Often, at this time of year, Packer fans are asked their prediction as to the Packers record this season. On average, the predictions have seemed to end up right around 12-4 (or higher) from most of the "Super Bowl or Die" bunch, riding a wave of optimism that stemmed from a dramatic turnaround last season.
I don't usually like to share my prediction, mostly because I'm not right very often, and secondly, because I'm always confronted by someone who has obviously and passionately analyzed the entire schedule and says, "What? Where do you see five losses? Who are they going to lose to?" So, I tend to keep my predictions to myself.
But, when I do make those predictions, I tend to make them with a range, or deviation, from where I think they will land. That's not to give myself leeway and to widen my chances of winning some pool or bet, but to show the differences between "everything going right" and "everything not going right", the prediction actually being the midpoint twixt the two.
But, Mike McCarthy's Packers have always busted my deviation. Every single time, which doesn't do a whole lot for my psychic self-esteem. And, looking back, the McCarthy Packers are a team of violent swings of momentum, not only from season to season, but within seasons themselves.
In 2006, the Packers came off of a terrible 4-12 record. I predicted a 6-10 season, but with only a one game deviation, meaning I figured they'd have between 5 and 7 wins. Naturally, the Packers finished just outside that range at 8-8.
The next year, I widened by deviation, having been fooled by McCarthy once. I predicted a 7-9 record, but offered up a 2-game deviation (figured between 5 and 9 wins). And, once again, I couldn't even pick it within a five-game deviation, as the Packers finished 13-3.
In 2008, despite the whole Favregate issue, I predicted an 11-5 season for the Packers, once again with a two-game deviation (between 9 and 13 wins). The Packers finished 6-10, disappointing both for fans and my ability to pick the Packers' record.
Last season, I went right to 8-8, with a two-game deviation again. The Packers would finish between 6-10 and 10-6, and for much of the season, I looked to be right on. But, give them credit...they steamrolled much of the last half of the schedule and finished 11-5. Missed again.
So this season, for a myriad of reasons, I am opening up the deviation for a full three games either way, and while many of you will suspect it is simply because I want to guess right, for once, I believe this season really has the potential to be very special or very average.
I am predicting an 11-5 record this year, but like many of the green-and-gold glasses types out there, I do think this team has the potential to have a 14-2 year. I also think this team has the potential to be a .500 team, which given the hype of the offseason would be nothing less than a major disappointment.
A lot of it has to do with the streakiness of the McCarthy teams. Obviously, going from 8 wins to 13 wins to 6 wins to 11 wins is a sign of some streakiness in itself. But, if you take out preseason and playoff games, and don't mark the beginning and endpoints of each season, some other streaks show up when you look at every game McCarthy has coached in order.
Now, you can always point to factors that play into why those records trend high or low, but that's my entire point. Like any NFL football team, scheme changes, outside distractions, and injuries are going to have an effect on the overall record, but the Packers seem a bit more susceptible to the ebbs and flows of circumstance than the average team.
To pursue that point, I went through the last four regular-season records of all 32 NFL teams, and added up the difference in wins from one season to the next. For example, the Packers went from 8 to 13 (5), from 13 to 6 (7), and from 6 to 11 (5) for a total of 17. This means that the Packers' record has changed, on average, by a total of 5-and-two-thirds of a win each year.
How does this compare with the rest of the league? Only one team exceeded that differential total--Miami, with 19. Baltimore tied with Green Bay with 17, but after that point it is clear to see these three teams are by far the high end. The average differential of wins over those four season for all the teams in the league was only 8.9, meaning that, on average, a team's record changed less than three win per year.
The standard deviation of all of those differential totals was +/- 4.1, meaning the Packers' total of 17 was nearly at the upper edge of the second deviation.
Now, this is not to say that having a high deviation per year is a bad thing or somehow dooms the Packers to a poor season this upcoming year, simply to follow a pattern. Teams with low deviations could be a team like the Colts, who average only one win differential per year, but all of those win totals are 12-4 or higher. Another team with the same deviation is Oakland, who haven't had a record above 5-11. Teams like Buffalo, Houston, and Denver have been very consistently mediocre.
The point of compiling all that data was to show that the Packers are a volatile team, a team that hasn't shown a lot of consistency over the past several seasons. In other words, we've had tremendous highs and tremendous lows, great disappointments followed by exuberant surprises. However, the other teams with high differential totals--Miami (19), Baltimore (17), Detroit (13), and Cleveland (13) may not be the caliber of teams we wish to model.
Switching gears, let's look at the reasons why I think the Packers could indeed finish 14-2. As shown last year and in last Saturday's game--I'll say it--I think this Aaron Rodgers-led offense is going to be unstoppable. There are too many explosive weapons and Rodgers has matured into perhaps one of the best quarterbacks in the league. If the offensive line can hold it together long enough for him to get through his reads once, and the running game can keep defenses somewhat honest, 2010 may be a repeat of the 1983 "score-at-will" offense.
Now, last year the Green Bay defense finished statistically with the #3 overall defense, and according to Cold Hard Football Facts, the Packers had the #1 overall Defensive Hog ranking and the #4 overall Defensive Passer Rating. Now, so much with the defense is still uncertain after last years' debacle in Arizona and last week's uninspired performance against the lowly Browns. But, assuming that the defense can hold their own and keep opposing teams from matching our offense score-for-score, there's little reason to doubt why this team isn't capable of a first-round bye in the playoffs.
Frankly, I still have faith in Dom Capers to maximize the talent he has. The only question is whether the talent is there and can execute.
In the Packers' 16-game schedule this season, nine games are against teams that did not make the playoffs last year. If you go in assuming this team should beat the teams it is supposed to, and at least split the other six, that would make 12 wins right there. If you (like me) believe that the Minnesota Vikings are a team on the verge of implosion with or without Brett Favre, you could easily bump that number up another win or two.
The Packers do have many of the pieces in place, and this is still a league of parity. If the Packers can avoid injury have a couple of young players step up, this might be the best team they've fielded in a long time.
On the other hand, it may not. As I said, I think an Aaron Rodgers-led offense is nearly unstoppable, but if for some reason #12 was taken out of the picture, the outlook for the season changes dramatically. Matt Flynn may have shown he can make some safe passes, but let's be honest: this is not going to be the same offense with him running it. He doesn't have the accuracy, the arm strength, or the poise to be the same kind of field general. And in this pass-first offense, it would change the entire complexion, and likely, not for the better.
If A-Rodge is out for any extended portion of the season, especially against the tougher teams on the schedule, it will result in more losses in the standings and even more in momentum and confidence. Not having a veteran backup may be one of the worst gambles that Ted Thompson makes in this season of high expectations. Even Brett Favre had Jim McMahon in the Super Bowl year.
But even with Rodgers healthy and upright, there are enough questions marks to cast some doubt. What if the running game doesn't establish itself, or can't keep the ball off the carpet? What if our defense simply doesn't have the pass rush to effectively shut down opposing quarterbacks? What if our special teams continue to put the team in poor field position, both of offense and on defense? What if we can't count on our kicker to put away a game in the final minutes?
And of course, injuries are always a factor. In 2005 and 2008, injuries played a significant role in the final record of those Packer teams, with seemingly player after player finding themselves on the injury report. You can't go into a season trying to avoid injuries, but you better be in a position to be ready for them.
So, worst case scenario, Rodgers is hurt for an extended period of time and the defense doesn't come together in big games against tough opposing quarterbacks, and I think it is completely reasonable to believe that an 8-8 record is a strong possibility.
Do I think we'll go 8-8? I doubt it. Do I think we'll go 14-2? Probably not. But, it is still preseason, we're still 0-0, and the reason they play the game (and why we watch) is still in front of us. Anything is possible this year, and as true Packer fans, we look forward to whatever this team will give us.
If the past is any indication, it's going to be a wild and bumpy ride.