December 13, 2011

Who Can Beat The Green Bay Packers?

     The Green Bay Packers have not lost in their last 19 games.  Which of course means that all the sports experts are looking for teams that can beat them.  Some say it's the New Orleans Saints, because they have the offense to keep up with Aaron Rodgers and Company.  Some say it's the San Francisco 49'ers, because they play great defense and don't turn the ball over.
     I decided to take a slightly different approach.  Rather than looking at teams they could play in the future, I looked at the teams they already played.  Specifically, I went to find stats that the four teams who came within 7 points of beating the Packers had in common (Giants, Chargers, Vikings, Panthers).  The three stats I chose are combined into the Packer Factor, a measure of how well-suited a team is for playing against Green Bay.  The four aforementioned teams were all in the top ten of the league in these stats:

Most Rushing TD

     Why did this stat show up?  Most likely, it's because it signifies a team's ability to get near the end zone and then capitalize on the opportunity.  The Packers like to play a "bend but don't break" defense.  They'll let you gain a lot of yards, but they turn a lot of those long drives into turnovers or field goals.  Teams with a strong red zone rushing presence will have a strong chance against Green Bay.

Panthers:  1st
Vikings:  T-2nd
Giants:  T-6th
Chargers:  10th

Most All-Purpose Yards

     Green Bay scores a lot of points.  If you want to have any shot at beating them, you have to gain yards, in any way possible.  In the past few years, the Packers have been susceptible to big kickoff and punt returns, so a team with the ability to move the ball with returns, passing, and running will fare much better.

Panthers:  4th
Giants:  5th
Chargers:  6th
Vikings:  8th

Most Yards Allowed per Pass Attempt

     Yes, you read that correctly.  The four teams being studied all gave up a lot of yards for every pass the opponent threw.  What could it mean?  It probably means that the Packers' offense does not play as well against a defense that mimics their own.  Aaron Rodgers is very good at picking up the blitz, so the best way to play against him is to sit back, let him complete short and medium-length passes, take away the possibility of a big play, and hope he makes a mistake.

Panthers:  1st
Vikings:  3rd
Giants:  6th
Chargers:  10th

     Adding up a team's rank in each category gives the Packer Factor.  (Note:  For rushing TD's, tied rankings are averaged over the span of the tie, so two teams tied for 2nd would be ranked at 2.5, the average of 2 and 3.)  The teams with the lowest PF's should play much better against Green Bay than against other teams.  The lowest by far was the Panthers' 6, which explains why a 4-9 team came so close to beating the defending champs.  Here are the PF's for Green Bay's remaining regular-season opponents:

Chiefs:  66.5 (average is 49.5)
Bears:  56
Lions:  62.5

     I don't want to jinx it, but the remaining schedule for the Packers is easier than it looks.  What about their possible opponents in the NFC playoffs?

Giants:  18.5
Saints:  23.5
Cardinals:  48
Falcons:  52
Cowboys:  55
Bears: 56

49'ers:  59
Lions:  62.5

     Only two teams have a good shot at defeating the Packers in the playoffs, and it's two teams that have already played them to within 8 points.  Assuming they get to the Super Bowl, what AFC teams could give them trouble?

Patriots:  19
Chargers:  26
Texans:  43.5
Raiders:  43.5
Jets:  52.5
Ravens:  54.5
Broncos:  61.5
Steelers:  61.5
Bengals:  68.5
Titans:  78.5

     Obviously the Chargers were high up on the list, but the Patriots' good ranking is very intriguing.  They probably have the best shot of any team in the NFL at beating the Packers, but they would have to make it through a brutal AFC playoff to get their chance.  Could you imagine the Patriots, four years after their own failed bid for perfection, ending the Packers' season at 18-1?  As much as I love the Packers and hate the Patriots, I think that would be great for the league.

     Whatever happens, enjoy the rest of the season, because the Green Bay Packers are about to make it very interesting.

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