The worst 15–1 team ever!

Two minutes into Sunday’s Lions–Packers game, I commented that anyone who bought tickets to the game (including, I’m guessing, a fair number of non-season-ticket-holders, given the date of the game and the fact the game didn’t mean anything to the Packers) was getting ripped off.

Never mind. If you weren’t entertained by Packers 45, Lions 41, there’s something wrong with you. No Aaron Rodgers, Greg Jennings, Randall Cobb, James Starks, Clay Matthews or Charles Woodson? No problem. The combined 1,125 yards broke the old record set in the 48–47 win over Washington in 1983. (Packers president Mark Murphy played in that game for the Redskins. The next day’s headline in the Washington Post was hilarious: “The defense rests.”)

To repeat: The Packers were missing seven starters (including offensive lineman Bryan Bulaga) against one of the better teams in the NFC, and still won. (And, by the way, finished their season by sweeping the NFC North.)

As numerous commentators predicted afterward, backup quarterback Matt Flynn may have made himself a career on another team for next season. All Flynn did was throw for a team-record 480 yards and a team-record six touchdown passes, the last to Jermichael Finley with 1:10 left, ending a game-winning drive that went 80 yards in 1:29. And despite giving up 575 yards of offense, including a record 525 yards passing by Matthew Stafford, the Packers got the one defensive play they needed, a Sam Shields interception with 25 seconds left.

The Detroit News’ John Niyo noted the irony:

 It was a day made for defense.

Rain. Sleet. Snow. Below-freezing temperature readings and swirling winds gusting over 30 mph at kickoff.

So, naturally, two quarterbacks who’d never started a game before at fabled Lambeau Field combined to pass for 1,000 yards and 11 touchdowns Sunday.

Right.

The Detroit Free Press’ Drew Sharp quoted Lions coach Jim Schwartz:

“They couldn’t have played worse,” Schwartz said about the Lions’ secondary. “We covered poorly. We tackled poorly. We played man-to-man poorly. We blitzed poorly. We played zone poorly.” …

They’re still in the playoffs, but this loss exponentially increased the odds that it will be an abbreviated stay. Had they merely accepted the Packers’ graciousness, they would have ensured themselves a much easier first-round opponent — the inevitable NFC East champion. But now, the Lions (10-6) must go back to New Orleans (13-3), where it already has been suggested that Drew Brees’ production against this Lions’ secondary could be measured in miles rather than yards. …

This was a junior varsity version of the Packers that the Lions couldn’t beat.

That phrase “there’s something wrong” has been a theme the second half of the season. ESPN noted that the Packers set a record for giving up pass yardage in a season. The Packers finished 32nd of the 32-team NFL in yardage given up — just the third time the Packers finished dead last in defensive yardage, in addition to 1956 (4–8) and 1983 (8–8) — although they were 14th in points given up. One reason for the difference between yards and points is the Packers’ turnover margin of +24, behind only San Francisco. The Packers also had the fewest penalties (tied with Indianapolis) and had the second fewest penalty yards.

For those who believe those who don’t learn from football history are doomed to repeat it: The Packers scored the most points in team history and the second most points in NFL history this season, behind only the 2007 Patriots. But none of the top four single-season scoring offenses won that season’s Super Bowl.

On the other hand, it was noted later that New England is the AFC’s number one seed at 13–3. None of those 13 wins was over a team with a winning record. One of the functions of the sports media is to pick on whoever is the flavor of the day, when they’re not being front-runners, that is.

The better harbinger is what’s happened to the NFL’s 15–1 teams. The 1984 49ers and 1985 Bears won their seasons’ Super Bowls, while the 1998 Vikings and 2004 Steelers lost their conference title games.

Niyo makes the most pertinent point about the Packers’ defense:

And that, in a nutshell, is what today’s NFL has become. It’s a shooting gallery, with trigger-happy quarterbacks and their offensive coordinators calling the shots, more often than not.

How else do you explain what we’ve seen lately, with Brees breaking Dan Marino’s decades-old single-season record for passing yardage last week, only to have the Patriots’ Tom Brady do the same Sunday? And to have Stafford, a 23-year-old essentially completing his first full season, nearly match them both, throwing for 520 yards and five touchdowns Sunday to finish the regular season with a whopping 5,038 passing yards.

How else do you explain the fact that the top-seeded teams in both the NFC (Green Bay) and the AFC (New England) were ranked 31st and 32nd in the league, respectively, in total defense? New Orleans was ranked 26th, one spot ahead of the 1–15 Indianapolis Colts, by the way.

The Packers have two weeks to get ready for probably the winner of the Atlanta–New York Giants game Jan. 15 at 3:30 p.m., which means they’ll face two teams they’ve already beaten this season. (The other possibility is Detroit again if the Lions upset New Orleans Saturday night, but see the previous comment about how many miles the Lions defense will give up to the Saints.)

This is not a normal NFL season. Keep that in mind when thinking about the Packers’ chances to repeat as Super Bowl champions. Stop worrying about the Packer defense and remember this from earlier this season: In 15 of the 21 previous seasons the Super Bowl champion finished either first or second in the NFL in point differential. New Orleans was first this season, +208. Green Bay was second, +201. So my prediction based on that is that either the Saints or the Packers will win Super Bowl XLVI.

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