Before hooking up with him later Friday at the PFW Christmas party, Dan asked his brother, PFW editor/publisher and Westwood One sideline commentator Hub Arkush, how he perceives the Packers as they enter what looks like a perilous home stretch. Hub was on the sidelines for a couple of Packers games at Lambeau Field earlier this season and will be reporting on the Packers-Patriots game, too.
1. In all your time covering pro football, have you ever seen a team get hit with injuries to the extent to which the Packers have gotten hit this season?
Arkush: It happens, but very, very rarely. Ironically, this year’s Indianapolis Colts have taken almost as bad a beating as the Packers. The 2002 Chicago Bears had a year like this, but coming off a 13-3 ’01 campaign, they dropped to well below .500 with all the injuries. While the Colts have been hit almost as bad as the Packers, it’s very apparent from their won-lost record this year. But somehow the Packers have still made it to 8-5, which really begs the question: How good might this club have been?
2. Do you give the Packers any shot at all at being able to upset New England if Aaron Rodgers does not play?
Arkush: Virtually none, but … I hated their chances going into New York seven weeks ago to play the Jets coming off an OT loss at home to the Dolphins. That loss gave them three losses in a four-game stretch, with the lone win being a two-point escape act at home over the Lions. As we all know, the Packers’ defense rose up and shut the Jets out in their own park. Of course, this Patriots offense is light years ahead of the Jets, but New England is due for at least a slowdown if not a letdown, and if the Packers' “D” can get heroic, again …
3. Do you still see Green Bay having a realistic shot at making the playoffs?
Arkush: A shot, yes, but not a very good one. Either New Orleans or Atlanta almost certainly will be a wild-card team, and assuming the Packers can’t handle the Patriots, if they win their last two they get to 10-6 and start looking at tiebreakers. If the Eagles can knock off the Giants or the Eagles lose to the Giants and just split their last two — and the Packers would have to beat the Giants to get to 10-6 in my scenario — then the Packers could claim the second wild-card berth over either one of them, assuming the Bucs don’t force a three-way tie to mess up the tiebreakers, which unfortunately is a definite possibility. Obviously, winning out is the Pack’s best shot and would certainly get them in at 11-5, so at least they control their own destiny — until the New England game.
4. What’s your best guess at the NFC playoff participants with three games left?
Arkush: Looks to me like the Falcons will be the No. 1 seed, with the Giants No. 2 (didn’t say I like the Eagles to beat them; just said it would help the Pack control its own destiny), the Bears No. 3, the Rams win the NFC West for No. 4, the Saints No. 5 and the Eagles No. 6.
5. Is New England the best team in football right now and, with that in mind, the most likely Super Bowl winner?
Arkush: I don’t know how you could say anyone’s better than the Pats right now, and yes, if I have to make a Super Bowl winner pick right now, they’d be it. But we’ve seen how many strange things can happen over a few weeks in the NFL, or for that matter, in any one game. The Giants never should have beaten New England in the Super Bowl in ’07, but they did. I could see the Steelers giving the Pats that kind of game in this year’s AFC title game, and there’s certainly nothing that impressive about the New England defense that they couldn’t have trouble in a shootout with San Diego, New Orleans, Philadelphia or the Giants.