Last week, I posed to the question to Pride of Detroit: Where do the Detroit Lions land in the NFC? 85 percent of readers had the Lions first, second or third in the poll, with the most (35 percent) choosing second overall. I personally put the Lions third in the division, behind the Packers and the Falcons.
Obviously one week can change the perception of an entire league, especially this early in the season. After the Lions dropped their home game to the Panthers and the Packers picked up a huge road victory against the Cowboys, the NFC North looks pretty set in stone:
The Bears obviously are considered the worst team in the division with their 1-4 record, even if their savoir Mitchell Trubisky has finally been released from his cage. The Packers seem rightfully atop the division, not only because they have the best record, but because their only loss came to a good Falcons team.
But is it really that simple? Are the Packers really that clearly the best team in the division? Sure they have the best record, but are we so sure that they’re better than the Lions and Vikings. Let’s investigate both sides of the argument:
Why the Packers are clearly the best team in the NFC North
They won it last year
First off, they’re returning champions. Until you dethrone the champs, they are the champs. Through five weeks of the season, there aren’t any clear indications that the Packers have taken a big step back or either the Lions or Vikings have taken a huge step forward. When the returning champ has the best record in the division, they’re still clearly the favorites.
Check the resume
They also have the best resume through the first five games. They have solid wins over the Seahawks and on the road in Dallas. Their only loss was a rough Sunday Night Football contest in the grand opening of the Falcons’ new stadium.
As for the Lions, their best win was a road victory over the Vikings. Though, admittedly, their two losses were to two very good teams in the Falcons and Panthers (and by a collective seven points).
The Vikings don’t quite have a signature win yet, but victories over the Buccaneers and Saints could turn out to be more impressive than they look right now.
Aaron Rodgers is the biggest difference maker in the NFL. I maintain that he’s still the best quarterback in the league and he has been for quite some time. He manages to completely compensate for every single deficiency on the Packers roster. A decimated offensive line? Doesn’t matter. A defense giving up the 13th-most points in the league? Rodgers will outscore him.
Here is Rodgers’ record against NFC North teams in his career:
vs. Lions: 13-3
vs. Bears: 15-4
vs. Vikings: 12-6
Until that changes, Rodgers (and the Packers) should be considered the best.
Why the Packers aren’t the best team in the North
If you’re not familiar with Football Outsiders, they are an analytics website that is known for their DVOA statistic. DVOA (literally stands for defense-adjusted value over average) basically analyzes a team’s efficiency on a play-by-play basis. It takes into account down and distance, game situation, and strength of opponent. It is widely considered one of the best advanced metrics of a team’s success and efficiency.
And if you look at the DVOA standings after Week 5, the Green Bay Packers aren’t the best team in the NFC North. In fact, they aren’t even a top 10 team. Here’s how the entire NFC North ranks according to DVOA.
Lions: 8th overall (21st on offense, 8th on defense, 2nd in special teams)
Packers: 11th overall (4th/20th/19th)
Vikings: 14th overall (5th/16th/22nd)
Bears: 28th overall (28th/17th/26h)
So not only are the Packers second to the Lions, but the Vikings are right on their tail.
No direct team-to-team comparsions
The Lions, Vikings and Packers have yet to play each other, so it’s hard to really compare the teams. One might look to common games to draw a comparison, but the Packers only have one game in common with the Lions and one in common with the Vikings. Both Detroit and Green Bay lost to the Falcons. And both the Vikings and Packers have defeated the Bears.
This is all about to change very soon. The Packers and Vikings face off this Sunday in Minnesota, and three weeks later Green Bay will host the Lions on Monday Night Football. But until then, it’s hard to say with any degree of certainty that the Packers reign supreme in the division.
Their defense is pretty bad
They say defense wins championship, and whether that’s actually true or not, it’s clear that the Packers have the worst defense in the entire division. They’re rank last in the division in defensive DVOA, third in points per game allowed (22.4) and 3rd in passer rating allowed.
Green Bay doesn’t do anything particularly well on that side of the ball. They only have three interceptions on the year (t-19th), they only have 11 sacks (t-19th) and they’re allowing 4.3 yards per carry on the ground (t-20th).
Aaron Rodgers may have come from behind against the Cowboys last week, but that is far from the norm. It was widely publicized coming into the 2017 season that Rodgers had an 0-35 against teams with winning records when trailing by more than a point in the fourth quarter.
If the Packers’ defense continues to be sluggish, Rodgers won’t be able to consistently pull a rabbit out of his hat like last Sunday.
While I still think the Packers are the best team in the division, it’s really too early in the season to say that with certainty. Sample sizes are still incredibly small and with no real direct means of comparison when it comes to common opponents, everything is still just a guessing game in the NFC North.
That being said, until someone proves otherwise, you have to consider the Packers at the top of the mountain.
Who is the best team in the NFC North?
This poll is closed