2011-12 Green Bay Packers: the story of a team that went from Super Bowl champions to regular-season champions.
Does that mean that they went from a complete success to a complete failure? Is there a medium between that? And do the playoff losses from the New Orleans Saints and Packers prove that "Defense wins championships?"
The 2010-11 Packers had to win six consecutive games to claim the franchise's fourth Super Bowl, their 13th championship overall. That team finished as the NFC's No. 6 seed with a 10-6 record. They finished ahead of the New York Giants and Tampa Bay Buccaneers in playoff tiebreakers. Both of those teams were 10-6. The Packers were also second in points allowed (240).
The 2011-12 Packers started their season with 13 victories. They were the only team with fewer than three losses as they finished with a 15-1 record. Yet, they were eliminated by the New York Giants in the 2012 NFC divisional playoffs following a 37-20 defeat. The Packers were 19th in points allowed (359).
One is a "Just good enough" regular season with a great postseason. The other is a nearly unblemished regular season with a hiccup at the most inopportune moment.
The Giants' recent playoff runs are also very interesting to look at. The 2007-08 Giants won the Super Bowl despite being a wild-card team. Yet, they were eliminated in their first playoff game in the following season when they were the NFC's No. 1 seed (sound familiar?). The 2010-11 Giants didn't make the playoffs with a 10-6 record. Ironically, they're in the NFC Championship after winning their division with a 9-7 record just one year later.
Just consider the teams that have scored 540 or more points throughout a regular season. Those teams include the 2007-08 New England Patriots (589), the 2011-12 Packers (560), the 1998-99 Minnesota Vikings (556), the 2011-12 New Orleans Saints (547), the 1983-84 Washington Redskins (541) and the 2000-01 St. Louis Rams (540).
The Rams are the only team on this list who didn't win at least 13 regular-season games. The Vikings and Packers went 15-1 while the Patriots went 16-0. Yet, none of these teams won Super Bowls. The Patriots and Redskins (both of whom were the most balanced) were the only teams who won their conference championships. The Vikings were eliminated in the NFC Championship. The Saints and Packers were eliminated in the divisional playoffs.
The 2000-01 Rams were eliminated in the wild-card round from a team that had previously never won a playoff game. The irony behind that was that the 1999-00 Rams and the 2001-02 Rams had combined to win two conference championships and one Super Bowl with more-balanced teams which scored fewer points. Those teams didn't have a defense that surrendered 471 points during the regular season.
The 2007-08 Patriots had averaged more than 36.8 points per game during the regular season. Yet, they were held to 35 combined points in their final two playoff games against the San Diego Chargers (21) and New York Giants (14). The Patriots were also held to 28 or fewer points in four of their final six games. That just shows that opposing defenses were slowing down the Patriots' offense toward the end of the season. Some of that was better competition. Some of that was having more game film on them.
The Packers are positioned to be a regular-season champion for as long as Mike McCarthy remains with the organization and Aaron Rodgers remains healthy. However, they'll need more balance from their defense if they're going to win more Super Bowls.
Consider how many times the 2000-era Indianapolis Colts wow'ed the league with their offenses before they were upset in the playoffs from defenses that wanted to silence their critics. Even their 2006-07 Super Bowl team needed a hot streak from their defense during that postseason.
So does defense win championships? I do feel like defenses have a motivational advantage during the postseason because the media is always praising the high-powered offenses as unstoppable forces. The defenses love nothing more than to shut their critics up when it matters the most.
I'd go a bit further with that ideology. Look at the 1960s Green Bay Packers, the 1970s Pittsburgh Steelers, the 1980s and 1990s San Francisco 49ers, the 1990s Dallas Cowboys and the 2000s New England Patriots. What did all these dynasties have in common? Balance.
Offenses win regular-season championships. Defenses win postseason championships. Balance builds dynasties.
The regular season and postseason are two completely different beasts. They're two completely different seasons. The regular season shows who the best teams are over the course of a four-month period. The postseason proves who the best teams are when their backs are against the wall in every game.
The young Packers have now experienced both. The regular-season championship doesn't come with the glory and praise that comes from winning three or four games in January and February. The only things that will come from a regular-season championship are numerous lists that are titled "18.5 biggest chokers in NFL history."
I'm not the all-or-nothing fan that will say that this season was a complete failure for the Packers just because they didn't win their fifth Lombardi Trophy. While they left something on the table, I think it's dangerous for a team to have the mentality that a 15-1 regular season is a complete failure. Where does the motivation come from to play in upcoming regular seasons if all that matters is a postseason championship? It's rather dangerous to just hope that a team can turn it on at the end of the season when they're fighting for their playoff lives.
With that said, it's up to the players and organization to determine what they want to be remembered as from here on out. Will they be remembered as the regular-season champions who top those "Choker" lists? Will they be remembered as an off-and-on postseason champion who tops those "Lucky and hot at the right time" lists? Or will they be the next dynasty?
Get to work on that defense. Now.
Joshua Huffman graduated from Middle Tennessee State University as a marketing major in 2009. He's been a Middle Tennessee resident from 1986-88 and 2001-present. He lived in the Upper Peninsula and Northern Wisconsin from 1988-01 and for approximately eight months in 2009-10 while completing a 20-game volunteer position with the USHL's Green Bay Gamblers. His favorite sports organizations include the Green Bay Packers, Chicago Cubs and Nashville Predators. He also follows the Tennessee Titans, his favorite AFC team.
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