Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Avoiding The Upset: Assessing The Packers

It's a good point that the top 2 seeds in both conference haven't advanced to their respective championship games since 2004. The odds favor at least one of the eight teams playing next weekend will make it to a championship game. Should the Packers be worried they might be the team that is upset this year?
Greg Bedard thinks the Broncos should be worried because they haven't beaten a 2014 playoff team since October (the Cardinals) while the Packers could have trouble stopping the Cowboy offense (he appears to assume they'll beat the Lions, which is a pretty safe assumption, and they won't face either the Cardinals or Panthers). I don't follow the Broncos closely so I have no idea about them. For the Packers, I'm looking at their last two home playoff losses (2011 and 2013) though they only had the bye week after the 2011 regular season.

The 2011 home playoff loss was really a weird game. QB Eli Manning went on an almost turnover free playoff run (only 1 INT vs. 9 TDs in 4 playoff games) that was unheard of in his usually turnover filled regular seasons. On the other hand, the 2011 Packers only had 14 turnovers in 16 regular season games before committing 4 turnovers in their one playoff game against the Giants. Also, the 2011 Packer pass defense was the worst in NFL history and they couldn't step up when the offense struggled. If whatever QB the Packers face this season goes off like Manning did in that game (and outplays Aaron Rodgers) and the Packers have a turnover margin of minus 3, then they'll probably lose to any playoff team they face at home. Both of those things are uncharacteristic for the 2014 Packers and unlikely to happen again.

The 2013 home playoff loss was Rodgers's second game back from his broken collarbone and he didn't look like himself in either of his last two games in 2013. He hadn't played in the previous several weeks and it looked like it. Also, it didn't help that WR Randall Cobb was still on a limited snap count after suffering a mid-season knee injury and the 49ers were the better team statistically (No. 7 overall according to Football Outsiders) and in terms of wins and losses. Rodgers's current calf injury doesn't compare to returning from a broken collarbone and whichever team they face in two weeks will have a worse or the same win-loss record and be statistically ranked below them overall according to FO. Also, his injury somewhat distracted from the fact that the Packer defense in 2013 was terrible (2nd to last that season according to FO). While the defense has been inconsistent this season, it's much better overall and a respectable No. 16 overall according to FO.

None of the factors that caused problems in recent home playoff losses should show up again this year. So long as Rodgers plays similar to as he's played in every other home game this season and the defense is respectable, they should be safe from any early playoff exit.

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