The Green Bay Packers’ mission is clear if they want to have a chance at making the postseason this year. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers said as much in his postgame press conference on Sunday: the Packers must win their final five games and get a substantial amount of help.
However, the help might actually be the easiest thing to get. Consider the teams ahead of them over the last five games and what the Packers need to happen; if any four of the five things below take place, the Packers will get the help they need to make it.
- Vikings lose 3 games
- Cowboys lose 2 games OR Washington loses 2 games
- Seahawks lose 2 games
- Panthers lose 2 games
- Eagles lose 1 game
The Eagles play the Rams and Texans in addition to three divisional games, two against Washington. Carolina has two games against the Saints remaining. Seattle and the Vikings play each other, while the Seahawks also get the Chiefs in week 16. Dallas plays New Orleans on Thursday and at the suddenly-hot Colts two weeks later.
There’s a very good chance that the Packers get the assistance they need down the stretch. So it’s all about winning out now. Can that happen? Let’s look at each of the matchups one by one.
Week 13: vs. Arizona Cardinals (2-9)
The Packers opened this week as 14.5-point favorites, their biggest margin as a favorite all season. It’s not hard to see why; the Cardinals have the NFL’s second-worst offense by ANY/A (h/t to Justis Mosqueda) and the Packers shut out the only team worse than them (the Buffalo Bills).
Furthermore, by combined ANY/A (summing the total for offense and defense), Arizona is the worst team in the NFL, while the Packers remain just outside the top ten in 11th place.
Finally, we’ve seen Mike Pettine’s exotic blitz packages work much better on young quarterbacks than veterans; Josh Rosen is a rookie who has a passer rating of 68.9 this year and has been sacked 24 times in nine games. Count this game as a likely win.
Week 14: vs. Atlanta Falcons (4-7)
The team that beat the Packers in the 2016 NFC Championship looks very different this season. Their defense, which as been hit hard by injuries, has allowed the fourth-most points and fifth-most yards in the NFL. By ANY/A, their defense ranks fifth-worst overall.
If there’s ever a chance for the Packers’ offense to get itself on track in important situations, it’s in this game. The Falcons are allowing 51.5% of third downs to be converted by their opponents, the second-highest rate, leading to 31st-place rankings in time of possession, yards, and points on a per-drive basis. They also allow 73% of red zone opportunities to end in touchdowns, good for third-most in the NFL, so Aaron Rodgers and company should have a great opportunity to straighten out the situational problems that have plagued them this season.
There’s not much of a running game for Atlanta either, with Devonta Freeman on injured reserve. Hopefully the Packers can get a few injured defensive backs in time for this game, because they’ll need them against a deep Falcons receiving corps. Still, that defense can and should be exploited and the Packers should be able to get a victory here, especially at home.
Week 15: at Chicago Bears (8-3)
Naturally, this is the toughest game remaining on the schedule, as the Packers are one of just three teams to hand the Bears a loss this season. However, in the first game between these teams, getting a victory required Aaron Rodgers going full God Mode in his finest half of football in recent memory.
As Justis likes to say, there’s only one defense in the NFL that really matters this season, and it’s the Bears. They’re lapping the field in ANY/A this year, with a +910.7 mark that is about double the second-place team (Baltimore). They force teams to pass the ball often, and they’re forcing turnovers at a 2011 Packers-like rate, leading the league with 20 picks and 29 total takeaways. And they’re the only defense in the entire NFL that is positive in terms of expected points contributed by their passing defense.
Chicago also ranks fifth in points scored this season, though the defense has been responsible for a good portion of that as well with six touchdowns on the season. They also are giving their offense good field position with those turnovers, as Chicago ranks sixth in average field position. We all know that Aaron Rodgers avoids interceptions like the plague, but the Bears get to the quarterback well also.
The Packers’ best shot of winning this game will be to cause havoc for Mitchell Trubisky and force him to turn the football over. With shorter fields, the Packers’ sputtering offense would have less work to do against the NFL’s only elite defense. But if the turnover battle is even or in the Bears’ favor, it’s tough to see the Packers getting a W, particularly given their struggles on the road this year.
Week 16: at New York Jets (3-8)
See the Cardinals game above regarding attacking young quarterbacks. Sam Darnold has 11 touchdowns against 14 interceptions this season, and he is completing just 55% of his passes. Pettine should be able to wreak havoc with his blitz schemes, as long as the Packers can win enough on first and second down. New York’s offense is just a tick better than the Cardinals’ this year, so even a banged up Packers D should keep them in check.
The Jets’ defense is solid situationally, however, which should cause problems once again for Aaron Rodgers and the offense. They have the second-best third down defense in the league (34%) and are sixth-best in the red zone (48.6% TDs). Still, they rank 19th in points allowed, thanks in part to a bad run defense and turning the football over the second-most of any team in the NFL.
See the Bears game above; if the Packers can force turnovers and give Rodgers a short field, they should win. That should just be a lot easier against the Jets than it will be against the Bears. Count on the Packers finally getting a road win here.
Week 17: vs. Detroit Lions (4-7)
Ah, Detroit. They are the only team that is -400 on both offense and defense in ANY/A this year, making them the 31st-ranked team in the NFL overall. Interestingly, they rank in the top five in time of possession and plays per drive, but they’re just 18th and 17th in yards and points, respectively.
The first time these teams met, the Packers put up their season-high in total offense, racking up 521 yards in a furious second-half comeback attempt. The Packers certainly would have won that game if not for three awful first-half turnovers — two lost fumbles by Aaron Rodgers and a bogus call by the referees on a punt — and Mason Crosby’s nightmare day. Green Bay actually had seven drives that covered 50 yards or more in that game, and JK Scott did not punt the ball once. Pro Football Reference credits the Packers’ offense with +20.46 expected points in that game, while the special teams received a -26.27.
With the Lions giving away double-digit EXP in seven games this year, look for Rodgers and company to close out the season strong at Lambeau.
If these teams’ trends continue, the Packers could easily finish 4-1 in this final stretch. They have the benefit of playing three of their final five games at home against two awful teams and one with a terrible defense, while one of the road games is also against one of the worst statistical squads in the league.
The problem, however, is that Bears game. As we have been suggesting at APC for the past two weeks or so, this season really will end up coming down to the games in Minnesota and Chicago. The Packers already dropped the first on Sunday, giving themselves no margin for error. They will likely need a transcendent performance from their defense — or a repeat of second half Aaron Rodgers from week one — to beat the Bears and make their playoff dreams a reality.