NFC is upside down midway through NFL season


By ROB MAADDI - AP Pro Football Writer



Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers walks to the sideline during the second half of an NFL football game against the Detroit Lions, Sunday, Nov. 6, 2022, in Detroit. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers walks to the sideline during the second half of an NFL football game against the Detroit Lions, Sunday, Nov. 6, 2022, in Detroit. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)


Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady (12) waves to spectators after an NFL football game between the Los Angeles Rams and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Sunday, Nov. 6, 2022, in Tampa, Fla. The Buccaneers defeated the Rams 16-13. Brady become the first player in NFL history with over 100,000 career passing yards. (AP Photo/Mark LoMoglio)


Los Angeles Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford (9) is sacked by Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive tackle Rakeem Nunez-Roches during the second half of an NFL football game between the Los Angeles Rams and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Sunday, Nov. 6, 2022, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)


Aaron Rodgers used an expletive to describe three interceptions. Tom Brady used a different expletive to express his relief and excitement after a comeback win. The Rams and Cardinals played like slop again.

The NFC’s best teams in 2021 have sure had a tough first half in 2022.

Midway through the season, the Philadelphia Eagles (8-0) and Dallas Cowboys (6-2) are the only NFC playoff teams from last season with a winning record.

The Green Bay Packers (3-6) have lost five straight games for the first time since Rodgers was a first-year starter in 2008. Rodgers tied a career-high with three picks, including two in the end zone on the first two possessions, in a 15-9 loss at Detroit.

Rodgers isn’t playing like a two-time reigning NFL MVP, but he doesn’t regret returning to play after contemplating retirement.

“I think that’s an exaggeration,” Rodgers said. “Frustration and (misery) are two different emotions. When I decided to come back, it was all in. I don’t make decisions and then in hindsight, 20-20, have regrets about big decisions like that. So, I was all in, and this is a lot of life lessons for sure this year. But luckily, it’s not over. There are still a lot of games left. We’ll be counted out probably by many. We’ll see how we respond.”

The Packers have eight games left to turn things around, but it won’t be easy. Their next three opponents — Dallas, Tennessee and Philadelphia — are 19-5 combined.

Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers seemed headed toward a fourth straight loss before the seven-time Super Bowl champion engineered a vintage game-winning drive in the final minute against the Rams (3-5). Brady drove the Buccaneers 60 yards on six plays in 35 seconds with no time-outs, tossing a 1-yard TD pass to rookie Cade Otton for a 16-13 victory over the defending Super Bowl champs.

“We needed it,” Brady said. “We needed it, and we got it, we fought until the end.”

Despite a 4-5 record, the Bucs are still favorites in the weak NFC South. They already beat Atlanta (4-5) and New Orleans (3-5), which plays against Baltimore on Monday.

“You don’t get satisfaction unless you make the playoffs and go to the Super Bowl,” Tampa Bay coach Todd Bowles said.

The Buccaneers could win the division with a losing record and still make some noise with Brady in January.

“We certainly haven’t played perfect by any stretch, but hopefully this gives us some confidence and we can win again next week and get to 5-5, which would be pretty good for us going into the bye week and then we can re-evaluate everything,” Brady said.

The Rams have lost four of five, and their once-dynamic offense has scored more than 20 points just one time this season. The latest lackluster performance left coach Sean McVay considering changes.

“I don’t necessarily think that it’s the panic button, but changes have to be made, adjustments have to be made, we can’t continue to go on like this and what that looks like, I don’t necessarily have the exact answers right now,” McVay said. “What I don’t want to have anything to be misunderstood that I’m not in this with those guys, I’m a big part of this, I have to do better.

“We’re going to stay connected throughout this, but we do have to be able to look inward and figure out what are some of the solutions, changes, adjustments, different things that we have to do to be able to get different results and different production from our offense.”

The Arizona Cardinals (3-6) fell to last place in the NFC West with a 31-21 loss to Seattle. The Cardinals are 4-11, including a wild-card loss, since a 10-2 start last season.

“We are just playing bad football,” quarterback Kyler Murray said. “It is not winning football.”

Meanwhile, the NFC North-leading Minnesota Vikings (7-1) and the NFC West-leading Seattle Seahawks (6-3) are already one win away from matching their total number of victories from 2021.

The AFC isn’t upside down like the NFC, with five of the seven playoffs teams from 2021 owning winning records at the halfway mark. The Pittsburgh Steelers (2-6) and Las Vegas Raiders (2-6) are the only two 2021 AFC playoff teams with losing records.

The biggest surprise in the conference is the upstart New York Jets. They’re 6-3 following a 20-17 upset over Buffalo. The six wins equal New York’s combined total over the previous two seasons.

The rest of the conference is playing out as expected.

The Bills (6-2) and Kansas City Chiefs (6-2) are leading the way followed by the Ravens (5-3) and Tennessee Titans (5-3). The defending AFC champion Cincinnati Bengals (5-4) have bounced back from an 0-2 start and the New England Patriots (5-4) have done the same after opening 1-3. Both teams need to make up ground in the second half to get into the postseason.

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Follow Rob Maaddi on Twitter at https://twitter.com/robmaaddi

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Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers walks to the sideline during the second half of an NFL football game against the Detroit Lions, Sunday, Nov. 6, 2022, in Detroit. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
https://www.wnewsj.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/22/2022/11/web1_130087803-86a54c7b5765450e9b2910d60b33af5b.jpgGreen Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers walks to the sideline during the second half of an NFL football game against the Detroit Lions, Sunday, Nov. 6, 2022, in Detroit. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady (12) waves to spectators after an NFL football game between the Los Angeles Rams and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Sunday, Nov. 6, 2022, in Tampa, Fla. The Buccaneers defeated the Rams 16-13. Brady become the first player in NFL history with over 100,000 career passing yards. (AP Photo/Mark LoMoglio)
https://www.wnewsj.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/22/2022/11/web1_130087803-58e75351940a4b38a4afbf47cdcbbcee.jpgTampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady (12) waves to spectators after an NFL football game between the Los Angeles Rams and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Sunday, Nov. 6, 2022, in Tampa, Fla. The Buccaneers defeated the Rams 16-13. Brady become the first player in NFL history with over 100,000 career passing yards. (AP Photo/Mark LoMoglio)

Los Angeles Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford (9) is sacked by Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive tackle Rakeem Nunez-Roches during the second half of an NFL football game between the Los Angeles Rams and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Sunday, Nov. 6, 2022, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O’Meara)
https://www.wnewsj.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/22/2022/11/web1_130087803-a18ad59c55794700b11196892e27d0da.jpgLos Angeles Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford (9) is sacked by Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive tackle Rakeem Nunez-Roches during the second half of an NFL football game between the Los Angeles Rams and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Sunday, Nov. 6, 2022, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O’Meara)

By ROB MAADDI

AP Pro Football Writer