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How Much Does Momentum Matter in a Super Bowl Run?

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The Packers caught fire at the end of last season because of a potent offense, but also because of an attacking defense designed by Dom Capers (left). Here he chats with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell.

During the 2010 season, the Packers were up, down and upside down at many points.

They suffered through some rough games, including a loss to the Detroit Lions in which Aaron Rodgers suffered a concussion and was unable to play half of the game. In trying to square the Packers’ uninspired play earlier in the season with the Super Bowl win, analysts have used the theory that the Packers simply “got hot” at the right time.

Certainly the Packers did improve over the last couple regular season games and then of course they won every post-season game. But does the fact that the Packers have continued this impressive streak with 11 2011 season wins mean that the theory that the Packers won the Super Bowl because they were “hot” or “had the momentum” still apply?

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I think that with each win this season, the Packers are rewriting that theory. They are making the case that what happened last season was not a fluke, despite the fact that they needed the Eagles’ DeSean Jackson to return a punt for a touchdown against the Giants in order to make the playoffs.

But let’s look at this season. Last year’s prevailing wisdom was that teams need to get hot and have momentum in order to win the Super Bowl. So, with the Packers taking a two-game lead in home field advantage for the playoffs, they are presumably going to earn a bye week in the playoffs.

Let’s take a look at past Super Bowl winners and see whether they were aided in their quest by “momentum” (playing well the last few weeks of the season and not having a bye) and those who either earn a bye and/or finish the regular season with some losses.

The 2009 Saints offer a pattern for the 2011 Packers. They started the season 13-0, the longest winning streak ever in the NFC. They then proceeded to lose their last 3 games, but still held onto a playoff bye week and ultimately won the Super Bowl, proving that momentum isn’t a sure indicator of success.

Similarly, the 2008 Steelers, who went on to beat the Cardinals in the Super Bowl, lost their second to last regular season game before going on a four-game winning streak to capture the championship.

However, the year before, Packers fans know all too well the stunning playoff run made by the New York Giants in their eventual Super Bowl campaign. They lost two out of their last three, barely made the playoffs like the Packers did last year and then knocked out higher and higher seeds in each round until they denied the Patriots the glory of an undefeated season and Super Bowl title.

Even in this case, the Giants really did not have “momentum” down the stretch in the regular season, though they did almost beat the Patriots in the final game, which might have given them a modicum of confidence.

The champs in 2006 lend another interesting example to the equation. They basically had their woeful division locked up by Thanksgiving and seemed to put the cruise control on the second half of the season, ending with a 12-4 record, which earned them a bye. Again, no “momentum” on this one either.

So, even if we claim that the Packers 2010 season was all about momentum, the past couple years show that it was an exception to the rule. The current Packers are following the same tracks as a majority of the recent Super Bowl winners: earn a playoff bye and good things will follow.

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Topics: Aaron Rodgers, DeSean Jackson, Detroit Lions, Green Bay Packers, New England Patriots, New Orleans Saints, New York Giants, Super Bowl

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