Of all the paper-thin point spreads this weekend, perhaps the hardest game to call is the one on Sunday between the Green Bay Packers (10-6) and Washington Redskins (9-7) at FedEx Field.
According to Vegas, the Packers are a one-point favorite, speaking more to Green Bay’s past than their present, which has been most inelegant.
Let’s start with some stats…
Washington is the 12th team in the last 13 years to win their division after finishing last the prior season. Conversely, the Packers have won their division every year since 2010 except this one, but have made the playoffs seven straight seasons.
Washington has won four straight games. Green Bay has lost two straight, blowing the NFC North to the Vikings in the last game of the season. Washington won the NFC East, the weakest division in the conference, and has yet to beat a team with a winning record, which leads to the betting community’s cynicism.
Kirk Cousins threw 23 touchdowns and 3 interceptions in his last 10 games. During the team’s six home wins, he threw 14 TD and 0 INT.
Washington’s defense surrenders 258 passing yards per game, 24th in the league. While Aaron Rodgers and the Packers’ pyrotechnic offense has largely hibernated this season, averaging 219 passing yards per game, 25th in the NFL. (By contrast the Packers threw for 266 YPG in 2014.)
Rodgers threw for 3,821 yards, his lowest total since 2008.
Cousins amassed 4,166 passing yards, a club record.
While Rodgers has clearly missed his most potent pass catcher, Jordy Nelson, Cousins has discovered his. Jordan Reed has smashed team records for catches (87), yards (952) and touchdowns (11) by a tight end. The Packers plucked James Jones out of the recycle bin, and he paid off right away, scoring 6 touchdowns in as many games.
But the Packers wideouts have looked largely lost over the last half of the season. Randall Cobb, who was counted on to take up the slack sans Nelson, hasn’t scored a TD in seven games, and hasn’t notched 100 yards receiving since Week 2.
Washington last won a playoff game in 2005, beating the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 17-10, when Joe Gibbs was the coach.
The last time the Packers and Redskins played in the playoffs — Christmas Eve, 1972 — Washington won, 16-3.
But it doesn’t take a statistician to know that the Packers just aren’t right. And their problems extend beyond an absent Nelson. Rodgers has had a turbulent time with his skill players this year. Eddie Lacy has plunged through some personal trap door, rushing for nearly 400 fewer yards in 2015 than in ’14, and just three touchdowns.
The Packers have all but backed into the playoffs. After their scalding, 6-0 start, they’ve gone 4-6. And if not for that last-second rainbow Rodgers threw against he Lions, they’d be 3-7.
Jay Gruden has done more than trade on the family name. He put his vocational neck on the line by benching the owner’s pet, Robert Griffin III, and placing Cousins in the mix.
Cousins caught fire and has now morphed into a local cult figure. His throaty mantra, “You like that!” has mushroomed into commerce, branded onto towels and t-shirts. It’s hard to think of an NFL team that has enjoyed a greater resurgence than the Redskins.
Washington is hot and at home. And while no one would compare Kirk Cousins to Aaron Rodgers, it’s not blasphemous to say he’s playing better than the iconic Packers QB right now.
Jason writes a weekly column for CBS Local Sports. He is a native New Yorker, sans the elitist sensibilities, and believes there’s a world west of the Hudson River. A Yankees devotee and Steelers groupie, he has been scouring the forest of fertile NYC sports sections since the 1970s. He has written over 500 columns for WFAN/CBS NY, and also worked as a freelance writer for Sports Illustrated and Newsday subsidiary amNew York. He made his bones as a boxing writer, occasionally covering fights in Las Vegas, Atlantic City, but mostly inside Madison Square Garden. Follow him on Twitter @JasonKeidel.