In 2016, the Green Bay Packers were 4-6 when quarterback Aaron Rodgers proclaimed the team was capable of running the table. On cue, the Packers reeled off six consecutive wins to get in the playoffs, then advanced to the NFC Championship Game.
This season, the Packers are 3-4-1 headed into Sunday’s home game against the Miami Dolphins. They are in the middle of a five-game gauntlet of games at the Los Angeles Rams and New England Patriots, home vs. Miami, then back on the road to face the Seattle Seahawks and Minnesota Vikings.
Green Bay lost the first two legs of this pivotal stretch. If it’s going to rebound and make a run at a playoff berth, it will be up to Rodgers to play much better than he did against New England.
While Rodgers has thrown a sizzling 15 touchdown passes vs. one interception, he ranks near the bottom of the league in completion percentage. In a 31-17 loss at New England, Rodgers completed only 24 of 43 passes (55.8 percent). When the offense absolutely needed to score in the fourth quarter, it couldn’t even get to midfield.
“I just feel like we have to play better, consistently, 60 minutes, try to eliminate some of the lulls we’ve been having,” Rodgers said. “We have to play with confidence and play up to the level we’re capable of playing.”
The Dolphins will pose a stiff challenge, even as they go from the heat of Miami to a projected 32-degree day at Lambeau Field. Miami leads the NFL with 15 interceptions. Four of those came in last week’s 13-6 victory over the New York Jets.
“Maybe he’ll change his mind this game,” Dolphins head coach Adam Gase joked of Rodgers’ ability to avoid interceptions.
Gase has a firm grasp of the obvious, and here’s how we know:
“Aaron Rodgers,” Gase said, “is a little different than Sam Darnold.”
Rodgers, of course, is a former Super Bowl MVP and a six-time Pro Bowl quarterback for the Packers. Darnold is the Jets’ rookie first-round pick, a quarterback Miami beat last week with four interceptions.
So … yeah, the Dolphins definitely have a bigger challenge this week.
However, the Packers are coming off their first losing season since 2008, and they are struggling this season with a sub-.500 record and two straight losses.
The bright spot for the Packers is that they are 3-0-1 at home this season. And something else to factor into the equation is that Green Bay was off to a 4-1 start last season before Rodgers got injured.
The Packers went 3-8 the rest of the way, with Rodgers playing in just one game during that stretch.
Rodgers’ completion percentage this year is 60.6 percent, which would be the lowest number of his career since he became a starter in 2008. But he has already passed for 2,542 yards this season, and his touchdown-to-interception ratio is outstanding at 15-1.
Miami ability to force interceptions makes for a fascinating matchup. Also fascinating is the fact that failed ex-Dolphins head coach Joe Philbin returned to Green Bay this year as the Packers’ offensive coordinator.
The Dolphins will surely play close attention to two Packers targets — wide receiver Davante Adams and tight end Jimmy Graham. Adams has caught 19 touchdown passes since the start of 2017. Graham, a former Miami Hurricanes player, has caught 12 TD passes during that same span. However, Graham missed practice on Wednesday due to a knee injury.
When the Dolphins are on offense, they will be without quarterback Ryan Tannehill, who will miss his fifth straight game due to a shoulder injury. Brock Osweiler is 2-2 at quarterback since replacing Tannehill.
For the Packers, who are in third place in the NFC North and 10th place in the NFC, this is practically a must-win game. As head coach Mike McCarthy likes to say, there’s no reason to discuss the playoffs until a team gets win No. 10. For Green Bay to get to 10 wins, it must go 7-1 down the stretch.
“It’s always good to be at home,” McCarthy said. “You have to take care of your home-field advantage. That’s something that’s a great part of our focus this week. Really, the benefits of being at home is the repetition, particularly when you get to the end of the week. You’ve got to make sure you take advantage of that. To play in front of your home crowd, that’s something that we’ve always enjoyed. We also know what’s coming after it, too.”
The Dolphins held the Jets without a touchdown last week, but the challenge against the Packers on Sunday will be much tougher. Miami’s defense may struggle to contain the Green Bay passing game. Offensively, the Dolphins’ beat-up offensive line allowed four sacks last week, and the unit failed to open holes or get anyone into the end zone.
Miami’s offense will likely have to play much better this week to keep up with Rodgers and the Packers.