If there’s any upside to losing the NFC North last year to the Minnesota Vikings, it’s probably that the Packers are looking at the easiest schedule in the NFL in 2016. Strength of schedule is calculated by combining the previous season’s winning percentages for every team’s opponents in 2016. The teams that Green Bay will play in 2016 finished 2015 with a combined 117-139 record, a mere 46% winning percentage.
Now, a large part of the schedule is not determined by the previous year’s division standings. Six games come against divisional opponents, four come against the teams in a division within your conference, and four come against teams within a division outside of your conference. For example, this season all NFC North teams will play each other, play all four teams in the NFC East, and all four teams in the AFC South.
Only two games are determined based upon where teams finish in their division. Those two games pit teams against their counterparts in the other intra-conference divisions which are not already on the schedule. Since the Packers took second place in the NFC North, they play the Falcons and the Seahawks, the second place finishers in the NFC South and the NFC West, respectively.
The Minnesota Vikings, on the other hand, must play the winners of those divisions, the Panthers and the Cardinals. Other than playing each other, this marks the only difference in opponents between the Packers and the Vikings, but it is a significant difference. These were the two best teams in the NFC last season, meeting to duke it out in the NFC Championship. The Vikings sit in the middle of the league in terms of difficulty of schedule in 2016, with their opponents finishing at a combined 125-131, or a 49% winning percentage.
Apart from losing the division, the Packers can thank NFL scheduling for their weak slate as well. With the NFC North pulling the NFC East and the AFC South as divisional opponents in 2016, they’re getting to face the two worst divisions in the NFL last year. The AFC South finished with a combined 39% winning percentage and the NFC East finished at 41%.
The end result, part luck of the draw and part losing the divisional crown, is that the Packers, at least on paper, have the easiest road to the playoffs of any team in the league. Of course, 2016 is a new season. Some teams will ascend and others will drop. There’s little reason to expect that when it is all said and done that the Packers will have had the easiest schedule, but it certainly appears to be an easier road than they’ve had in the past few seasons.
The question is whether this will actually aid the Packers in a post-season run. Barring an injury to Aaron Rodgers, nearly everyone who follows the NFL will expect the Packers to make the playoffs. Green Bay has made the playoffs seven years in a row, going back to 2009. Will the Packers really be better served by an easier road, then? Will the team look less battle tested as it marches toward the playoffs? Or will the team, especially the offense, regain its swagger as it cruises to victory after victory? Only time will tell.——————
Taylor O\'Neill is a Packer fan born and raised in Oshkosh, WI. He currently lives in Florida and is pursuing his PhD. Taylor is a writer with PackersTalk.com. You can follow him on Twitter at @TaylorONeill87 for more Packer news.