Packers-Cardinals: It's the Schedule, Stupid

Tom DavisCorrespondent IJanuary 5, 2010

GLENDALE, AZ - JANUARY 03:  Cornerback Josh Bell #26 of the Green Bay Packers runs out to the field before taking on the Arizona Cardinals during the NFL game at the Universtity of Phoenix Stadium on January 3, 2010 in Glendale, Arizona. The Packers defeated the Cardinals 33-7.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

The most common argument I've heard to diminish the accomplishments of the Packers, and to back up the Cardinals, is the following: "Yeah, the Packers are 11-5, but they haven't played anyone all year."

This has been thrown around, both by fans and commentators, as fact. But, when compared to the Cardinals, the Packers' schedule has been pretty rigorous.

I'd like to go through both teams' schedules piece by piece. Both teams went 4-2 against their own divisions. The NFC West, apart from the Cardinals, was 14-34. The NFC North, apart from the Packers, was 21-27. Neither are great records, but Green Bay's division is better, and both teams performed equally.

In addition, both teams played the the other's entire division. The Packers went 4-0 against the NFC West, while the Cardinals went 3-1 against the NFC North. Even taking away the game the two played against each other, in which Arizona chose to rest starters, the records are equal.

In addition, both teams played an AFC division. The Packers went 2-2 against the AFC North, which had a combined 33-31 record. The Cardinals went 2-2 against the AFC South, which had a combined 38-26. Slight edge to Arizona.

Finally, both teams played two more teams, the teams in the NFC East and NFC South that finished in the same position as they did the previous year (for the Cards, first, for the Packers, third). Green Bay beat Dallas, and lost to creamsickle-clad Tampa Bay, while Arizona beat the Giants, and lost to Carolina. Once again, a tie in performance, and what would be a slight edge in combined record of opponents to Arizona (Dallas and Tampa were a combined 14-18, whereas Carolina and New York both finished 8-8).

Altogether, seems like Arizona and Green Bay have had comparable schedules, right? Well, let's take a look at some other stats. How about games against playoff teams?

The Packers played twice as many as the Cardinals: six (Minnesota twice, Dallas, Arizona, Cincinnati, and Baltimore) to three (Green Bay, Minnesota, and Indianapolis).

The Packers have three wins in those games (Dallas, Arizona, and Baltimore) to Arizona's one (Minnesota).

Now, how about record against teams with winning records for the year? Arizona is 2-2, having beaten Minnesota and Houston and having lost to Green Bay and Indianapolis. Green Bay is 3-4, having beaten Dallas, Arizona and Baltimore and having lost to Minnesota twice, Cincinnati, and Pittsburgh.

Note that Green Bay has played twice as many playoff teams, and nearly twice as many winning teams as Arizona. And though Green Bay has a comparable record to Arizona in those types of games, Green Bay is the team with the supposedly suspect schedule.

Now, I can't say with any amount of certainty what will happen this weekend. Green Bay has played at Arizona in preseason-style matchups twice this year, and was winning at halftime of both games by the respective scores 38-10 and 26-0, stats I would hope would bode well for Green Bay.

Whatever may happen, contrary to what you hear from the talking heads out there, the Packers' season has brought them far more playoff-quality opponents than Arizona's has, and they will be well prepared to start postseason football on Sunday.