The Green Bay Packers could very well win on Sunday in the wildcard round of the playoffs against a San Francisco 49ers team that has dealt them three consecutive losses.
And quarterback Aaron Rodgers could just as easily keep the Packers in contention in every single postseason game the Packers play.
But going on a sustained Super Bowl run, if accomplished would require the Packers to win four straight games, is not going to happen. And it will be due to a Packers defense that is subpar at best.
The defense's track record speaks for itself. It's ranked 25th in run defense (125.0 ypg), 24th in pass defense (247.3 ypg), and 25th overall (372.3 ypg). It's also ranked ranked 24th in points allowed (26.8 ppg).
Sure, the defense might come up with a critical fourth-down stop or a crucial turnover in any one particular game, maybe two. But to expect this Packers defense to hold up for four consecutive games on its way to winning the Lombardi Trophy would be foolhardy.
This year's Packers defense has shown incapable of stopping opponents on a consistent basis, and that's not likely to change now that they'll be matched up against the best teams the NFL has to offer in a playoff format.
To be sure, injuries have played a part. How they'll be able to stop the likes of the 49ers on Sunday without the likes of Clay Matthews, Johnny Jolly and Casey Hayward is up for debate.
It was thanks to Matthews that the Packers were able to take the 49ers down to the wire back in Week 1 of the season. Minus one late-hit penalty, the Packers outside linebacker was largely responsible for keeping the dual-threat rushing combo of quarterback Colin Kaepernick and running back Frank Gore in check.
Matthews finished that game with eight tackles, three for a loss and sack, while the 49ers finished the game with a mostly harmless 2.6 yards per carry.
It's now up to rookie Andy Mulumba and a gimpy Nick Perry to fill in for Matthews, a player whose shoes they can't fill, although not for a lack of trying.
There's many reasons for this Packers feeble defense besides injury, including a lack of versatility, and a void of elite-level talent.
All one has to do on Sunday is look at the discrepancy in talent at the linebacker position between two teams both employing a two-gapping 3-4 defensive front.
The collection of Mulumba, A.J. Hawk, Brad Jones, Mike Neal and company will pale in comparison to that of Patrick Willis, Navorro Bowman, Aldon Smith and Ahmad Brooks.
But among the biggest reasons for a substandard Packers defense is players not playing up to potential, none more so than defensive lineman B.J. Raji and safety Morgan Burnett.
It was Burnett who signed a five-year deal worth over $26 million in the offseason that put him among the top-paid safeties in the NFL. Unfortunately for the Packers, his production hasn't matched his salary.
When the season ends, Raji will be looking for his own lucrative deal after his contract expires. The Packers reportedly offered and Raji declined a contract that averaged $8 million per season, but this is a player who hasn't had a sack in more than two years.
As long as Raji, Burnett and others underachieve, this Packers defense won't hold up for the long haul.
And it's a problem that's not going to be rectified until the offseason when the Packers let a few free agents leave town and they attempt to fill the holes with new draft choices.
Brian Carriveau is the author of the book "It's Just a Game: Big League Drama in Small Town America," and editor of Cheesehead TV's "Pro Football Draft Preview." To contact Brian, email [email protected].
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