Advanced stats don’t love the Green Bay Packers. Las Vegas oddsmakers have been a bit cool on the Packers, setting lines for their games all season a little lower than you’d think.
There are many smart voices and methods that aren’t believers in the Packers. It’s also OK to trust what you see sometimes. And it’s hard to come up with a great reason to doubt the Packers as the Super Bowl favorite.
Here’s what the Packers’ season looked like: They were blown out 38-3 in Week 1 against the New Orleans Saints, though that came after not playing starters at all in the preseason. If we can forgive them for that, the other losses: by 6 points at Kansas City with Jordan Love at quarterback, on a last-play field goal at the Vikings after an interception was overturned, and a Week 18 game at Detroit that meant nothing. There’s something to be said, especially this season, about being a team that doesn’t blow games it should win. None of the Packers’ losses were that bad after Week 1.
The Packers did have some wins that were closer than they should have been but they were also 12-5 against the spread. They were beating that market more than just about any other team. Dallas was the only team better against the spread, at 13-4.
The Packers are not guaranteed to make the Super Bowl, but not necessarily because the passing game isn’t diverse enough or the defense isn’t one of the league’s best or anything else that gets nitpicked with them. It’s mostly because single-elimination playoffs have a lot of variance. The best teams don’t always win. Teams like the Buccaneers, Cowboys, Rams or maybe even the 49ers or Cardinals could win at Lambeau Field. They’re all very capable teams and beating two high-quality teams in a row, even as a favorite at home, is hard. But if the Packers lose, you’ll hear a lot about how they were overrated all along, or can’t come through in the playoffs.
Football Outsiders’ DVOA, a per-play metric adjusted for opponent which is a very good measure of a team’s true strength that cuts through a lot of the surface narratives on teams, has the Packers ranked at No. 9. They’re behind the 7-10 Seahawks. You can use advanced stats, believe they’re a great tool, and still stray from them at times. I don’t buy that eight teams are better than the Packers. I don’t think any teams can claim to be better this season.
The Packers have a coach who has a great argument for NFL Coach of the Year. Aaron Rodgers is having another remarkable season that is likely going to get him another MVP award. Davante Adams might be the best receiver in football. The Packers have two top-20 running backs. The defense isn’t elite but has been good enough to help win 13 games and will get better if cornerback Jaire Alexander and pass rusher Za’Darius Smith return.
The Packers have been knocking at the door of a Super Bowl for a while. They had the No. 1 seed last season and couldn’t get it done. Maybe they will get stopped short again this postseason. But there’s no real argument against them being ranked as the top team after a crazy NFL regular season.
Here are the power rankings following the NFL regular season:
32. New York Giants (4-13, Last Week: 31)
It’s hard to put the Giants here because I like the final power rankings to reflect the totality of the season. And the Giants weren’t always the worst team in the NFL this season. But the last month was so bad, with coach Joe Judge doing whatever he was doing, they have to go in the bottom spot. And they don’t even get the first pick out of it.
31. Jacksonville Jaguars (3-14, LW: 32)
Instead of people picking apart Trevor Lawrence’s rookie season, we’ll move to the offseason with people focusing on a fantastic performance in the finale. That’s a pretty big deal.
30. Detroit Lions (3-13-1, LW: 30)
You can view Week 18 as the Lions beating a Packers team that was disengaged and took Aaron Rodgers out at halftime. But the Lions did lead 17-13 at half and they did win. The successes add up going into the offseason.
29. Carolina Panthers (5-12, LW: 28)
The Panthers lost their last seven games and gave up at least 27 points six times in that streak. The Panthers have more talent on defense than that. But absolutely, positively everything about the Panthers was bad for the last couple months of the season.
28. Houston Texans (4-13, LW: 29)
The Texans were apparently still figuring out on Monday if David Culley would stay on as coach. Which speaks to an organization that lacks leadership and clarity, but it’s also odd because it’s impossible to blame Culley for not getting more out of the roster. He did a pretty good job. If Houston has a behind-the-scenes deal with a coach they like a lot more that’s fine, but it would be a strange one-and-done situation.
27. New York Jets (4-13, LW: 27)
The good part about Zach Wilson’s rookie season is he didn’t throw an interception in any of this last five games. He didn’t have multiple interceptions in a game from Week 3 on. It was a rough ride but there are a few positives to carry forward.
26. Chicago Bears (6-11, LW: 24)
The Bears fired coach Matt Nagy and GM Ryan Pace, which probably should have just happened a year ago. And the change will appease some frustrated fans. But then the question becomes, does anyone trust the Bears brass to get the hirings right this time?
25. Atlanta Falcons (7-10, LW: 23)
Matt Ryan wasn’t very good this season. The Falcons need to ask a big question: Is it more important to have Ryan retire as a Falcon, or explore whether he still has some trade value to a needy team (and there are a few of those)?
24. Washington Football Team (7-10, LW: 26)
By the end of the season, Antonio Gibson had reestablished himself as one of the NFL’s most exciting young backs. Terry McLaurin has the talent to be one of the best receivers in the game. There are pieces on defense. There’s hope for a step forward next season but it will take a very good offseason and some conviction at the quarterback position.
23. Denver Broncos (7-10, LW: 22)
Vic Fangio didn’t really do anything to earn a fourth season, but I’m not sure the last three seasons were all his fault either. No matter, the Broncos are looking for a new coach. Will a new candidate see a rough ownership situation and a lack of answers at quarterback, or a franchise with a respected general manager and, before the last six seasons anyway, a long track record of winning?
22. Seattle Seahawks (7-10, LW: 25)
What got into Rashaad Penny? He had 190 yards in the finale. He had other games of 135, 137 and 179 rushing yards down the stretch. He is set to become a free agent, and the Seahawks are in a difficult position, deciding whether to give a second contract to a back who had never stayed healthy or played anywhere near this level before the second half of this season.
21. Minnesota Vikings (8-9, LW: 21)
Coach Mike Zimmer and GM Rick Spielman are out. Neither one is that bad at his job, but it was time for the Vikings to turn the page. It was getting harder to believe there was another level the franchise could go with them. The problem is the next step isn’t guaranteed to be forward.
20. Cleveland Browns (8-9, LW: 20)
Everyone knew if things got bumpy with Baker Mayfield, it would not be quiet. Mayfield isn’t the reserved type. So as an offseason of speculation and scrutiny begins, be sure that it won’t be an easy ride.
19. Baltimore Ravens (8-9, LW: 18)
It’s pretty amazing that John Harbaugh, who became Baltimore’s head coach in 2008, had just one losing season before the Ravens lost their final six games to finish 8-9. It’s probably safe to chalk this one up to injuries.
18. Indianapolis Colts (9-8, LW: 11)
It’s official, there won’t be a worse loss in the 2021-22 NFL season than the Colts in Week 18. They were heavy favorites over a two-win Jacksonville team that had just lost 50-10. They needed to win to make the playoffs. And they were dominated in every single way. I’m not down with the angry calls from some Colts fans for Frank Reich to be fired, but it changes the entire tone of the offseason.
17. Miami Dolphins (9-8, LW: 19)
Not that social media should be the reason a team makes a move (or shouldn’t make a move, in this case), but when there’s universal shock and outrage over a team firing a coach, it says something. We can’t be sure what exactly was going on behind the scenes, but firing Brian Flores seems like something Miami could regret.
16. New Orleans Saints (9-8, LW: 16)
It shouldn’t be ignored that Sean Payton did a great job to have his team in position to make the playoffs despite starting four quarterbacks this season. He did a great job. You’ll hear a lot of speculation that some team with an opening will want to land Payton somehow, but why would the Saints willingly give up their most valuable asset?
15. Los Angeles Chargers (9-8, LW: 14)
Let’s be clear: Brandon Staley’s timeout in overtime, which came with the play clock almost expired, wasn’t what changed things. The Raiders still ran the ball after the timeout and had it been stuffed, they were very unlikely to even try a field goal from 57 or more yards. Instead Las Vegas gained 10 yards, and that’s what led to the field-goal attempt. But to some, it’s a chance to dunk on Staley. It’s just disingenuous.
14. Pittsburgh Steelers (9-7-1, LW: 17)
T.J. Watt played in just 15 games, and he also needed the Steelers to play a 17th game Michael Strahan or Mark Gastineau or anyone else didn’t have to tie the sack record. Nobody is saying he doesn’t deserve a share of it (especially with how Strahan set it). But it’s the first of many debates we’re about to have about players setting a record in a 16-game season vs. a 17-game season.
13. Philadelphia Eagles (9-8, LW: 13)
I don’t have a problem with the Eagles resting for a playoff game. That’s valuable, as we’ve seen through the years. They have a tough test at the Buccaneers in wild-card weekend, but they’ve put themselves in the best position they can to win.
12. Las Vegas Raiders (10-7, LW: 15)
The Raiders have an interesting call with Rich Bisaccia. He did a fine job this season, but is that something that would carry over? If the Raiders look for the next big thing, are they ignoring that they have a coach who might have been relatively anonymous when the season started but ended it with a legitimate case for NFL Coach of the Year? It’s not an easy call, though it might not matter if Bisaccia wins a playoff game or two. Hard to believe he wouldn’t get the job then.
11. New England Patriots (10-7, LW: 9)
We can excuse the Patriots’ loss Sunday as them having nothing to play for, but that would ignore that the Bills led just 13-10 six minutes into the fourth quarter. At that point the door wasn’t closed on a Patriots AFC East title. But even if the Jets had beaten the Bills, the Patriots never were close to knocking off the Dolphins. Momentum into the playoffs may or may not be a viable thing, but the Patriots sure don’t have much after losing three of their last four.
10. Arizona Cardinals (11-6, LW: 5)
What a weird past few weeks for the Cardinals. How do you reconcile a loss to the Lions, a win at the Cowboys, and a home loss to a 10-loss Seahawks team when there was a chance to win the NFC West? Good luck figuring out what comes next.
9. San Francisco 49ers (10-7, LW: 12)
It’s fine to be a little skeptical that the 49ers win was less likely than the Minneapolis Miracle, but it’s still a stunning stat from NFL’s Next Gen Stats.
It’s also true that a team that was 99.6 percent to lose and miss the playoffs can also be very dangerous now that it’s in the postseason.
8. Cincinnati Bengals (10-7, LW: 10)
I thought Zac Taylor would have tried to win in Week 18, with the possibility of the No. 2 seed in play. Most teams on a hot streak don’t like to halt that momentum. In retrospect he was probably right to sit most guys. A mostly rested Bengals team gets to face the Raiders, who played a full overtime game on Sunday night. And that game is the opener on Saturday. Taylor couldn’t have known it would work out that well, but it worked out.
7. Tennessee Titans (12-5, LW: 8)
All the Titans do is keep winning. All you need to do is look at any week in the NFL to know that’s not guaranteed to any team. I don’t know that I believe in them as a dominant team, but they’re the only team in the AFC that’s two home wins from a Super Bowl.
6. Los Angeles Rams (12-5, LW: 2)
Is it troubling the Rams couldn’t hold a 17-0 lead, couldn’t get a first down after the 49ers punted very late in the third quarter or couldn’t stop Jimmy Garoppolo from driving 88 yards in the final two minutes with no timeouts to send the game to overtime? Yes, yes and yes. The Rams are still quite capable of going to a Super Bowl but they’re not easy to trust.
5. Buffalo Bills (11-6, LW: 4)
Maybe it doesn’t matter that they led the Jets by only a field goal in the fourth quarter, trying to clinch an AFC East title. They won by 17, after all. It just seems like if we’d see the top gear from the Bills, it would have happened more regularly.
4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (13-4, LW: 7)
The Buccaneers’ injury situation will be worth watching this week. Who will they get back on offense and defense? It seems the matchup against the Eagles is a good one, but the Bucs might be more vulnerable than we want to admit.
3. Dallas Cowboys (12-5, LW: 6)
I don’t know that I agree with playing starters in a meaningless finale with a playoff game on deck, but the Cowboys believe in it. We’ll see if pounding the Eagles in Week 18 with nothing on the line matters to their postseason.
2. Kansas City Chiefs (12-5, LW: 3)
It was surprising to see Tyreek Hill playing at all on Saturday after he hurt his heel in pregame warmups. Without Hill being close to his normal self in the playoffs, the Chiefs aren’t winning a Super Bowl.
1. Green Bay Packers (13-4, LW: 1)
David Bakhtiari, arguably the best left tackle in football, made his season debut and played 27 snaps. Now he gets two weeks to ramp up before the Packers’ first playoff game. Let’s assume that adding an All-Pro lineman helps the best team in football.