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Packers Recent Playoff Games: Turnovers Are the Key

APC breaks down the Packers' recent playoff successes and failures by analyzing several key statistical measures. Not surprisingly, turnovers are the most critical factor in determining the final result.

Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sport

I was running back in my mind through the playoff games that the Packers have participated in over the past four years, and something kept sticking out in my mind. It seemed that in every game the Packers lost, they had committed more mental errors than their opponents, and that the offense had trouble keeping Aaron Rodgers on his feet. With that, I decided to take a look back through the losses and the wins to see if there was any difference in the performance. I found some interesting trends, but they were not entirely surprising.

First, I looked at the average sacks that the Packers recorded and allowed and found the following results (note that in all tables, a positive net value translates to a more favorable result for Green Bay):

Result Sacks By Sacks Allowed Net
Wins (5) 2.8 2.2 +0.6
Losses (3) 1 3.33 -2.33

Clearly, when the Packers allowed more sacks than they recorded, they tended to lose. In fact, this was the case each time it happened except for one: Super Bowl XLV against Pittsburgh. Likewise, at no time did Green Bay lose when they recorded more sacks when they allowed.

The next category I examined was the most glaring type of mental mistake: turning the ball over. As is typical, the team that wins the game generally was the team that committed fewer turnovers, but what struck me was how lopsided the turnover battles were in the playoff games. In these eight games, only three saw a turnover differential of +/- 1; the other five saw differences of two or more between the two teams. Here's the breakdown of per game numbers, which makes sense with what I remembered:

Result Turnovers Forced Turnovers Committed Net
Wins 2.8 1 +1.8
Losses 1 3 -2

In the five wins, the Packers forced 3 or more turnovers in four games. In the three losses, Green Bay had games with 4, 3, and 2 turnovers committed. It's not pretty, and unsurprisingly it looks like the biggest reason why the Packers won or lost their games.

Finally, I examined penalties to see if they had any obvious effect on the result. What I found here was pretty surprising, actually:

Result Penalties by Opponent Penalties by GB Net Pen Yds by Opponent Pen Yds by GB Net
Wins 6.6 4.6 +2 57.33 40.67 +16.67
Losses 6.67 5.33 +1.33 51.2 39.4 +11.8

The stats here show virtually no difference between penalties in the wins and losses. Overall, the Packers appeared to be more disciplined in terms of avoiding flags than their opponents regardless of whether they won or lost the game. That advantage is a little smaller in the losses than the wins, but it's still a decided advantage for Green Bay either way.

Overall, it appears that turnovers are by far the biggest difference between a Packers' win and a Packers' loss, while protecting Rodgers is a factor as well (and it's possible that those could be related as well). Penalties, on the other hand show far less of an effect. I know one thing: if the Packers make the playoffs next season, they had better hold onto the ball when they have it on offense. In other words, my blurry recollections of the Packers' playoff performances were more or less correct; the losses involved lots of sacks and turnovers allowed by the offense, while the wins were excellent defensive efforts by the Packers.