On Sunday, the Green Bay Packers became the first 15-win team in history to be one and done in the playoffs. They had been anointed as the best team in the league, possibly of all time, and they were everybody’s favourites to repeat. However, their defeat should not come as huge surprise.

First of all, it is extremely difficult to repeat in the NFL. Since 1998, only one team has managed to reach even the conference championship round the year after a Superbowl victory; that team being the 2004 Patriots. The Packers may have clearly had the best record in the league, but this is not a precursor of playoff success. This is the 8th consecutive year that the team with the overall best regular season record has failed to win it all. The last team to go all the way? Those inimitable Patriots again, in 2003.

These days the NFL playoffs seem to be all about ‘getting hot at the right time’. The Packers of all teams should appreciate this. Last year, they were struggling to find form and rhythm before the end of the regular season. They scraped into the playoffs; a DeSean Jackson punt return away from not making it at all. Once they were in the tournament, they took to the road and their momentum carried them all the way to the Superbowl. This season, it would be the New York Giants who have taken on the moniker of the resurgent in-form team. Surprise surprise, the Giants upset the number 1 seed on the road.

History is not the only thing that was holding the Packers back. It was evident against the Giants, more than ever, that their defense is simply not good enough. Last year, the Packers were at least able to generate a pass rush that kept opposing QB’s on their toes and highlighted the big play potential of the secondary. This year, no such pass rush exists. The Packers were 27th overall in the league in sacks, but in the context of overall plays and sack percentage they were last in the league.

Eli Manning was afforded all day to throw the ball, particularly on third downs. This was typified by the 3rd and 11 play in the 4th quarter, with 4 minutes and change left in the game. The Packers were down by 10 and desperate for a stop. However, once again, the defensive line could not come close to Manning. He was given 4 whole seconds in the pocket to assess the field. The result? A dagger first-down that ended any hopes of a comeback.

This is not to say that the offense was not suffering as well. Aaron Rodgers had not played in over 3 weeks, and there were appreciable signs of rust; his overthrowing of a wide open Greg Jennings in the first half springs to mind. Subsequently, whether it is fair or not, Mike McCarthy’s decision not to play Rodgers at the end of the season will now be second guessed. Jennings himself was not in sync with the rest of the offense either, and this could certainly be attributed to the unfortunate injury which kept him off the field for the last 5 weeks.

Other receivers need to take responsibility too. There were 8 dropped passes overall, including 1 in the endzone. Surprising? Well, remember the words of Jordy Nelson which were the focus of my last piece, (“Dome Sweet Dome”). The Packers team is built for domes and warm weather stadiums. When the temperature drops at Lambeau and the wind picks up, it naturally impacts the ability of the wide-receivers to control the football. The overall Lambeau effect is a fascinating one. The Packers have a 13-0 playoff record at home from 1919 to 2002. Since 2002, their record is only 2-3. This, under pass-happy offenses led by Aaron Rodgers and Brett Favre. Last year, of course, the Packers did not need to play at home during their playoff streak.

Consequently, it should not be seen as a surprise, much less a shock, that the Giants were able to go into Lambeau and get the upset win. The Giants brought with them a strong running game, difference-makers on defense who can pressure the quarterback, and a QB who is used to playing in cold and windy conditions, (and has been excellent on the big stage in his career too, it should be noted). The Giants came into the game with an incredible intensity that derives from persistently playing for their lives in recent weeks. The Packers lacked this intensity, and all of their deficiencies were exposed and emphasised as a result. And then there’s the fact that repeating in this league is almost impossible. Whoever wins the Superbowl this year, the smart bet would be to take the field next season.


Oggy’s Quick Slants

The NFC championship game sees a match-up of former overall number 1 draft picks: Eli Manning versus Alex Smith. Interestingly enough, the only remaining QB in the playoffs that was not selected in the first round is Tom Brady (round 6, pick 199).

Jeff Fisher has been the hot coaching name so far as teams look to reorganise after the regular season. The St. Louis Rams beat the Miami Dolphins in a fiercely contested race for his signature. We should remember though that in 17 years with the Oilers/Titans, Fisher only managed 6 winning seasons.