COMMENTARY | We're seven weeks in, and just like everybody expected before the 2013 NFL season began, the Green Bay Packers have Jarrett Boykin, Johnny Jolly, Jamari Lattimore, Andy Mulumba and Mike Neal in starting roles.
Randall Cobb is out until at least Week 15 because of a broken fibula. Clay Matthews has a broken thumb. Nick Perry? A broken foot. Jermichael Finley, who can now thankfully move around and has feeling in all his extremities, experienced temporary paralysis on the football field.
Let's say you were in a coma from Sept. 8 to Oct. 21 and you awoke to hear this news. Things can't be going too well in Green Bay, right?
Well, the Packers are 4-2, atop the NFC North, and a couple of late touchdown drives away from being undefeated. Those two losses came away from home against the San Francisco 49ers and Cincinnati Bengals, two teams with a combined record of 10-4.
How can this be? Well, the Packers' quarterback is Aaron Rodgers, for one. But he can only do so much for the offense. It's the defense that has been decimated at the linebacker position, and it has taken some inspired efforts from relative unknowns to keep Green Bay not only afloat, but as one of the better teams in the NFL.
Take the Packers' 31-13 victory over the Cleveland Browns for starters. Who led the team in tackles? Lattimore, with 12. A.J. Hawk had 12 tackles himself, and he's playing the best football of his career. Boykin caught eight passes for 103 yards and his first career touchdown. Davon House recorded his first career interception and defended three passes.
The next man up mentality has been in full effect once again for Green Bay, but it's an organization that trusts its player development and its young players to step into larger roles when called upon. Even so, nobody could have expected how well some have adjusted, including left tackle David Bakhtiari and many of the players previously mentioned.
The more experience players like Lattimore, Boykin and Mulumba acquire, the better off the Packers are moving forward. Missing Cobb, Matthews and Finley for an extended period of time is still reason to be concerned and hurts Green Bay in some capacity, but that concern evaporates a little every time the Packers find a way to win.
Following one of the ugliest Monday night football games you will ever see between the Minnesota Vikings, the Packers' next opponent, and the New York Giants, Week 7 has officially come to a close. With that being said, how do the Packers stack up in the latest NFL power rankings?
Wins and losses deserve to be taken more seriously than anything else, and in that regard, Green Bay has the ninth-best winning percentage in the NFL. But that doesn't mean it is the ninth-best team.
We can lock in the following teams ahead of the Packers -- the Kansas City Chiefs (7-0), which is self-explanatory, and the Indianapolis Colts (5-2), who have knocked off three elite teams already this season. Those three teams are the Denver Broncos (6-1), Seattle Seahawks (6-1) and San Francisco 49ers (5-2), each of which earns a higher ranking than Green Bay.
After that, things get a little tricky.
It's a four-team race for the No. 6 spot, and right off the bat, it's difficult to argue the Packers deserve to be ranked ahead of the Bengals (5-2). While Green Bay did at one time hold a 16-point advantage, the fact of the matter is that it let that lead slip away. Losing Finley and James Starks to injury didn't help, but injuries are part of the game.
It's those injuries that could lead one to alter the Packers' power ranking, but they are 3-0 since the bye week despite losing Matthews, Finley, Cobb, Perry, James Jones and Brad Jones along the way. If anything, Green Bay deserves a boost for its resiliency and solid depth.
The Packers have already played the two teams that squared off in Super Bowl XLVII and four playoff teams in all through six games, going 2-2 in those four matchups.
The New Orleans Saints (5-1) have played just two defending playoff teams, one of which is the disappointing Atlanta Falcons. The other came against the New England Patriots (5-2), which resulted in a heartbreaking 30-27 loss.
It's those Patriots who are the final challenger to the Packers' ranking. New England experienced its own gut-wrenching 30-27 defeat in Week 7 to the New York Jets. Like the Packers, it also fell to the Bengals and is dealing with a number of injuries to key players.
Green Bay, New England and New Orleans each have a .500 record against playoff teams, but the Packers have been challenged more by their schedule thus far and handled adversity about as well as one could imagine.
It's a top-heavy league right now, and the Packers, Bengals, Patriots and Saints could each fall anywhere between No. 6 and No. 9 depending on how you skew your argument. Of course, more can be taken into account, but we'll slide the Packers into the No. 8 spot in the Week 8 NFL power rankings.
Dave Radcliffe is a resident of a little known Milwaukee suburb who is an avid follower of Wisconsin sports. He has contributed to JSOnline, as a featured columnist on other sites and publications, and been a guest on multiple sports talk radio shows.
You can get the discussion going and follow Dave on Twitter @DaveRadcliffe_ .
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