Thursday, November 15, 2012
Can the Packers make the Super Bowl?
By Kevin Seifert
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The assignment for each NFL blogger was to argue the chances of one divisional team to reach the Super Bowl. That put me in a bit of a predicament, considering the NFC North has two of the top championship contenders in the entire league.
The Chicago Bears are 7-2, have the NFL's best defense and were ranked No. 3 overall in ESPN.com's most recent Power Rankings. The Green Bay Packers, meanwhile, are 6-3 and No. 6 in those same rankings. The Packers have a young defense that can be expected to continue its improvement. They also figure to get an infusion of injured players back on the field for the stretch run, a list that includes defensive back Charles Woodson, receiver Greg Jennings and linebacker Clay Matthews.
Historically, one of the most reliable measures of championship contention is passer rating/QBR differential -- the difference between a team's offensive passer rating (or QBR) and the passer rating/QBR allowed by its defense. The Bears rank fifth in the NFL at 25.4, and the Packers rank sixth at 19.9. Those figures are close enough that all we can conclude is both teams are well-positioned for a championship run based on historical trends.
In the end, this decision could come down to a value choice. The Bears have a relatively high differential because their pass defense has allowed the second-lowest QBR in the league. They've intercepted 19 passes, allowed only eight touchdown passes and have 26 sacks. Overall, the Bears' defense also has scored six touchdowns and is averaging 3.3 takeaways per game.
The Packers' differential, of course, is based mostly on quarterback Aaron Rodgers' QBR of 72.3. (Rodgers has thrown 25 touchdowns and only five interceptions, completing 67 percent of his passes.)
So what's more important to a championship team? Elite-level quarterback play or an elite-level defense? Some will tell you there is nothing more important than a quarterback in the playoffs, just as a hot point guard can dominate the postseason in basketball. Others contend that elite defense trumps high-flying offenses in January football.
That leaves us facing an exceptionally difficult choice. For me, it comes down to projecting which asset is most likely to continue functioning at its current level.
In that context, I'm choosing Rodgers. We're pretty comfortable with what he can do. It is not difficult to envision him maintaining his current pace.
Is it reasonable to expect the Bears to continue scoring and forcing turnovers at the current historic rate? To me, that's less likely to occur than Rodgers finishing the season as well as he is playing now. That's why I'm choosing the Packers, in case the headline didn't register.