Last season, the Green Bay Packers went 13-3 and won the mediocre NFC North by a whopping five games.
This season, after Monday's 51-29 loss at New Orleans, the Packers are 5-6 and are facing an uphill climb to win the still-mediocre NFC North. To some, the Packers' fighting-for-.500 season is evidence that general manager Ted Thompson's thrifty ways are holding back the team. To others, it's evidence the Packers made the wrong call at quarterback.
While an argument can be made for both of those points, it's worth pointing out that this year's Packers are playing a lot tougher schedule than last year's team.
Last year's opponents went 120-136 for a .469 winning percentage. They faced just four playoff teams — going 3-1 by beating San Diego, Philadelphia and Washington but losing to Dallas — and faced just three teams that won at least 10 games.
This year's first 11 opponents are 65-56 for a .537 winning percentage through Week 12. At this rate, it looks like no less than five of this year's opponents will make the playoffs — Tennessee and Indianapolis, some combination of Dallas, Tampa Bay, Carolina and Atlanta, and perhaps Minnesota in the North.
The Packers caught a couple of breaks last year, when Denver went from really good to mediocre and Kansas City went from good to horrible. About the only break the Packers caught this season is with the Lions, who went 7-9 last season but could come to Lambeau for the season finale at 0-15. Atlanta, which looked like a gimme before the season, is in contention to win the NFC South, and Carolina already has surpassed last year's seven wins.
Just look at the teams the Packers have lost to this season. Not a sub-.500 team in the bunch with Tennessee, Tampa Bay, Dallas, Atlanta, Minnesota and New Orleans. Those six teams have a combined .667 winning percentage, and the first five on that list seem headed for the playoffs.
The schedule, however, gets lighter the rest of the season. Even with Carolina (8-3) coming to Lambeau Field next week, the Packers' final five foes are a combined 22-33 (.400 winning percentage), thanks in no small part to the winless Lions. Certainly, though, back-to-back road dates against Jacksonville (4-7) and Chicago (6-5) are no picnics.
Of course, you've got to beat who's put in front of you. This year's Packers had opportunities to beat the Buccaneers, Falcons, Titans and Vikings but failed. On the other hand, the Steelers, facing the NFL's toughest schedule, are 8-3.
The Panthers, with their powerful running game, pose another huge challenge for the Packers on Sunday. If the Packers don't rise to the occasion, thoughts can turn to free agency, the draft and who's on the 2009 schedule.
Victories (21-34; .382 winning percentage)
Losses (44-22; .667)
Tampa Bay 8-3
New Orleans 6-5
On the schedule (22-33; .400)
2008 total: 87-89; .494
Victories (93-115; .447 winning percentage)
N.Y. Giants 10-6
San Diego 11-5
Kansas City 4-12
St. Louis 3-13
Losses (27-21; .563)
2007 total: 120-136; .469 winning percentage
Bill Huber is the Lead Analyst for Packer Report and PackerReport.com. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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