Seven stunning facts on Packers’ improbable playoff push as Aaron Rodgers and Co. try to overcome 4-8 starts

There’s been no viral quote like “RELAX” or “run the table” from Aaron Rodgers, but here we are in Week 17 of the 2022 NFL season with the Packers on the doorstep of their best turnaround in a Rodgers’ era full of them.

They are a half-game back of the Commanders for the final NFC playoff spot and can make the playoffs by winning out coupled with either a Commanders’ loss OR two Giants’ losses.

These rebounds have happened so much in the last decade-plus that it almost felt inevitable for much of the year. That is, until Green Bay was 4-8 just a few weeks ago.

Here are seven stunning facts as the Packers try to make their most improbable playoff push yet.

1. A $100 bet on a parlay for the Packers to win and the Giants, Commanders, Seahawks and Lions to all lose in Week 16 would have paid out $1,146.

Green Bay got a perfect Christmas present in Week 16 when the four teams ahead of them in the NFC wild card standings all lost on Saturday, before the Packers played the Dolphins on Sunday. As the above hypothetical parlay suggests, the odds of all five events happening together were quite unexpected.

“I’d like to be, you know, 10-5, 11-4, but considering where we were a few weeks ago, a lot of things happened in our favor,” Rodgers said. “All the games that needed to go a certain way went a certain way.”

2. The Packers had a 1% chance to make the playoffs with a 4-8 record entering Week 13, according to SportsLine simulations.

That’s how low the Packers’ playoff chances were following a 40-33 loss in Philadelphia, where they allowed 363 rushing yards and fell to 4-8. Although Rodgers had run the table before, there was speculation that he would sit the rest of the season, after Jordan Love had played capably in relief of Rodgers, who left the game with a rib injury. “The pain was tough,” Rodgers said. “I couldn’t really breathe or rotate my upper body.” Not to mention that earlier in the week Rodgers revealed he’d been playing with a broken thumb since Week 5.

The fact that we are now talking about the Packers making the playoffs is amazing considering the conversation around the team a month ago. This was unequivocally Green Bay’s worst start to a season in the Rodgers’ era from a record and offensive performance standpoint. A turnaround seemed almost impossible. Now Green Bay’s playoff chances are at 32%.

3. Only two teams in NFL history have made the playoffs after starting 4-8 or worse through 12 games — the 2008 Chargers and 2014 Panthers.

Over 500 teams in NFL history have started 4-8 or worse through 12 games, and the Packers can become only the third to reach the postseason. Yes, a seventh playoff spot helps, but it’s impressive nonetheless. The aforementioned 2008 Chargers and 2014 Panthers also won their divisions with .500 or worse records, so I wouldn’t take too much away from the Packers’ chance to snag the seventh seed.

4. Rodgers has made the playoffs six times when Green Bay had a .500 or worse record in October or later. Only Tom Brady has done it more (seven times) in NFL history.

Translation: Rodgers has made a career out of bringing Green Bay back from the dead. I’m not sure if his turnarounds should be called Rodgers’ rebounds or Rodgers’ rescues yet, but he might want to trademark something. Here’s a look at the aforementioned six turnarounds:

  • 2009 — The Packers fell to 4-4 with a loss to the winless Buccaneers, who entered the game 0-7 and on an 11-game losing streak dating back to the previous season. That didn’t stop Rodgers and Co. from finishing 11-5 for his first career playoff appearance.
  • 2010 — Much like 2022, Green Bay needed to win its final two games, both at Lambeau Field, in order to make the playoffs. Rodgers turned in a sizzling performance against the 9-5 Giants with 404 yards and four touchdowns in a 45-17 rout in Week 16. The Packers squeaked by the Bears’ 10-3 in Week 17 to punch their playoff ticket before winning the Super Bowl as a sixth seed.
  • 2012 — The Packers fell to 2-3 after blowing an 18-point lead to rookie Andrew Luck and the Colts. Rodgers responded with a six-touchdown game the following week in Houston and had 29 touchdown passes to four interceptions the rest of the year as Green Bay finished 11-5.
  • 2013 — Rodgers returned after missing seven games with a broken collarbone to face the Bears in a do-or-die game for both teams in the final week of the regular season. The winner would be the NFC North champion and the loser would go home. The stage was set for Rodgers to deliver one of the many iconic throws of his career, a 48-yard game-winning touchdown pass to Randall Cobb on fourth down in the final minute.
  • 2014 — The “RELAX” year. That was Rodgers’ message for Packers’ fans after a 19-7 loss in Detroit left Green Bay with a 1-2 record. Rodgers had 33 touchdown passes and four picks the rest of the season en route to his second MVP and a 12-4 record.
  • 2016 — Rodgers said he felt like the Packers could “run the table” when they were 4-6 following four straight losses. They turned out to be prophetic words as Rodgers had 15 touchdown passes and no interceptions during the Packers’ six-game winning streak to make the playoffs.

Rodgers is always pulling off some miracle, like the “Miracle in Motown”, his walk-off Hail Mary touchdown to Richard Rodgers in 2015 after Green Bay had lost four of its last five games. Now all 2022 needs is its own signature Rodgers’ moment as he attempts to run the table again.

5. Rodgers has the best regular-season home record (27-4) in December and January by any QB since 1970 with 20+ starts.

The script is now set for Rodgers to lead the Packers to the postseason as they will host the Vikings and Lions in the final two weeks of the season at Lambeau Field. Not only is he almost unbeatable to close out the regular season at the frozen tundra, but he won nine straight in the above situations with 20 touchdown passes and two interceptions.

6. Rodgers has only been swept by a divisional opponent once in his career, when he played the entire game in both losses.

The Vikings and Lions both beat the Packers earlier this year, but if history holds, expect Rodgers to exact a little revenge. The only true “sweep” of Rodgers in his career came at the hands of a familiar face, Brett Favre. The 2009 Vikings are the only team to beat Rodgers twice in the same regular season, when he was healthy for both games. Minnesota won both games with Favre in his first season with the Vikings.

7. The Packers have not allowed a point in the fourth quarter during their three-game winning streak.

Writing all of this gets me hyped for Rodgers to finish the latest turnaround while throwing for 500 yards and five touchdowns every game. However, I’m still skeptical because this isn’t the typical formula Green Bay has followed during its late runs, when Rodgers usually goes scorched earth on the league. He actually has slightly worse numbers across the board during Green Bay’s three-game winning streak.

It’s been the Packers’ defense, and perhaps opposing quarterbacks, igniting their hot streak. Green Bay has allowed only nine second-half points, and no fourth-quarter points in the last three games. They have six takeaways in the final period in that span, including three interceptions of Tua Tagovailoa in Week 16.

The only positive explanation for the suddenly opportunistic Packers defense is a very notable scheme change. Green Bay went from blitzing at a top-five rate in its first 12 games to a bottom-five rate in its last three contests. They also went from playing zone at a league average clip to the highest rate in the league in that split, according to Pro Football Focus.

Perhaps the takeaways are a result of more defenders in coverage and great reads by the secondary, but there could definitely be a regression to the mean coming in the final two weeks. The Packers’ defense is still allowing the most yards per play in the entire league in the last three games. Best-case scenario for Packers’ fans, their bend-but-don’t break defense and improving offense since Christian Watson’s emergence will be enough to win the final two games.

Add it all up and as a football fan, my heart says YES!! But, my head still says no, as I consider the possibility of a euphoric Packers run to the postseason. I hope I’m wrong as an NFL postseason would just be better with Rodgers, and throw in Tom Brady, too.

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