Based on the record of their 2015 opponents, the Green Bay Packers were deemed to have the NFL’s easiest schedule for 2016.
A big reason for that was the luck of the scheduling draw. This year, the NFC North faces the AFC South and NFC East. Last year, the AFC South went a combined 25-39, with Houston winning the division with a 9-7 record. The NFC East wasn’t much better, with a record of 26-38, with Washington winning the division with a 9-7 record.
As the calendar turns to October, maybe the schedule won’t be quite so easy.
Through the Week 3 games, the combined record of Green Bay’s 16 opponents is 24-24. That .500 winning percentage is much stronger than the .457 from their 2015 records.
What’s the difference?
The AFC South, to borrow perhaps the late Dennis Green’s most famous phrase, is who we thought it was. Houston is 2-1, Tennessee and Indianapolis are 1-2, and Jacksonville is 0-3 for a combined record of 4-8. The Texans might have one loss on the field but they’ve suffered the biggest loss of the season with J.J. Watt going on injured reserve. The NFC East, however, has been better than advertised. Those four teams are 8-4, with Philadelphia 3-0, New York and Dallas 2-1 and Washington 1-2. The Eagles and Cowboys have been quarterbacked by rookies Carson Wentz and Dak Prescott, respectively, and the Giants’ Eli Manning is off to the best start of his career.
The cumulative record of the upcoming 13 opponents is 20-19. Here they are:
Week 5 — N.Y. Giants: 2-1. Last year: 6-10. Why? Manning is flourishing under former Packers assistant and first-year Giants coach Ben McAdoo. His excellence has helped the team overcome a minus-6 in turnovers.
Week 6 — Dallas: 2-1. Last year: 4-12. Why? Tony Romo is hurt again, but Prescott is immeasurably better than Matt Cassel, Kellen Moore and Brandon Weeden, who threw a combined 11 touchdowns vs. 15 interceptions in Romo’s place last season.
Week 7 — Chicago: 0-3. Last year: 6-10. Why? Jay Cutler is sidelined by an injured thumb. The Bears have scored 45 points in three games.
Week 8 — at Atlanta: 2-1. Last year: 8-8. Why? Quarterback Matt Ryan, who is in the top four in all of the meaningful stats, is on pace to throw for 5,173 yards with 37 touchdowns. They’ve needed that production because the defense has allowed 91 points.
Week 9 — Indianapolis: 1-2. Last year: 8-8. Why? In Luck’s seven games last season, the Colts went 2-5 and he threw 15 touchdowns vs. 12 interceptions. In the other nine games, the Colts went 6-3 and the other four quarterbacks (mostly Matt Hasselbeck) combined for 11 touchdowns and seven interceptions. In three games this year, he’s thrown six touchdowns, two picks and has an 85.4 passer rating.
Week 10 — at Tennessee: 1-2. Last year: 3-13. Why? As the No. 2 pick of the 2015 draft, Marcus Mariota had 19 touchdowns, 10 interceptions and a 91.5 passer rating as a rookie. This year, he has four touchdowns, four interceptions and a rating of 79.3. The Titans are minus-5 in turnovers.
Week 11 — at Washington: 1-2. Last year: 9-7. Why? Quarterback Kirk Cousins was a breakout star last year with 4,166 yards, 29 touchdowns, 11 interceptions and a rating of 101.6. This year, he’s thrown for 989 yards — putting him on pace for 5,275 — but has just three touchdowns to go with three interceptions and a rating of 86.4.
Week 12 — at Philadelphia: 3-0. Last year: 7-9. Why? Get Carson Wentz his Hall of Fame jacket! The Eagles are 3-0 behind Wentz, who has a rating of 103.7 with five touchdowns and no interceptions. He’s the only quarterback in NFL history with at least one touchdown pass and no interceptions in each of his first three starts. Lost amid Wentz’s strong start? The Eagles have allowed 27 points and are plus-6 in turnovers.
Week 13 — Houston: 2-1. Last year: 9-7. Why? The defense spearheaded wins over Chicago (23-14) and Kansas City (19-12) before last week’s 27-0 throttling at the hands of the Patriots. Without Watt, it will be up to Brock Osweiler to step up his game. So far? His rating is just 72.2 with 59.6 percent accuracy, three touchdowns and four interceptions.
Week 14 — Seattle: 2-1. Last year: 10-6. Why? The Seahawks have no offensive line, a hobbled quarterback, a wounded running back corps and a minus-4 turnover differential. No worries. The defense has allowed 37 points with an opponent passer rating of just 71.7.
Week 15 — at Chicago: 0-3. Last year: 6-10. Why? The Bears have converted 30.3 percent of the time on third down, are losing the time-of-possession battle by close to 12 minutes per game and are minus-4 in turnovers.
Week 16 — Minnesota: 3-0. Last year: 11-5. Why? No Teddy Bridgewater. No Adrian Peterson. No problem. How do you overcome those losses and a woeful 2.1 yards per carry in the running game? By going plus-8 in turnovers. Sam Bradford’s been excellent and coach Mike Zimmer’s defense is a juggernaut, with 40 points allowed in three games. A 22-10 win at Carolina last week is all you need to know.
Week 17 — at Detroit: 1-2. Last year: 7-9. Why? Matthew Stafford is on pace to throw for 5,253 yards but it won’t matter until the defense gets in the way of someone. Detroit’s opponent passer rating is a league-worst 120.2. If that’s not bad enough, it’s allowing a league-worst 5.13 yards per carry. Want more? Detroit’s defense ranks 31st on third down and 32nd in the red zone.
Bill Huber is publisher of PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at email@example.com or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at www.twitter.com/PackerReport.