Should You Be a Packer Backer?
PLENTY OF DISAGREEMENT ON
GREEN BAY'S 2010 OUTLOOK
Many of you are too young to remember this. In the 1970's there was a TV sportscaster named Howard Cosell who annually won the 'most popular' and 'most hated' awards from magazines like TV Guide. You either loved him, or you hated him.
We're getting the same vibe about the Green Bay Packers outlook for the 2010 season. They're a very popular pick to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl this season. They're a very popular pick as 'overrated' by other pundits.
Is this a team that can be 'the New Orleans of 2010' and ride a sharp young quarterback all the way to a Lombardi Trophy? Was 2009 a fluke created by a soft schedule, and the Packers are destined to drop to the second rung of contenders since they don't get to play the lousy NFC West this year?
With Green Bay being highlighted tonight on national TV in its dress rehearsal game with the Indianapolis Colts (8 p.m. ET on ESPN), this seemed like the perfect time to take a closer look.
THE CASE FOR GREEN BAY IN 2010
*They were great in 2009, even if you adjust for strength of schedule. The offense was up there with New Orleans, Minnesota, and Indianapolis. The defense was among the best five or 10 in many categories. If not for a fluky play in their playoff opener at Arizona, the Packers might well have made a statement LAST year against those three powers we listed.
*Quarterback Aaron Rodgers is still improving. He got a late start after a long apprenticeship. Quaterbacks generally show year-to-year improvement as they climb the ladder of experience...before plateauing once they've reached wherever it is they're going to reach. Rodgers looks like he's still getting better. What a scary thought for NFC North foes!
*The schedule will be tougher this year...but Green Bay will still be favored against the new opponents. It's not like they're trading 'small favorite' spots for 'small dog' spots. They're trading 'big favorite' spots for 'small-to-medium favorite' spots. If you start with 11-5 last year...then pencil in improvement for Rodgers...it's easy to see 11-5 again even if the schedule gets tougher.
Talk about the total package! Great offense, great defense, star quarterback who's still getting better. Who's better in the NFC this year? New Orleans starts with a leg up in our view, but will be battling the Super Bowl letdown syndrome. Minnesota went 2-0 vs. Green Bay last year...but Favre is a year older and is long overdue to suffer an injury that keeps him out of action for a sustained period.
Here's what Green Bay did last year vs. other respected teams:
Green Bay beat Dallas 17-7
Green Bay beat Baltimore 27-14
Green Bay beat San Francisco 30-24, and led by double digits most of the game
That's not spanking Detroit and St. Louis 96-29 over three games. That's beating quality by a combined 74-45 margin.
You're going to stick Dallas or anyone else in the NFC East ahead of Green Bay? Anyone in the NFC West? In reasonable Power Ratings, Green Bay would start out 2010 trailing New Orleans in a letdown year, and Minnesota with an ancient quarterback.
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Those picking Green Bay to reach the Super Bowl certainly have a reasonable case.
THE CASE AGAINST GREEN BAY
*The schedule wasn't just easy last year, it was the easiest in the league. Jeff Sagarin at USA Today ranked it 32nd out of 32 pro teams. If you have a good quarterback, it's easy to rack up big numbers vs. bad teams. If you have a good defense, it's easy to create the illusion of greatness by shutting down bad or inexperienced quarterbacks.
*Green Bay was #1 in the NFL in turnover differential at +24. That's a very tough stat when it comes to maintaining a huge edge. We did a study several years ago that suggested you can get to around +8 on purpose over a year with your personnel. Anything significantly better than that is probably the result of luck. Green Bay wasn't just lucky last year with their schedule, they were lucky in the turnover department.
*Green Bay's big wins vs. quality last year came at home. We just listed victories over Dallas, Baltimore, and San Francisco. All home games. On the road vs. quality teams who were trying (throwing out the season finale at Arizona):
*Green Bay lost at Minnesota 30-23
*Green Bay lost at Pittsburgh 37-36 (non-playoff team)
The Packers also lost a road game to lowly Tampa Bay 38-28. The road victims last year for Green Bay were: St. Louis (horrible), Cleveland (horrible), Detroit (horrible), Chicago (disappointing), and Arizona (lame duck season finale).
If you're talent is ideally suited to crushing patsies, a patsy heavy schedule will make your stats and turnover differential look great. But, vs. quality, you won't be as good as your stats.
*Green Bay's 'great' defense truly looked like an illusion when push came to shove late in the season.
Green Bay allowed 537 yards to Pittsburgh in cold weather in December
Green Bay allowed 531 yards to Arizona indoors in the playoffs
Ben Roethlisberger and Kurt Warner posted astronomical numbers in those games. You're going to reach the Super Bowl with THAT kind of defense...particularly when road games indoors may be on the agenda once again?
Maybe the Packers weren't an 11-5 team last year. Maybe they were a 9-7 team that caught schedule and turnover breaks. Maybe the projected improvement of Rodgers only gets them to 9.5 or 10 wins...which is far from enough to suggest a cakewalk to the Super Bowl.
We have some strong opinions about the Packers this year. We may well be trying to exploit those early in the season...so we won't tip our hand too much here in the NOTEBOOK. At the least, we will tell you we'll be looking at the Over in good scoring conditions vs. quality quarterbacks. Green Bay played into the 70's with Pittsburgh, and the 90's with Arizona. Vegas will have trouble posting a total high enough when the stars align in terms of pass production potential.
Here's the early schedule for the Pack
At Philadelphia (good test)
Vs. Buffalo (should be a gift)
At Chicago (great MNF atmosphere)
Vs. Detroit (should be another gift)
At Washington (potentially a good test)
Vs. Miami (Dolphins might be dangerous)
Actually, that's a great set of games for evaluating the Packers. If they don't impress vs. that slate, then you can probably stop thinking about the Super Bowl. Philly/Chicago/Washington provides a yardstick gauntlet for where the Packers stand vs. teams expected to be around the .500 mark. And, there aren't any big distractions that should derail preparation. Those are coming up next!
Check out this gauntlet from games 7-12
At New York Jets
Vs. San Francisco
That bye sure comes at a helpful time. Five of those six games come against teams currently expected to win or tie for their divisions. The sixth is Atlanta, who is certainly a serious Wildcard contender at this point. In essence...it's a three-week playoff sequence...followed by a bye week...followed by another three-week playoff sequence!
If Green Bay struggles early, they're going to have huge troubles here (and New England still coming up!). If Green Bay looks like Super Bowl material early...we can pick some 'take' and 'go against' spots through that midseason sixpack where we're likely to cover by about a TD in either direction.
THIS is why Green Bay needs to be on your radar for the season as you watch tonight's game with Indianapolis. They may be one of the most important teams in the 2010 season. They may be one of the biggest disappointments. They're certainly in position to be a big profit team if you can read the tea leaves in a clear-headed manner.
JIM HURLEY'S NETWORK has been doing that for more than 20 years. That's why we're unmatched in the handicapping industry! We have something special for you tonight between Indy/Green Bay and St. Louis/New England. Friday will bring a STUNNER amongst the four scheduled matchups (including San Diego/New Orleans on CBS). Saturday during dress rehearsal week historically features a GAME OF THE YEAR caliber selection. We'll wrap up the weekend Sunday Night with Pittsburgh Denver.
A great week of NFL action is on tap. Then, COLLEGE FOOTBALL STARTS A FEW DAYS LATER!
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Green Bay has a storied franchise. They named the trophy for the Super Bowl winner after their legendary coach Vince Lombardi. If they named a trophy for the best handicapper...it would be named after JIM HURLEY...and it would be awarded to him every year!
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