This is not a time for Aaron Rodgers to show off his spelling bee skills and cooly advise fans of the Green Bay Packers to R-E-L-A-X. A four-game losing streak would be reason to slam a fist on the panic button.
Three weeks ago, Green Bay was considered the second-best team in the NFL. But the Packers were embarrassed as road favorites against Denver before getting annihilated for three quarters in a defeat at Carolina. Both setbacks could be explained away. The Broncos boast a dominant defense, and Peyton Manning played what now qualifies as his “A” game in that prime-time spot. The Panthers still are undefeated.
There is no way to explain losing at Lambeau Field to the slumping Detroit Lions for the first time since 1991. So for the Packers, it’s either win now and get it turned around — or brace for panic.
Long losing streaks are understandable for teams such as Dallas forced to play a combination of backup quarterback clowns. Rodgers, banged up or not, should not be 0-for-November as we close in on Thanksgiving.
Apparently, Rodgers is banged up. He’s on the injury report this week with a shoulder issue. He has not looked like himself, completing only 56.5 percent of his passes in the past three games, but he’s not using the injury excuse, to his credit. He was strong enough to throw for 369 yards against the Panthers and 333 against the Lions.
Rodgers was a full practice participant Thursday, so let’s assume he’s ready to throw Sunday at Minnesota. The Vikings rank No. 8 in pass defense (228 yards per game) and No. 2 in scoring defense (17.1 points per game). This is not an easy bounce-back spot for Green Bay.
Minnesota has covered eight straight games, something rarely seen in the NFL, and it’s mostly because of coach Mike Zimmer’s defense. It’s not because of Teddy Bridgewater, a below-average quarterback with seven touchdown passes and six interceptions. Put him next to Rodgers (21 touchdowns, three interceptions) and it’s no fair comparison.
Bridgewater’s main mission will be to hand the ball to Adrian Peterson, the league’s rushing leader with 961 yards, and get out of the way. The Packers have problems stopping the run, allowing 116.2 yards per game to rank 24th, so Peterson should be a fantasy star this week.
Green Bay, which has gone from 6-0 to 6-3 and one game behind Minnesota in the NFC North, is an underdog for the first time this season. That role change could be a good thing.
The matchup I like most is Rodgers, banged up or not, against Bridgewater. I’ll back the Packers as 1-point ‘dogs.
Four more plays for Week 11 (home team in CAPS):
* DOLPHINS (+1) over Cowboys: This is my lowest-rated play of the five simply because Tony Romo is a mysterious X-factor. I suspect he’ll be rusty, and Dallas is being overrated in his return. The Cowboys are 1-6 against the spread during their seven-game losing streak.
* Broncos (-1) over BEARS: Peyton Manning’s streak of 57 consecutive starts with the Broncos is ending. If nerves don’t sidetrack Brock Osweiler, he can be more effective moving the offense because of his stronger arm and potential to stretch the field. Manning is staying home to rehab along with injured linebacker DeMarcus Ware. Denver ranks No. 1 in total defense and pass defense, so expect some hurried throws and mistakes from Chicago quarterback Jay Cutler.
* Bengals (+5) over CARDINALS: Sharp money showed early this week on Arizona. The line has moved high enough to put me on the ‘dog. Cincinnati is off a bad loss Monday, and the trend is for quarterback Andy Dalton to flop in prime-time games. But if the Bengals (7-1-1 ATS) don’t bounce back with a win, they should at least be competitive in this spot. The Cardinals put everything into their win at Seattle in a physical game that had to take a toll on quarterback Carson Palmer.
* CHARGERS (+3) over Chiefs: San Diego is off a bye and in a better spot than Kansas City, which is playing back-to-back division road games. In last week’s blowout of Denver, Manning gift wrapped a bundle of turnovers for the Chiefs. Philip Rivers ranks No. 2 in passing yards (3,033), and even with the Chargers’ depleted receiving corps, he should be a better bet than Alex Smith.
Last week: 1-4 against the spread
Las Vegas Review-Journal sports betting columnist Matt Youmans can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-2907. He co-hosts “The Las Vegas Sportsline” weekdays at 2 p.m. on ESPN Radio (1100 AM). Follow: @mattyoumans247