During my visit to Green Bay in training camp, I noticed how intense and upbeat the practice was the day I was there -- young guys getting after it, jawing with each other.
After a bad pick thrown by quarterback Jordan Love, veteran cornerback Jaire Alexander screamed at him to basically get his head right and pick up his play, only in a more blatant tone and with words that can't be printed here.
At the time it happened, I wondered if there was something else at play. Then after talking to Alexander and several other players, the truth came out.
It was tough love for a player they truly believed in as the replacement for Aaron Rodgers. Then after talking with Love, he was fine with it and it was clear he felt he would become a good player. He came across as a player who truly believed in himself, one comfortable with the idea of following a star.
I left that day thinking the Packers would be the surprise winner of the NFC North, a group of young players mixed with veterans who could grow together. Then, when they got off to a slow start, coupled with Love struggling early on, the thinking was that maybe I was way off base, and that the many skeptics of Love were right.
Fast forward to this week, and my instincts were correct. The Packers won't win the division since the Lions have a big lead, but they certainly look like a playoff team now. They have ripped off three straight victories, including Sunday night's impressive upset of the Kansas City Chiefs, to get to 6-6. They would be the seventh seed in the playoffs if they started today, and they are up to 13th in my Power Rankings this week.
The NFL's youngest team has grown up. But the best thing -- and most important thing -- for the Packers is that Love has grown up as well.
The quarterback who seemed to lack confidence early on is playing like the guy I talked to this summer, one who firmly acted like there was no doubt in him. Now he's on his way.
Love finished 25 of 36 for 267 yards and three touchdowns with no picks for a passer rating of 118.6. His command of the offense was outstanding against the high-pressure looks the Chiefs used. He seemed to get to the right play in almost every situation, his pocket awareness so much better than earlier in the season. Packers head coach Matt LaFleur has done a masterful job of navigating through injuries and bringing along a young quarterback and roster.
The Packers' schedule is favorable down the stretch, as they don't play a team with a winning record the rest of the way (the combined records of their five opponents is 20-40). This should be a playoff team -- a dangerous one.
Tough love might have seemed over the top last summer, but maybe that's exactly what the young quarterback needed -- and it's the reason why this team is where it is today.
|They showed against the Eagles that they are the best team in the league. They beat them up in all facets of the game -- on their field, no less.||3||9-3-0|
|They have defensive issues that show up week in and week out. The corners have major problems. Now they get to face the Cowboys' high-flying offense again.||1||10-2-0|
|The defense let them down against the Seahawks, but the offense came up big. Dak Prescott is firmly in the MVP conversation.||1||9-3-0|
|They showed they could put up a big number on offense on the road in blowing out the Commanders. They are riding high now as the defense improves by the week.||1||9-3-0|
|They come off their bye with a tough stretch. They have the Rams this week, followed by a Sunday night road game at Jacksonville and a road game at San Francisco.||1||9-3-0|
|They aren't the same offense we've come to expect, which shows up weekly. They are now out of the top seed in the conference.||3||8-4-0|
|They got back on track beating the Saints, but they made it interesting. The defense has to be better than it has been in recent weeks.||1||9-3-0|
|If Trevor Lawrence is out for any length of time, this team is done. The defense was awful against the Bengals.||1||8-4-0|
|Losing Tank Dell for the season will impact their offense in a big way. His speed was evident, and the loss will be felt.||1||7-5-0|
|They come off their bye with a big game at Kansas City against the Chiefs. They have to win that one or the game next week against the Cowboys to have a playoff shot.||2||6-6-0|
|The are 7-5 and would be in the playoffs if they started right now. Shane Steichen has done a nice job with this team.||2||7-5-0|
|They come off the bye and might make a quarterback change from Josh Dobbs to Nick Mullens or even Jaren Hall. They have to cut down on the turnovers, no matter who starts.||3||6-6-0|
|Here come the Packers. They have to be thrilled with the growth of Jordan Love as they head into the final five weeks.||6||6-6-0|
|The Rams are alive and well in the playoff chase. The young players on defense are growing by the week.||3||6-6-0|
|They have lost three straight games as they ready to face the 49ers this week. The defense is really struggling right now.||1||6-6-0|
|They are in first place, winning games, even if they aren't always pretty. The defense came up big against a bad Jets offense.||2||6-6-0|
|New quarterback Joe Flacco couldn't beat the Rams, and now they've lost two straight games. It's hard to win without your starting quarterback, but they would still be in the playoffs if they started today.||1||7-5-0|
|That was a terrible loss to the Cardinals, but it's compounded by the loss of Kenny Pickett to injury. The good news is they get the Patriots this week.||9||7-5-0|
|They are in the middle of a three-game road trip, losing the first to the Texans. They can't afford to lose this week to the Chargers or they are in big trouble.||8||6-6-0|
|Jake Browning played well in beating the Jaguars, which gives them some hope. They are 6-6 and still alive in the playoff hunt.||1||6-6-0|
|Winning a close game against Carolina keeps their division hopes alive. The injuries on defense are piling up.||3||5-7-0|
|They won at New England, but it wasn't pretty. They are still alive, but barely.||3||5-7-0|
|Losing to the Lions was tough enough, but Derek Carr got hurt as well. They just haven't looked right this season.||3||5-7-0|
|They come out of their bye with a home game against the Vikings as Antonio Pierce tries to get over .500. The issue now is whether he can actually become the team's head coach.||2||5-7-0|
|That was an impressive victory on the road against the Steelers. Jonathan Gannon is doing a heck of a job with this team, even if they aren't winning a lot of games.||5||3-10-0|
|They come off the bye feeling good about how they went into it with a victory. Justin Fields has to show well down the stretch.||--||4-8-0|
|Losing for the first time at home pretty much ends any playoff hopes they had. They just didn't get it done on defense against the Colts and now face a dynamic Miami offense.||--||4-8-0|
|They come off the bye with Tommy Devito fever a real thing. But with Tyrod Taylor practicing, how much longer can it last?||1||4-8-0|
|They just don't do enough on offense. It's time to shut down the idea of Aaron Rodgers coming back.||1||4-8-0|
|The change at coordinator didn't matter. They still couldn't stop Miami. It's on to next season with a likely new coach.||7||4-9-0|
|The offense is so bad they couldn't even score on the Chargers. Does it matter who plays quarterback?||--||2-10-0|
|They can change coaches, change staff members, cut offensive linemen, and it doesn't matter. The offense stinks.||--||1-11-0|