Looking for a promising Super Bowl dark horse in a season dominated by the Vikings, Colts and Saints?
Look no further than the banks of the Fox River in Green Bay, where the former
If the season ended today, the Packers would be in the playoffs as the No. 6 seed in the top-heavy NFC. Whether they will win the Super Bowl remains to be seen. But they definitely can win the Super Bowl. In fact, we like their chances.
Green Bay has been one of the great statistical anomalies all season -- it has put up great performances in many of our
Yet the Packers have struggled on the border of mediocrity for much of the season. Exactly one month ago, Green Bay was just 4-4 after suffering a humiliating 38-28 loss in Tampa, the only victory of the year for the Buccaneers.
But the loss appears to have been a wake-up call as bracing as the icy waters of the upper Michigan. Green Bay rolled over the Cowboys the following week and has won four straight. The Packers finish the season with three of their final four games on the road, including trips to face each of last year's Super Bowl contenders. So the road ahead is not easy. But an 11-5 record and a playoff appearance is well within reach.
If the Packers do reach the postseason, they'll be a tough out. In fact, here are five very good reasons Green Bay could unexpectedly reclaim its rightful place as TitleTown in the 2009 postseason.
But you can't win in January without strong play at quarterback. And Green Bay's
The sack situation has also improved dramatically in recent weeks: Rodgers has still been taken down more than any other quarterback this year (45 times), but he's been sacked just four times in the past three weeks.
Most interestingly, Rodgers is the top-rated cold-weather quarterback in the NFL this year, trailing only domers
As Rodgers showed Monday night, he can play well outdoors on a chilly evening, so he might just find the cozy confines of the New Orleans or Minnesota dome a welcome, stat-fattening change of pace in the postseason.
In fact, Green Bay is dominating the passing battle right now, with a +35.4 advantage in
The Vikings smoked the Packers twice this year by winning the passing battle, and they'll be favorites again should the two meet in January. But as we saw this Sunday in their loss to the Cardinals, the Vikings are very vulnerable on pass defense and it's reasonable to expect that Green Bay could finally exploit that weakness (24th in
Bottom line: superior play in the passing game usually spells victory, and right now only the Saints are winning the passing battles more convincingly than the Packers.
But since the NFL went to its new alignment in 2002, the bye week has lost its value. Three of the past four Super Bowl champions all played on wild-card weekend and you have to go all the way back to the 2003 Patriots to find a No. 1 seed that went on to win the Super Bowl.
Two recent Super Bowl champions, the 2005 Steelers and the 2007 Giants, did not play a single postseason game at home.
If the season ended today, the Packers would have to play all its postseason games on the road, but would open with a very winnable contest at Arizona. In fact, the two clubs could play two weeks in a row: Green Bay travels to Arizona for the season finale Jan. 3.
The truth, however, is dome teams do not enjoy an advantage over other teams. In fact, dome teams suffer an obvious disadvantage in the playoffs -- at least, you know, if you actually look at the evidence and not the mythology.
Home teams have won nearly 70 percent of every playoff game since the merger (232-108; .682). But dome teams actually underperform at home (25-15; .600). This year's dome powers, meanwhile, have been three of the worst home playoff teams in football, despite the alleged advantages of the dome.
• The Vikings were a perennial conference champion when playing outdoors. But they've gone just 5-4 at home since moving into the Metrodome and have never returned to the Super Bowl.
• The Saints are one of the least successful playoff teams in football and have gone just 2-3 at the Superdome in the postseason.
• The Colts are 4-3 at home in the playoffs since moving indoors and their postseason failures are legendary.
These teams are all better than Green Bay right now. But playing at home in a dome does not give them an extra advantage. If anything, the dome is a handicap: it seems that outdoor teams prosper when they move out of the elements and into the cozy, climate-controlled comfort of a dome.
Given those capabilities, it's no surprise that the better teams in our Defensive Hog Index are an amazing 20-2 in the playoffs since we created the indicator in 2007, while the No. 1 team in DHI has gone on to win the Super Bowl both seasons (2007 Giants, 2008 Steelers).
And, right now, in the wake of their Monday night win, the Packers are No. 1 in the Defensive Hog Index (tied with Philadelphia). That's a very positive indicator of future success.
The Green Bay defense is just 12th in scoring (19.1 PPG). But it looks built for the playoffs: it's No. 3 against the run (3.58 YPA), No. 3 at forcing opponents into Negative Pass Plays (11.3 percent of dropbacks end in a sack or INT) and No. 6 in third down (stopping opponents on 65.6% of attempts).
The Ravens got a good look at the effectiveness of Green Bay's Defensive Hogs Monday night: Baltimore suffered six Negative Pass Plays on 39 dropbacks (15.4 percent) and was held to just 66 rushing yards on 21 attempts (3.1 YPA), though it did convert nearly half its third downs (6 of 13).
None of this means the Packers will be favorites to reach the Super Bowl. None of this means they'll even make the playoffs. There's still a lot of football to be played. But it does mean this: the Packers do a lot of things that usually lead to postseason success quite well and they will boast key advantages against almost any opponent in January.
So don't bet against the Acme Packing Co. just yet.