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The 2023 Schedule Is a Gift the Packers Are Squandering

It's not always going to be this easy. That sounds strange to say about a team that has won only a third of its games through the first half of the season but it's definitively true. The Packers' schedule has afforded them so many structural advantages and opportunities to win games that their current record can't be seen as anything but a disappointment, regardless of preseason expectations.


Moving on from a future inner circle Hall of Fame quarterback will lead any number of labels being applied to a team. Rebuild, transition, development, sleeper, frisky, "seeing how the other half lives" all could have been reasonable. At the midpoint of the season, labels no longer matter. Wins and losses matter. Record matters.


The great Bill Parcells said, "You are what your record says you are." 3-6 certainly seems appropriate for a team that has by no measure played consistently well. Given the advantages the schedule has afforded them though, it could have and should have been so much better. Let's go through game-by-game and see what the Packers have wasted and what could still be.


The Schedule So Far


Week One at Chicago - At 3-7, only four teams have worse records than the Bears. This was a game that Packers had to take care of business in and, to their credit, they did.


Week Two at Atlanta - Back-to-back road games are never easy, especially for a young team. Atlanta's a significantly better team at home than they are on the road. This was one of the few non-advantageous spots in the Packers' schedule.


Week Three vs. New Orleans - The Saints were playing their second consecutive road game and playing on a short week, having played the previous Monday night. That the Packers needed a near-miraculous 4th quarter comeback and the good fortune of a rookie kicker missing a potential walk-off field goal to get the W should have been a screaming red flag.


Week Four vs. Detroit - Make no mistake, the Lions are a demonstrably better team than Green Bay. At the time, these teams were both 2-1 and looking like they could be battling all season to come out on top in the NFC North. Detroit, though, was playing on the road on a Thursday night. Green Bay, Washington, and New Orleans are the only teams to have lost short rest (i.e. non-Week One) Thursday Night home games so far this season. Getting blown out in that situation definitively was a screaming red flag. This game made the math for Green Bay potentially winning the division tricky. The next three made it quantum superposition.


Week Five at Las Vegas - A (quasi-) West Coast road game is never easy, especially for a Matt LaFleur-coached team, but the Packers had 10 full days to rest and prepare, playing on Monday night the week after Thursday night. Also, the Raiders are a bad team (-33-point differential through 10 games).


Week Seven at Denver - Note the week gap here. The Packers had their bye in Week Six. Denver is never an easy place to play given the travel distance and altitude, but coming off the bye, the Packers had plenty of time to rest up and prepare and had no excuses. Being the team that started the Broncos (current -52-point differential) on a three-game win streak is not necessarily a good look.


Week Eight vs. Minnesota - Another rest advantage game squandered. The Vikings, a dome team, on grass, on short rest, coming off a Monday night game were primed for a letdown following a huge win over the 49ers on national TV. The Packers, again, couldn't take advantage of their scheduling fortune.


Week Nine vs. Los Angeles Rams - The layup game of all layup games. West Coast dome team, playing back-to-back road games, on grass, in the early Sunday time window, ... with now former Ram Brett Rypien at quarterback. Losing this game would have been Matt LaFleur's Waterloo. The equivalent of the 2018 Packers loss at home to Arizona that cost Mike McCarthy his job.


Week Ten at Pittsburgh - The Packers haven't won in Pittsburgh since 1970 so this was never going to be easy. That said, this game put on full display what the Packers season could have been. The Steelers are 6-3 despite a -26-point differential, fighting for a title in the best division in the league, and clearly in the AFC playoff picture.


The Road Ahead


At 3-6 and staring at the "meat" of their schedule, the Packers qualifying for the playoffs seems like a long shot. It is, but...



Yes, Lloyd Christmas, there is a chance. The Packers most definitely need to both play better and learn how to actually win close games, but their schedule, like Christmas Vacation's Jelly of the Month Club, is the gift that keeps on giving the whole year.



Week Eleven vs. Los Angeles Chargers - The Chargers are a better team than the Brett Rypien-led Rams, but the situation is similar. West Coast dome team, playing on grass, in November, in the early afternoon window. Plus, the Chargers are the most cursed team in the league. West of Cleveland, at least. Their defense is so bad it should provide an opportunity for the offense to feel good about itself. Continuing the theme: the first five home games for the Packers are/were against dome teams.


Week Twelve at Detroit - Here, the schedule does Green Bay no favors. On the road against a very good Detroit team on Thanksgiving Thursday is one of the toughest scheduling spots any team will face all season. The Packers are early 7.5-point underdogs, and even that seems light given the situation.


Week Thirteen vs. Kansas City - Will Taylor Swift make the trip to Lambeau? There is a gap in her tour schedule this game just happens to fall into. Positive for Green Bay: It's the second of back-to-back road games for the Chiefs. Negative(s) for Green Bay: Everything else.


Week Fourteen at New York Giants - The Giants currently have the worst point differential in the league. By 51 points! Denver gave up a 70 spot to Miami and their point differential is still almost 100 points better.


Week Fifteen vs. Tampa Bay - To be fair, the Packers will be playing on short rest as the Giants game is on a Monday night. That said, the Bucs will be playing back-to-back road games, and getting Florida teams in Green Bay in December should be gimme wins for this franchise. It used to should be, at least. If Jordan Love gets outdueled by Baker Mayfield, we're going to have to have a very serious conversation.


Week Sixteen at Carolina - By record, currently the worst team in the league.


Week Seventeen at Minnesota - As of this writing, the Vikings hold the seventh and final NFC playoff spot. Winning in the dome there is never easy, but Kirk Cousins isn't coming back, and this game provides an opportunity to make up a game on a team you probably (definitely) will need to beat out should you happen to be in contention for the playoffs.


Week Eighteen vs. Chicago - Bookending the season with the Bears. The team you smoked in Chicago in Week One. In any scenario, losing this game would be unacceptable.


Big Picture


An average NFL team could look at the upcoming schedule and think that, with a break or two, they could finish out the year on a 6-2 run. The Packers are 3-6. Since you most definitely are what your record says you are, they haven't been an average NFL team to this point. If they could get to that minimal level of competence, they could be in a position to get into the playoffs, even if only because of the overall softness of the schedule.



To put into context how weak this year's schedule is, remember last year when passing on taking the bye after the London game led them to play five games in five weeks in five different cities. Or consider next year when the NFC North will match up with the NFC West, requiring at least two West Coast games. You certainly can't count on getting three of the worst teams in the league in your final five games, either.


Regardless of what your expectation for this team was coming into the season, the 2023 schedule provided so many structural advantages that playoff contention should have been a bare minimum outcome. It may not seem like it on paper, but the schedule is still giving this team a shot. Consider that last year's team was 4-8 before their schedule eased up and they got themselves to a Week Eighteen win-and-in game.


They say you shouldn't look a gift horse in the mouth. To this point the Packers haven't just looked that gift horse in the mouth, they've punched it in the mouth. That gift horse just happens to be so docile they still have a chance to get up on it and ride.

 

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