Green Bay Packers 2019 NFL Season Preview

Quarterback

The Packers have had some disappointing seasons in the 8 seasons since their last Super Bowl appearance, but none more disappointing than 2018. The Packers have had seasons where underwhelming defenses and running games have caused them to lose earlier than expected in the post-season. They’ve had seasons where they’ve struggled because Aaron Rodgers has missed time with injury. But until last season, they had never had a season where Aaron Rodgers played all 16 games, the defense and running game weren’t bad, and they still didn’t make a playoff run. 

In fact, they didn’t even make it to the post-season at all, finishing 6-9-1. Their defense ranked 16th in first down rate allowed, their running game ranked 2nd in the NFL in YPC (5.01), but they still finished just 20th in first down rate differential because an underperforming passing game held back their offense, which ranked just 16th in first down rate. Aaron Rodgers has been one of the best quarterbacks in the league for the past decade, but he finished just 26th in the NFL in completion percentage (62.3%), 17th in yards per attempt (7.44), and 13th in passing touchdowns (25) last season. The fact that he threw only 2 interceptions is impressive, but he had another 6 interceptions dropped and even with only 2 interceptions he still finished just 13th in QB rating (97.6). 

Rodgers wasn’t fully healthy, even though he started all 16 games, as he played the whole season through a knee injury he suffered week 1. That likely wasn’t the only reason for his decline though, especially since he was still able to be as effective on the ground as he usually is, averaging 6.26 YPC on 43 carries with 2 touchdowns. This passing game looked very disjointed all season long and no stat shows that better than Rodgers’ 51 thrown away passes, 21 more than any quarterback in the league (his 2 interceptions are less impressive when you realize that he threw 8.5% of his passes out of play). Rodgers threw the ball away on 22.7% of his pressured dropbacks and had the 2nd worst completion percentage in the league under pressure as a result. That had a significant effect on his passing production. 

Head coach Mike McCarthy took the blame for the Packers’ offensive failure last season, getting fired in the middle of his 13th season with the team after an embarrassing home week 13 loss to the league worst Cardinals. McCarthy deserves a lot of the blame, as he ran bland schemes that did not best suit Aaron Rodgers’ skillset, an issue that caused conflict between the two. Rodgers probably deserves some of the blame as well, but the fact remains that McCarthy was the Packers’ coach for 13 seasons and had either Brett Favre or Aaron Rodgers for all 13 seasons and made just one Super Bowl. His time was going to come at some point and after that embarrassing loss to Arizona seemed like as good of a time as any to pull the plug.

The Packers replaced McCarthy this off-season with up and coming offensive mind Matt LaFleur. LaFleur only was a play caller for one season, last season with the Titans, and failed to get a productive season out of Marcus Mariota, but he worked under Mike Shanahan with the Falcons and Sean McVay with the Rams and is highly regarded throughout the league. How he and Rodgers will coexist remains to be seen, however, and the Packers might have been better off hiring a veteran defensive minded head coach like Vic Fangio and letting Rodgers have more control over the offense.

Rodgers should be healthier in 2019, but he is getting up there in age, going into his age 36 season, and he’s taken more of a beating than most quarterbacks who play well into their late 30s. It’s possible last season was the start of a decline for him, something the Packers are not prepared for, with only failed Browns starter Deshone Kizer behind Rodgers on the depth chart. It’s also just as possible that Rodgers stays healthy in 2019 and bounces back in a new offensive scheme. If that happens, and the Packers continue to have a solid running game and defense, they could easily be right back in Super Bowl contention. 

Grade: A-

Receiving Corps

Along with the Packers’ uncreative offensive scheme and Aaron Rodgers’ injury, an inexperienced receiving corps was a big part of why this passing game underperformed in 2019. With his former #1 receiver Jordy Nelson let go last off-season and his former #2 receiver Randall Cobb limited to 466 snaps by injury, Rodgers locked on to new #1 receiver Davante Adams, targeting him 169 times (26.4% of the Packers’ pass attempts), 2nd most in the NFL. When his first option couldn’t get open and the pass protection broke down, Rodgers frequently threw the ball away rather than trying to force it to one of the young receivers, which is why he had so many throwaways. No other wide receiver even had half as many targets as Adams. 

Randall Cobb was not re-signed this off-season and the Packers did not bring in a replacement, so they’ll be counting on their young receivers to take a step forward. 2018 5th round pick Marquez Valdes-Scantling seems to have the best shot to do so. He was their de facto #2 receiver in 2018, finishing 2nd among Packer wide receivers with a 38/581/2 slash line and 691 snaps played. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see him have a bit of a 2nd year leap as he gains more experience with Rodgers. 

The Packers also have Geronimo Allison coming back, after being limited to a 20/303/2 slash line in 5 games by injury in 2018. The 2016 undrafted free agent is still unproven and his 302 receiving yards last season were a career high, but he was also on a 76/1156/8 pace through 4 games before getting hurt last season and his familiarity with Rodgers, now going into his 4th season with the team, works in his benefit. He could be Randall Cobb’s replacement on the slot and has plenty of opportunity to be productive in this offense.

In addition to taking Valdez-Scantling in the 5th round, the Packers also used 4th and 6th round picks in 2018 on wide receivers, taking J’Mon Moore and Equanimeous St. Brown respectively. Moore didn’t show much as a rookie, with just 2 catches, but St. Brown had a 21/328/0 slash line while playing 358 snaps and looks likely to open the 2019 season as the 4th receiver. If other receivers struggle, he could earn a bigger role in a still unsettled group behind Davante Adams.

Adams figures to continue to see the lion’s share of the targets once and will likely be among the league leaders in targets again. Despite facing plenty of double teams, Adams produced in a big way last season, with a 111/1386/13 slash line, setting new career highs across the board. Adams is a one-year wonder in terms of being as productive as he was last season, but he also had a 75/997/12 slash line in 2016, despite being the #2 receiver behind Jordy Nelson, and he had a 74/885/10 slash line in 2017, despite playing most of the year with a backup quarterback. Still only in his age 27 season, Adams figures to continue being one of the most productive receivers in the league again in 2019.

The Packers are also counting on getting more out of tight end Jimmy Graham, who they made the highest paid tight end in the league with a 3-year, 30 million dollar deal last off-season, but he’s going into his age 33 season and seems to be on the decline. Graham averaged a 90/1116/12 slash line per 16 games in his final 4 seasons in New Orleans and even averaged a 67/905/5 slash line per 16 games in his first 2 seasons in Seattle, but that average has dropped to 56/578/6 over the past 2 seasons and he’s not an effective run blocker either. I don’t expect him to be that much more productive in 2019 than 2018 and he could keep declining. 

With Graham owed a non-guaranteed 8 million in 2020, this could easily be his final season in Green Bay, so they used a 3rd round pick on Texas A&M’s Jace Sternberger. He’s unlikely to have a significant rookie year role though, especially since he’s very raw as a blocker. He’ll likely be the third tight end behind Graham and veteran blocking specialist Marcedes Lewis. This is still an unsettled receiving corps, but there’s some upside. 

Grade: B-

Running Backs

As mentioned, the Packers were one of the better running teams in the league last season. Part of that was Aaron Rodgers averaging 6.26 yards per carry on 43 carries, but lead back Aaron Jones also averaged 5.47 yards per carry on 133 carries. Despite that, Jones still barely got more carries than Jamaal Williams, who averaged just 3.83 yards per carry on 121 carries. Jones also finished 6th in the NFL with a 55% carry success rate, while Williams was 32nd out of 47 qualifiers at 45%. Jones saw more playing time as the season went on, but never went over 17 carries in a game. 

In an effort to handle a bigger load, Aaron Jones has gotten into better shape this off-season. That could also help him avoid injuries, as he’s been limited to just 24 games in 2 seasons in the league. The 2017 5th round pick has a 5.50 YPC average on 214 career carries and has legitimate breakout potential now in his 3rd season in the league if his new found stamina is for real. Williams, a 4th round pick in 2017, will likely remain involved as a change of pace back, despite just a 3.72 YPC average on 274 career carries. 

Williams is also a little bit better of a pass catcher with 52 career catches to 35 for Jones, and could be their primary passing down back. Neither back will be a big part of the passing game, however. Despite that, if Jones breaks out a dominant an early down runner, not having a good passing down back isn’t that big of a deal. If Jones does break out, the Packers would be wise to lean more on the running game after a very uneven 693/333 pass to run split in 2019. 

Grade: A-

Offensive Line

Offensive line play was also part of the problem last season. In addition to Rodgers’ 51 throwaways under pressure, he also took 49 sacks. That’s not entirely the offensive line’s fault, but that’s 15.5% of Rodgers’ 646 dropbacks that ended in a throwaway or sack, which is not the recipe for an effective offense. If their receiving corps takes a step forward and the offensive scheme is better, that will help, but they need their offensive line to take a step forward as well.

The problem was primarily their guard play. Left guard Lane Taylor made 14 starts and Byron Bell (9 starts), Justin McCray (5 starts), and Lucas Patrick (2 starts) all saw action at right guard, but they were all underwhelming at best. The Packers addressed the right guard position in free agency, giving Billy Turner a 4-year, 28 million dollar deal, but Taylor returns and looks likely to start, despite allowing a team high 8 sacks last season. 

Taylor has been better in the past, but has primarily been a reserve in his career, with 47 starts in 6 seasons in the league, and now he’s going into his age 30 season. He’ll likely continue being an underwhelming starter, with his biggest competition being second round rookie Elgton Jenkins, who wouldn’t necessarily be an upgrade. In addition, free agent acquisition Billy Turner isn’t a lock to be any better at right guard, despite his salary. A 3rd round pick in 2014, Turner never developed into a starter on his rookie deal, struggling in 14 starts in his first 4 seasons in the league, but he ended up starting for the Broncos last season when injuries struck and wasn’t bad. He made 7 starts at left guard and 4 starts at right tackle and his versatility is an asset, but he’s a one-year wonder in terms of being even an average starter and is already in his age 28 season. He was an overpay in free agency.

Left tackle David Bakhtiari was not the problem last season and, in fact, is one of the best left tackles in the entire NFL. A 4th round pick in 2013, he’s started 90 of 96 games in 6 seasons in the league and has been especially good in the past 3 seasons, finishing in the top-7 among offensive tackles on Pro Football Focus in all 3 seasons, including a first place finish in 2018. Still only going into his age 28 season, I see no reason to expect a dropoff from him.

This line will be bookended on the other side by right tackle Bryan Bulaga, who is going into his 10th season with the team. Bulaga was PFF’s 20th ranked offensive tackle in 2018 and has been an above average starter for years, but injuries and age are becoming a concern. He’s missed 45 games over the past 8 seasons and is now going into his age 30 season. He could start to decline in 2019 and could easily get injured again, in which case he’d likely be replaced by swing tackle Jason Spriggs again. 

Center Corey Linsley also remains as a starter. Despite only being a 5th round pick, Linsley has been a starter since his rookie season in 2014 (70 of 80 starts in 5 seasons in the league) and has finished in the top-15 among centers on PFF in 4 of 5 seasons, including a career best 6th in 2018. Still only going into his age 28, he should continue playing at a high level in 2019. Guard is still a position of weakness, but this is not a bad offensive line. 

Grade: B+

Edge Defenders

Firing Mike McCarthy last season was not the only major personnel change the Packers have made in the past couple years. They also relieved GM Ted Thompson of his duties after 13 years on the job and moved forward with new GM Brian Gutekunst last off-season. Thompson was notorious for sitting out free agency, in order to save his cap space to re-sign homegrown talent and to collect compensation picks. That strategy worked well when the Packers were consistently hitting on draft picks, but their drafts weren’t as good towards the end of Thompson’s tenure.

With Gutekunst in charge now, the Packers have been much more aggressive in free agency. They added Jimmy Graham on offense last off-season and then they added Billy Turner this off-season, but their biggest investments this off-season came on defense, where they added a trio of starters in Za’Darius Smith, Preston Smith, and safety Adrian Amos on big contracts. Za’Darius Smith and Preston Smith are edge defenders and fill a big need for the Packers who had just one edge defender with more than 3.5 sacks last season. They let long-time Packer Clay Matthews leave as a free agent and then released fellow veteran Nick Perry ahead of a 10.737 million dollar non-guaranteed salary in order to replace them with Za’Darius and Preston, who will form a 3-man rotation with Kyler Fackrell, their leading sack man last season with 10.5 sacks.

Both the Preston Smith and Za’Darius Smith signings look like overpays though, at 52 million over 4 years and 66 million over 4 years respectively, as neither has ever had a double digit sack season. Za’Darius came close last season with 8.5 sacks and he added 18 hits and a 13.1% pressure rate, but he struggled against the run and is a one-year wonder, with 10 sacks, 19 hits, and a 9.2% pressure rate in the first 3 seasons of his career. The 2015 4th round pick is still only going into his age 27 season and could keep playing well, but the Packers are taking a big risk paying him like an elite pass rusher. 

Preston Smith, meanwhile, is also coming off a career best year, even if it doesn’t show in his sack total (4 sacks, after 20.5 in his first 3 seasons in the league). He added 11 hits and an 11.3% pressure rate, played the run well, and finished 20th among edge defenders on Pro Football Focus. He’s a more complete player than Za’Darius and is more proven, but only had a 9.7% pressure rate in the first 3 seasons of his career, so he’s kind of a one-year wonder as well. Like with Za’Darius, Preston is in his age 27 season and the Packers are hoping he keeps getting better. The Smiths should be a solid starting duo for a team that had a weak spot on the edge last season, but it’s unlikely they’ll be the players the Packers are paying them to be.

On top of that, Kyler Fackrell wasn’t as good as his sack total last season suggested, adding just 2 hits and a 9.4% pressure rate, while struggling against the run. The 2016 3rd round pick has always struggled against the run, but he has a solid 10.4% pressure rate for his career and could be a solid situational pass rusher. He’s unlikely to come close to matching the 11 sacks he had last season though. 

Reggie Gilbert, a 2016 undrafted free agent, who played nondescript 487 snaps in the first significant action of his career last season, could also see snaps as the 4th edge defender, but the Packers are probably hoping he doesn’t have as big of a role as last season, after making a pair of big off-season additions at the position. They might have not have a standout edge defender, but this is a solid group.

Grade: B+

Interior Defenders

The Packers’ solid defensive performance last season was made more impressive by the amount of injuries they endured, finishing with the 3rd most adjusted games lost to injury on defense in the league. Injuries affected all levels of their defense. On the defensive line, interior defenders Kenny Clark and Mike Daniels are two of their best defensive players and they were limited to 10 games and 13 games respectively. 

Clark was dominant when on the field before his season ending elbow injury, finishing in the top-9 among interior defenders on Pro Football Focus for the 2nd straight season. He plays nose tackle in base packages and is a dominant run stuffer, but he’s also much more than that, with 10.5 sacks, 8 hits, and a 10.2% pressure rate in the past 2 seasons. A first round pick in 2016, Clark also flashed as a rookie and, still only going into his age 24 season, has a massive ceiling. It wouldn’t be a surprise if he kept getting better and at the very least he should remain one of the top interior defenders in the league for years to come if he stays healthy. 

Daniels, on the other hand, could be on the decline, going into his age 30 season, after an injury plagued 2018 season. Not only did Daniels missed 6 games with injury, but he wasn’t as good as he normally is either, earning middling grades from PFF, after 3 straight seasons in the top-30 among interior defenders from 2015-2017. It’s entirely possible he bounces back in 2019, still not totally over the hill, and that his down 2018 season was purely the result of numerous injuries, but the Packers reportedly plan to scale his snaps back this season (43.1 snaps per game over the past 5 seasons) and this could easily be his final season in a Green Bay uniform, hitting free agency next off-season. After making several big free agent signings this off-season, the Packers don’t have much long-term financial flexibility. 

Likely with the Mike Daniels situation in mind, the Packers used the 12th overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft on Michigan’s Rashan Gary, who could be Daniels’ long-term replacement. Gary is a freak athlete with a massive upside, but underwhelming college production and a questionable shoulder injury dropped Gary out of the top-10. He could prove to be a steal for the Packers, but he’s the definition of a boom or bust prospect. He’ll likely be a rotational player as a rookie. 

With Daniels missing time last season, Dean Lowry was 2nd on the team in defensive line snaps played with 698. He’ll likely have a smaller role in 2019 and isn’t a great pass rusher (8.7% career pressure rate), but the 2016 4th round pick has developed into a strong run stuffer and should continue having a role as a base package defensive end. 2017 3rd round pick Montravious Adams could also be in the mix, but he’s played just 278 underwhelming snaps in 2 seasons in the league and probably isn’t a lock for the final roster. With Clark and Daniels healthy and Gary coming in, this is a very strong group.

Grade: A

Linebackers

At middle linebacker in the Packers’ 3-4 defense, the Packers have one of two starting spots locked down, with Blake Martinez coming off of a season in which he made all 16 starts and finished 17th among off ball linebackers on Pro Football Focus. It was a career best year for him, but the 2016 4th round pick has gotten better in every season in the league and is still only going into his age 25 season. He could easily continue playing at a high level in 2019, which also happens to be the final year of his rookie deal. Assuming he has another strong year, someone will pay him as one of the top linebackers in the league next off-season. 

The other middle linebacker spot is a big question mark though. Antonio Morrison and Oren Burks were 2nd and 3rd on the team in snaps by a middle linebacker last season and both struggled on just 302 snaps and 126 snaps respectively. The Packers frequently used 3 safeties at once in obvious passing situations, dropping one of the safeties down closer to the line of scrimmage as a coverage linebacker, most commonly Josh Jones. With the Packers adding a pair of safeties this off-season, Jones is expected to move full-time to linebacker and the 6-2 220 pounder should remain a coverage specialist. The 2017 2nd round pick hasn’t shown much in 2 seasons in the league, but his ability to play in the box and cover backs and tight ends is valuable for a team that is so thin at linebacker.

With Jones working as a coverage specialist and Antonio Morrison no longer with the team, that makes Oren Burks the favorite to be the base package starter opposite Martinez. He was a 3rd round pick in 2018 and has upside, but his rookie season was horrible, as he was one of PFF’s lowest rated off ball linebackers, despite seeing very limited action. It wouldn’t be hard for him to be better in 2019, but he could still be a below average starter even if he does take a step forward. It’s a surprise the Packers did not address this position until the 7th round in the draft (TCU’s Ty Summers), especially with Martinez going into the final year of his rookie deal. 

Grade: C+

Secondary

The Packers’ most injury plagued position group last season was probably their secondary. As a result, they started 5 different players at cornerback, 6 different players at safety, while Tramon Williams, their only 16 game starter, made starts at both positions (9 at cornerback, 7 at safety). Williams wasn’t bad last season, but he’s going into his age 36 season and the Packers are hoping he’ll be a reserve in what could be a much improved group. 

At safety, the Packers added first round pick Darnell Savage (21st overall) and Adrian Amos, their third big off-season signing, who comes over from rival Chicago on a 4-year, 36 million dollar deal. Amos flew under the radar in a strong safety class in free agency, but he’s been one of the best safeties in the league over the past couple seasons. Only a 5th round pick in 2015, Amos made 56 starts in 4 seasons in Chicago, earning an above average grade from Pro Football Focus in all 4 seasons, including top-11 finishes in each of the past 2 seasons. In addition to filling a big need for them, Amos’ addition also weakens a division rival, so this was probably their best off-season move. He’ll start alongside Darnell Savage, a versatile safety who figures to be a week 1 starter as a rookie. 

At cornerback, the Packers didn’t make any big additions, but they’re hoping for better health, after starters Kevin King and Jaire Alexander were limited to 6 games and 13 games respectively last season. King dealt with injury problems as a rookie as well and the 2017 2nd round pick has missed more games (17) than he’s played (15) in his career. He also hasn’t played very well when on the field either, but he’s still only going into his age 24 season and still has potential if he can ever make it through a full season healthy. If not, they’d likely turn back to Tramon Williams.

Jaire Alexander and 3rd cornerback Josh Jackson are both young as well, going in the 1st and 2nd rounds respectively in 2018. Alexander went 18th overall and finished as PFF’s 32nd ranked cornerback in 11 rookie year starts, while Jackson was serviceable on playing 721 snaps in 16 games (10 starts). Both could easily take a step forward in their 2nd year in the league in 2019. This young cornerback group has a lot of potential if they can stay healthy and this secondary looks much improved overall.

Grade: B+

Conclusion

This team has a lot of potential if the passing game bounces back in a new offensive system, with young receivers going into their second year in the league. They should be able to run the ball and their defense was solid last season and could be even better this season, due to better health and several free agent additions. A bounce back from their passing game is not a guarantee though, due to Rodgers’ age, the inexperience of their receiving corps, and a potential clash looming between Rodgers and new head coach Matt LaFleur over play calling. On paper, this is one of the most talented teams in the league and this is one of the most complete teams Rodgers has ever had around him, but it wouldn’t surprise me if they disappointed. 

Prediction: 11-5, 1st in NFC North

Team Score: 77.40 (4th in NFL)

Offensive Score: 79.24

Defensive Score: 75.56

team score is based on a weighted average of individual player grades (certain positions valued higher than others, score out of 100)

Detroit Lions at Green Bay Packers: 2018 Week 17 NFL Pick

Detroit Lions (5-10) at Green Bay Packers (6-8-1)

The rule of thumb with the Lions in the Matt Stafford era is to take them against easier opponents and bet against them against harder opponents. They are just 20-41-2 against teams with a winning record since Stafford’s first full season in 2011 and, more recently, they went 1-11 against eventual playoff teams from 2016-2017, as opposed to 17-4 against non-playoff teams. This season, they are 1-7 against teams currently still in the playoff race and 4-3 in their other 7 games.

The Packers are not in the playoff race and the Lions beat them earlier this season, but they could have easily won that game if not for a career worst performance from kicker Mason Crosby. They’re also better than than record suggests, ranking 16th in first down rate differential at +0.60% and ranking even higher in my roster rankings, even with top defensive linemen Kenny Clark and Mike Daniels out and top cornerback Jaire Alexander likely joining him after not practice all week. They’ve underachieved offensively and lost some close games due to special teams screw ups (including the first Detroit game), but they’ve been better offensive since firing head coach Mike McCarthy and they could easily be in the playoff mix if they had won a couple of their close losses.

The Lions are also worse than they’ve been in recent years, thanks to a significant amount of personnel losses. Just in recent weeks, the Lions have lost right guard TJ Lang, running back Kerryon Johnson, wide receivers Golden Tate and Marvin Jones, defensive end Ezekiel Ansah, and defensive tackles Da’Shawn Hand and A’Shawn Robinson, among others. Given the talent gap between these two teams and the Packers history of dominance at home (38-19 ATS in games Aaron Rodgers has started and finished since 2011), I have this line calculated at Green Bay -10, so we’re getting a little bit of line value with the Packers, but not enough to bet money on them confidently, given how banged up their defense is.

Green Bay Packers 30 Detroit Lions 20

Pick against the spread: Green Bay -7.5

Confidence: Low

Green Bay Packers at New York Jets: 2018 Week 16 NFL Pick

Green Bay Packers (5-8-1) at New York Jets (4-10)

The Packers have the biggest home/road disparity in the league this season, going 5-1-1 at Lambeau, but 0-7 away from home. Now in New York facing the Jets, this is the Packers’ last chance to get a road win this season. Fortunately for the Packers, home/road disparities tend to be random more than anything. In fact, of the last 26 teams to have a home winning percentage 60% better than their road winning percentage this late in the season, 17 of them have covered in their next road game, including 6-2 ATS as road favorites like the Packers are this week. That’s not reason enough to take the Packers, but it shows we shouldn’t shy away from taking them on the road as favorites, despite their road struggles this far.

The Packers’ road struggles this season are probably keeping this line down, as the Packers are just 2.5-point favorites here in New York against the Jets. The Packers have underachieved and have serious injury problems, with defensive linemen Mike Daniels and Kenny Clark and running back Aaron Jones out of the lineup, among others, but I still have this line calculated at Green Bay -5.5, as the Jets are one of the worst teams in the league, giving us significant line value with Green Bay at -2.5.

On the season, the Jets rank 31st in first down rate differential at -5.99% and, while they’ve gotten quarterback Sam Darnold back from injury recently, they still have significant absences, with #1 receiver Quincy Enunwa, #1 running back Isaiah Crowell, solid right tackle Brandon Shell, and every down linebacker Darron Lee all out of the lineup. They’re also in a terrible spot with a trip to New England on deck, as teams are 22-46 ATS since 2016 before being double digit underdogs, which the Jets will almost definitely be next week. With nothing left to play for, it’s very possible the Jets could be looking ahead to that New England game next week, while the Packers should be focused with only an easy home game against the Lions on deck. At Green Bay -2.5, this is my Pick of the Week.

Green Bay Packers 24 New York Jets 17

Pick against the spread: Green Bay -2.5

Confidence: Pick of the Week

Green Bay Packers at Chicago Bears: 2018 Week 15 NFL Pick

Green Bay Packers (5-7-1) at Chicago Bears (9-4)

The Packers played arguably their best game of the season last week in their first game without long-time head coach Mike McCarthy, but the injuries have really started adding up for this team. Already without starting right tackle Bryan Bulaga, starting left guard Lane Taylor, dominant defensive lineman Mike Daniels, starting outside linebacker Nick Perry, and starting cornerback Kevin King, the Packers are likely also going to be without their other dominant defensive lineman Kenny Clark and replacement starting cornerback Bashaud Breeland, both of whom missed practice all week. The Clark injury in particular is a huge loss, but Breeland had been playing well too, in the absence of Kevin King, and they’ve lost a lot of depth in the secondary over the course of the season.

Despite those injuries and the Bears’ impressive victory over the Rams, this line shifted in Green Bay’s favor this week, going from Chicago -6 to Chicago -5.5. Casual bettors may think Green Bay’s issues are solved with McCarthy gone, but I’m not so sure about that and I don’t think casual bettors realize how banged up the Packers are right now, especially on the offensive and defensive lines. Given the state of the Packers’ roster right now, I have this line calculated at Chicago -7.5, so we’re getting good line value with the hosts.

The Bears might also still be a little underrated, even after last week’s big win, as that win was no fluke. Their 9-4 record is impressive, but they’re even better than that suggests, as their 4 losses came by a combined 14 points, including one game with a backup quarterback. Despite starting a backup quarterback for two games, the Bears still rank 1st in the NFL in first down rate differential at +6.49%, while the Packers are middle of the pack at +0.70%. At full strength, they’re much more talented than that suggests, but they’re far from that this week, so the Bears are worth a bet at -5.5.

Sunday Update: Bashaud Breeland and Lane Taylor will play for the Packers this week, but Kenny Clark is inactive, which is a huge loss. Without him and Mike Daniels on that defensive line, the Bears shouldn’t have much trouble moving the ball at home. I’m leaving this as a medium confidence pick.

Chicago Bears 27 Green Bay Packers 19

Pick against the spread: Chicago -5.5

Confidence: Medium

Atlanta Falcons at Green Bay Packers: 2018 Week 14 NFL Pick

Atlanta Falcons (4-8) at Green Bay Packers (4-7-1)

I picked the Falcons last week as 1-point home favorites against the Ravens because the Falcons were getting stud middle linebacker Deion Jones back from injury and the line didn’t seem to reflect that. The Falcons lost that game 26-16, but the defense was not the reason, as they allowed a first down rate of just 33.77%, after leading the league in first down rate allowed at 43.02% through the first 11 games of the season. The Falcons actually won the first down rate by 4.01%, but lost because they went 2-9 on 3rd down and 0-1 on 4th down.

As well as the Falcons’ offense has played this season, that’s unlikely to continue, so I think this team is still a little underrated. They have a top-10 offense (8th in first down rate at 39.44%) and their defense is more respectable with Jones back in the lineup. They’re also in a great spot this week. While they get to face the Cardinals next week, a game that should provide no distractions for the Falcons this week, the Packers have a rivalry game with the Bears in Chicago that they could be looking ahead to. Underdogs like the Falcons are 92-55 ATS since 2014 before being favorites when their opponent will next be underdogs.

All of this sounds like I’m going to be betting on the Falcons, but I’m not because the Packers have a significant talent advantage and may finally stop underachieving this week, after bottoming out with a home loss to the Cardinals that got Mike McCarthy fired. The Packers have consistently ranked high in my roster rankings and still rank 4th this week, despite injuries to key players like Bryan Bulaga and Mike Daniels, but are just 4-7-1 on the season. In past years, their issue has been defense, but they rank 15th in first down rate allowed at 35.83% and have standouts like Kenny Clark, Blake Martinez, and Jaire Alexander that are playing at Pro-Bowl levels.

The offense has been the bigger problem this season, as they rank just 18th in first down rate at 36.13%, despite having Aaron Rodgers under center for most of the season. Rodgers has had some young receivers this season, but he also has a legitimate #1 option in Davante Adams, a starting running back that is averaging 5.73 yards per carry, and a good pass protecting offensive line. He also has Randall Cobb back from injury as of last week and tight end Jimmy Graham still playing reasonably well despite a thumb injury. If this offense finally breaks through this week, the Packers could cover this 5-point line with ease, so I’m keeping this to a low confidence pick.

Green Bay Packers 31 Atlanta Falcons 27

Pick against the spread: Atlanta +5

Confidence: Low

Arizona Cardinals at Green Bay Packers: 2018 Week 13 NFL Pick

Arizona Cardinals (2-9) at Green Bay Packers (4-6-1)

It’s week 13 and the Packers are still undefeated at home and winless on the road. That’s a rare occurrence. In fact, the Packers join the 2009 Patriots as the only teams in the past 30 years to be undefeated at home and winless on the road this late in the season. Ordinarily, home/road disparities are more random than anything and if you look at all of the instances of teams being undefeated at home and winless on the road in week 8 or later in the past 30 years, you’ll see that those teams are 6-4 in their next home game and 5-8 in their next road game, which is about an average home/road disparity.

That being said, the Packers’ home dominance under Aaron Rodgers dates back many years, as he’s 37-18 ATS in Lambeau in games he’s started and finished since 2011, so returning home should be a real boost for a team that has played 4 of it’s last 5 games on the road against playoff contenders. The Packers also get a much easier opponent this week, as the Cardinals are arguably the worst team in the league, ranking dead last in first down rate differential at -8.79% and 31st in point differential at -138.

The Cardinals also have some injuries making them even worse. Starting cornerback Budda Baker should return from a two game absence, after getting in a full practice on Friday, but left tackle DJ Humphries did not get in a full practice this week and could easily be kept out for the second straight week for precautionary reasons, with the Cardinals’ season all but over. They also put their top linebacker Josh Bynes on injured reserve this week and could be without linebacker Haason Reddick, who barely practiced this week with a neck injury.

The Packers are also in a good spot too, with only another home game against the Falcons on deck, a game in which they are 7.5 point favorites on the early line. Teams are 90-56 ATS since 2014 as favorites of 6+ before being favorites of 6+ again, as superior teams tend to take care of business against inferior teams when they don’t have any upcoming distractions. I expect a strong effort from a Packers team that needs to win out to even have a chance at qualifying for the post-season.

Unfortunately, we’re not getting much line value with the Packers, as this line is pretty high at -14. It was at -11.5 a week ago on the early line, but the Cardinals getting blown out by the Chargers 45-10 shifted this line all the way up to 14, even with the Packers losing in Minnesota. Teams are 57-36 ATS since 2002 after a loss by 35+ points, as teams tend to be underrated, undervalued, and embarrassed in that spot, all three of which could be the case this week.

The Packers are better than their record, but they are too banged up coming into this game to bet them confidently as two touchdown favorites. Stud defensive lineman Mike Daniels remains out with an injury and left tackle David Bakhtiari, arguably the best left tackle in the game when healthy, could join him on the sidelines, after being limited in practice all week. The Packers could also once again be without defensive backs Bashaud Breeland, Kevin King, Kentrell Brice, and Raven Greene, leaving them very thin in the secondary. The Packers are the pick for pick ‘em purposes, but this is a no confidence pick.

Green Bay Packers 31 Arizona Cardinals 16

Pick against the spread: Green Bay -14

Confidence: None

Green Bay Packers at Minnesota Vikings: 2018 Week 12 NFL Pick

Green Bay Packers (4-5-1) at Minnesota Vikings (5-4-1)

The Packers haven’t lost at home this season, but they also haven’t won on the road. Now at 4-5-1, the Packers have their season on the line this week in Minnesota. If they lose this game, they’ll fall two games behind the Vikings for the final wild card spot and the Vikings will own the tiebreaker, so they’ll essentially be 3 games out of the playoffs with 5 to play. If they win this game however, they’ll own the tiebreaker with Minnesota and would be just a half game behind Washington (who is starting a backup quarterback) for the final wild card spot.

The good news for Packers fans is that home/road disparity tends to be more random than anything. This is the 19th instance of a team being winless on the road and undefeated at home in week 8 or later. The previous 18 are 9-9 in their next road game and 10-6-2 ATS. That alone isn’t a reason to take the Packers, but it shows you shouldn’t just blindly bet against the Packers just because they are away from home. Last week, I bet the Packers as 3-point underdogs in Seattle in a game they led throughout (including 14-3 in the first half), before the Seahawks eventually came back with a late drive and caused the line to push with a 3-point win.

Unfortunately, we’re not getting nearly as good as a line this week with the Packers, as they are once again 3-point underdogs, but against a much better team. While the Seahawks are a middling team, the Vikings are quietly a tough opponent. They had injury problems early in the season, but they are much healthier now, with players like defensive end Everson Griffen, running back Dalvin Cook, and linebacker Anthony Barr back from extended absences. The general public hasn’t caught on yet because they lost last week in Chicago, but the Bears are legitimately a top level team, so there isn’t much shame in that.

The Packers, meanwhile, are going the other way injury wise, losing stud defensive lineman Mike Daniels in the second half of their loss in Seattle, a big part of the reason why the Seahawks were able to mount a comeback late. Daniels doesn’t get a lot of attention, but he’s one of the better defensive linemen in the league, so his absence will certainly be felt. With that in mind, I like the Vikings a little bit this week. This line suggests these two teams are about even, but I have the Vikings slightly better in my roster rankings right now with Daniels out.

The Packers are in a better spot than the Vikings, as they have an easy game home against the Cardinals on deck, while the Vikings have another tough game in New England. Underdogs are 90-54 ATS since 2014 before being favorites when their opponent will next be underdogs. However, because this game is so big for both teams, I don’t expect the Vikings to be looking forward to that New England game much at all this week, so I’m not sure how relevant that trend is to this game. There isn’t enough here to bet them and this could easily end up another push, given how frequently games are decided by exactly a field goal (about 1 in 6), but the Vikings should be the right side.

Minnesota Vikings 27 Green Bay Packers 23

Pick against the spread: Minnesota -3

Confidence: Low