Green Bay Packers Playoff Picture: Familiarity Breeds Contempt
On Sunday night, the seeding for the NFL playoff games was set in stone when the New York Giants soundly beat the Dallas Cowboys in a game that decided the NFC East division champions. Earlier that day, the San Francisco 49ers eked by the St. Louis Rams to maintain their second seed and first-round bye, while the Atlanta Falcons secured the fifth seed after their big win over Tampa Bay and the Detroit Lions’ loss to the Green Bay Packers.
With the regular season complete, we finally have a clear picture of how the playoffs could progress. Before continuing, though, here is a quick list of the final seeding for the NFC:
- Green Bay Packers (15-1)
- San Francisco 49ers (13-3)
- New Orleans Saints (13-3)
- New York Giants (9-7)
- Atlanta Falcons (10-6)
- Detroit Lions (10-6)
The rules dictate that, in each round of the playoffs, the lowest seeded team will travel to face the highest seed, while the second lowest seed will face the second highest. The lone exception is the first round, where the two highest seeds (the Packers and 49ers this year) get a bye for that week.
So in the Wildcard Round, the Lions will square off with the Saints in the Superdome, and the Falcons will travel to MetLife Stadium to take on the Giants. Green Bay and San Francisco will both have the weekend off.
Depending on the outcome of those games, the Packers will host the Giants, Falcons, or Lions at Green Bay’s very own Lambeau Field in the Divisional Round.
But have you noticed something yet? With the exception of the San Francisco 49ers, the Green Bay Packers faced (and beat) every other playoff team at some point during the regular season. Through those five games, having faced the Lions twice, the Packers won by a combined score of 177-139.
That leaves a total margin of victory of 38 points, or 7.6 points per game. Just over a touchdown.
Interestingly enough, last year’s Green Bay team also faced three familiar teams on their path to the Super Bowl. They played the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 1 and in the Wildcard Round, the Atlanta Falcons in Week 12 and the Divisional Round, and capped off their run in the NFC Championship Game against the Chicago Bears, who they of course faced twice during the season as a division opponent.
If the Packers win, then, in the Divisional Round and the 49ers lose, they will not have to face an unfamiliar opponent at all during these playoffs (not counting the Super Bowl).
This could be a boost for the Packers. Though many people say that it’s hard to beat a team twice in a season, Green Bay already accomplished that feat three times in 2011, as they became the first Packers team to sweep the division since 1967. It should ease the workload of the coaches and players at least slightly with familiar opponents to study.
The big caveat, of course, is that all of these teams have changed in varying degrees since they last met. Player injuries have altered rosters and individual team units have settled into their identities.
Just for fun, here’s a quick look at what happened when the Packers last played each of these teams during the season. It might provide some insight into the future, though the further back we go, the less we have to gain.
Week 1: Packers vs. Saints [W 42-34]
This was the big opener for the NFL’s 2011 season, and it certainly did not disappoint. The Packers took a quick lead in the first quarter with touchdown passes to Jennings and Nelson, and the Saints stayed behind the rest of the game. Randall Cobb made his big debut with a 32-yard touchdown reception off of a wrong route and a record-setting 108-yard kickoff return midway through the third quarter.
Behind 8 points in the final minute of the game, Drew Brees made a surgical drive down the field. A.J. Hawk’s controversial pass interference penalty in the end zone gave the Saints one more play with no time remaining to potentially tie the game; however, Mark Ingram was thoroughly stuffed by Burnett and Matthews at the line of scrimmage, sealing a Packers victory.
With the way these two teams have played all season, I can only expect another offensive shootout should they meet again in the NFC Championship Game.
Week 5: Packers at Falcons [W 25-14]
To say there was a lot of hype going into this game would be an understatement. Even the most casual fan remembers last year’s playoff game, when the Falcons were thoroughly embarrassed by the Packers. Aaron Rodgers and his Houdini acts in the pocket, plus Tramon Williams’ game-changing interceptions made it a night to forget for Atlanta.
But the last thing they did was forget what happened, and there’s no doubt this season’s rematch was circled many times over on their calendar. The Falcons came out swinging, with an early touchdown on their first drive and another touchdown off of a Ryan Grant fumble to put them up 14-0.
Unfortunately for them, that was the end of their scoring. Green Bay’s defense posted a shutout for the last 42 minutes of the game, and the offense, aided heavily by Mason Crosby, cleaned up the rest of the game.
Though not the force they seemed to be last year, the Atlanta Falcons would surely love one more shot at the Green Bay Packers during the playoffs.
Week 13: Packers at Giants [W 38-35]
The teams might change, but the story here is very similar to the Falcons.
Eli Manning and the New York Giants were defeated in a rout at Lambeau Field in 2010 by a score of 45-17. Both teams needed the win to help their playoff chances, but it would eventually be the start of Green Bay’s undefeated 19-game streak.
Jump forward to this year, and the 6-6 Giants were again hoping to stay alive in a tight divisional race. They put up a much bigger fight this time around and were the only team outside of the Kansas City Chiefs to not trail the Packers in the fourth quarter. Clay Matthews’ pick-six was a huge highlight that was eventually offset by an uncharacteristic Aaron Rodgers interception. Still, Rodgers and Mason Crosby both proved their clutch play by driving down the field in under a minute for the game-winning field goal.
The Giants, with their front-heavy defense and big-play offense, could prove to be one of the stiffest challenges for the Packers in the playoffs.
Week 12: Packers at Lions [W 27-15]
On a very short week, the Packers traveled to Ford Field on Thanksgiving Day for their third game in just eleven days. After a scoreless first quarter full of drive-killing penalties and miscues by the Lions, the Packers delivered the first touchdown strike of the game in the second quarter.
They continued to hold the Lions scoreless until the fourth quarter, racking up 24 points in the process. Ndamokung Suh’s ejection for foot-stomping Packers’ lineman Evan Dietrich-Smith didn’t do anything to help, either. It was too much to overcome for Detroit, and the Green Bay offense finished out the game in their victory formation.
The embarrassing, nationally televised loss would later lead to . . .
Week 17: Packers vs. Lions [W 45-41]
. . . a game full of offensive muscle featuring an unlikely hero.
Packers back-up quarterback Matt Flynn played a record-breaking game that put the Lions to shame on Sunday. Flynn, Ryan Grant, and Jordy Nelson tore up the Lions’ defense in a manner befitting Super Bowl champions. Such a high-scoring game was a surprise given the number and quality of starters Green Bay made inactive for the game.
The only thing driving the Lions to hope for a rematch in the playoffs is their hurt ego. That would, however, mean getting through Drew Brees first.
Whoever Green Bay ends up playing in the Divisional Round is merely up for speculation right now. But one thing is for sure: it won’t be a meeting of strangers.——————Follow @ChadToporski