GREEN BAY – Strength of schedule is a funny metric in the NFL, and it sure can change quickly.
When the league's 2022 schedule was released back in May, the typical exercise of ranking teams' strength of schedule based on the opponents' winning percentages from the previous season placed the Packers at 22nd – in the bottom third in terms of difficulty.
The combined .478 winning percentage of Green Bay's 17 opponents also ranked as the fourth easiest schedule of the 14 playoff teams from 2021. The biggest reason for that low number was nobody else in the NFC North finished above .500 last season, and division opponents count for six of the 17 games.
However much that meant before the season started is debatable at best. Now? It means even less.
Because two games into the new season, there are six 2-0 teams in the NFL, and five of them are on the Packers' schedule, beginning Sunday at Tampa Bay. None of the five foes – Buccaneers, Giants, Bills, Eagles, Dolphins – visit Lambeau Field, either. Four of the games are on the road, and the Giants game is in London.
If that doesn't take the traditional strength-of-schedule metric and toss it in the garbage, nothing does. Granted, a lot could change regarding the 2-0 Eagles between now and the Packers' visit to Philly in late November. Same with the 2-0 Dolphins between now and Christmas.
But that slate of opponents over the next three months also doesn't include the defending Super Bowl champion Rams (1-1), last year's AFC No. 1 playoff seed Titans (0-2), or a Vikings team (1-1) that beat the Packers two weeks ago.
The point is, with teams like the Giants and Dolphins off to surprising 2-0 starts, and with the Bills not just winning but dominating two of last year's best teams, there's a lot less to like about this Packers slate than at first glance in the spring.
None of that matters right now, of course. The Buccaneers are top of mind, and with Tom Brady backed by one of the league's best defenses, the Packers and Aaron Rodgers have known all along this game would be a major challenge.
With both teams banged up and the Sunday forecast in Tampa calling for a high of 90, it could be a battle of attrition in the Florida heat, though with a 4:25 p.m. ET kickoff, it shouldn't be scorching hot in the fourth quarter with the sun setting by then.
The early stages of the game are the Packers' biggest concern, at least defensively, and not because of the weather. Green Bay allowed both Minnesota and Chicago to drive for touchdowns on their opening possessions in the first two games.
"We haven't started fast the past couple of weeks," safety Adrian Amos said. "Usually the offense has a script, a couple of plays dialed up already. We just have to be better with handling those, get out there and get off to a great start."
That would certainly help Rodgers & Co.
"I think it's really important for our defense to come out and have a real solid performance on the road and set the tone for us," Rodgers said. "Offensively we're going to have to take care of the football and be methodical at times if we have to be – high completion percentage, and then be able to run the ball."
Strange as it sounds with two future Hall of Famers taking the snaps, it very well could be the running games, and run defenses, that decide this contest.
As for the Rodgers vs. Brady matchup, their fifth as opposing QBs, here are some statistical nuggets to set the stage, courtesy of NFL Research:
- This will be the first game in league history in which both starting QBs have won at least three Associated Press NFL MVP awards prior to the meeting. Rodgers has four MVPs and Brady three. It will be the 17th game (including playoffs) between QBs with at least two MVPs prior to the matchup.
- This is the first time since 2014 that neither Rodgers (94.5) nor Brady (82.8) has a passer rating in the triple digits through the first two games of a season. Later that year, the two faced one another for the first time, with Rodgers getting his lone head-to-head win over Brady on his way to his second MVP. Brady's Patriots went on to win the Super Bowl.
- This will mark the fifth time in the last 15 seasons that the previous year's leader in passer rating faces the previous year's leader in touchdown passes. Rodgers led the NFL in passer rating in 2021 (111.9) while Brady led in TD passes (43). Three of the previous four matchups involved one of these QBs, as Rodgers (rating leader in '11) faced Drew Brees in 2012, Brady (TD leader in '15) faced Russell Wilson in 2016, and Rodgers (TD leader in '16) faced Matt Ryan in 2017.