As the fourth quarter started last Sunday, the Green Bay Packers trailed the Dallas Cowboys 28-14. The Packers were 3-6, in danger of becoming irrelevant this season.
For a team that was the NFC's No. 1 seed each of the past two seasons and had back-to-back MVP Aaron Rodgers at quarterback, having their playoff hopes practically end before Thanksgiving would have been shocking. The Packers came back and beat the Cowboys in overtime. That saved their season. For now.
The Packers face the AFC South-leading Tennessee Titans on Thursday night. The audience on Amazon Prime Video will find out if the Packers are back on the right track or if last week's rally against the Cowboys was a rare highlight in a lost season.
Green Bay has a lot of work to do to save its season. A loss to the Titans probably means its playoff hopes are realistically over.
Packers still in a big hole
There's simple math involved with the Packers' season and their chances to make the postseason.
Green Bay is 4-6. Even in a bad NFC, the Packers likely need to get to at least 9-8 to make the playoffs. That means a 5-2 finish for a team that had lost five in a row before the Cowboys win. And 9-8 might not be enough. If the Packers need to win 10 games for a wild-card spot, that means a 6-1 finish to the season. And they still have games left at the 8-1 Philadelphia Eagles and 7-3 Miami Dolphins, and a home game remaining against the 8-1 Minnesota Vikings. Add in the Titans, and four of the Packers' final seven games come against teams that lead their divisions.
In other words, if the Packers lose Thursday night, they might need a miracle to make the playoffs.
It's surprising the Packers find themselves in such a tough spot. Their offense has been much worse than expected. They're 25th in the NFL in points scored. The passing game has missed Davante Adams, though rookie receiver Christian Watson grabbing three touchdowns last week is an encouraging sign. The offensive line has dealt with injuries and the running game hasn't been enough to carry the offense. The defense has been a major letdown. Green Bay has invested a lot in that side of the ball and has gotten an average return, ranking 17th in Football Outsiders' DVOA.
There have been a lot of disappointing losses already this season. That's why Green Bay has almost no margin for error anymore.
Titans lead the AFC South
The Titans are the type of team that gets dismissed easily. They don't have a dynamic passing game or a lot of star players on defense. Their advanced stats paint a picture of a team that isn't quite as good as its record.
Yet the Titans keep winning games. In this season's unpredictable NFL, that's a rare skill. The Titans' three losses are in the final minute to the New York Giants (a loss that looks a lot better now with the Giants at 7-2 than it did back in Week 1), a blowout loss at the Buffalo Bills and an overtime loss at the Kansas City Chiefs with rookie quarterback Malik Willis filling in for injured Ryan Tannehill. The Titans might not be the most dominant team in the NFL, but you pretty much know what to expect from them. They're going to run the ball with Derrick Henry, play good defense and they'll rarely beat themselves.
If the Packers are going to beat the Titans and continue the push to save their season, it won't come easy.