After tackling the overall coaching expectations, we now turn our attention to the Green Bay Packers matchups this year. Even with the 3rd place finish in the NFC North last season, it seems like Green Bay will have some difficult games. As a result, the schedule is worth examining to find the Packers toughest 2019 opponents.
First, here is the Packers regular season schedule:
|1||9/5||at Chicago Bears (TNF)||7:20|
|2||9/15||vs. Minnesota Vikings||12:00|
|3||9/22||vs. Denver Broncos||12:00|
|4||9/26||vs. Philadelphia Eagles (TNF)||7:20|
|5||10/6||at Dallas Cowboys||3:25|
|6||10/14||vs. Detroit Lions (MNF)||7:15|
|7||10/20||vs. Oakland Raiders||12:00|
|8||10/27||at Kansas City Chiefs (SNF)||7:20|
|9||11/3||at Los Angeles Chargers||3:25|
|10||11/10||vs. Carolina Panthers||12:00|
|12||11/24||at San Francisco 49ers||3:25|
|13||12/1||at New York Giants||12:00|
|14||12/8||vs. Washington Redskins||12:00|
|15||12/15||vs. Chicago Bears||12:00|
|16||12/23||at Minnesota Vikings (MNF)||7:15|
|17||12/29||at Detroit Lions||12:00|
Source: Packers Wire
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Certainly, some opponents require extra attention from the coaching staff. Initially, my instinct was to attempt to rank these teams. However, I believe it is more effective to place these teams in categories.
Above all, prepping for NFL divisional opponents is always a priority. Those 3 teams are the only opponents that you are guaranteed to play every season (let alone twice a season). For the Packers, the divisional record has been a factor as to why they have missed the playoffs the last two seasons. Between 2017 and 2018, Green Bay is 3-8-1 against NFC North teams. As a result of this recent history, the importance of these six games cannot be overstated.
First of all, the Bears have arguably the best defense in the NFL. Due to the addition of Khalil Mack, Chicago finished near the top of the NFL in several important categories in 2018. That includes 1st in points allowed (283), 3rd in yards allowed (4,796), 1st in turnovers (36) and tied for 3rd in sacks (50). The Bears retained most key players and those that did depart (i.e. Adrian Amos) were replaced by equally talented options (Ha Ha Clinton-Dix).
While the defense deserves a ton of credit for the Bears success, the offense is in a position to take a huge step forward in 2019. This will be year two in the Matt Nagy system. Now that QB Mitch Trubisky has a season of that offense under his belt, look for more week to week consistency on his part. Certainly, the defending NFC North champions will be tough to take down.
Don’t look now, but suddenly the Lions are riding a four-game win streak against the Packers. Yes, you read that right, Green Bay has lost four straight to Detroit. The last time the Lions swept the Packers in consecutive seasons was 1982 and 1983. Particularly concerning is the Lions recent record in Green Bay. Detroit has won three of the last four games at Lambeau Field. This is remarkable, especially considering that before 2015, the Lions had not won in Green Bay since 1991.
That seems like a lot of bad news but fret not fully. Both of the losses in 2017 were with Brett Hundley under center. Furthermore, last year’s defeats were with a hobbled Aaron Rodgers as QB. As a result, DeShone Kizer played most of that week 17 loss. If Rodgers can remain healthy enough to scramble and buy time for his receivers, it will be very difficult for the Lions defense to stop the Packers aerial attack.
The Vikings are one of the most balanced teams in the league. First of all, their defense has talented players at every level. On the defensive line, Everson Griffen and Danielle Hunter each made the Associated Press 2nd-Team All-Pro list in 2017 and 2018 respectively. Furthermore, in the secondary, Xavier Rhodes was a 1st-Team All-Pro in 2017, and was arguably the best CB in the NFL that season. After taking a step back in 2018, he should be ready to regain is form alongside FS Harrison Smith who has been an All-Pro each of the last two seasons. While Minnesota does not have any linebackers who have made All-Pro lists, it is still a great unit led by tackle machine Eric Kendricks.
The offense has a ton of talent that is capable of beating defenses in several ways. QB Kirk Cousins has two great receivers in Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen. meanwhile, Dalvin Cook leads a rushing attack that should get better with the addition of C Garrett Bradbury. The division is tough, yet the Vikings have two recent NFC North crowns (2015, 2017). It could certainly happen again.
The Packers made several big changes to defensive personnel. However, the one position that was not prioritized in free-agency or the draft was the ILB spot next to Blake Martinez. So far through minicamp, Oren Burks has been starting alongside Martinez. Even though Burks is apparently showing improvement, he still only has 122 defensive snaps of experience. Burks, a former defensive back, is actually pretty adept in coverage, but it will be the physical nature a run stuffing that could be problematic. Opposing offenses could key in on the weakness in the linebacking corps.
The Cowboys own one of the most potent rushing attacks in the NFL. That has been apparent when they have played the Packers which has occurred five times dating back to the 2014 Divisional Round. During those contests, the Cowboys have averaged 161.6 rushing yards for 5.77 yards per carry. That is not all just because of Ezekiel Elliott as DeMarco Murray and Darren McFadden have also found success against Green Bay on the ground.
Certainly, a major factor for this rushing dominance has been the Dallas offensive line. After missing all of 2018 because of a Guillain-Barré syndrome diagnosis, Travis Frederick is set to return to the team in 2019. As a result, that should solidify the middle of that offensive line for Zeke to run behind and exploit opposing defenses. Will the Packers be ready? Only time will tell.
Los Angeles Chargers
Being in the AFC, the Chargers have not played the Packers since 2015. That was Melvin Gordon‘s rookie season and he left a lot a lot to be desired after that first campaign. Even against Green Bay, Gordon only had 7 carries for 27 yards, with 25 of those yards coming on one run. He also fumbled twice in that contest.
However, after his rookie season, Gordon significantly improved his production and has only fumbled three times in the last three years. He is an entirely new running back from what the Packers faced four seasons ago. That offensive line has also improved significantly over that time. I can see the Chargers running the ball often in order to take the time of possession away from Green Bay. Not to mention that they have a great defense that could give Rodgers some problems. This could arguably be the Packers toughest test in 2019.
Last, but not least, the Packers have two opponents that have been serious title contenders in recent history and will look to do so once again in 2019.
Kansas City Chiefs
The Chiefs were one win (one OT period) away from making it to Super Bowl LIII. They were ranked 1st for the 2018 season, in points scored (565) and total yards (6,810). QB Patrick Mahomes took the NFL by storm by completing over 5,000 yards and passing for 50 TDs. Kansas City also has the offensive line and running backs to take advantage of the new starter Burks at ILB.
The biggest weakness for the Chiefs last season was their defense. As a result, the team made a change in Defensive Coordinator during the offseason. Out went Bob Sutton, in came Steve Spagnuolo and with that, a change from a 3-4 to a 4-3 front 7. Kansas City also added some defensive pieces to offset trading away Dee Ford and the release of Justin Houston. They traded for both Emmanuel Ogbah and Frank Clark in order to properly play Spagnuolo’s 4-3 system. Watch out for this retooled team to once again serious compete for a Super Bowl. When the Packers face them, it could be difficult to contain both the offense and the defense.
When we speak about title contenders, it is difficult to overlook the team that won the Super Bowl only two seasons ago. The Eagles dominated in the trenches on both sides of the ball during that 2017 season. Not much has changed as Philadelphia was still ranked in the top 5 by PFF in their 2018 offensive line grades. What’s scary is that they arguably got better with the 1st-round selection of Andre Dillard in the 2019 NFL Draft.
Furthermore, the defensive line might be just as proficient as on the offensive side. The four-man front of Derek Barnett, Fletcher Cox, Brandon Graham and the newest member Malik Jackson is one of the best in the NFL. The Packers have prided themselves on the excellence of both defensive and offensive lines. However, there may be no 2019 opponent that challenges both units as much as the Eagles.
Thank you for reading. For more content on the 2019 NFL season be sure to check out Full Press Coverage daily.