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Wednesday, November 10, 2010
Midseason Stock Watch: Packers

By Kevin Seifert

Power Rankings: Preseason: 3. This week: 7.

2010 schedule/results

Clay Matthews
Clay Matthews has 10.5 sacks and an interception return for a TD.
Where they stand: The Packers have 10 players on injured reserve, six of whom have started at least one game this season. No other NFL team has lost more than three starters for the season, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. It's remarkable that the Packers are 6-3 after losing tailback Ryan Grant, tight end Jermichael Finley and linebacker Nick Barnett, among others. And keep in mind that two losses came in overtime and a third with four seconds remaining in regulation. Despite an unimaginable spate of health problems, the Packers have positioned themselves among the top teams in the NFC.

Falling: Quarterback Aaron Rodgers has been the first to admit he has fallen short of the superstar expectations placed upon him this season. Everything is relative, of course. Rodgers' passer rating is 90.6, good for No. 11 in the NFL. He ranks fifth in both yardage (2,300) and touchdown passes (15), but has already thrown more interceptions this season (nine) than he did in all of 2009 (seven). Some of that falloff can be attributed to the loss of Grant and Finley, but on some occasions, Rodgers had made poor decisions and thrown with uncharacteristic inaccuracy. Still, it's hard to consider Rodgers' play a problem. He just hasn't carried the team to the extent he did last season. It would help if the Packers can generate more of a rushing game as the weather turns. Currently they rank No. 20 among NFL teams with an average of 101.6 rushing yards per game.

Rising: Linebacker Clay Matthews amassed six sacks in his first two games and still leads the NFL with 10.5 despite missing one game because of a hamstring injury. Matthews is among a handful of midseason candidates for Defensive Player of the Year and is a testament to how an elite pass-rusher can impact an entire defense. But anyone who has watched Matthews rush from almost every position on the field knows what a masterful job defensive coordinator Dom Capers has done. His creative schemes have compensated for personnel shortages at multiple positions. The Packers have given up a total of seven points in their past two games, lowering their average points per game to 15.9 -- good for No. 2 in the NFL. On the other side of the ball, it's worth noting that rookie Bryan Bulaga has proved a more-than-adequate safety net for injured right tackle Mark Tauscher, who might not get his job back.

Midseason MVP: It's hard to look past 10.5 sacks in eight games. Matthews has become one of the more feared players in the game.

Outlook: The Packers have a half-game lead over the Chicago Bears and will play host to them in their regular-season finale for what could be the NFC North championship game. Even with their long injury list, the Packers appear to be the class of the division and are poised to make a deep playoff run. You want to add the "if they stay healthy" caveat, but the Packers have already demonstrated a capacity to overcome seemingly crippling injuries.