How can a 10-6 team that didn’t win its division be favored over a team that went 12-4 against a tough schedule and won a division? How can a conference #6 seed in the perceived weaker conference be favored over the #2 seed from the stronger? I think it’s an interesting question that shows sometimes looks can be deceiving. We know that Vegas bookmakers are not in business to lose money, and given the sheer volume of money involved, I doubt they are looking to take a “naked” position on the game. They want to set a line that draws near equal action.
This won’t be the first time a #6 seed is favored, as just five years ago, it was these Pittsburgh Steelers who opened as a favorite against the #1 seed from the NFC, Seattle. Just as with that team, which had some injuries to Roethlisberger during the regular season and lost a close division race on tiebreakers, there are circumstances with this Green Bay team that explain why they are favored over a team with a better record.
Earlier this week, Chad Millman of ESPN dissected the early Super Bowl line opening the Packers as a Super Bowl favorite (Insider content). Among the reasons for the line opening with Packers favored:
- Green Bay was an underdog in the first two games before becoming a road favorite in the title game, but the public was hammering the Packers heavily, and the bookmakers responded;
- Yes, they have six losses, but they all have some explanation, including record-setting penalties (Chicago), two overtime losses (Miami, Washington), close loss where Rodgers fumbled on goal line (Atlanta), anAnd injuries to Rodgers (Detroit, New England);
- Since Rodgers has returned in week 16, the Pack have rolled through New York, Chicago, and on the road at Philadelphia, Atlanta, and Chicago;
- They are power rated higher because of their defensive pass efficiency, and the QB Rating allowed (64.0) is 20 points better than the Steelers in the playoffs.
I’ll build on that point about the Packers’ six losses. Earlier this year, I wrote about team knockouts (when they scored the necessary points to win, or had them scored against them in losses) and the Packers were a runaway leader. Michael David Smith of the Wall Street Journal wrote about the Packers being the best six-loss team ever, pointing out that Green Bay has not lost by more than 4 points all year. Last week, in making my pick for the game, I noted that the Packers hadn’t trailed by more than a single score at any point during the year. Chase Stuart then built on that statement, and checked to see just how rare that is. The answer: very rare. No team has done it in the Super Bowl era.
The 1942 Redskins did it, and were thus a live 14 point ‘dog that pulled one of the greatest playoff upsets ever against the Bears that year. The 1948 Bears, with my boy Johnny Lujack, did it. The 1962 Lions did it, and finished just behind the dominant Packers for the Western Division. That’s it. Among Super Bowl teams, only the 1984 San Francisco 49ers and the 1972 Miami Dolphins never trailed by more than 10 points at any point in the season.
During the regular season, the Packers had a slightly higher point differential, and the teams were roughly even. According to Stuart, with the playoff games included with the regular season results, the Packers (+12.3) and the Steelers (+10.0) have ratings that justify the line opening with Green Bay as favorite. Also, don’t let the 22 combined wins fool you. These are two of the best three teams in the league when we combine all games, playoff and regular season. It’s a fantastic and worthy Super Bowl matchup.
[photo via Getty]