Image courtesy of Packers.com
Normally, this would be the post where we here at PFT would give you a quick overview of the Packers upcoming opponent; break down the stats, highlight some key player matchups, tell you who and what to look for in the upcoming game.
I’m not going to do that today. You know the opponent, you know the matchups, and you know what to look for. We just saw it, and it wasn’t pretty. Instead, what I’m going to do is tell you why you can completely forget about everything you saw on Sunday. The playoffs are a whole different beast. Here’s what matters in the playoffs.
What about home field advantage? Having a familiar stadium and more importantly not having the deafening noise of the Metrodome will probably help, although again Rodgers showed us just how well he can play in a dome last week. I would argue playing at home will be a slight advantage, but not a huge deal in this instance. In some circumstances it probably matters a lot. I’m extremely glad there’s absolutely no chance of traveling to Seattle, but in most cases home field advantage is not extremely imporant. You know what is important?
One word: Momentum. Five words: Not as important as talent. One common line of thinking is that the team that wins the Super Bowl is often the team with the most momentum heading into the Playoffs. It makes sense. Just think back to the past two Super Bowl winners. Both last year’s Giants and 2010′s Packers were the fourth and sixth seeds, respectively, but came in on big winning streaks that they rode all the way to the Super Bowl. I’m not going to argue that momentum isn’t important. However, I’d argue that in cases where there is a fairly sizable disparity in overall talent between the teams, talent trumps momentum. Let’s not forget that both of those Super Bowl winning teams didn’t just have momentum, they were really good teams to begin with. In the years prior to their respective Super Bowl campaigns, the Packers were 11-5 and the Giants were 10-6.
It’s pretty clear that the Vikings are a vastly improved team, but this is still a team one season removed from 3-13. Barring a major off-season acquisition (i.e. Peyton Manning), it’s very hard for a team to actually improve their talent level drastically in one year. Most people, including myself, would say that the Packers are clearly the more talented team. So much so that Vegas made them a 7.5 point favorite this weekend. Since the 2003 playoffs, teams that were favored by a touchdown or more in a wild card game are 7-2. And just to jog your memory, those two losses were last year’s Denver Broncos beating the Pittsburgh Steelers and the 2010 Seahawks beating the New Orleans Saints.
To again prove that momentum isn’t everything, the two underdogs who won those games had seemingly very little momentum. The Broncos rode into the playoffs on a three game losing streak and only had an 8-8 record. And the Seahawks? Oh, they were riding a cool 1 game win streak and sporting a nifty 7-9 record on the season. So how’d they win? For anyone who watched those games it seems fairly simple. The more talented team did not play with sufficient motivation to leverage their talent advantage. A crazy play or two helps a lot, but really, the Steelers and the Saints, despite being the more talented teams, just came out flat.
Now, I haven’t been in the Packers locker room this week, but I’d be willing to place a fairly sizeable bet that lack of motivation won’t be a huge factor here for either team. Being divisional rivals helps. Having just played a close, hard-fought contest last week definitely helps. Winning would have been great, but for this upcoming game, I think last week’s loss helps more than it hurts.
History seems to favor the Packers this week, but history can be a real jerk sometimes. Let’s hope she behaves herself this week. And if she does, we’ll be right back here next week to tell you why the 49ers talent advantage over the Packers doesn’t mean anything. I kid of course. We’ll deal with that if/when the time comes. And boy do I sure hope the time does come.