Yes, we are in the dead zone of NFL coverage.
We've looked at the new rookies and the contributions we can expect from them, and we've analyzed state of a few positions groups; heck, we've talked about bringing back Jermichael Finley. Theoretically. And since I know I will be met with (justifiable) mutiny should I try to defend Jarrett Bush, perhaps it's time to take a look back on last season, a year that was probably more special than we'll realize without the benefit of a few years to let it sink in.
This is a team that lost its star quarterback, was left for dead, and then played dead until December, at which point it somehow overcame a bevy of obstacles (including a home loss versus Pittsburgh in Week 16) to win in near walk-off fashion at Soldier Field. Rather than just replaying the always-entertaining Rodgers-to-Cobb GIF, I've found another way to look at the significance of 2013: by what people Googled.
Now, if you've read so far and are convinced that we really are in the darkest days of the year (as far as football is concerned), you're probably right. But the statistics that I've obtained (courtesy of Google Trends) offer a unique perspective as to the state of our franchise and fanbase, and it's one worth looking at.
Before we dive in, you should know that you can find the Trends page I used (with NFC North teams entered in) here. It's a really great tool, and you can use to do thins like find out if (and when) the Packers were more popular than Lady Gaga, or whether Green Bay has ever kept up with the Kardashians. If that kind of stuff suits your fancy.
A preliminary matter
Believe it or not, the Internet is growing. Every day, more and more folks are Googling left and right. So before I make any bold statements, I wanted to look at search volume over the last ten years. That's why I did a trend analysis for 'football', to see how the sport as a whole has been affected. Between 2012 and 2013, its popularity went up two points. Since this isn't exactly a paradigm-changing statistic, we can continue under the assumption that increased Packers searches are not solely due to increased traffic overall with consistent distribution.
Since 2004, when have searches for the Packers hit their peak?
Bonus points, I guess, if you figured out that it was February 2011, when some minor occurrence in North Texas caught the attention of the nation. Google Trends doesn't offer absolute search volume data, so if I make references to numbers like "54" or "27", I'm talking about what percentage of the Super Bowl attention the Packers are getting at any point in time. (To make a highly unclear statement less complicated, if I say, "The Packers' coverage dropped to 25," that means that the Packers were searched about 25 percent as much as they were during February 2011.)
How did coverage progress this season?
The Packers started the season with a 45, which was a major fall from the previous year's 79. That's understandable, though; Green Bay was the consensus #1 team in the league going into 2012, and thus received the star treatment, whereas they entered 2013 as a 'dark horse'-type candidate. In this regard, they were subject to less media attention, and thus less clicks. As September turned to October, the Packers dropped four points to a 41. While this may be perceived as fans losing interest, that would be an inappropriate conclusion; with the hullabaloo of kickoff weekend out of the way, a regression was inevitable barring an extraordinary event. Performance was not the issue here, however; teams like the Seahawks also suffered significant drops.
The extraordinary event we're talking about, of course, is Rodgers' injury in early November. If Google Trends were specific enough to look at weeks within a month, a major spike would likely be noted for "Packers" as a search term, but regardless, the attention spiked to a 55. In other words, people were significantly more interested in the Packers in November than they were at the start of the season.
And then December came, and, boy, did Packers Nation need it. First, a phenomenal win over Atlanta in the blustery Lambeau air, with Jarrett Bush making the game-clinching play (only time I'll ever say it, I promise.) Then, Green Bay had what may aptly be called The Comeback, perhaps the finest moment of the Flynn era (yes, including the record-setting game versus the Lions), a game in which the Packers had a phenomenal second half and Tony Romo did what Tony Romo now has a national reputation for doing. Then came a heartbreaking loss versus Pittsburgh (which also doubled as a wrecking ball party for Eddie Lacy.) And then the Chicago game. We've discussed that one ad nauseam so you're free to find the GIFs pretty much anywhere on APC for your entertainment. The result by Google's metrics? The greatest Packers December in the history of the measuring system (since February 2004.) That includes December 2010. In other words, Rodgers-to-Cobb generated more excitement than Green Bay sneaking in as the sixth seed. Soak that in for a moment.
Now, yes, January coverage dropped to a 41, which is the lowest it's been since the 2010 playoffs, but it's also the shortest time Green Bay had been in the big dance. The previous one-and-done had occurred at the divisional level. The fact that Green Bay still mustered such support for a first-round playoff out is nonetheless commendable.
The offseason stats are perhaps what are most telling. In March, the wheelin'-and-dealin' Vikings jumped past the Packers in clicks. In April, an exciting draft only built that lead. In May, Green Bay gained ground, and June has seen the Pack pull within two. By August, Google expects Green Bay to hold the lead once again. That may be the perfect way to describe the Ted Thompson era- quiet but solid springs and summers that lead to memorable (and truly incredible) Packers seasons.
Part II: How the rest of the NFC North stacks up.