Fired Green Bay head coach Mike McCarthy placed a full-page ad in all the Wisconsin papers yesterday to thank the fans and organisation for everything they’d contributed to his 13 years as a Packer. Classy move from a classy man, but at 4-7-1 and with Aaron Rodgers’ Super Bowl window closing, he won’t be at the helm this week.
Instead, interim Joe Philbin will be in charge at Lambeau Field when the Falcons come knocking. Philbin spent 2007 to 2011 as Green Bay offensive co-ordinator when his offense was never out of the top 10 in yards or points and the Packers won Super Bowl XLV at the end of the 2010 season.
The following year, his unit – in particular Rodgers – was other-worldly. The offense finished with the third best points total in history with 560 and during one three-week stretch of the 2011 season, Rodgers threw 11 touchdowns, zero interceptions and 18 incomplete passes in 86 attempts, one of which was a spike to stop the clock. The quarterback finished the year with a
league record 122.5. That version of Rodgers is something the Packers could do with seeing if their slim hopes of a Wild Card berth are to stay alive.
McCarthy had been criticised for his play-calling, which he’d unusually kept a grip of – most offensive co-ordinators send in the plays – having delegated it for the 2015 season. And in recent years, the competitive relationship between him and Rodgers meant the quarterback often changed plays, throwing the coach out of his flow.
Rodgers and Philbin have a comfort level – the new boss was tight ends coach when a 22-year-old Rodgers was eventually drafted in the first round in 2005 before an unsuccessful stint as Dolphins head coach.
Calling plays, however, is something Philbin hasn’t done lately. "It's been a while," he said. “Trying to think. Might have been about 20 years, maybe.”
The feeling is the Pack needed a different voice in the locker room and in a home match-up with the Falcons, the malaise will be lifted. The Atlanta run defense has struggled and the dome team will be fed a heavy dose of the punishing Aaron Jones on the frosty Lambeau Field to allow Rodgers to get his mojo back and Philbin to pass his first audition for the full-time gig.
On the subject of returns, Jets rookie Sam Darnold should make his first start since Week 9 after recovering from a sprained foot. It won’t be a happy return, however, in the face of Buffalo’s defense. The unit restricted Miami to 175 total yards last week and Darnold is unlikely to be able to stop the Jets’ rot.
Gang Green have lost six straight and, after the Bills, there’s no respite as they face Houston, Green Bay and New England. Across the city, well across the shared locker room, the Giants have a glimmer of hope. They can still technically win the evenly matched NFC East division, despite their less than impressive 4-8 record, but their most likely route into the postseason is edging past the Vikings and Panthers for a Wild Card.
They’ll be missing Odell Beckham Jr in Washington this week but their opponents are in far worse shape. Already shorn of starting QB Alex Smith with a horrific broken leg three weeks ago, they lost back-up Colt McCoy to a fractured right fibula at half-time last week. Next man up is Mark “Butt Fumble” Sanchez. The Sanchize last won a regular season game as a starter on
28 December 2014 so expect Eli Manning and co to win this one.
The Chargers are on a roll, which will continue against the Bengals this week. They’ve scored 78 points in two weeks and didn’t even have Melvin Gordon for their 33-30 win over the Steelers. He’s back this week, as is key defender Joey Bosa. Bosa announced his return from injury with his first six tackles of 2018, a sack and a tackle for loss. The pass rusher will have a field day against Cincinnati’s back-up Jeff Driskel, who won’t even have injured security blanket AJ Green to throw to.
Also rolling are Seattle, who’ve ground out three straight victories. Minnesota, meanwhile, have dropped three of the last five and let Chicago put light between them at the top of the NFC North. Minnesota boss Mike Zimmer talked after the last game about the number of carries top rusher Dalvin Cook received.
The Seahawks, by contrast, lead the league in rushing with the three-headed committee of Chris Carson (three 100-yard games), Mike Davis (one) and rookie Rashaad Penny (one). It’s December, that’s when the Seahawks do their best business, so expect Zimmer to be an unhappy man again this
NFL WEEK 14 TIPS:
Bills over Jets
Giants over Redskins
Packers over Falcons
Chargers over Bengals
Seahawks over Vikings