When the NFL flexes a game to Sunday night during the final week of the season, safe to say it’s a big deal.
For two teams who would have been an afterthought when it came to playoff talk a month ago, the Detroit Lions and the Green Bay Packers find themselves at the forefront of talking heads and pundits across the NFL landscape. The Packers were 4-8 after their Week 12 loss to the Eagles, but find themselves on a four-game winning streak headed into Week 18—and just one win away from throwing their hat into the ring.
The Packers are in complete control of their playoff destiny with the ability to jump the Seattle Seahawks for the seventh and final playoff spot in the NFC regardless of the outcome in their matchup with the Los Angeles Rams. A fourth-straight trip to the playoffs is on the line for Green Bay, but the underdog Lions stand in the way this Sunday night at Lambeau Field in Wisconsin.
Let’s dig a little deeper into who this Packers team is since we last saw them in Week 9.
2022 Green Bay Packers
2022 season thus far (8-8)
Week 1: Lost to Vikings, 7-23
Week 2: Beat Bears, 27-10
Week 3: Beat Buccaneers, 14-12
Week 4: Beat Patriots, 27-24
Week 5: Lost to Giants, 22-27
Week 6: Lost to Jets, 10-27
Week 7: Lost to Commanders, 21-23
Week 8: Lost to Bills, 17-27
Week 9: Lost to Lions, 9-15
Week 10: Beat Cowboys, 31-28 OT
Week 11: Lost to Titans, 17-27
Week 12: Lost to Eagles, 33-40
Week 13: Beat Bears, 28-19
Week 14: Bye
Week 15: Beat Rams, 24-12
Week 16: Beat Dolphins, 26-20
Week 17: Beat Vikings, 41-17
- 14th in points scored (22.1 PPG), 17th in points allowed (21.9 PPG)
- 12th in overall DVOA
- 11th in offensive DVOA (15th in pass DVOA, 3rd in run DVOA)
- 18th in defensive DVOA (10th in pass DVOA, 31st in run DVOA)
Surprisingly enough, the Packers are paced by their steady, efficient running game this year. Green Bay is tied for eighth in the NFL in yards per carry (4.7) and rank third in rush offense DVOA (8.4 percent). Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon are two of the most efficient running backs in the league, and likely the best one-two combination in the NFL. Football Outsiders DYAR (Defense-adjusted Yards Above Replacement) gives the value of the performance on plays where this RB carried/caught the ball compared to replacement level, adjusted for situation and opponent and then translated into yardage. Among running backs with at least 100 rushing attempts, Jones ranks fourth in DYAR, averaging 5.3 yards per carry on 203 attempts, while Dillon ranks seventh in DYAR. Two numbers to keep in mind, however, are the respective longest runs for Jones (36) and Dillon (27) this season which rank 56th and 84th in the NFL among runners.
Of course, the Packers offensive line is something to be counted on like death and taxes. In 2022, Green Bay’s offensive line ranks second in adjusted line yards (4.9) while their open yard rank is just 20th (0.66) and this gives you a sense of how Green Bay’s offensive line is integral to the success of their rushing attack. Packers right tackle Yosh Nijman owns the highest run block win rate (86 percent) according to ESPN’s metric while the entire offensive line owns the ninth-best run block win rate (72 percent) in the league. Bottom line: the Packers have a unit up front who makes space for the Packers two-pronged attack and those relatively low numbers for Jones and Dillon’s longest runs of the season further speak to the success of Green Bay’s offensive line in the run game.
For over a decade, Aaron Rodgers has either been the best or the next-best quarterback in the NFL. His accuracy, his ability to manipulate defenders and adlib plays like he’s in the backyard, it’d be easy to go on about each tool in his belt, but something has changed this season. Rodgers has thrown more picks in 2022 (11) than he did the last two seasons combined (9) and while his interception rate (2.1 percent) is right around league average, that’s a far cry from him being the league leader for the last four seasons in a row. Now, he did throw like a quarter of his interceptions in one game this season, so this might have more to do with that one team forcing turnovers than Rodgers being more careless with his decisions as a thrower—Rodgers is 17th in the NFL in turnover-worthy plays according to PFF (15).
But what feels like free space on your annually-issued NFL bingo card is the Packers’ refusal to invest in pass catchers to pair with one of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history. Green Bay bucked that trend this offseason when they drafted Christian Watson and Romeo Doubs in the second and fourth round respectively. Doubs had some early success before dealing with an injury he sustained against the Lions in Week 9, but returned in Week 15 to help the Packer on their recent winning streak. Watson dealt with lingering injuries early in the season that started in training camp, but once healthy, Watson became the big-play threat he was billed to be out of North Dakota State. When Watson left Ford Field after Week 10, he had 10 catches for 88 yards through six games of his rookie season. Over the next four weeks, Watson had 15 catches for 313 yards and seven touchdowns—with two rushing attempts for 49 yards and a touchdown for good measure. Watson has since cooled down, but could still take the top off the defense at any time.
Funny enough, it takes circling back to the Packers running backs to cap off talking about their passing offense. Sure, Allen Lazard has done his best to moonlight as a No. 1—56 catches for 747 yards and five touchdowns—while Doubs and Watson have found their footing, and Randall Cobb has provided some veteran leadership, Aaron Jones is tied with Lazard for the most receptions on the team (56) and Dillon’s 40 targets are the most in his career. The Packers running backs are averaging just 6.9 yards per reception which seems to suggest they use Rodgers and their running backs ability to catch as an extension of the run game. While the Packers offense may seem flipped on its head with Rodgers stats dipping and the running backs rising, this team still wins because of its offensive line and Rodgers taking care of the football—he’s only thrown four interceptions across the team’s eight wins compared to seven in their eight losses.
The biggest difference between the defense Detroit faces this Sunday night and the one they played back in Week 9 is the absence of Rashan Gary—who suffered a season-ending knee injury at Ford Field. Despite not playing since then, Gary is third pressures (38) behind only Preston Smith (41) and Kenny Clark (43). Even without much of a pass rush to speak of, the Packers pass defense has been the seventh-best unit according to DVOA since Week 10, and that speaks to the team’s ability to play on the back end.
Jaire Alexander sports the sixth-best coverage grade per PFF among qualifying cornerbacks and remains a lockdown corner for them, but the return of De’Vondre Campbell—the 11th-best LB in coverage according to PFF—has certainly been a boost since he came back in Week 13. Quay Walker has seemed to have taken his lumps early on in his debut season—and his run defense seems to still be a work in progress—but he now sports the 13th-best coverage grade among linebackers on 379 coverage snaps. Green Bay has seemed to put a lot on Walker’s plate his rookie season, whether that be due to Campbell’s injuries or not, but the growth in his game makes him and Campbell one of the best coverage tandems in the league.
But the inverse is true for the Packers when it comes to run defense. For years, we’ve wondered if it was Green Bay’s lack of attention to stopping the run or their flat-out inability to do so, and I have to say, I think the answer is this: they don’t care until they need to. Green Bay’s defensive line ranks 32nd in adjusted line yards (5.13) and 19th in open field yards, so they’re literally the worst up front, but slightly below average at the next level of their defense. But the number that really illustrates how the Packers get by with a run defense that allows a bunch of yards (seventh in the NFL) is their Power Success rank by Football Outsiders. The Packers are tied for 11th in Power Success, which FO defines as the “percentage of runs on third or fourth down, two yards or less to go, that achieved a first down or touchdown. Also includes runs on first-and-goal or second-and-goal from the two-yard line or closer. This is the only statistic on this page that includes quarterbacks.”
When it matters, the Packers are better than your average defense at stopping the run, and until then, it’s a bit of an afterthought. Their pass defense is the priority, and when you’re allowing the fourth-fewest passing by total yards, but the sixth-most net yards per attempt, the picture gets a bit clearer, but here’s the difference that brings it all into focus: the Packers have 17 interceptions this season, tied for third in the NFL, and they hold a plus-4 turnover differential. Takeaways—and not giving the ball away—can help prop up any deficiencies you may have. Does that sound a bit familiar?
- IR/PUP/NFI: EDGE Rashan Gary (IR), CB Eric Stokes (IR), DI Dean Lowry (IR), C Jake Hanson (IR), S Vernon Scott (IR)
- Other injuries: OT David Bakhtiari (knee/abdomen), QB Aaron Rodgers (right thumb/knee), OG Elgton Jenkins (knee), RB Aaron Jones (knee/ankle), OT Yosh Nijman (shoulder), CB Keisean Nixon (groin), WR Christian Watson (hip)
The Packers certainly aren’t healthy, but that’s life in the NFL come Week 18. Rodgers has been dealing with an avulsion fracture to the thumb on his throwing hand since the Packers played the New York Giants in Week 5, but he’s played through it all season. Bakhtiari has been dealing with a knee injury since season’s past and the Packers have had to manage his workload to get him through to this part of the season. It’s worth noting he didn’t play 100 percent of snaps against Minnesota, although it was a blowout, but he hasn’t played a full game since Week 12.
Strengths and Weaknesses
Biggest strength: Offensive Line
For years, it’s felt like the Packers were an absolute stone wall when it came to providing protection for Aaron Rodgers to make all sorts of throws. Now, with two very capable running backs, Green Bay has one of the best run-blocking units in the NFL to match and it’s made the offense very capable of sustaining drives and scoring points.
Biggest weakness: Run Defense
Okay, sure, the Packers might not care about stopping the run until they need to, but the Packers are still surrendering 5.0 yards per carry, so what happens when the team across from them wants to run the football and bests them in Power Success? Five of the Packers losses this season have come to these teams—their respective Power Rank is in parentheses: Giants (4th), Bills (6th), Commanders (7th), Eagles (8th), and Titans (9th). In their other three losses, the Packers lost the turnover battle.
For what it’s worth, the Lions rank 22nd in Power Rank, but sport a plus-5 turnover differential, the sixth-best in the NFL.
Vegas line for Sunday: Packers by 4.5