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Despite struggles, Packers in contention in NFC playoff race

November 20, 2018

GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) — The Green Bay Packers are winless on the road and there are questions about coach Mike McCarthy’s job security.

However they enter Sunday night’s game at Minnesota trailing the Vikings by just one game for the final NFC wild-card spot.

“We fully understand where we are. We understand what our record is,” McCarthy said on Monday. “We need to win on the road. That’s something we haven’t done.”

The game against the Vikings will be Green Bay’s fourth road game in five games coming out of their bye. They were tied or ahead in the fourth quarter at the Los Angeles Rams, New England Patriots and again on Thursday against the Seattle Seahawks, but lost all three games.

The bad news for the Packers is that the latest defeat left them at 4-5-1. The good news is the NFC playoff chase is jumbled. While Chicago seized control of the NFC North race with its victory over Minnesota on Sunday night, the Vikings (5-4-1) lead the Seattle Seahawks (5-5), Dallas Cowboys (5-5) and Packers in the pursuit for the last playoff spot.

“We understand that there’s still a lot of football left,” safety Tramon Williams said. “As long as there’s a lot of football left, we know that we have a chance to be where we want to be at. Will it be easy? No, but we’re optimistic.”

Having played on Thursday, the Packers got a short break to get ready for that game in Seattle. Four starters didn’t travel to Seattle because of injuries — receiver Randall Cobb, safety Kentrell Brice, cornerback Kevin King and outside linebacker Nick Perry.

Tight end Jimmy Graham suffered a broken thumb during the first half and defensive tackle Mike Daniels sustained a foot injury during the second half. McCarthy said Graham “intends to try to play” while Daniels will miss a couple of weeks.

The return of Cobb and Graham could bolster an inconsistent offense. Green Bay ranks eighth in yards, but only 13th in points because of mediocre production on third down (19th) and in the red zone (14th). Cobb had a huge game in a come-from-behind-victory over Chicago in Week 1 with nine catches for 142 yards, including the game-winning, 75-yard touchdown.

Over the past nine games, however, he’s been inactive five times and caught 17 passes for 116 yards and no touchdowns. Graham is second on the team with 34 receptions, but has only one catch in three of his past four games.

“Everybody is very frustrated. Nobody wants to lose games,” Cobb said. “We don’t go out and work every day in the offseason to come into the season in shape and go through training camp and beat each other up in training camp and go through seasons and lose games. Nobody wants to do that. That’s not fun. We want to win games and we’ve won a lot around here. We’ve got to find a way to get back on track.”

The Packers are running out of time, regardless of what the playoff standings suggest. A sixth consecutive road loss on Sunday would put Green Bay two games behind Minnesota (plus the head-to-head tiebreaker) with five to play.

Still, the Packers have a chance. They were 4-6 at this point in the 2016 season and reached the NFC championship came. Among the four primary challengers for the last playoff spot, the Packers have the easiest remaining schedule. Their final six opponents have a combined winning percentage of (.425), followed by the Seahawks (.442), Cowboys (.500) and Vikings (.542).

“Our reality, it’s where we expect to be,” McCarthy said. “Regardless of what anybody’s opinion is, we expect to complete the goal that we set out back in April. That’s the big-picture focus. But it’s not anything we’re talking about right now.

“Because part of the message today, there’s not a whole lot to talk about. We know where we are, we knew this four-game stretch was going to be a challenge, we didn’t hit the target as well as we’d like, but now we have six seven-day stretches here. We have full intentions of going to Minnesota and winning this game.”

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