Pro-football-reference.com keeps a nifty power ranking index they call “Simple Rating System“. Actually, several of the “sports-reference.com” sites keep such a statistic (tomorrow I will use the one on college-football-reference to put the Badgers season in historical context). In one way or another each SRS performs the same, simple, ingenious function — it assesses team’s relative strength by comparing the number of points they score and allow against the number of points the rest of the given league has averaged against the same competition. This kind of “adjustment rating” is particularly useful in football because the schedules in that sport are so unbalanced and the games are few. And according to PFR (and several of their other sites) SRS is a very strong predictor of who will win a particular contest after adjusting for home/away.
But unfortunately for the 2010 Packers, SRS is not a perfect predictor. Because if you go by SRS, the Packers should have a much better record than the one they are currently toting around. By SRS rating, the Packers are the strongest team in the NFC by a pretty wide margin, and the second strongest team in the entire NFL behind only the New England Patriots.
Unfortunately, its pretty likely the Packers will miss the NFL play-offs. I don’t bring this up to apologize for the Packers, but rather to show how absolutely rare and strange is the feat they seem likely to pull off.
Before I do that, I want to make the story even sadder for Packer fans. Not only are this season’s Packers the second strongest team in the 2010 NFL, they are one of the strongest teams in Green Bay Packer history (post 1960). The 201o Packer’s current +9.3 SRS ranks them as the 9th strongest Packer team in the post NFL-AFL era, behind the 1996 Super Bowl team coached by Mike Holmgren and seven other teams who were all coached by a gentleman named Vincent Thomas Lombardi. And yet they will probably get nowhere near an NFL Title.
Is this unprecedented? Has any other team ranked first in SRS in their conference yet missed the play-offs? Or has any team with at least a +9.0 missed the play-offs?
Going through the entire “wild card” era, all the way back to 1971, I could find only one solitary instance where the team with the best SRS rating in a particular conference failed to make the play-offs, New England in 1980 led the AFC with a +6.5 and missed out. That, though, was the era when there was only one wild card on offer.
I found two instances in the play-off era where a +9.0 team failed to make the play-offs. One in 2005 when the +9.9 San Diego Chargers did not qualify, and one in 1975 (again in the one team wild card era) when the Miami Dolphins missed the postseason despite having a +9.3.
So the Packers are on the verge of making history. The Packers SRS is so much stronger than the second place Eagles (+6.5) it is almost certain absent collapse that Green Bay will finish the season as the strongest SRS NFC team. Yet they have a huge task ahead to make the playoffs and according to coolstandings, its more likely than not that they will miss the play-offs and become the first team in the expanded wild card era to lead a conference in SRS and miss the tournament.
But hey, if the Packers pull off this dubious feat, its their own fault, no one else’s. NFL play-off qualifications are determined by wins and losses, not by relative strength. And in too many games the Packers just didn’t finish strong.
Nevertheless, if the Packers don’t land on the head of that pin and make the play-offs, it will be hard for Packer Backers to swallow the result. The second strongest team since Lombardi probably will not even make the post-season dance.
Only in Green Bay!!