Football Outsiders has a new article up charting Starters Games Lost by each team in the NFL. I have pasted in the chart below and I think there are a lot of assumptions we can make based off of this chart.
The three teams with the least Starters Games Lost were three teams that made the playoffs, but by most experts and fans were teams that overachieved. The Chiefs were a longshot to win the division but stayed healthy and overachieved but were eventually blown out by a much better Baltimore team.
Atlanta was a projected 10-6 wild card team but they stayed healthy, overachieved to a 14-2 record, but were then blown out by the Green Bay Packers last week in the divisional round.
Chicago has also stayed remarkably healthy, getting some luck(Detroit), and rising to win the NFC North. Then faced no adversity in their first playoff game against Seattle.
Teams need luck to stay healthy and in a lot of cases they need luck to overachieve. In the case of Kansas City and Atlanta a weak schedule(both got to play the NFC West) played into their over-inflated records. The problem is come playoff time every team will need to face some adversity and it is how you deal with this adversity that determines your success.
Atlanta started fast and twice had a seven point lead over Green Bay. But Atlanta got punched in the face at the end of the half by Green Bay with the touchdown pass to James Jones late, than body slammed by Tramon Williams interception return. This is a team who has had a very easy ride this season. Most tough games were at home, they had very few injuries and a weak schedule. When things started to go wrong, they really went wrong.
Kansas City faced a similar problem. They faced a tough-minded Baltimore team and did start fast just like Atlanta. But at some point there will be a turn in momentum and from that point on Kansas City crumbled.
Compare these two games to Green Bay. The Atlanta game started with a turnover that resulted in a touchdown by Atlanta. Green Bay went on a long drive and tied it up. On the ensuing kickoff Atlanta took it to the house. I feel that both Kansas City and Atlanta would have crumbled here if the roles were reversed and they were on the road, down seven, with the home crowd going wild. Instead the Packers went on an impressive 92 yard drive to score. Then an interception by Tramon Williams lead to the Jones touchdown, then the Williams interception to the house. To start the second half the Packers received and methodically took it down for a touchdown to go up 35-14. GAME OVER!!
Only extremely mentally tough teams can handle that kind of adversity on the road in the playoffs and the Packers had a season’s worth of adversity to deal with in the first four weeks. They have had some injuries, a lot of injuries, and this has given the team the opportunity to deal with much more adversity than a normal team. It sucked to lose Finley for the year but most of the other injuries have been successfully dealt with. Desomond Bishop is a better fit than Nick Barnett at ILB in the 3-4. Charlie Peprah, although not as talented as Morgan Burnett, is ahead of him mentally leading to fewer coverage breakdowns. The loss of Ryan Grant still hurts but it has lead to John Kuhn as a short yardage back and James Starks with fresh legs for the playoffs.
The key to the Packers dealing with the injuries has been Rodgers, Woodson, Raji, Mathews, Jennings and Collins staying healthy. Along with the rise of Tramon Williams to a premier corner and Sam Shields fast develpment at the other corner. These players combined with a relatively healthy offensive line has allowed the Packers to weather the storm.
Now the Packers are no longer in “weather the storm” mode. Due to all this adversity, dealing with injuries, guys stepping up and backs against the wall mentality since week 15 the Packers are now the hunter not the hunted. They are relatively healthy, confident and extremely hot. If anything goes wrong during the Chicago game we know they will be able to deal with it. If anything goes wrong for Chicago will they be able to deal with it?
For Chicago to win on Sunday I think they will need a lot, or everything, to go their way and this rarely happens in playoff games between divisional opponents.