Wednesday, January 20

Why Sporting News was wrong to predict the Packers would miss the NFL playoffs

The only guarantee of the NFL’s preseason predictions is that there will be something wrong with them. The league, by nature, is unpredictable and there tends to be a topicality bias when choosing which teams will make the playoffs in a given year.

For Sporting News, what we liked best was not thinking that the Packers would make the playoffs for the second consecutive season with quarterback Aaron Rodgers, poised to win his third NFL MVP, and coach Matt LaFleur. Instead, Green Bay went 13-3 again and won the NFC North again in 2020, ascending to the No. 1 seed in the NFC playoffs for 2021.

Green Bay fan blogs and message boards have had fun poking fun at that choice on social media. Now it’s SN’s turn to take back that misery and revel in the Packers’ incredible season that surpassed all follow-up expectations. SN wasn’t alone in his skepticism that the Packers duplicated their success; we should have seen them improve rather than regress to average.

Much of that was related to seeing Green Bay have just a 63-point differential (376 for, 313 against) while managing one of the weakest schedules in the NFL for 13 wins in 2019. The Packers actually gave up. more points in 2020, 369 But the big difference was the fact that they scored 509 points, an incredible increase of 133 points year-over-year, averaging more than eight more points per game.

MORE: SN’s predictions for the entire 2021 NFL playoff group

Because of that 140-point differential, more than double, their 13-3 season was legitimate in terms of matching Pythagorean victory expectations in 2020. SN projected the Packers to finish 9-7, which was more along the lines of be the same team of 2019.

It was easy to get caught looking at the narrative that the Packers didn’t invest to improve enough around Rodgers, and they didn’t change much defensively, either. The Packers simply made all of their current staff perform better, led by Rodgers who felt more comfortable in the second year of LaFleur’s offensive system.

The Packers went from No. 15 rushing offense to No. 8 rushing offense in 2020. Despite being a 55 percent passing team, Rodgers’ career best play shot them from No. 19 passing offense to the No. 9 passing offense.

Defensively, the Packers went from No. 10 against the pass to No. 7. They made a bigger jump against the run, from No. 26 to No. 14.

Contrary to popular belief, Rodgers had a strong 2019 season at age 36. He just watched running back Aaron Jones score 19 touchdowns, which helped keep his passing stats more modest.

MORE: Home field gives Packers and Aaron Rodgers a super edge

Rodgers’ work in 2020, however, mirrored his MVP seasons from the past and did so with fewer attempts (526 vs. 569) and some unprecedented numbers. His 48 touchdown passes and 70.7 completion percentage were his career highs. He also posted 9.6 adjusted yards per attempt and an efficiency rating of 121.5, second-best for just 2011 in both categories.

The Packers’ decision to use a first-round pick from a quarterback, Jordan Love, and not give Rodgers more play makers ended up being a canny move. You can bet that the selection of Love motivated and sped up Rodgers for his rejuvenation, and proved that he could make it work with what the Packers already had.

He made the favorite guy, Dante Adams, the unquestionable best receiver in the NFL with his 18 touchdowns, the most of his career. Rodgers didn’t get the jumps from wide receiver Allen Lazard or tight end Jace Sternberger, but he made up for Marquez Valdés-Scantling with big plays and found a different red zone strength in RobertTongann.

The Vikings, the Sporting News pick to overtake the Packers in the division, were never able to fully recover from a slow start and major defensive problems related to injuries and inexperience. Rather than the Packers facing factors to pull them out of the playoffs from first place, that team was the injury-plagued 49ers, whom the Packers displaced as the No. 1 seed.

The Packers, in addition to shooting for the NFC North (5-1), took advantage of the AFC South (3-1) and the NFC South (3-1) on the schedule. They scored a critical victory in Week 3 at the Saints that ensured they would get home-court advantage and the only goodbye to the playoffs later.

MORE: Can the Packers survive the NFL playoffs without David Bakhtiari?

In the end, there was not much change in the NFC. The Packers and Saints stayed in shape, while the Seahawks rose to regain the division over the 49ers. The Rams replaced the 49ers as the second representative of the NFC West in the playoffs. The Buccaneers lived up to the hype by taking the Vikings’ place, while the Bears, swept away by the Packers, simply benefited from an extra wild-card spot.

Over-considered was what the Packers simply did to outperform and what they simply didn’t do on paper to improve personnel. His potential to shoot higher on all cylinders with LaFleur was less looked at and, discounting Rodgers, he had one more massive stroke peak left.

Elite quarterback. Great workout. Young people rise up everywhere. There were more signs that the Packers were moving forward to stay ahead of the competition, versus suffering a crash. Doubting Rodgers’ rate of return is never a good idea.

While Sporting News is busy wiping the cheese off our heads, congratulations to the Packers and their fans on a possible run to Super Bowl 55. Green Bay earned it in every way.

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