There is a school of thought in football that the results of games decided by one score are essentially random. Good teams blow out other teams, winning by more than one possession, but teams that win a lot of close games one year tend to regress the next. Likewise, teams that lose a lot of close games one year tend to revert towards the mean as well.
Nobody studies this more closely than Justis Mosqueda, who breaks down each year’s close game records (which he defines as a winning margin of seven points or less) to see who is in line for a big jump or a big drop in the following season. In 2018, he sees the Rams and Cowboys as candidates to slip, thanks to their +5 and +6 finishes in one-score games, respectively, while the Panthers were -5 and look like a good bet to improve next year.
Meanwhile, our colleagues over at Pride of Detroit published a fascinating what-if scenario: what if every close game (defined as an eight-point or less margin) had its result flipped? In doing so, we find the Packers, who went 3-6-1 in those games a year ago, would end up going 6-3-1 and improving their record to 9-6-1. Combined with the other results changing across the NFC, that has the effect of putting the Packers in the playoffs as the sixth seed!
Using some inspiration from the POD post, let’s look at how each of the Packers’ last few seasons would have changed had they lost the close games that they won in the regular season and vice versa.
As mentioned early on, the Packers would have improved to 9-6-1 and into a playoff spot had they flipped their results. The season would have taken on a very different trajectory, however, as you can see below. Here are the games that would have changed, along with the team’s would-be record at that time when we flip the result.
- Week 1 vs. CHI: W —> L (0-1)
- Week 5 @ DET: L —> W (2-2-1)
- Week 6 vs SF: W —> L (2-3-1)
- Week 8 @ LAR: L —> W (3-3-1)
- Week 11 @ SEA: L —> W (5-4-1)
- Week 12 @ MIN: L —> W (6-4-1)
- Week 13 vs. ARI: L —> W (7-4-1)
- Week 15 @ CHI: L —> W (9-4-1)
- Week 16 @ NYJ: W —> L (9-5-1)
All told, the Packers would have been sitting pretty after beating the Bears in week 15 — that would have given them a half-game lead on Chicago in the division. However, back-to-back losses would give Chicago the lead. Note also that this scenario spares the Packers that awful loss to the Cardinals that ended up costing Mike McCarthy his job; if this happened and the team sneaks into the playoffs, he’s probably still coaching the team. Well, maybe...that’s if the team didn’t fire him already after an abysmal 2017.
That season’s Packers went 6-2 in one-possession games, even with Rodgers injured for half the season. That probably should have been a sign that there were bad things coming in 2018 even with him healthy.
Flipping the results takes the Packers down from a bad enough 7-9 record to a truly terrible 3-13 squad. That would have given them a top-three pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, where they could have landed a stud pass rusher like Bradley Chubb or traded back with a QB-hungry team to add some picks.
Of course, finishing 3-13, even without Rodgers for most of the season, would have made keeping Mike McCarthy in charge untenable. Perhaps we could be looking at Frank Reich, Matt Nagy, or Josh McDaniels as Packers head coach right now if things went this way.
Here are the games that would have changed:
- Week 1 vs. SEA: W —> L (0-1)
- Week 3 vs. CIN: W —> L (0-3)
- Week 5 @ DAL: W —> L (1-4)
- Week 10 @ CHI: W —> L (1-8)
- Week 12 @ PIT: L —> W (2-9)
- Week 13 vs. TB: W —> L (2-10)
- Week 14 @ CLE: W —> L (2-11)
- Week 15 @ CAR: L —> W (3-11)
The real 2016 Packers finished 10-6 after running the table with six straight wins to finish the year. However, three of those final six games were within one possession. The Packers went 3-3 in close games in the early part of the schedule, though, which drops them down to a 7-9 squad and results in them missing the playoffs instead of making an unlikely run to the NFC Championship Game. But hey, at least they would have opened up U.S. Bank Stadium with a win over the Vikings, I guess.
- Wins changed to losses (6): Wk 1 @ JAX, wk 3 vs. DET, wk 5 vs. NYG, wk 13 vs. HOU, wk 15 @ CHI, wk 17 @ DET
- Losses changed to wins (3): wk 2 @ MIN, wk 8 @ ATL, wk 9 vs. IND
Despite missing Jordy Nelson for the entire year, the Packers managed to finish 10-6. However, they finished 3-4 in one-possession games, and flipping those results would actually improve their standing to 11-5 and would give them a division title over the Vikings. But without Jordy, would the Packers have gotten any farther than the Divisional Round anyway?
- Wins changed to losses (3): wk 1 @ CHI, wk 6 vs. SD, wk 13 @ DET
- Losses changed to wins (4): wk 9 @ CAR, wk 10 vs. DET, wk 12 vs. CHI, wk 17 vs. MIN
This season would be perhaps the most painful if the one-score games were flipped. The Packers went 12-4, but they went +3 in one-score games in the regular season. Dropping them to a 9-7 record and out of the playoffs does not seem to do this team justice, considering some of the blowout wins they achieved.
Bonus: both of the Packers’ playoff games in this postseason were close, so even if we leave the regular season games alone, a home loss to the Cowboys in the Divisional Round would have been awful.
- Wins changed to losses (4): wk 2 vs. NYJ, wk 6 @ MIA, wk 12 @ MIN, wk 13 vs. NE
- Losses changed to wins (1): wk 15 @ BUF
Despite Aaron Rodgers’ injury, the Packers still would have been 8-7-1 and division champions in the 2013 season if flipping their eight non-tie close games. That’s because both Bears games fell into that category, and beating the Steelers in week 16 would have made the Packers 8-6-1 and would have locked up the division a week before the end of the season. The tougher pill to swallow is probably the Wild Card loss to San Francisco, which ended on a last-second 49ers field goal.
- Wins changed to losses (4): wk 6 @ BAL, wk 14 vs. ATL, wk 15 @ DAL, wk 17 @ CHI
- Losses changed to wins (4): wk 1 @ SF, wk 3 @ CIN, wk 9 vs. CHI, wk 16 vs. PIT
Imagine swapping out the week 17 loss to the Vikings for a win and giving the Packers a first-round bye in the playoffs...that’s the scenario that the Packers could have had by flipping their 2012 close games and improving from 11-5 to 12-4. That would have meant a home game in the first round of the playoffs against the winner of a 49ers-Bears Wild Card game (since the Vikings losing in week 17 would have knocked them out of the postseason and sent the Bears to the playoffs).
Also, don’t forget that the first-round bye would have been the case simply if the replacement referees had called the Fail Mary correctly. I’m sorry, but I had to mention it.
- Wins changed to losses (3): wk 4 vs. NO, wk 11 @ DET, wk 14 vs. DET
- Losses changed to wins (4): wk 1 vs. SF, wk 3 @ SEA, wk 5 @ IND, wk 17 @ MIN
Were the Packers truly a 15-1 team in 2011? Probably not, especially with that defense. They were beaten soundly in the playoffs by a vintage “postseason Eli Manning” Giants team. However, they also won most of those 15 games convincingly, with six games separated by eight points or less and a 5-1 record in those contests. Still, flipping these gives the Packers an 11-5 record, not enough to even earn a first-round bye.
- Wins changed to losses (5): wk 1 vs. NO, wk 2 @ CAR, wk 7 @ MIN, wk 13 @ NYG, wk 17 vs. DET
- Losses changed to wins (1): wk 15 @ KC
Finally, we get to the most recent season that saw the Packers advance to and win the Super Bowl. This Packers squad was certainly better than its 10-6 record. Indeed, every one of the Packers’ six losses came in a close game, while they managed to win four close contests. Swap those results and the Packers finish 12-4 and on top of the division, earning a first-round bye and home-field thanks to a head-to-head win over the Falcons. Still, we don’t really feel the need to change anything about the way this particular season happened.
- Wins changed to losses (4): wk 1 @ PHI, wk 4 vs. DET, wk 7 vs. MIN, wk 17 vs. CHI
- Losses changed to wins (6): wk 3 @ CHI, wk 5 @ WAS, wk 6 vs. MIA, wk 12 @ ATL, wk 14 @ DET, wk 15 @ NE