What a month. At the end of last month, things looked quite dark for the Green Bay Packers. It was already mock draft season, the offense was in a doom spiral, and the head coach’s position looked fragile. What a difference a month makes. The Packers took care of business against a horrendous Rams offense, lost a tight game to Pittsburgh, snuck out with a win against the Chargers, and then went out and smacked Detroit in a game that was never as close as the scoreline would indicate. The Thanksgiving win is one of the better regular season wins of the Matt LaFleur era, and certainly the most impressive game in Jordan Love’s career. The task does not get any easier this week as the league’s best player and one of the better defenses come to town for a primetime matchup.
While Patrick Mahomes rightfully gets all the attention, the Kansas City Chiefs defense is legitimately quite good — and favored on DraftKings. They excel defending the pass, where they are the fourth best on a per-play basis at -0.135 EPA-per-dropback. They rank an even better second in opponent passing success rate. Cornerback Trent McDuffie leads a very solid defensive back group, and former Wisconsin Badger Leo Chenal has turned himself into a good all-around linebacker. The Chiefs do not have a star edge rusher, but defensive tackle Chris Jones has long been a menace up front. Despite lacking the traditional star power of elite pass-rushing units, the Chiefs lead the league in overall pressure rate. They accomplish this by being a pretty blitz-heavy team. Not quite Brian Flores’ Vikings level, but they are in the tier behind them, blitzing on over 30% of snaps.
Keen observers will remember Jordan Love’s first start against Kansas City and how the Chiefs caused him to struggle with pressure through the first three quarters or so of that game. How Love handles the blitzes sent his way will go a long way to determining if the offense can move the ball.
While their defense is outstanding against the pass, they are legitimately poor against the run. Only the Carolina Panthers are worse against opponent rushing attacks on a per-play basis, and their success rate is actually worse than our very own Packers. Whether Green Bay can exploit this is a massive question mark. Whatever metric you want to use to try and measure run blocking, Green Bay comes in at a well below-average mark. If they can’t get an efficient running game going this week, there probably isn’t an easier matchup coming down the road outside of Carolina. The offensive line needs to move bodies this week.
On the offensive side, the story of the Chiefs season is how poorly the wide receivers are playing. Travis Kelce has continued to be his normal self, but the actual wide receivers are not helping out Mahomes all that much. Rookie Rashee Rice has been a bright spot, but it’s probably asking too much of him right away to be WR1/2 on a Super Bowl contender. Old friend Marquez Valdes-Scantling is providing field stretching, but his inconsistent hands have wreaked havoc and cost the Chiefs a win on Monday Night Football two weeks ago. Skyy Moore and Kadarius Toney are both more gadget weapons than receivers, and neither has been particularly efficient. The Packers, like most teams, lack a real matchup option for Travis Kelce, so expect Mahomes to look his way early and often, but a banged-up defensive back room does not have many other frightening weapons to deal with. Despite the problems in the receiving corps, the Chiefs are still seventh in EPA-per-dropback. Patrick Mahomes is still the best player in football, and a constant nightmare for pass rushers and defensive backs alike.
The Chiefs' running game has been a disappointment this year, as they rank 18th in EPA-per-rush and 29th in success rate. Similar to how the Packers struggle to move bodies in the run game, so do the Chiefs, as they rank well below average across all measurements of run blocking. This is the extremely mobile object versus the static force matchup this week. If the Chiefs can block it up, Isiah Pacheco is a very solid running back. Both this season and last he has posted good RYOE/attempt numbers.
It’s not difficult to see why Green Bay is not favored in this game, despite it being at home. While the Packers are playing better, they’re still a pretty banged-up team, and by basically every measurement, a worse team than Kansas City. However, the Chiefs are by no means invincible. If Jordan Love can carve up the Chiefs when the bring extra pressure, and Green Bay can force a turnover or two, they may be able to pull off a pretty big upset. A win on Sunday would put the Packers in a great position to make the playoffs, as their schedule after this is quite soft. Even with a loss, they’re still in the hunt, but a win would put them in a great position.