about how the Packers factor into the playoffs at all.
That’s because the Packers currently represent the worst thing to which a professional sports franchise can aspire: irrelevance. And being irrelevant is far, far worse than being bad.
When you’re a bad team, hope is ever on the horizon. Sure, you may have to suffer through your sport’s equivalent of a down year (a 4-12 season, a trip to the draft lottery, being the Baltimore Orioles), but good things are coming your way.
If you’re a bad team, you probably have easily identifiable problems and high draft picks are almost certainly on the way to help you address them. All you need to do is take the clearly laid out steps in front of you to become a formerly bad team.
But irrelevance can truly doom a franchise. Irrelevance:
Puts you well out of contention to reach the playoffs… but not so far out that you can’t put a scare into a good team.
Gives you a higher draft pick than you’d have gotten if you’d squeaked into the playoffs… but not good enough that you have a shot at the cream of the crop.
Offers the false hope of feeling close to success… which leads to attempts at small improvements instead of the systemic change you probably need
The Packers aren’t bad enough to be a truly bad team. At times, they’ve looked downright passable as a good team. Aaron Rodgers and the offense transformed into a nuclear-powered Megazord in the second half of the Bears game and stole Chicago’s soul right out of its body. For upwards of several quarters at a time, the defense has looked as good as it possibly can in its present configuration.
If you put those two qualities together for any meaningful stretch of time, you’d have a good team. Plenty of teams have taken home a championship with a great offense and a fair-to-good defense.
But the Packers have made one thing clear in the still-young 2018 season: they can’t consistently be the team they have the talent to become. Thus, a 2-2-1 record in mid-October and a position on the outside looking in concerning the still-theoretical playoffs.
The Packers aren’t bad enough to bottom out and reap the rewards of being truly bad. Barring at least one more significant injury this season, it’s easy to see the Packers picking up a handful of wins over hapless teams like the Dolphins, Cardinals, and Jets and maybe stealing a win against a more competent unit like the Falcons.
But nobody at the top end of the league is going to be worrying about the Packers in their post-bye stretch run unless this team figures things out in a hurry. Truly elite teams like the Rams and Patriots will say nice things about Aaron Rodgers and how you always have to prepare for such a great player, but then they’ll kick off and take care of business against a team that can’t get out of its own way. But such is life as an irrelevant NFL team.