Playoffs? Playoffs? They Begin on Sunday for Pack.

In this wild, crazy, unpredictable 2017 season, the playoffs begin Sunday for the Green Bay Packers. Yeah, I know. The Pack has lost five of six and sits at 5-6 in a deep, talented NFC.

But you all know what's going on here. 10-6 would most likely get the Pack into the post-season. The NY Times playoff simulator puts the chances at 90%. So if the Pack can use last year's formula of running the table, they would likely earn a record-tying ninth straight playoff invitation.

To do that, they would need to begin by beating the Bucs and Browns with Brett Hundley under center. If they can get to 7-6 and Aaron Rodgers' doctors tell him that his injury is sufficiently healed to get back on the field, then we can have some fun Week 15 in Carolina for a game that would truly have a playoff feel. Rodgers plans to work out on Friday and if things go well, he will return to the practice field on Saturday.

But none of that will matter if the Pack can't take care of the Bucs on what should be an unseasonably warm December afternoon at Lambeau, with temperatures in the 40s. The big story is the return of Tampa Bay QB Jameis Winston, who returns after missing most of November with a sprained AC joint in his throwing shoulder. He's also spent most of the past month deflecting questions about a groping incident, alleged by an Uber driver.

I think the Pack catches a break facing the rusty Winston. I've watched most of his games this year for fantasy reasons and he has regressed in his third season in many ways, most notably with shady decision making. His timing has been a bit off all season and they've struggled to sustain drives.

Their offense took a hit last week with the loss of two offensive linemen for the season to knee injuries. Center Ali Marpet was probably their best lineman (though replacement Joe Hawley started the last two years) and right tackle Demar Dotson will be missed as well. They expect LG Evan Smith back from a concussion, so that will help a bit. Their top back, Doug Martin hasn't practiced all week and is in the concussion protocol as I write this. That would be a big loss, as there's a drop off to Charles Sims and Jaquizz Rodgers.

Their best weapon is still Mike Evans and with Kevin King ruled out with the shoulder injury, look for Davon House to get that assignment most of the afternoon. Speedy DeSean Jackson has been limited in practice this week with a hammy; if he goes, he'll be a problem for Josh Hawkins.

But the Packers defense should be up to this challenge. The Bucs are talented, but tend to shoot themselves in the foot and the Packers secondary is due for a couple of takeaways. Mike Daniels should have his way with the banged up line and be back to his disruptive self.

To me, the key in this game is which Hundley do we see? Tampa Bay has the worst pass defense in the league--there will be plays to be had if Hundley can make the right decisions. What we saw Sunday night in Pittsburgh should give us hope. But we had that same hope after his strong fourth quarter in Chicago and he laid an egg against the Ravens, who boast a far superior defense. If Hundley can take care of the football and put the ball in his playmakers' hands things should go Green Bay's way.

We may see Aaron Jones a little bit, but Jamal Williams will likely be the main ballcarrier again this week and he's earned the carries after a strong performance in Pittsburgh. The Bucs' D is led by the underrated Gerald McCoy who will be a problem in the running game and the passing game. The interior linemen have to pat extra attention to him all day. Linebacker Lavonte David is a stud too, but after those two guys the rest of the unit is average at best.

After three straight losses at Lambeau, the Pack knows it has to turn things around Sunday to keep their flickering playoff hopes alive. They are favored (by two points) for the first time with Hundley starting. I think they follow up a surprisingly strong performance in Pittsburgh with a well played, mostly mistake-free game led by the defense.

Packers 24 Bucs 17


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