That could be great news for the Green Bay Packers, who dominated the indicator in 2011, much like they did in 2010. In fact, Green Bay has finished No. 1 in Passer Rating Differential six times since 1960. It has won the NFL championship or Super Bowl all six years.
The Packers dominated Passer Rating Differential nearly wire to wire this season. They gained the No. 1 spot in Week 5 and never let go. If there is a problem, though, it's that the Packers have been on a downward statistical slide the past month and a half. Green Bay's Passer Rating Differential peaked in Week 11, at +51.7. It's dropped nearly 10 points over the final six weeks of the season.
It's not a good sign. And there is an unsettling historic precedent for a team that dominated the way Green Bay did in 2011 but then tumbled in similar fashion: the 2007 Patriots. In fact, if you created a line graph tracking the week-by-week Passer Rating Differential of both the 2007 Patriots and the 2011 Packers, you'd see them follow similar patterns. The decline for the Patriots was more dramatic, from a higher high to a lower low, but very similar.
Meanwhile, New Orleans has climbed rapidly up the PRD charts in recent weeks. The Saints enter the playoffs No. 2 with a bullet and could get a rematch with the Packers, this time in the NFC Championship game. What other teams are streaking into the playoffs and who's backing in? Here are four that have displayed distinct statistical trends entering the Super Bowl tournament.
New Orleans: red hot and rising
The Saints are truly peaking right now when measured via Passer Rating Differential. There has been very little volatility in the team's passing attack, thanks to the steady hand of Drew Brees.
The team's Offensive Passer Rating actually peaked at 112.5 after the Week 1 game vs. Green Bay and bottomed out at a 97.0 Offensive Passer Rating in Week 7, after the shocking loss at Tampa (the Saints fell to 4-2). That is a very narrow band over the course of the season -- a very low delta, as statisticians might say.
But the Saints passing offense has been on a slow but steady increase since that Tampa loss. New Orleans ended the season with a 110.5 Offensive Passer Rating, just shy of its peak. The +24.1 performance and No. 2 ranking in PRD entering the playoffs are the team's best marks of the season.
The Saints are clearly peaking right now, especially at home, as they welcome the high-powered Lions into the Superdome on Saturday.
Pittsburgh: peaking defensively
The bad news for Pittsburgh is that wounded quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has been limping around as awkwardly as a 19th-century Paris bell ringer in recent weeks.
The good news is that the Steelers are peaking defensively right now, with a season-best 71.8 Defensive Passer Rating. The team has improved steadily since its humiliating Week 1 loss to Baltimore -- you might remember many of the "pundits" saying the Pittsburgh defense looked old and slow. But it's been downright dominant down the stretch.
Pittsburgh's regular-season ending PRD of +17.9 is just 3.0 points off its season-best of 20.9 in Week 15.
The Offensive Passer Rating has declined in recent weeks with the Big Ben injury (OPR was as high as 95.6 in Week 15), so that injury is really the explanation for the decline there. But if a proven Super Bowl quarterback can regain full health, the Steelers and that defense look like a very dangerous team heading into the playoffs.
Atlanta: peaking but not impressing
The Falcons are definitely peaking right now. Atlanta ends the season with its top marks of the year in Offensive Passer Rating (91.1) and Passer Rating Differential (+7.8), and one of its best marks of the year in Defensive Passer Rating (83.3).
The only problem for Atlanta is that it's peaking off a low plateau by the standards of NFL champions. It's No. 11 ranking and +7.8 performance in PRD puts the Falcons well outside the championship-winning mainstream.
Only eight champions since 1940, and only three of 45 Super Bowl champions, produced a PRD of less than +7.8. So a Super Bowl title for the Falcons is possible -- just not likely.
Detroit: wheels falling off the wagon
If you're looking for a team that's been fizzling out in Passer Rating Differential, the hard-luck Lions are your team -- which makes sense based on their hot start (5-0) and relatively humble year-end record (10-6)
The Lions peaked in Offensive Passer Rating in Week 2 (118.9) and they peaked in both Defensive Passer Rating (60.0) and Passer Rating Differential (+53.2) in Week 3.
They enter the playoffs with their worst Defensive Passer Rating of the season (82.1) and a Passer Rating Differential (+15.2) that's way below their early-season highs. The Lions ranked no worse than No. 4 in PRD through Week 13. They're No. 7 today.