Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Just How Lucky Were The 2014 Packers?

No matter how it ended, I was very impressed that the Green Bay Packers improved over the course of the 2014 season. They started the season by getting beaten badly by the defending Super Bowl champs by 20 points, but they finished it by outplaying that same team in the same stadium, despite having a one-legged QB Aaron Rodgers. While they eventually collapsed in epic fashion in the NFC Championship game, the point is that they got better as the season went on and they finished as the best team that wasn't playing in the Super Bowl.

But here's the cloud hanging over that strong season.
The Packers went 5-0 in one-score games and they aren't likely to repeat that performance in 2015. However, six of the seven teams listed as likely to regress because of unsustainable performances in one-score games made the playoffs last year (except the 49ers) so they're in good company. So I was interested in these five games and just how lucky the Packers were last season.

September 14, home against the Jets. The Jets were one of the luckiest teams in 2013 and that good luck vanished last year. This was the Sheldon Richardson calls a time out game (also Tramon Williams was beaten for the touchdown, another reason why he's now playing for the Browns). The Packers had to come back from a 18 point deficit after playing very poorly in the first half. Also, a mid-game hamstring injury to WR Eric Decker was a big help. This easily could have been a loss.

October 12, away in Miami. After a strong defensive first half, the Dolphins started to run wild with three touchdown drives to open the second half. This game was getting away from them and Rodgers had to save them with a last second touchdown to TE Andrew Quarless. They did have the ball for almost 15 more minutes and had a +3 turnover margin.

November 23, away in Minnesota. Though this was a one score game, the Vikings never led and it never felt like the Packers were in danger. RB Eddie Lacy ran out the last 3:23 and the Vikings never got the ball back after a late touchdown made it a 3 point game. I can't imagine them losing this one.

November 30, home against the Patriots. While the Packers started out with a 13-0 lead, went for over 150 yards more yards from scrimmage, and possessed the ball for 13 minutes longer, the Patriots almost took the lead on a end zone pass to TE Rob Gronkowski. They outplayed the Patriots, but they almost let it slip away from them. This was similar to the game in Miami; the Packers were the better team but they easily could have lost.

December 8, home against the Falcons. This game shouldn't have been close after the Packers built a 24 point half time lead, but WR Julio Jones was uncoverable in the 2nd half and the Falcons got within one score with 2:22 remaining. Then the Packers ran out the clock. This would have been an epic collapse had they lost, but the Falcons (other than Jones) were outplayed the entire game.

Bonus one-score game, January 18, 2015, in Seattle for the NFC Championship. For all their one-score magic in 2014, it all came crashing down when the calendar turned to 2015. A 16-point lead vanished as the special teams collapsed (which eventually cost Shaun Slocum his job) and the defense fell apart late.

Despite that NFC Championship game failure, they aren't likely to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory every week either, and that series of unfortunate events in Seattle is not going to carry over into next season. But the truth is somewhere in the middle, and maybe they don't pull out that game against the Jets or Dolphins next year. Two more losses at 10-6 would have still gotten them a wild card spot with their head-to-head win over the Eagles. Maybe the 2014 season would have ended the same way even if (regular season) luck hadn't shined on them. But it's something to keep in mind if they have a couple more losses in 2015 though they're just as good.

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