Debunking the Trap Game Myth: Detroit Lions vs. Green Bay Packers
Did you know the Green Bay Packers play the Detroit Lions Sunday? With all the talk about the Packers vs. New England Patriots game on Dec. 19, it seems that most people have already chalked up Sunday’s game against the Lions as a Packers victory.
The people that do realize the Packers play the Lions this week are using one of my least favorite phrases to describe the contest: Trap game.
Loosely defined, a trap game occurs when a good team plays a bad team the week before playing another good team. In this case, the trap game concept assumes the Packers are thinking about playing the Patriots instead of focusing on the Lions. This will cause the Packers to play poorly and maybe lose to the lowly Lions.
I think the trap game concept is just a simple way to let a team that lost off the hook. Sometimes a bad team comes together and plays well enough to knock off a superior opponent. And sometimes a good team, for whatever reason, plays terrible against a foe it should beat.
In either case, all of the credit or the blame should go to the two teams that actually played the game, not a third team that had nothing to do with anything.
The Football Outsiders did a study in 2007 and concluded that the entire concept of trap games was a myth. The Outsiders defined a trap game as any game against a sub-.500 opponent slotted between two games against opponents who, on the season, posted records above .500 (this definition means that Sunday’s game against the Lions would not be a trap game, but anyway…).
The study concluded that good teams win trap games as often as they win other games. From 1983-2006, contending teams had an .820 winning percentage in trap games and an .815 winning percentage in all other games against sub .500 teams from. Good teams were actually more likely to win the so-called trap games than they were other games against sub .500 teams.
Even though I don’t believe in the trap game concept, I know some of the fine readers of this site do, so lets take a look at how the Packers have fared in trap games under Mike McCarthy. The Football Outsiders only used teams that finished above .500 for the season in their study. This would eliminate the 2006 and 2008 Packers, so we will change the criteria a bit.
For the AllGreenBayPackers.com trap game study, we will define a trap game as any time the Packers were .500 or better and played an opponent with a losing record the week before playing a team with a winning record.
Using this definition, McCarthy is 8-2 (.800) in trap games. The most notable trap-game loss came to the 0-7 Tampa Bay Buccaneers the week before playing the 6-2 Dallas Cowboys in 2009. Against sub .500 teams overall, McCarthy is 29-9 (.763).
Even when focused solely on the Packers, the trap game concept is flawed. The Packers actually have a higher winning percentage in trap games than they do against sub .500 teams overall.
There are a lot of labels you can use for Sunday’s Packers and Lions game. Hot vs. Cold, Competent vs. Incompetent, Winner vs. Loser, Team due for a Win vs. Team primed for a Loss.
Whichever label you choose, please don’t call it a trap game.——————