In the end, through sixteen weeks, the Packers didn’t just win the NFC North division on the final night of the regular season, they were the best team in the division long before that!
The Packers went 5-1 in the division; no one else had a winning mark in games within the NFC North.
The Lions were 3-3 while both the Vikings and Bears were 2-4. Green Bay’s only loss in a division game was a week two 17-14 decision at Minnesota in the opener of the new stadium in Minneapolis.
The Packers, in going 5-1, outscored their division foes 173-130 for a plus-43 point differential. No other division team had a plus point differential in NFC North games this season! The Lions (123-128) were negative five, the Vikings (119-120) minus one and the Bears (101-38) - 37 in division games.
So while the Vikings started 5-0 to take control early, then the Lions won five straight through the mid to late portion of the schedule to take control heading into the stretch run, when it was all said and done, the Green Bay Packers (who finally took the lead after week sixteen) were the best over the long haul and it wasn’t as close as the final standings would lead you to believe.
Everyone wants to know the key for the Packers in the post season and the answer is obvious - Aaron Rodgers!
In his career, Rodgers has played in 13 post-season games. When his passer rating is 100 or better the Packers are 5-1. When his passer rating slips below triple digits the Packers are 2-5 in playoff games.
This is really no stunning revelation; the NFL is a quarterback-driven business so the play of your passer goes a long way to determining who wins every week of the season not just in the post season.
Post-season teams that win without their quarterback playing at a very high level are those that have dominating defenses.
Denver last year, Seattle in 2013, Pittsburgh 2005, Tampa Bay in 2002 and Baltimore in 2000 are examples of teams that won on defense and had no trouble overcoming just adequate quarterback play (Russell Wilson was better than that for the 2013 Seahawks) in the post season to win it all.
Even the Packers of 2010 rode their red-hot quarterback to the title, but when he struggled in the NFC Championship game in Chicago (17-30 passing, 244 yards, 0 TD's, 2 Interceptions, 55.4 passer rating) defensive lineman B.J. Raji returned an interception for a touchdown and Sam Shields intercepted Caleb Hanie to punch the ticket to Dallas and Super Bowl XLV.
Because of where their defense is today (injuries at cornerback primarily), the play of the quarterback is an even bigger factor (if that’s possible) in determining the Packers post-season fate this month.
Here is the final Power Poll of 2016 (photos courtesy USA TODAY Sports):
1. New England Patriots (last week: 2) - Home for the playoffs as usual.
2. Dallas Cowboys (last week: 1) - Romo prep is one series in Philly; apparently, that’s enough.
3. Pittsburgh Steelers (last week: 3) - Backups had to go overtime to beat the Browns.
4. Atlanta Falcons (last week: 6) - Offense is the best in the league, but the improvement of the defense makes the Falcons a legit contender.
5. Kansas City Chiefs (last week: 5) - AFC West Champs.
6. Seattle Seahawks (last week: 4) - They just don’t look right.
7. New York Giants (last week: 8) - Outside of Dallas the best NFC team I have seen in the last month of the season.
8. Green Bay Packers (last week: 9) - Ran the table to an NFC Division Championship and home playoff game.
9. Oakland Raiders (last week: 7) - For a playoff bound team, they’re going nowhere!
10. Detroit Lions (last week: 10) - By losing North title game they back into the playoffs and get shipped out to Seattle. With the way the Seahawks are playing, that may not be as bad an option as you would think.
11. Miami Dolphins (last week: 11) - Will be no match for the Pats, if they get that far
12. Houston Texans (last week: 12) - Who’s it going to be at quarterback?
13. Tennessee Titans (last week: 14) - A team on the rise with two first round draft choices coming up this spring.
14. Washington Redskins (last week: 13) - In the end just not quite good enough. Now they have to pay the quarterback — AGAIN!
15. Denver Broncos (last week: 15) - Defending Super Bowl Champs were injurious to coach Gary Kubiak.
16. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (last week: 16) - Another team on the rise with a bright future.
17. Indianapolis Colts (last week: 17) - Avenged the loss to the Jags, but despite the great QB, were never good enough anywhere else.
18. Philadelphia Eagles (last week: 21) - Back to back wins over the Giants and Cowboys to finish the season; another team trending upward.
19. Minnesota Vikings (last week: 19) - Pounded the Bears to finish break even on a season where everything that could go wrong---DID!
20. Arizona Cardinals (last week: 22) - A far cry from 2015 but the fact is, they have the most talented roster in the NFC.
21. Cincinnati Bengals (last week: 24) - Another perennial playoff team disfigured by injury.
22. Baltimore Ravens (last week: 18) - Never got over the week 16 loss to the Steelers.
23. Carolina Panthers (last week: 23) - Cam allowed all of the noise, starting with his post Super Bowl press conference, to get into his game. Remember the “character” issue when he came out of college?
24. New Orleans Saints (last week: 20) - Trade the coach? Now that’s a novel idea.
25. Buffalo Bills (last week: 25) - Ya know, the more I think about it, the more 91-year-old Marv Levy makes sense in Buffalo again. By the way he says he’s available.
26. Chicago Bears (last week: 26) - Matt Barkley for starting competition or backup? Based on the last two weeks, why would they bring back Matt Barkley at all?
27. Jacksonville Jaguars (last week: 27) - Believe it or not, they have talent.
28. San Diego Chargers (last week: 28) - Will be missing the “real McCoy.”
29. San Francisco 49ers (last week: 29) - Giving NFL meaning to one and done for head coaches.
30. New York Jets (last week: 32) - Rose up and pounded the “rudderless” Bills.
31. Cleveland Browns (last week: 31) - Took Steelers backups to overtime!
32. Los Angeles Rams (last week: 30) - I guess Eric Dickerson is welcome back on the sidelines now, so they have that going for them — which is nice.