When the 2022 NFL schedule was released in May, the Week 15 game between the Green Bay Packers and Los Angeles Rams looked like a marquee matchup, just as it was last season when the teams met.
Instead, it’s a matchup of two teams with nine combined wins through 14 weeks. While the 4-9 Rams will be eliminated from playoff contention with a loss, the 5-8 Packers have a little more hope of making the postseason. According to ESPN Analytics, the Packers enter Week 15 with an 8% chance of making the playoffs. Their chances are projected to increase to 10% with a win and fall to 0.6% with a loss.
Rams reporter Sarah Barshop and Packers reporter Rob Demovsky take a look at what this season means going forward and whether each team can bounce back to be Super Bowl contenders in 2023.
With Rams QB Matthew Stafford shut down for the rest of the season and Packers QB Aaron Rodgers playing hurt, what might we see from backups Baker Mayfield and Jordan Love the final few weeks and next season?
Rams: The Mayfield experiment got off to an exciting start, as he led the Rams to a comeback victory over the Las Vegas Raiders in Week 14, days after being claimed off waivers following his release from the Carolina Panthers. With John Wolford still dealing with a neck injury, Mayfield will make his first start for the Rams on Monday night. After Mayfield had just two days to prepare for his first game action on Dec. 8 in the Rams’ offense, head coach Sean McVay said the coaching staff is just taking it “a day at a time” during the 11 days between the Rams’ Week 14 and 15 games.
This final stretch of the season will give Mayfield and the Rams a chance to evaluate each other and see if the pairing may be a good fit next season as a backup to Stafford. McVay said the evaluation of Mayfield “isn’t exclusive to what you guys might see on Sundays. It’s the weekly rhythm, it’s the daily rhythm, how you practice, how you meet and then how you put yourself in a position to play well in that window of time,” McVay said. The Rams should have a good idea of that by the end of the season. — Barshop
Packers: We won’t see Love until or unless the Packers are eliminated from playoff contention. And even then, it’s not a guarantee.
GM Brian Gutekunst said recently of Love: “I think from our end of it, we’ve seen what we need to see.” While Gutekunst said it would be “really good for him” to play, he’s not going to sacrifice winning — even if they’re playing meaningless games in terms of the postseason.
When asked why the Packers would keep playing Rodgers after they’re eliminated, Gutekunst said: “I think it’s a culture thing. I think winning’s a culture thing. I don’t think we ever roll out there … without the intention of winning. I just think that’s what this place has always been about and, at least while I’m here, it’s always going to be.”
So it’s possible, Love’s second-half performance in Week 12 against the Philadelphia Eagles after Rodgers left with a rib injury might be the only meaningful snaps the third-year backup gets this season. It’s also possible the Packers could change their thinking if they’re eliminated. — Demovsky
Are there any coaching or front office jobs on the line? What will each team’s staff look like next season?
Rams: The Rams could have a shake-up with their coaching staff, as McVay said it’s a possibility that offensive coordinator Liam Coen could return to Kentucky to be the Wildcats’ offensive coordinator. Defensive coordinator Raheem Morris could also get interviews for a head-coach opening, as he did last year with the Minnesota Vikings and the year before with the Atlanta Falcons and Jacksonville Jaguars.
The good news for the Rams if they lose one or both coordinators is it’s nothing they aren’t used to. McVay’s coaching staff has had quite a bit of turnover in recent years, as coordinators and assistant head coaches have been hired elsewhere. The Rams are set at head coach and general manager, as McVay and general manager Les Snead both signed contract extensions before the season. — Barshop
Packers: If head coach Matt LaFleur doesn’t change defensive coordinators, he risks losing the locker room.
That hasn’t happened yet (and it’s worth noting that LaFleur’s team has continued to play hard all season), but there has been a clear disconnect between the talent level on defense and the production. There have been instances this season when players have privately expressed their frustration with defensive coordinator Joe Barry’s game plans and scheme design.
The Packers went into this season with seven first-round picks on that side of the ball plus several high-priced veteran free agents, yet the same issues persist. They’re 30th in run defense (both yards allowed per game and per rush) and while their passing numbers look good (fifth in yards allowed per game), the coverage breakdowns that doomed them in Week 1 have continued through Week 14.
Barry was a risky hire two years ago given his previous track record as a coordinator in Washington and Detroit, but LaFleur wanted someone to run the Vic Fangio-Brandon Staley scheme after Mike Pettine’s departure. There’s no clear-cut replacement for Barry, although secondary/passing-game coordinator Jerry Gray could get a look because of how beloved he is by his players. So could former Wisconsin interim coach Jim Leonhard, who pulled his name out of consideration two years ago before the Packers turned to Barry. — Demovsky
Who are the key free agents each team could lose and how will the salary cap affect decisions in the offseason?
Rams: The Rams don’t have any marquee players up for a new deal, in part because the front office has taken care of those players with early contract extensions. But because of the way Los Angeles has structured its salary cap to be so top-heavy, it will again have to make tough decisions about whether to bring back several important role players, especially on defense.
The secondary could look significantly different in 2023, as safeties Taylor Rapp and Nick Scott and cornerbacks Troy Hill and David Long Jr. are free agents. The biggest decisions may come regarding defensive linemen Greg Gaines and A’Shawn Robinson, who are each in the final season of their respective contracts.
Los Angeles will also have a decision to make at backup quarterback. McVay has said the Rams aren’t sure about what Mayfield’s future will be in Los Angeles, but the rest of the season is likely an evaluation from both sides. Wolford, who came into the season as the team’s backup quarterback, but is sidelined with a neck injury, is also a free agent. — Barshop
Packers: Rodgers isn’t a free agent. In fact, he’s got a $58.3 million guaranteed bonus for next season. But his future is the first domino that has to fall for the Packers to begin their offseason roster build because of cap reasons and team direction.
The cap situation is complicated, but it essentially comes down to this: The Packers can’t cut Rodgers because they would still owe him the bonus and trading him would be difficult unless a team was willing to take on the contract. Retirement is probably the only way out of the Rodgers deal.
Running back Aaron Jones is most closely tied to Rodgers. Jones is scheduled to make $16 million next season, but if Rodgers is gone and they’re in a semi-rebuild, then it might make sense to move on from Jones and take more than $10 million in cap savings.
Three veteran receivers — Allen Lazard, Randall Cobb, Sammy Watkins — are in the final year of their respective contracts. So is tight end Robert Tonyan and left guard Elgton Jenkins, who is the strongest contender for a contract extension before he hits free agency. Preliminary talks have almost certainly begun with Jenkins, but if they can’t get a deal done in the next couple of months, the franchise tag is a strong possibility. On the defensive side, ultrareliable safety Adrian Amos is in the final year of his contract. — Demovsky
What does the 2023 draft look like in terms of filling key roster holes?
Rams: Barring a big trade that signals Los Angeles wants to rebuild, the Rams aren’t expected to have a first-round pick for the sixth year in a row. The 2023 first-round pick is the final selection that Los Angeles sent to Detroit as part of the package to acquire Stafford. The Rams are currently scheduled to have six draft picks in 2023, although three of those are in the sixth round.
Los Angeles has traded away its third- and fourth-round picks as well. But the second-round pick is expected to be a high one, as the Rams’ 4-9 record puts them in a position to pick early. Snead has plenty of holes to fill on this roster, but he won’t have many high picks to find impact players for 2023. — Barshop
Packers: Even with all that Gutekunst has invested in the defense — including both of his first-round picks in 2022 (linebacker Quay Walker and defensive tackle Devonte Wyatt) — he’s going to need to fill holes on that side of the ball. Losing outside linebacker Rashan Gary, perhaps their best defensive player, to an ACL tear in Week 9 exposed their lack of depth on the edge. They were thin at pass-rusher, even with Gary, and now that position becomes an even bigger need.
Offensive tackle also looks like a major need. David Bakhtiari has played well when available, but the 31-year-old’s recurring knee issues have made his availability an issue. Even if they re-sign Tonyan, they’re going to need another tight end. And despite the emergence of rookie receivers Christian Watson and Romeo Doubs, that position will need to be restocked as well. — Demovsky