In an NFL where parity and unpredictability reign supreme, the Packers are an analyst’s best friend this season.
If anything is certain, it seems to be that they are the unchallenged favorites to hoist the Lombardi trophy and add another championship belt to Aaron Rodgers’ famous waistline. And it isn’t just common sense that backs this up. Beyond the eye-test, the undefeated record, and the fact that Rodgers & Co. is clearly dominating the field, statistical trends also indicate that the Packers will repeat as Super Bowl Champions.
Of the last five Super Bowl winners, only two win-loss records after the first nine games have resulted in a trip to Disneyland. The 2010 Packers, 2008 Steelers, and 2007 Giants all found their way to the glory after a 6-3 record after nine games. The 2009 Saints and 2006 Colts did so after going undefeated in their first nine games. If this strange pattern continues, this year’s field of Super Bowl hopefuls becomes the Packers (9-0 after nine games), Patriots, Ravens, Giants, Lions, Bears, Bengals, Saints, and Steelers (all 6-3 after nine games). Sorry Jim Harbaugh, this isn’t the 49ers’ year. Other notable teams that fall outside of these thresholds include the Texans, Cowboys, and all of the AFC West, of course.
The Super Bowl has not been immune to the cliché of being part of a “quarterback-driven league”. Quarterbacks of Super Bowl Champions over the last five years seem to fall into two distinct classes –the explosive offensive weapons, including Rodgers (2010: 65.7% comp. and 101.2 QB rating), Brees (2009: 70.6% comp. and 109.6 rating), and Peyton Manning (2006: 65% comp. and 101.0 QB rating), and the game managers, including Roethlisberger (2008: 59.9% comp. and 80.1 QB rating) and Eli Manning (2007: 56.1%, 73.9 Rating). Amazingly, almost all of the quarterbacks on the teams still in consideration for this year’s Super Bowl based on these trends fall within similar statistical categories. This year, Brady, Manning, Rodgers, and Brees all have numbers comparable to the explosive group. Stafford, Cutler, Flacco, and Dalton all possess similar numbers to the game managers. Only the Steelers are eliminated in the Quarterback trend, for Roethlisberger falls between these benchmarks.
The 2007 Giants, much like the Tyree catch that ruined the Patriots’ undefeated season, defy all odds. However, the other four of the last five Super Bowl Champions share a very distinct quality –they were all either first or second in the league in points allowed or points scored, and in the top five in point differential. The 2010 Packers boasted the second best defense, the 2009 Saints the best offense, the 2008 Steelers the best defense, and the 2006 Colts the second best offense. As much as pundits like to claim that balance is the key to football success, trends show that it is more important to be dominant on one side of the ball and to not win a lot of close games. This trend in Super Bowl success eliminates most of the remaining teams. Only the Saints and the Packers fall within the criteria. The 2011 Packers are first in points scored and first in point differential, while the Saints are second in points scored and fourth in point differential.
The Saints and the Packers, a potential NFC Title matchup, are not favored equally by Super Bowl history. The Packers seek back-to-back championships. This isn’t as uncommon as one might think. In fact, it’s occurred eight times in the Super Bowl Era. The Patriots (03,04), Broncos (97,98), Cowboys (92,93), 49ers (88,89), Steelers (78,79 and 74,75), Dolphins (72,73), and Packers (66,67) have all earned the title of champion in consecutive seasons. The Saints, on the other hand, are hoping to win a Super Bowl two years removed from their last championship. This has only happened twice in Super Bowl history. The Cowboys won in 1993 and 1995, and the Patriots won in 2001 and 2003.
In short, this overwhelming concoction of statistics and trending displays what any of us could guess with our two eyes and football sense –all signs point to Green Bay as the haven for our next Super Bowl parade. But, if ever there were a year to hold out on buying the confetti and expecting the unexpected, it is 2011 in the NFL.
Already this season, odds, predictions, and what NFL experts take for granted have been shattered and redefined. The Bengals, Bills, Lions, and 49ers are ALL relevant. When was the last time that happened? Tim Tebow won a football game in this “quarterback-driven league” while completing two passes. In Week 10, the NFC West (aka the NFC Worst) went 4-0. Philip Rivers, considered elite class, has 15 interceptions. Jay Cutler, the much maligned, has only six. Also, let’s not forget that Cam Newton and Andy Dalton are having incredible rookie seasons that no one predicted –no one.
Welcome to the beauty of the NFL. Even when all signs point to one result, fans are often treated to hundreds of predictable moments along the way. Does it look as if the Packers will win the Super Bowl? Yes. Do all statistics, experts, and game-tape seem to suggest that the Packers are championship-caliber? Absolutely. And for that reason, I’m more confident than ever that someone else will win the big game. It’s never that easy in the NFL. Just ask Ryan Leaf, the 2007 Patriots, and this year’s “Dream Team”.
That’s why they play the games.