On Thursday night, the Green Bay Packers lost to the Tennessee Titans. They also lost any illusion of salvaging both this season and the near future.
It ended as it should have.
At Lambeau Field, on a cold night, with the chill of snow in the air.
On Thursday evening, the Green Bay Packers fell 27-17 to the Tennessee Titans, dropping their record to 4-7. The defeat left no doubt of Green Bay’s demise.
It’s over. And it might be over for some time.
The question now is whether the Packers accept their reality, or plunge into denial.
General manager Brian Gutekunst has no easy solution. Green Bay’s first decision regards Aaron Rodgers, who has a 2023 cap charge of $31.6 million with a cash payout of $59 million guaranteed, per Jason Fitzgerald of OverTheCap.
To trade Rodgers, the Packers would eat $40 million unless they did so after June 1, which would split the dead money as $15.8 million and $24.5 million over the upcoming two years.
Of course, the latter is a better choice, but it comes with a price. By June 1, most teams already have their quarterbacks, and very few will be able to absorb Rodgers’ $59.5 million cost.
While there are other problems facing Gutekunst — more on those in a second — the Rodgers question looms. Keep the Hall of Fame quarterback on a declining team, or take the dead cap hits and get what you can?
As for the other issues, there are significant ones.
Green Bay is projected to have $4.4 million in cap space this offseason, and yet has notable free agents led by offensive lineman Elgton Jenkins, receiver Allen Lazard and tight end Robert Tonyan. Additionally, there are bloated salaries on the books for left tackle David Bakhtiari and running back Aaron Jones, at $29 million and $20 million, respectively.
On the surface, Bakhtiari is a cap casualty. This until you realize Green Bay would eat $23.1 million in dead money. Jones could be sent out for $10.4 million recouped, but he’s the offense’s best weapon.
Again, what is the best route for Gutekunst? There are two sane paths:
1) Keep Rodgers, Bakhtiari and Jones. Then, hope to hit a few home runs in the draft which will ease the cap situation and replenish the roster.
This is what happened for the cap-strapped New Orleans Saints in 2017, when their rookie class included corner Marshon Lattimore, right tackle Ryan Ramczyk, safety Marcus Williams, running back Alvin Kamara and edge rusher Trey Hendrickson. This group propelled the Saints to the NFC title game in ’18 and the playoffs in four consecutive years.
2) Unload post-June 1. Trade Rodgers and Jones, and release Bakhtiari. Get the cap sheet in order and turn the newfound cap space into rollover savings for ’24, covering the dead money. Meanwhile, pick up Jordan Love’s fifth-year option and commit to him for at least one season as the starting quarterback.
This path gives Green Bay flexibility much quicker, but tanks it in the immediate. This also avoids throwing bad money at an aging core, something New Orleans did and now has an annual bout of cap hell with because of. Finally, it means premium draft position.
Whatever Gutekunst decides, he needs to commit. No half-measures. No mistaking hope for a strategy.
Regardless of his choice, Thursday night rendered the situation in Green Bay clear as the night sky.
The Packers in their current form are finished, and headed for a reckoning in the coming months.
Top 10 cold-weather venues in NFL history
1. Lambeau Field – Green Bay Packers
2. Metropolitan Stadium – Minnesota Vikings
3. Highmark Stadium – Buffalo Bills
4. Mile High Stadium – Denver Broncos
5. Cleveland Municipal Stadium – Cleveland Browns
6. Three Rivers Stadium – Pittsburgh Steelers
7. Foxboro Stadium – New England Patriots
8. Soldier Field – Chicago Bears
9. Veterans Stadium – Philadelphia Eagles
10. Giants Stadium – New York Giants/Jets
– New York Jets quarterback Zach Wilson on whether he let his defense down in a 10-3 loss
If Wilson wasn’t losing respect in the locker room for his on-field performance, this answer won’t help matters. As former All-Pro corner and current Amazon analyst Richard Sherman pointed out on Twitter, the Jets had more punts (10) than Wilson had completions (9).
Linebacker Larry Ball is the only player to ever play for an unbeaten and winless team, doing so with the 1972 Miami Dolphins and ’76 Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Info learned this week
1. Jets cower, then lose after Zach Wilson meltdown
Robert Saleh had to be cursing himself as Marcus Jones was crossing the goal line.
The New York Jets fell 10-3 in excruciating fashion at Gillette Stadium to the New England Patriots, with the deciding score being Jones’ 84-yard punt return with five second remaining. Saleh, who helmed New York to a 6-4 start, finds his team in the AFC East basement after one of the more dumbfounding sequences you’ll ever see.
Tied 3-3, the Jets had possession with 1:40 left in regulation. New York quarterback Zach Wilson entered the drive 8-of-19 for 79 yards and multiple dropped interceptions. Saleh watched Wilson throw another near-pick before deciding to run the ball, bleed the clock and punt.
While having no faith in Wilson is understandable, it’s an indefensible strategy. If Saleh is that low on Wilson, bench him. Bring in Mike White and give him a chance, whether it’s strictly for the game’s balance or beyond.
Saleh’s choice had to infuriate the defense, which allowed three points and still lost. It’s one thing to be aggressive and lose. It’s another to go into the equivalent of the fetal position and drop a critical game.
The Jets chose not to pursue winning, and ultimately found losing.
2. Mahomes’ MVP chase takes big step in comeback over Chargers
Patrick Mahomes once had 5,097 passing yards and 50 touchdowns during an MVP campaign. This one might prove even better.
On Sunday, Mahomes was at his swashbuckling best against the Los Angeles Chargers, rallying his Kansas City Chiefs in the final minute with his third touchdown pass — all to tight end Travis Kelce — for a 30-27 win, effectively finishing off the AFC West.
All told, Mahomes threw for 329 yards and the aforementioned three scores. Those touchdowns all came when Kansas City trailed Los Angeles, including two in the second half. For the season, Mahomes leads the NFL with 3,265 passing yards, more than 300 better than second-place Josh Allen. He’s also thrown 28 touchdowns. Nobody else has more than 22. Mahomes is on pace to break the single-season passing yardage record as well, trending towards 5,550.
From a team standpoint, the Chiefs remain the AFC’s top seed at 8-2 and will be heavy favorites in six of their seven remaining games. Kansas City still has two games with the Denver Broncos along with tilts against the Houston Texans, Los Angeles Rams and Las Vegas Raiders.
Bottom line: Mahomes and the Chiefs could get very fat in the coming months.
3. Cowboys make statement in resounding win over Vikings
The Minnesota Vikings have seven one-score wins. On Sunday, the Dallas Cowboys made sure the game never approached such closeness.
Dallas effectively ended the contest by halftime, taking a 23-3 lead into the break before winning 40-3. The Cowboys out-gained Minnesota by a 249-98 margin in the first half. Dak Prescott was 15-of-17 for 141 yards with a touchdown, while Kirk Cousins went 7-of-15 for 69 yards with a lost fumble. Everything which came afterwards was academic.
It was a clinic from the Cowboys, who at 7-3, are trying to push the Philadelphia Eagles in the NFC East. This day was about Dallas, who put everything together in a showcase performance. When everything is clicking, the Cowboys have the look of a contender. The question is whether they can discover consistency on a weekly basis.
If Dallas is going to make a deep run for the first time in nearly 30 years, it’ll be because the defense wins up front, head coach Mike McCarthy is a caretaker and not a storyline, and the Cowboys are willing to utilize running back Tony Pollard as they should. Pollard was a force on Sunday, notching 189 total yards and two touchdowns.
After faltering in Green Bay, Dallas made sure to remind the NFC who it is.
4. Bills win by turning around rushing trends vs. Browns
After a chaotic week, the Buffalo Bills got their result. But there’s more to be done.
Buffalo allowed 396 yards to the Cleveland Browns in a 31-23 win, and was helped by Cleveland’s ineptitude for much of the day. Josh Allen was uneven, throwing for 197 yards while Jacoby Brissett had two touchdown passes dropped, lost a fumble and had two consecutive quarterback sneaks stuffed in a rollercoaster afternoon.
However, there was a crush of good news for Buffalo. The Bills ran for 171 yards on 5.2 yards per carry, and Allen was responsible for only eight yards. Buffalo saw production from Devin Singletary and James Cook, with each back amassing 86 ground yards. This balance is key for the Bills to get rolling as the weather turns and teams increasingly gameplan to shut Allen’s legs down.
Conversely, the rush defense stepped up. Buffalo allowed only 80 rushing yards on 3.1 YPC, holding Nick Chubb to 19 yards. This after permitting 529 rushing yards over the previous three games.
At 7-3, the Bills are in a tie with the Miami Dolphins for first place in the AFC East. Now, a seven-game match race.
5. Bengals earn key win with brutal schedule ahead
Rare is the team facing a must-win at 5-4, but such was the Cincinnati Bengals’ plight on Sunday against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
With the league’s toughest remaining schedule ahead, the Bengals needed to beat the limited Steelers and did so with a 37-30 victory. Cincinnati is now 6-4 and in the AFC playoff picture as a wild card, one game behind the Baltimore Ravens, who have a cakewalk the rest of the way.
For the Bengals, the goal should be a minimum of 4-3 going forward. It won’t be easy. Here’s the slate:
Week 12: at Tennessee
Week 13: vs. Kansas City
Week 14: vs. Cleveland
Week 15: at Tampa Bay
Week 16: at New England
Week 17: vs. Buffalo (MNF)
Week 18: vs. Baltimore
Of those seven tilts, the Bengals draw five division leaders, a Patriots team in the postseason chase and Cleveland, who already pummeled Cincinnati, 32-13. And this time, the Browns will have Deshaun Watson.
Without a victory in Pittsburgh, the Bengals would have been in awful position. But with it, they have a shot.
The Arizona Cardinals paid Kyler Murray $230.5 million this season. Yet before we reached Thanksgiving, there are columns in the local paper about why Colt McCoy should be the starter.
We’re at a tipping point for not only Murray, but head coach Kliff Kingsbury and general manager Steve Kim, who also received extensions this offseason.
Owner Michael Bidwill has never been known as financially generous, and so moving on from his GM-coach combo with years to pay would be surprising. With Murray, he’s at least in Arizona until the ’26 season, when the dead money would be palatable.
So this isn’t a question of imminent firings, as much as keeping the fanbase energized.
Most teams don’t worry about filling their seats. In the NFL, there are only eight or nine regular-season dates. Fans will show. The Cardinals are a team without that luxury. If Arizona begins to lose public backing, it’ll be ugly. There will be ample empty seats. Then we’ll get firings.
The best remedy for this is, of course, to win. The Cardinals are 4-6 and only a game out of a playoff spot. Murray can dazzle with anybody, and a win over the San Francisco 49ers on Monday night in Mexico would go a long way towards getting things back under control.
But a loss, and an ugly one at that? The spiral would only intensify in Arizona.
Inside the league
It’s incredible how quickly fortunes change in the NFL.
Two years ago, Baker Mayfield won a playoff game in Cleveland, giving the Browns their first such victory since 1994. Entering the fourth year of his rookie deal, many felt Mayfield should receive an extension worth around $40 million annually. Cleveland decided to make Mayfield play out his pact a bit longer, and the proverbial bottom fell out.
Now, Mayfield is fighting trying to hold off P.J. Walker for the starting job with the Carolina Panthers before becoming a low-interest free agent this winter.
This shouldn’t have been lost on Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson when the two squared off Sunday.
Jackson watched Mayfield go 31 slots earlier than him on their draft night, and since has vastly outplayed the former No. 1 pick. However, he’s still without a new contract, despite Baltimore attempting to engage in extension talks. This season, Jackson has once again been terrific, but his future remains unclear.
Once this season ends, Jackson will either be tagged by Baltimore or come to terms on a new deal. After two years of playing on a comparatively meager salary all while being extension eligible, it’ll be fascinating to see if Jackson decides the time is right to cash in.
BetSided‘s best bet
Ravens -3.5 at Jaguars
Baltimore sneaked by at home against the hapless Carolina Panthers in Week 11, continuing an odd trend of playing terrible at home. So far in 2022, Baltimore is 0-4-1 against the spread (ATS).
On the road, however, they’re a completely different squad. The Ravens are 4-1-0 ATS away from M&T Bank Stadium with the third-highest margin of victory in the league. They’re also 3-1-0 ATS as a road favorite, and since John Harbaugh entered the NFL in 2008, no team has more wins ATS on the road than Harbaugh, going 71-58-8; covering 58.2% of his games.
This matchup comes down to the Jags not being able to stop teams in the red zone, and not putting pressure on the quarterback. Jacksonville ranks 22nd in red zone defense, and 3rd-worst in sack percentage.
The Ravens got their home wake up call last week, and I think they’ll respond on the road; covering the 3.5 in Duval.
— Ben Heisler
When the Los Angeles Rams visited the New Orleans Saints this weekend at the Superdome, it recalled one of the wildest playoff games ever.
In 2000, the defending-champion Rams met the Saints, the NFC West champs who had never won a playoff game. Leading 31-7 with 9:41 remaining, New Orleans appeared ready to party. Then, suddenly, St. Louis exploded for 21 points in seven minutes before forcing a punt with 1:51 on the clock.
In one final twist, Rams receiver Az-Zahir Hakim muffed the punt, with the Saints recovering to earn their first playoff victory in franchise history.
I was ready to rail against the NFL tradition of the Detroit Lions playing on Thanksgiving. It was going to be an easy section.
After all, since 2004, the Lions are 4-15 on Thanksgiving. Most years, the games haven’t been competitive, with Detroit sustaining nine double-digit losses over that span.
But with Detroit on a fun three-game winning streak, perhaps the Lions can replace their normal side dish of stress and aggravation for their fans, replacing it with quality entertainment as millions around the country fight off the inevitable afternoon nap.
Taking on the Bills, Detroit has a chance to creep back towards the NFC playoff picture and score a national victory against a top opponent.
For once, maybe the Lions won’t be the turkeys.