When the Green Bay Packers started their season, I did not know what to expect. I was not alone in that regard. After all, we as Packers fans have frequently been spoiled rotten by the level of success that the team has aspired to. Three NFC championship appearances in the last seven years (2012, 2014, 2016) and multiple division titles had translated to the expectation that the Packers, led by the talent of surefire Hall of Famer Aaron Rodgers, would eventually, one day, make it back to the Super Bowl.
And then, when Rodgers was hurt in 2017 the Packers finished outside of the playoffs for the first time since the beginning of his tenure. A renewed effort in 2018 with a healthy Rodgers proved no better, as the Packers finished with their first back to back losing seasons since George H. W. Bush was president.
Mike McCarthy was fired midseason. The team was in disarray. Numerous reports floated out about how McCarthy's play-calling had grown far too stale, how Aaron Rodgers was a diva who threw past teammates like Greg Jennings under the bus, and that the best days of this team were behind it. A brand-new head coach was hired, Matt LaFleur, a man that few had suspected would be hired in the first place and even fewer figured would have success, given the tepid strength of his offense in Tennessee. It seemed that the LaFleur hiring was part of a rash of similar hirings that all stemmed from teams desiring to mimic the success of last year's NFC champion, Los Angeles Rams head coach Sean McVay.
The difficulties of McVay this year and other mimics, such as the Cincinnati Bengals head coaching hire Zac Taylor, would perhaps lead you to think that Matt LaFleur has fared the same. After all, first year head coaches don't always land upright, at least not right away, no matter their pedigree. And LaFleur is the first new coach that the Green Bay Packers have had in nearly 13 years.
And yet, with all of those concerns rightly placed, they've all proved unfounded. LaFleur and the Packers have been dynamically successful, going 8-2 in the first half of their season, leading the division, and standing as one of only six teams in the league with two or fewer losses.
Most spectacular is the way its been done. A revitalized defense led by second-year coordinator Mike Pettine has brought the Packers into the top half of the league in scoring defense. They've been lights out in the red zone and have allowed more than 30 points to only one opponent all season. On the other side of things, their red zone offense has been electric, led predominantly by their star-studded backfield tandem of Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams, who have 20 total touchdowns between them.
And the scariest part? Aaron Rodgers hasn't even been his usual dominating self. Don't get me wrong, he's been good. His posting of the first perfect passer rating in Packer history, among other performances, has squarely put him into the MVP conversation yet again. But even with that said, Rodgers has only thrown for 2,718 yard and 17 touchdowns this season: good, but a far cry from his previous MVP seasons in 2011 and 2014 when he threw for 45 and 38 touchdowns respectively.
I say this is scary (for other teams) as it looks week in and week out that Rodgers hasn't quite reached his full potential in the LaFleur offense. He's gifted flashes of what unmitigated success might look like in the perfect passer rating game, but he hasn't quite fired on all cylinders just yet. Scarier still, every week it looks like he might not need to. He certainly hasn't had to in order to defeat a plethora of good teams (the Packers have one of the strongest strength of schedules in the entire league). They've felled the Vikings, Cowboys, Panthers, and Chiefs not on the strength of Rodgers' arm alone, but with a combined effort from the defense and the run game as well.
This perfect storm, with LaFleur captaining the ship, has produced an 8-2 record and the possibility of the Packers not only making the playoffs but securing homefield advantage for the first time since their historic 2011 season. This Packers team is far more sustainable in its approach than those of the McCarthy-era. For the first time in a long time Rodgers is not "the savior" but one part of an extremely talented whole. And that key concept might be what it takes to get back to the big game for the first time in nearly a decade.
When the season started many of us didn't know what to expect from the Green Bay Packers. Now that the NFL season is very readily heating up, I believe it's clear that we can expect great things.