NFL

Comparing the Green Bay Packers to Other 8-0 Teams: The Defense Keeps Them Near the Bottom

When you start 8-0, you get to be compared with more lofty company. Many teams start 6-0, but only 13 other teams have survived to 8-0 since the league went to the 16 game schedule in 1978. Most people think that the Packers are the clearly best team in the league, and it’s just a question of when the coronation will occur. My thoughts haven’t changed much since I wrote this about it being too early to talk undefeated with this particular team, and the Packers have since won games over Minnesota by 6 and the Chargers by 7.

I went through the 14 teams (including Green Bay) who started 8-0, and looked at 10 different categories: points scored, points allowed, point difference, turnover margin, yardage margin, net passing yards per play on offense, net passing yards per play on defense, yards per carry on offense, yards per carry on defense, and strength of schedule (opponent win percentage after 8 games). I rank-ordered each team from 1-14 in each category, and tallied the totals. Here are the 8-0 teams in order of their strength across all categories, relative to each other.

  1. 2007 New England Patriots – Lost Super Bowl
  2. 1991 Washington Redskins – Won Super Bowl
  3. 1984 Miami Dolphins - Lost Super Bowl
  4. 1985 Chicago Bears – Won Super Bowl
  5. 2009 New Orleans Saints – Won Super Bowl
  6. 1998 Denver Broncos – Won Super Bowl
  7. 1990 New York Giants – Won Super Bowl
  8. 2005 Indianapolis Colts – Lost in Divisional Playoffs
  9. 2008 Tennessee Titans – Lost in in Divisional Playoffs
  10. 2003 Kansas City Chiefs – Lost in Divisional Playoffs
  11. 2009 Indianapolis Colts – Lost Super Bowl
  12. 2011 Green Bay Packers – ?
  13. 1990 San Francisco 49ers – Lost in NFC Championship Game
  14. 2006 Indianapolis Colts – Won Super Bowl

You may think this is meaningless, but if we cut this list in half, the top 7 teams all reached the Super Bowl and 5 of them won. The bottom half? Of the other 6 teams, only two of them reached a Super Bowl, with the 2006 Colts the only one to win, after going 4-4 down the stretch in the regular season. Dominance matters.

The Packers rank #1 in net passing yards per play on offense, just ahead of 1984 Miami and 2007 New England. They are also near the top in points scored as a result. They are average or below average in most other categories, including dead last by a substantial margin in pass defense and points allowed, and ahead of only the 2008 Titans in yardage difference.

What if, rather than looking at overall strength across several categories, we try to find the teams most similar to the way that the Packers are doing it. Using the absolute value difference in each category, here are the 8-0 teams ordered from most to least similar to this year’s Packers.

  1. 1984 Miami Dolphins
  2. 2009 New Orleans Saints
  3. 2006 Indianapolis Colts
  4. 2003 Kansas City Chiefs
  5. 2007 New England Patriots
  6. 2005 Indianapolis Colts
  7. 1998 Denver Broncos
  8. 2009 Indianapolis Colts
  9. 1990 New York Giants
  10. 2008 Tennessee Titans
  11. 1990 San Francisco 49ers
  12. 1991 Washington Redskins
  13. 1985 Chicago Bears

No team is truly similar to the Packers of 2011. The pass defense numbers are so far below any other team that started 8-0 it is stunning. The 2009 Saints are the only team on this list that even finished the season allowing barely more than 6.0 net yards per pass. The Packers are currently at 7.1.

The teams that show up near the top of the similar list are other top passing teams, all of whom had a better pass defense. The lower yardage difference totals is also what boosts the 2006 Colts and the 2003 Chiefs up the similarity list. It’s no surprise that the 1985 Bears show up as the most opposite team to this year’s Packers.

While the common perception that this year’s Packers team is the clear favorite to win the Super Bowl, the pass defense is historically bad for a unit to win a Super Bowl. It’s a bit of a surprise given how good they were last year, and maybe they can turn it around as a result, though each passing week raises more flags.

Kerry Byrne of Cold Hard Football Facts states that the Packers are on pace to have the best passer rating differential (offensive passer rating minus defensive passer rating allowed) since Unitas. Here’s the problem with that: it’s comparing end of season figures to the Packers at the halfway point. It also includes interceptions, which are very explanatory, but not as predictive. The more predictive portion of the passer rating–the yards per attempt part, doesn’t bode as well for the defense. Rodgers has thrown only 4 interceptions on 266 attempts, and the defense has 16 interceptions on 319 passes.

IF the Packers continue those interception rates, then sure, they will rank near the top in pass efficiency when we look back and explain why they won. Rodgers, who is playing at a high level, can still have games where the ball gets tipped, or batted, or deflected, and see that turnover number turn. Even more likely, they won’t continue picking off over 5% of the passes thrown at them, particularly when they have been giving up big chunks of yards. If those numbers regress, they will see that differential plummet as the interception portion normalizes.

If we strip away the turnovers, and look at the more predictive net yardage, the difference between the Packers’ offense and Packers passing defense is in the bottom half of the 8-0 teams.

Green Bay has been dominant to get to 8-0 in part because of the turnovers in the passing game, and Rodgers’ efficiency. Compared to the other 8-0 teams, though, they look far from unbeatable. All those 8-0 teams, by the way, averaged 5.7 wins over the second half of the season. Still too early.

[photo via Getty]

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