Good read from the mother ship
When things are going well, there's a tendency to look back and shrug off how bad they really were before. It's the nostalgia goggles. You get a few decent paychecks, get a little comfortable and then look back to a night sitting around with an empty fridge, overdue rent and a temptation to dial while watching
with fondness, as if it was all a useful precursor to the current success.
Sports fans do this all the time. You win a title, remember when the team went 2-14 and recall how you really did see the seeds of success. Sure it stunk, but you had a hunch things would come together. You were optimistic.
Green Bay Packers fans know the feeling. And they don't have look back too far.
A year ago, the Packers finished Week 15 with a 31-27 loss in New England, which dropped their record to 8-6. How bad was it?
• That third loss in four games dropped Green Bay's playoff likelihood to 46.4 percent. For perspective, both the St. Louis Rams and Jacksonville Jaguars were better playoff bets. Jay Kornegay of the Vegas Hilton tells me the Super Bowl odds for Green Bay had dropped to worse than 30-1. (Perspective: Denver is currently at 20-1.)
• Aaron Rodgers had just sustained his second concussion of 2010, and there was belief in some quarters that the Packers were putting him at risk if he played in Week 16.
• The team had 14 players on IR, including its top running back and tight end along with numerous other starters on both sides of the ball.
• The Packers couldn't finish! Five of the six losses involved blown second-half leads.
A full 361 days later, Green Bay hasn't lost a game since.
Could we see it again? Not likely, but that's partly because the Packers are in the way. Still, I decided to look at current teams that fit the 2010 Packers profile and rank who looks the closest based on projections (via AccuScore), overall statistical profile (via Football Outsiders) and the eyeball test.
Here are the results:
1. New York Jets
Current playoff odds: 46.1 percent
Profile: They look diametrically opposite from a scouting profile, but it's eerie how well the numbers line up. The Jets have a near identical playoff likelihood as Green Bay at this point last year (46.1 to 46.4) and are sixth in Weighted DVOA (an overall score of team efficiency across offense, defense, special teams and schedule strength) against the Packers' seventh spot last year, meaning they are similarly better than their record. From a scouting perspective, evaluators agree; in the same way nobody wanted to face the Packers' offense when hot, the Jets are a terrifying prospect for opposing offenses because of what they can do to elite quarterbacks. Ask Tom Brady and Peyton Manning after last year's playoffs. If the Jets can top Philly this weekend, they're in line for 10 wins.
2. Dallas Cowboys
Current playoff odds: 47.9 percent
Profile: The playoff odds are close, but the scouting comparison is more interesting. Both the 2010 Packers and 2011 Cowboys are defined by brilliant but occasionally erratic play from their quarterbacks -- both of whom have been dinged up -- and a series of late breakdowns. The offenses drive things, but the defenses are defined by a brilliant pass-rusher who lines up all over the formation in search of the best matchups and a secondary that may have talent but is exposed too often. Both teams also have a DVOA that is dragged down by spotty special teams play. Dallas may have a knack for the meltdown, but like the 2010 Packers, they're a scary "best day" team. The Cowboys are also the only team to win at San Fran in 2011. They can win a roadie.
3. Detroit Lions
Current playoff odds: 58.6 percent
Profile: This is just weird. The Lions are basically a coin flip for the playoffs, just like the 2010 Packers, but both had one advantage the computers can't sniff out: They play the team that is going to beat them in the NFC North in Week 17. For Green Bay last season, it was the Chicago Bears, who didn't have much to play for with the division clinched. The Bears lost to Green Bay 10-3, letting the Packers into the playoffs but knowing they'd get to host the Packers if they met again. This season, the Packers could be playing for a perfect record, but do they want to put Rodgers in the way of Ndamukong Suh, Cliff Avril and Kyle Vanden Bosch in Week 17?
4. Oakland Raiders
Current playoff odds: 34.1 percent
Profile: The playoff odds match up, but the situations are really only tied based on a close race for the division win. The question with the Raiders is whether they can get some key weapons back while there's something to play for. Green Bay faced that question -- even with Rodgers -- at this time last season.
5. New York Giants
Current playoff odds: 63.9 percent
Profile: A year ago in Week 16, the 9-5 Giants went to 8-6 Green Bay and, with a win, would all but clinch a playoff spot. If the Packers lost, they'd be out. Green Bay steamrolled New York 45-17. Rodgers shot down concussion questions with 404 yards and four touchdown passes and started the Packers on a winning streak that hasn't stopped. The Giants didn't make the playoffs. But as the Giants showed on Sunday -- and as the Book of Eli has foretold -- they're dangerous. Given the brutal slate the Giants have faced this season, not to mention the overhaul of the offensive line, there's some sense they could be a team who could be far better in 2012.
• The Denver Broncos would be in this picture at 8-5, but their playoff percentage is actually significantly higher at this point than the Packers had last season.
• The Atlanta Falcons also profile similarly, but they currently sit on an 87.9 percent likelihood to make the playoffs.
If Green Bay can rest on anything, it's that its current playoff projection is a cool 100 percent. But as was shown last season, it doesn't guarantee a trip to the Super Bowl. New England in Week 15 of 2010 also had a 100 percent playoff certainty. They were knocked out of the playoffs by the No. 1 team on the list above.
Chris Sprow is a senior editor for ESPN The Magazine and Insider. He reports and edits on many sports and works year-round with Mel Kiper on NFL draft coverage. He also oversees ESPN's Rumor Central and has been a regular guest on ESPN networks in that role. You can find his ESPN archives here and find him on Twitter here.