The Green Bay Packers have given us plenty to write about over the last few months. The ride came to an end in Atlanta, but the astonishing run from 4-6 to being one game away from the Super Bowl will not be forgotten anytime soon. Packers fans will be sick to their stomach all week thinking about how close they came to a second Super Bowl appearance in the Aaron Rodgers-era. But when you look at the odds the team overcame to get as far as they did, it’s nothing short of remarkable. And I don’t mean “odds” the way most sports commentators do when they are really referring to injuries or a tough schedule, I mean the literal odds.
We often praise the brilliant stat-heads over at fiverthirtyeight.com, and they deserve it. Whether its politics, sports, or pop culture, their data-driven approach to analyzing the world around us is on the cutting edge. And from their game-by-game NFL odds we can calculate just how incredible the end of the Packers’ season was.
Let’s start in Week 11 of the regular season. The Pack loses (badly) to the football-team-from-Washington D.C.-that-needs-to-be-renamed and drops to 4-6 on the season. That record at that point in the season would make most teams a ghost ship, playing out the rest of the schedule with next year’s draft pick in the back of their mind. Then, quarterback Aaron Rodgers made the bold statement that he felt they could run the table and win all the rest of the games on the schedule. Forget that the Packers were without their top running back. Forget that their secondary was depleted. Their biggest obstacle in fulfilling Rodger’s prediction was math. The raw odds of the Packers winning each of their last 6 games was just 1.9% (according to fiverthirtyeight). 1.9%. That means if the season were played from that point forward 50 times we would have only seen that outcome once. They were the underdog in 3 of the 6 games too! These were not all games they were expected to win.
So on to the playoffs for the Packers, and at this point they are even more beat up than mid-season. Safeties are being forced to play cornerback. Wide receivers are in at running back. And Aaron Rodgers just keeps doing his thing. The Packers were favorites to win at home against the New York Giants, but were fairly heavy underdogs in Dallas against the Cowboys. They only had a 28% chance of winning both of those games (which of course they did). So that’s an achievement in and of itself. But when you bring in the odds of getting to that point from their precarious week 11 position and add it to their odds of winning two playoff games, the odds were just 0.5% (or 1 in 200 if you prefer).
So what about the odds of winning that game in Atlanta? The Packers were even bigger underdogs in that matchup than in the Dallas game with only a 39% chance from fivethirtyeight. Toss that in with the odds of them winning the 8 games before that we are talking about something that should have happened only 0.2% of the time, or 1 in 500.
All this talk about odds doesn’t mean a lot in hindsight. Nobody is allowed to bet on football games retroactively. But perhaps it will be solace to Packer fans still smarting from the Atlanta loss to know that even though Aaron Rodgers and company came up short of their ultimate goal, we just witnessed something truly special. A 1 in 200 occurrence.
Oh, and by the way, after the Vikings started 5-0, they were given 94% odds of making the playoffs. So there’s another stat for Packer fans to feel good about.