How Good Do the Packers Need to Be?
Football is a game of constant innovation and reinvention. This is true at every level of the game, from players to coaches to front office executives. Every person in each of those groups must constantly be improving and reshaping their skill sets, lest they fall behind the rest of the players, coaches, and executives around the league who are trying to achieve the same goal.
This constant need for improvement and reinvention is true at the team level as well, especially among teams who are title contenders or hope to become contenders soon.
The Packers have enjoyed virtually unparalleled success for the better part of a decade thanks to constant improvements large and small. Unfortunately, it’s more often than not only brought the Packers close to the ultimate goal of a Super Bowl, with only one breakthrough win in 2010.
The 2016 was a great example of this phenomenon. After a slog through much of 2015 and the early parts of 2016, a retooled offense (and a rejuvenated Jordy Nelson) brought the Packers to within a game of the Super Bowl, but no further.
Now, with new free agents and draft picks on board, the question remains: how good do the Packers have to be to get a shot at another Super Bowl?
Answering the big question
Identifying what the Packers have to do to get to that level is a relatively straightforward process. Every year, four teams play for the right to go to the Super Bowl, giving us a relatively neat data set to analyze.
I’ve chosen to examine the last eight years of conference title game participants to see if we can determine a good measure for what a team ready for a Super Bowl shot would look like, compiling the numbers on a few key statistics. By averaging where teams rank in these areas, should be able to get a good idea what a potentially championship-caliber team should look like.
Since “defense wins championships,” I started on that side of the ball, recording the Defense Adjusted Value Over Average for each team, along with its total defense, points allowed, takeaways, and sacks.
Offensively, I looked at the offensive DVOA, total offense, points, and turnovers each team generated.
Offense is king, but not by much
On average, here’s how the 32 teams who played in conference championship games dating back ranked.
It’s not surprising to learn how important a high-level offense is for a championship caliber team. Scoring a lot of points and doing it efficiently is an easy way to cover up a lot of a team’s faults.
But it’s interesting to learn that even with a great offense, most teams playing for a chance to go to the Super Bowl also fielded great defenses, ranking in the top third of the league in almost every category. Perhaps most notably, almost every team that made a conference championship appearance in the last eight years had a top ten (or near top ten) defensive DVOA rating.
What does this mean for the Packers?
Having learned all this, we can get a better idea of what the Packers will have to improve or maintain if they hope to get another Super Bowl shot.
Offense shouldn’t be a problem, as the numbers show.
Even if the Packers fall off a bit this season, they’re right in line with what we could expect to see from an elite team. With a fully healthy Jordy Nelson and the newly added Martellus Bennett catching passes this season, it actually wouldn’t be a big surprise to see them actually improve on offense this season.
Defense, however is a different story.
The Packers’ defense last season was not good across the board, but in scoring and takeaways they actually did quite well compared to elite teams.
The other three numbers are concerning, though. The Packers were already an inefficient defense and gave up a lot of yards, and that was with two of their top five pass rushers still on the roster. With Julius Peppers and Datone Jones now lining up elsewhere, it’s worth asking whether the Packers will still be able to produce sacks at an elite level. Even if sacks don’t tell the whole story, it’s still an important part of rushing the passer.
But assuming the Packers can at least in part offset the loss of Peppers and Jones, the quickest way to improve the defense could be to shore up their third down efforts.
The Packers were positively dreadful on third downs last season, and failing repeatedly on such an important down is an easy way to let offenses rack up tons of yards and get more shots at points. If the Packers can improve in that specific area, this defense could round into championship form quicker than expected.