clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Close game regression bodes well for the Packers’ NFC North chances

The Minnesota Vikings’ 2022 record was inflated by an unsustainable amount of single-score wins.

Syndication: PackersNews Dan Powers/USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin / USA TODAY NETWORK

I truly believe that one of the most important stats to keep track of in football is teams’ records in single-score games. It’s a tough pill to swallow, but here’s one of the dirtiest little secrets in the sport: No one is good at winning close games.

The Tom Brady New England Patriots weren’t great at pulling out wins in tight games. They were good at making sure it didn’t come down to a single bounce of the ball.

In the NFL, winning too many close games in a single season brings on extra pressure from the league’s parity-based feedback loop. A better record means tougher opponents in both conference and cross-conference play. It also means a later draft choice. That’s all before you account for the fact that assistant coaches and free-agent players could be overvalued in the offseason due to the team’s success, leading to turnover.

Let’s take a look at the track record of teams that have won an abnormal amount of close games in a single season.

Inflated Records

From 2006 to 2021, 34 teams won five more single-score (seven points or fewer) games than they lost during a single season. On average, those teams lost 3.4 more games the following season. Some extreme cases of collapses include the 2012 Houston Texans, the 2012 Atlanta Falcons and the 2015 Carolina Panthers — who combined for a 40-8 record in their “inflated record” seasons and recorded a combined 12 wins the following year.

Of the 34 case studies here, 28 had a worse record the next season, two held their mark and four somehow managed to improve. To say the least, the odds are stacked against the Minnesota Vikings — who went 13-4 last season while winning all nine of their single-score games — to repeat their 2022 success. In fact, the Vikings’ 9-0 record in single-score games is the most inflated mark in the history of the NFL, per Pro Football Reference’s search tool Stathead.

What’s interesting about this phenomenon is that the inverse is also true of single-score games: Teams that lose an abnormal amount of close games in one season are almost assured to have a better record the following year.

Deflated Records

From 2006 to 2021, 28 teams managed to lose five more single-score games than they won in a single season. 25 of those teams won more games the following year, one held steady and only the 2019 Dallas Cowboys and 2018 Carolina Panthers actually posted a worse record the next season. The opposite of the 2022-2023 Minnesota Vikings in this trend are the Chicago Bears, Denver Broncos and Las Vegas Raiders, who combined for a 9-24 record in single-score games in 2022.

For what it’s worth, the average number of wins gained the following season for this subset of teams is 3.6 wins, close to the inverse of the 3.4-win decline that the “inflated record” teams have recorded in over a decade-and-a-half.

The Minnesota Vikings’ projected decline is so noticeable that it’s already been baked into the gambling lines for the upcoming season. According to DraftKings, the Vikings have +250 odds to win the NFC North, which carries an implied probability of 28.6 percent including the vig (the book’s cut.) Based on the book’s numbers, the only division that is more wide-open than the NFC North this season is the AFC North.

On paper, the Vikings returning much of their talent from a 13-4 team should worry the rest of the division, but the truth is that their record is something of a paper tiger due to the number of breaks that went their way in close games. Meanwhile, the Detroit Lions and Green Bay Packers played their best ball in the second half of the 2022 season — leading to a Week 18 Sunday Night Football matchup between the two with the Packers’ playoff hopes on the line — and the Chicago Bears are poised to make a significant jump, as long as quarterback Justin Fields takes the next step forward.

This is a “rebuilding” season for the Packers, but the NFC North is still a winnable division. At the very least, the numbers would suggest that the Vikings are due for a wake-up call in 2023.

Check out DraftKings Sportsbook, the official sportsbook partner of SB Nation.