On paper, the Green Bay Packers appear to have one of the toughest five-week stretches of football ahead of them in recent memory. Fans have been circling this batch of games since the 2018 schedule release in April, both due to the perceived strength of the opponents and the difficulty of facing four road games in that span.
But we got to thinking, is it really as tough a stretch as everyone assumes? Let’s look at some of the numbers through seven weeks of the 2018 season to find out.
The first and most obvious way of measuring strength of schedule is the combined records of one’s opponents. And in this regard, this is indeed a challenging stretch. The next five opponents have combined records of 23-10-1, with four out of the five teams sitting above .500 after week seven and that fifth (the Seahawks) being even at 3-3. Yikes.
Of course, a team’s win/loss record, especially in the first seven weeks of the season, can be deceiving. So we’ll look at the opponents’ overall DVOA rankings from Football Outsiders to learn a little more about them.
Every one of these teams sits in the top half of the league in overall team DVOA, with three in the top ten and four in the top 11. The lowest-ranked team may actually surprise you.
That is indeed a tough slog and largely, DVOA seems to hold up pretty well with the records. Meanwhile, the Packers currently sit 15th in overall DVOA, with the sixth-ranked offense, 24th-ranked defense, and 29th-ranked special teams.
Predictably, the opposing offenses are also impressive, though the matchups seem to get a little less daunting every week:
The Packers’ defense, meanwhile, sit back near the bottom of the pack in DVOA thanks to an ugly performance before the bye against the 49ers and their 26th-ranked offense. The Packers sit in 24th place overall, ranking 15th against the pass and 29th against the run. They also have the 30th ranking in variance, which signifies that they are wildly inconsistent from week to week.
The biggest concern for the pass defense, however, is the ability to handle an opposing team’s #1 receiver. The Packers rank 29th against #1s, but the rankings are much better against other wideouts, coming in 16th against #2s, 13th against all other receivers, and 11th against both tight ends and running backs.
Not surprisingly, where the Packers are most susceptible to big plays is down the middle (ranking 23rd) and deep (27th), confirming that the safety play is indeed a problem. The left side of the defense — where the rookies and Kevin King tend to play — has been great with a third-place ranking, while Tramon Williams’ right side is 18th. One more note: the Packers rank 10th in defending short passes, but just 27th against deep balls.
Given the numbers above, the Packers will likely need to win these games by scoring a lot of points rather than on the strength of their own defense. The good news is that there are opportunities to do so; the team faces just two top-ten defenses in this stretch, both of which earn those rankings on the strength of good pass defenses:
The Packers, meanwhile, sit in sixth place overall on offense, with the passing game ranking tenth and the run game fifth.
There are some specific areas to attack in this stretch, however. The Rams, for example, are good against WR1s, average against WR2s, and bad against other receivers, so Geronimo Allison and the rookies could feast a bit this week. LA also has a stark split between success on the right and left sides, ranking 3rd on passes to the right side of the defense but 26th to the left.
In fact, all of these opponents have a big right/left split. The Patriots rank 4th and 24th on the right and left sides, respectively; Miami is 25th and 13th, the Seahawks are 2nd and 25th, and the Vikings are 12th and 29th. In other words, the Packers should be able to know exactly which sides of the field are exploitable and should line up their receiving corps accordingly.
One final note on the defenses is that although they have all rank in the top half of the league, they also all sit at or below league-average in variance, indicating that they too are inconsistent. The Rams, Seahawks, and Vikings are among the ten most inconsistent teams (Vikings are actually second), while the Patriots and Dolphins are around average.
Thus, the Packers should find themselves with matchups to take advantage of throughout this stretch when they have the football. The biggest questions will likely be whether the team can execute better in the red zone and if they can avoid getting down early on defense, which has thrown their offensive gameplan out of whack.
The fact that four of these games are on the road only adds to the challenge in this stretch, however. Furthermore, the home/road splits for these opponents this season make the games look that much more daunting, even if the average home-field advantage in the NFL is assumed to be just three points. Here are the home records for the four teams the Packers will travel to in this stretch over the past two years, including playoff games:
Rams: 3-0 in 2018, 4-5 in 2017
Patriots: 4-0 in 2018, 8-2 in 2017
Seahawks: 1-1 in 2018, 4-4 in 2017
Vikings: 2-1 in 2018, 8-1 in 2018
Now granted, all of these teams were above .500 last year. But it’s a bit surprising to see that both the Rams and Seahawks went 4-4 at home a year ago in the regular season.
One other note: the Dolphins are 1-2 on the road this season, and they have committed at least two turnovers in each of those games. They also have failed to reach 300 yards of offense in any of those contests and average just 14.7 points per game.
Still, It’s difficult to read much of anything into these numbers though, particularly in such a small sample size.
Yes, this stretch will indeed be a difficult one; for the most part, these teams’ records match up pretty well with their overall DVOA rankings. The road opponents’ records at home are mixed over the past two years, but that doesn’t really tell us much.
However, there will be opportunities for Aaron Rodgers and the offense to air out the football, particularly if they can establish an effective play-action game. If the defense can at least be moderately effective early in games and avoid digging the team an early hole, the Packers should be very much in contention in every game over this stretch.