After a confounding Week 1 that nobody needs to talk about, the Green Bay Packers finally appear to be off to a good start. A convincing (second half) win over the Detroit Lions, a nail-biter against the San Francisco 49ers, and a solid margin of victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers puts the team at 3-1 and back atop the NFC North where they belong.
Now that the good vibes have returned, it is easier to get a more complete (and optimistic) picture of the Packers forecast this season. The most obvious assumption is that the team will remain in pole position in the NFC North. Barring a surge by the Minnesota Vikings — who I had the privilege of seeing lose in person last week — Green Bay is poised to enter the playoffs as a division winner. However, they may not be the No. 1 seed like last season.
This is a good Packers team. However, we may not see a dominant force like last year’s squad. In fact, this current iteration of Green Bay is much more reminiscent of the 2019 team.
Remember the 2019 Packers? The team that seemed to narrowly win more often than not trudged their way to a 13-3 record in Matt LaFleur’s first season as a head coach and made it to the NFC Championship? Many signs are pointing towards the 2021 Packers similarly navigating this season.
To start, both teams were 3-1 after the first four games of the year. The 2019 Packers didn’t lose until Week 4 but displayed a similarly putrid Week 1 offensive showing in a paltry 10-3 win over the Bears. Green Bay couldn’t even muster a single touchdown in a lopsided loss to the New Orleans Saints three weeks ago. I wrote a few weeks ago about how the Packers tend to start the season slow on at least one side of the ball, and it was slow offensive starts for both teams in these odd-numbered years.
Both teams picked up the offensive slack in Week 2. The 2019 team would score 21, 27, and 27 in its next three games. Green Bay has put up 35, 30, and 27 in the last three weeks. Something could be said about how the lack of preseason reps hamper the offense in the onset, though the Packers had no problem hanging 40-plus on the Vikings in the 2020 season opener. Maybe it’s just an odd-year thing, where the offense is bad to start the odd years, and the defense is bad to start the even years. However, the excuse in 2019 was that it was the first year of LaFleur’s new offense. There is no excuse for poor offensive performance this year.
Where the true comparisons can be drawn is in the average margin of victory and expected win-loss. The 2019 Packers finished the season with an expected win total of 9.7, and they wound up winning 13 games. They overachieved their win-totals by 3.3, which seems to be a significant number. Their average margin of victories was 8.76 in 2019, so just over a one-possession game. They had some big wins, but many games came down to the wire.
Green Bay has an average margin of victory of 10 points in their three wins this season. This still shakes out to be a two-possession lead, and each of the games this year has seen the Packers give the fans a few nervy moments. Remember, the team was losing to the Lions at halftime in Week 2, only to see Joe Barry’s defense step up and shut out Jared Goff and the Detroit offense for the rest of that game en route to an 18-point victory. Green Bay’s expected win total currently sits at 1.9, which seems to be fair considering they narrowly ripped the win away from Jimmy Garoppolo and the 49ers in Week 3.
The Packers have yet to put away a compelling performance, even with a W over the Pittsburgh Steelers this last weekend. They’re winning games, but not to the degree that would cause fans to completely relax during what should be routs against inferior clubs. The bevy of injuries doesn’t help matters, but wins are ultimately what matters.
Until Green Bay gets a completely healthy roster and new defensive coordinator Barry gets fully acclimated to the personnel, expect a string of close games to continue. The talent level in the NFL is high across the board, save for the New York teams, so the Packers should be repeatedly tested until they get their All-Pro and Pro Bowl-caliber players back. Until then, expect some more nervy games and a few grey hairs.