The Green Bay Packers returned from their bye week at full strength. They'll need every advantage imaginable to navigate the five-game gauntlet that starts on Sunday at Los Angeles.
The Rams are 7-0 and looking like the class of a loaded NFC. After that, it's a trip to the East Coast to face the Patriots, who are 5-2 and have recovered from a slow start to win four in a row and assume their usual place among the AFC's prime contenders. Green Bay then returns home to face Miami, which is 4-3. Then, it's two more road games - at Seattle, which is 3-3 and winners of three of its last four games, and Minnesota, which is 4-2-1 and winners of three straight.
After going 3-2-1 against teams with a combined record of 17-21-1, their next five opponents are 23-10-1.
"We're going to have to play better," quarterback Aaron Rodgers acknowledged. "We're going to have to play a lot better than we have to win those games. This is an important stretch in our season. I'm not going to say it's going to define our season but it's definitely going to shake things out when we get on the other side of this and get back home in six weeks on where we're at in the race and what we're playing for."
The Packers were a model of inefficiency in their six games before the bye. By all sorts of measurements, they're one of the top teams in the league. Offensively, they rank fourth in total yards, including fourth in passing. Defensively, they rank eighth in yards allowed, including fifth against the pass. But where it matters - the scoreboard - they've been as mediocre as their record would indicate. Green Bay is No. 16 in scoring, due in large part to problems on third down (No. 13) and the red zone (tied for No. 19). And it's No. 15 in scoring defense, due in large part to its red-zone woes (No. 23).
"If you want to be a competitive team that's playing in January, you've got to win some of these games," Rodgers said.
The challenge at Los Angeles is almost overwhelming. The Rams have been dominant from nearly every perspective. They are No. 2 in total offense, No. 7 in total defense and plus-6 in turnovers. Added together, they've outscored their opponents by 15.3 points per game.
"It's a stretch, but for us, it's one week at a time," cornerback Tramon Williams said. "We know that we have an undefeated Rams team this week, who a lot of people think are unbeatable. But as a player, your mind-set is always set differently. Obviously, we know they're beatable at some degree. But they are a tough team. Everything they're advertised to be, they are. And we haven't been who we say we were. We're still working on that. But we feel confident about our chances."
SERIES HISTORY: 93rd regular-season meeting. Series tied, 45-45-2. In games played in Los Angeles, the Rams hold an overwhelming 24-7-1 advantage. The Packers have won five straight, most recently a 24-10 win over the St. Louis Rams at Lambeau Field in 2015.