Green Bay Packers

NFL Week 17 odds roundup: Playoff positioning on the line in top matchups

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With backup Matt McGloin at the controls, the Oakland Raiders will try to sustain their road-warrior mojo against the Denver Broncos. The playoff-bound Raiders, minus QB Derek Carr (broken fibula), are 2.5-point road underdogs against the Broncos at sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark.com.

The New England Patriots’ result will determine whether the Raiders have a shot at the AFC’s No. 1 seed, but a loss coupled with a Kansas City Chiefs win would leave them in a wild-card spot. The Raiders are 9-1 against the spread in their last 10 road games.

The Raiders, through RB Latavius Murray, have the fifth-ranked rushing attack and Denver is porous against the run. If McGloin passes well enough to keep the Broncos defense honest, Oakland could outscore Denver’s mediocre offense.

The New England Patriots are listed as 10-point road favorites against the Miami Dolphins.  The Dolphins, who are 9-1 SU and 8-1-1 ATS over their last 10 games, will have RB Jay Ajayi in the lineup to help with their formula of running the ball and playing good defense. Tom Brady might rely on RB LeGarrette Blount to ease the load, since Miami’s run defense is just average.

The Kansas City Chiefs are a 5.5-point road favorite against the San Diego Chargers as they vie for the AFC West title. The Chiefs, who rolled against Denver in Week 16, are 2-8 ATS in their last 10 games after an ATS win, but FS Eric Berry and a takeaway-happy defense are matched against the team with the NFL’s second-most turnovers.

The Washington Redskins, who need a win and some help to make the playoffs, are eight-point favorites against the New York Giants, the locked-in No. 5 seed. Washington has not been this big of a favorite since 2009. Whether QB Kirk Cousins‘ primary targets such as WR DeSean Jackson and TE Jordan Reed face the Giants’ starters for a full four quarters is unclear.

The Atlanta Falcons are 6.5-point favorites against the New Orleans Saints. Matt Ryan‘s offense has lit up the scoreboard against much better defenses than the Saints’ 25th-ranked unit. On the other side of the ball, Drew Brees has the league’s most productive offense and New Orleans is 5-2 SU in their last seven visits to Atlanta.

And with the NFC North title on the line, the Green Bay Packers are favored by 3.5 points on the road against the Detroit Lions in the Sunday Night Football matchup. The Lions are 6-0 SU and 5-1 ATS in their last six home games, but have rarely shown the type of formidable pass rush it would take to get Packers QB Aaron Rodgers out of the zone he has been in for the past five games.

One win could make all the difference for Packers, Broncos

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The Denver Broncos and Green Bay Packers head into Sunday night’s showdown sporting identical 6-0 records. Barring an unlikely tie, one of them will head into their next game with a 7-0 record, while the other will be 6-1. Just how important is that difference likely to be?

From 6-0 to 7-0

Since the NFL expanded the playoffs to six teams in 1990, 36 teams have started 6-0. Of the 31 teams in previous seasons to accomplish that feat, 20 of them won their next game and advanced to 7-0.

Those teams were on the whole outstandingly successful. All of them made the postseason. Seventeen earned a first-round bye. Only one, the 2013 Kansas City Chiefs, did not win their division, and they were in the AFC West with the 6-0 Broncos. Nine made the Super Bowl. Five ended the season as NFL champions, and two of the losers lost to another team that began 7-0.

One cautionary note is 7-0 teams have not fared nearly as well since the NFL went to the current eight-division format in 2002. Of the thirteen teams to start 7-0 since then, six lost their first playoff game. That includes three teams – the 2005 Colts, the 2008 Titans, and the 2011 Packers – that finished the season with the best record in the NFL.

From 6-0 to 6-1

What about the team that loses this game? How have previous 6-0 teams that then lost fared? First, history says 6-1 is no guarantee of a postseason appearance. Broncos fans know this from 2009, when Denver started 6-0 under Josh McDaniels before fading to 8-8 as the defense collapsed. Defensive issues also sunk the 2003 Minnesota Vikings, who finished 3-7.

Most teams that suffered their first loss in their seventh game of the season fared just fine, though. Just one, the 2000 Rams, lost their first playoff game. The more successful teams include those 2013 Broncos, who won the AFC, and the 1997 Broncos, who took the wild card route to the franchise’s first Super Bowl title. Overall, six of the nine that went to the playoffs made the Super Bowl. Three won it. The most encouraging parallel for the loser of Sunday’s game might be the 2004 Patriots. They lost to the Steelers in Week 8, but won a postseason rematch and eventually hoisted the Lombardi Trophy again.

There is also a larger pool of teams that got to 6-1 without necessarily losing their seventh game. Since realignment in 2002, 20 of the 25 teams to start 6-1 have made the postseason. This pool includes the 2013 Seahawks, who defeated those 2013 Broncos, and the 2003 Panthers, who won the NFC South and reached the Super Bowl without a bye. But on the whole it is better to be 7-0 than to be 6-1.

In the Context of 2015

What makes going to 7-0 instead of 6-1 especially important for both Denver and Green Bay is they are not the only 6-0 teams in their conference this year. Despite their perfect record, the Broncos would be the AFC’s third seed if the season ended today, behind New England and Cincinnati. Green Bay similarly ranks behind Carolina. All of the numbers about 7-0 and 6-1 teams that apply to Denver and Green Bay apply with equal force to the Patriots, Bengals, and Panthers.

There are a couple pieces of relatively good news. First, the most important tiebreaker in determining the postseason pecking order is conference results. This interconference result matters for Denver and Green Bay’s overall record, but it will not hurt the loser too much.

Each team has a second piece of good news. For Green Bay, they will not be competing with both Carolina and 6-1 Atlanta for a postseason seed. The top four seeds go to the division winners, and no more than one of the Falcons and Panthers can win the NFC South. Denver has no such silver lining, but they will get a chance to settle things on the field against both the Patriots and Bengals later in the season. If they win both those games, they will be in great position to get home-field advantage. If they lose both, a bye is difficult. Either way, both games are likely to carry more weight than this one.

The most important task for the Broncos and Packers, regardless of who wins, is to keep playing excellent football for the rest of the season. Starting 6-0 is no guarantee of making the postseason. Starting 7-0 is no guarantee of getting a first-round bye, even if it makes it likely. Earning home field advantage is no guarantee of postseason success. Sunday’s is likely to be a great contest. The season is a long one, however, and the winner is guaranteed nothing while the loser’s fate is far from sealed.

Green Bay Packers Have A Penalty Problem

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The Green Bay Packers are 6-0. By many measures, they are one of the best teams in the NFL. But through Week 6 Green Bay was also one of the top teams on a list you do not want to be on the top of: the most-flagged teams in the NFL.

The Packers have been called for 51 penalties through their first six games. That total is third-most in the NFL, behind only the Buffalo Bills and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, a sharp reversal from last year’s third-fewest ranking. Mike McCarthy has shown no signs of following Rex Ryan’s lead and having the Packers do push-ups to atone for their errors, but should he? Just how much more have the Packers been flagged compared to other teams? How much have the penalties hurt the Packers this season? Are the Packers particularly prone to any single type of penalty? Finally, how hard is to be successful when committing so many penalties?

The Most-Penalized Teams

Table 1 shows the teams in the league that had the most flags thrown against them this season through Week 6.

Table 1. Most-Penalized Teams, Total Through Week 6

Team Penalties
Buffalo 68
Tampa Bay 58
Green Bay 51
Baltimore 50
Cleveland 49
Oakland 49
Washington 49

A couple things to note. First, Green Bay is third, but only narrowly. They rank well behind Tampa Bay and are closer to 26th-ranked San Francisco than they are to the league-leading Bills. Second, Oakland and Tampa Bay had early bye weeks. Adjusting for bye weeks makes the Packers look somewhat better.

Table 2. Most-Penalized Teams, Per Game Through Week 6

Team Penalties/Game
Tampa Bay 11.6
Buffalo 11.3
Dallas 9.0
Oakland 9.0
Green Bay 8.5

Ranking fifth in penalties per game is not a place you want to be, but this emphasizes the Packers have not committed nearly as many infractions as other top teams. Green Bay is closer to NFC North mates Detroit and Minnesota’s fifth-fewest penalties per game than they are to Buffalo’s second-highest rate.

Further, while the Packers have been flagged for many penalties, those penalties have not resulted in many yards against them. Rex Ryan’s squad drew his ire because of all the 15-yard penalties they had been flagged for, and Buffalo led the league through Week 6 with 490 yards in penalties. New Orleans has not committed many penalties, but they have a lot of defensive pass interference calls and ranked second with 419 yards in penalties. The Packers, on the other hand, ranked just 12th in total penalty yards at 330 and 15th in penalty yards per game.

It is important not to read too much into those numbers. The penalty count is based on total penalties, while yards come just from accepted penalties. A holding penalty on a third down incompletion will be declined, just like pass interference on a long completion. We have to look at the mix of infractions the Packers have been called for to get a better picture.

Green Bay’s Penalty Mix

The Packers’ most common infraction is offensive holding, where they have been flagged 10 times this year. This is not much of a surprise. Offensive holding is the most common penalty in the league, and the most common penalty for most teams. The Packers do not even rank among the league leaders. The average team had been whistled over 8 times through Week 6, and the league-leading Bears had been penalized 15 times.

The list of most common Packers flags does not any indicate any real problem area.

Table 3. Most Common Green Bay Penalties

Penalty Count
Offensive Holding 10
Defensive Offside 4
Delay of Game 4
False Start 4
Illegal Use of Hands 4

Delay of game is the only one of those penalties where the Packers led the league, and they were tied with three other teams. Moreover, two of those delay of game penalties were intentional, taken before fourth down punts. Two unintentional delay of game penalties in six games is two more than you want, but not so bad.

You also cannot pin the penalties on a single player. The most penalized player is left tackle David Bakhtiari, flagged five times for holding or false start, but even that total is just above average and not egregious.

That is really the theme of the Packers’ penalties in general. They have been flagged a lot, more than an average team. But it is hard to see an overriding theme in their penalties. They have an above-average number of penalties on offense. They have an above-average number of penalties on defense. They have an above-average number of penalties on special teams. In no single area, however, is their total more than above average.

What It Means Going Forward

That Green Bay’s penalties are not concentrated in a single area means there is no one single fix for Mike McCarthy and his coaching staff. More likely, McCarthy will focus on players being more disciplined in their technique and life for Green Bay will be a little bit more difficult than it might be if they were penalized less frequently.

On the whole, though, penalties should not be a major issue for Green Bay. The Packers were penalized only infrequently last year. The other three teams that earned a first-round bye, though, were penalized at an above-average rate. Green Bay can take inspiration from last year’s Patriots and Seahawks, who did not let a higher penalty rate than this year’s Packers prevent them from reaching the Super Bowl.