The NFL’s decision to add a 17th regular-season game next year means that not only do the Green Bay Packers have to face the Kansas City Chiefs in the newly minted Week 18, but also it now means they will play nine different playoff teams from last season. We have seen some consternation from fans because of this, but does it necessarily warrant the panic?
The NFL has more parity than almost every other sports league in America. Though the Packers’ 2021 schedule may look daunting, consider who they are playing and their likelihood of returning to the postseason.
Sure, many of these teams belong in the upper-echelon of the league:
- The Chiefs are the most dangerous team they will face next year. The Packers re-signed Kevin King despite his poor performance in the NFC Championship, and now he’ll be lining up across from the likes of Tyreek Hill and the underrated Demarcus Robinson.
- The Seattle Seahawks will always be a threat as long as Russell Wilson is under center. DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett are capable of putting up points against Green Bay’s unimproved secondary could.
- The Saints will be without Brees, but they still are a well-coached team that features Micheal Thomas and Alvin Kamara. Last year Kamara torched the Packers with a 52-yard touchdown that resulted from a checkdown.
And yes, having just these teams on a schedule is daunting enough, but the Packers will also face off against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Baltimore Ravens, the Los Angeles Rams, Washington, and Cleveland.
- The Steelers have a great defense, and all they have to do is cover Davonta Adams, making the Packers’ offense one-dimensional.
- The Ravens are a threat for the same reason. They have a great secondary that can shut down Adams. Plus, they have the 2019 MVP, Lamar Jackson, under center.
- The Browns have great receivers like Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry and a blueprint from last year’s NFC Championship on beating the Packers’ secondary.
- The Rams added Matthew Stafford, who should elevate an already potent offense, and they have one of the best young coaches in the league.
- And while Washington had a losing record last year, they play in a pitiful division and are the most improved NFC East team. Curtis Samuel’s signing adds the missing dynamic they needed to their offense, and they look like a complete team heading into next season.
But teams like the Chicago Bears, now led by Andy Dalton, will probably struggle to make the postseason again. The New Orleans Saints could very well take a step back because of Drew Brees’ retirement, and Washington had a losing record last year. And the Cleveland Browns, an organization that had not made the playoffs in nearly two decades, are a wild card.
Yes, many of the teams that made the playoffs last season should be there again. Eight of the 14 teams that made the postseason in 2019 returned in 2020. This ratio would be even higher considering that both teams that made the playoffs thanks to the added wild card spot, the Indianapolis Colts and the Bears, did not qualify for the postseason two years ago. If the playoffs had not been expanded last season, it would mean that 66% of teams that made the postseason in 2019 qualified again last year.
But hear me out before you become concerned with their upcoming schedule. The Packers are essentially going into 2021 with the same team they fielded last year, and due to their salary cap crunch, there were no big free-agent signings this year (although that’s not unusual). They seem so close to a Super Bowl yet also so far away. With these nine different playoff teams, 10 if you count playing the Bears twice, a little anxiety is understandable.
We need to take a step back, exhale, and calm down. We are talking about the Packers, a team that has made the NFC Championship two years in a row. Although there haven’t been many improvements to the roster, there weren’t many major changes after the 2019 season either. Green Bay has built a team that is capable of beating playoff teams. So what is the difference between beating a playoff team in 2020 and 2021?
The number of playoff teams on the schedule is misleading. There will be two extra playoffs again this year, and another game has been added to the regular season. From this perspective, playing nine different playoff teams is much less frightening, especially when you consider that the Bears were the 7-seed and the Packers play them twice.
Sure, seeing teams like the Chiefs, Seahawks, and Saints on your schedule is enough to make any NFL fan sigh, but there is no need to lose it. Nothing is guaranteed, and we need to remember that, despite the heartbreaks, the Packers have still been near the top the last two years.