Should We Be Worried About the Green Bay Packers?
Prior to Week 3, the only time that the Packers lost to the Lions when Aaron Rodgers started at quarterback was 2010. Rodgers helped lead the Packers to a Super Bowl victory in the same year.
Just because that happened in 2010 doesn't mean we should pencil in the Packers as the champs in 2014.
At 1-2, many are wondering if the Packers are even able to compete for the playoffs, let alone a Super Bowl. Rodgers told fans to "R-E-L-A-X" this week, but what do our numbers say?
Are the Packers Average?
When we look at our Net Expected Points (NEP) metrics at numberFire, we're evaluating if a team or player played above replacement level. Zero, or somewhat close to zero, shows us that a particular player or team played at a level that any other average team or player could have played at. When we look at the Packers' first three games, we see that the Packers played two games above replacement level but one game below.
The Packers have not played the way their fans - or key players - have expected them to play. Against Seattle, they were very ineffective in the passing game. Looking at our Adjusted Passing NEP per play metric, the Packers passing offense lost 0.13 expected points per play. The running game didn't lose any points for the team, but didn't contribute much, either.
When the Packers pulled off a comeback victory against the Jets, it looked like the team had righted the ship. The offense came alive in the second half and, by the end of the game, they had played roughly 12 points above expectation. Granted, the running game wasn't the greatest, losing nearly five points for the team. That, however, was against one of the best rush defenses in the NFL.
In the divisional tilt against the Lions, the Packers took two more steps backwards. Not only was the running game a massive liability, costing the Packers 10.48 Net Expected Points offensively, but the passing game didn't show up either. I would say this was, in part, due to the number of plays ran. The Packers only ran 61 plays against the Seahawks, and ran even fewer (56) against the Lions. The Packers have ran nearly the same amount of running plays in each game. While the pass-to-run ratio is one of the highest in the league, the Packers passing game hasn't gotten into the rhythm it needs to. It didn't help that Randall Cobb and Jordy Nelson combined to only catch 8 of the 13 targets they received in this game from one of the most accurate quarterbacks in the game.
Outlook For the Season
So what should we expect from the Packers going forward? First, having a defense that can stop an opponent would help too and take some pressure off of the offense. The Packers are numberFire's third-worst defense overall according to our Adjusted Defensive NEP metrics, and the worst at defending the run.
But second, and more important, the road ahead for Green Bay should get easier for the majority of the season. Of the Packers remaining 13 games, 6 will be against defenses that are not in the top 10 in terms of defending the pass. While that isn't the greatest news for the Packers, it gets better knowing that the running game only has to face a top-10 rush defense in four of those games. Rodgers and company will still face some tough tests, but if the running game gets back on track and more efficient, it could in turn open up the passing game for the Packers.
Right now the Packers have a -0.99 nERD score on the season, so expect close games. Given their schedule and current pace of play, the Packers won't get any breaks, and only have a 7.7% chance to win their division.
With two teams in front of them for the division, they may have to settle for a wild card spot, but that won't be any easier as their chance to make the playoffs only goes up to 12.7%, putting them as the 12th-best team in the NFC after three weeks.
The Packers won't go down without a fight, and Rodgers does seem to do well with the odds stacked against him; with four weeks remaining last season, they were all but out of the divisional race and still came back and won the division. This may not be 2010 all over again, but the Packers are one of the few teams that should never be counted out until the last week.