As fans we tend to underestimate the butterfly effect and seek comfort in attributing significant outcomes to simplistic themes. In sport, the most common theme is the skills of primary protagonists involved. Team A won the championship because Team A played better than Team B and worked harder than Team B. But this is not always true! Too often random events coincide to affect outcomes much more than we choose to believe or accept.
With three weeks to go in the 2010 NFL regular season, the Michael Vick led Eagles were the toast of the nation and favorites to represent the NFC in the Superbowl. The 8-5 Green Bay Packers seemed destined for an off-season of pain and hurt. The Packers were out of the division race, fighting for a wild card spot and the #6 seed. Aaron Rodgers had suffered his second concussion of the season and was about to miss a prime time game against the league’s best team – The New England Patriots. Matt Flynn was about to make his first ever NFL start and that against a Bill Belichick coached defense on the road. A loss to the Patriots seemed certain and a win by either the Giants (over the already playoff bound Eagles) or the Buccaneers (over the 3-10 Lions who had not won a road game since 2007) would have eliminated the Packers from the playoffs. Nothing that Aaron Rodgers or Tramon Williams did for the rest of the season would have mattered!!! Our perception of the team and organization would not be the same.
With 15 minutes to go in the Eagles-Giants game, the Giants held a 21 point lead. With 90 seconds to go in the game in Tampa, the Lions who had not won a road game in their previous 26 tries were trailing by 3. If life worked like math and the events that transpired matched the probabilities associated with them, the Packers (let alone go on an unprecedented historic run) do not make the playoffs . But sport and life sometimes defy the odds. The Eagles led by DeSean Jackson and Michael Vick roared back with 24 unanswered points in 15 minutes and the Lions led by the immortal Drew Stanton snapped their ignominious 27 game road losing streak in overtime.
Obviously credit goes to the Packers for winning the games they had to and achieving what they did. In retrospect though, two disconnected events played a significant role in butterfly effecting the Packers into where they are today and how we perceive them! Good luck, reading about these in the Packer yearbook though!
Fast forward a year and with 3 weeks to go in the 2011 regular season most Packer fans have their team penciled in for a date with the AFC’s best on February 5 2012. This is to be expected and very fair. As someone who follows the team and the league closely, I am not sure any of the teams that look playoff bound have the talent, coaching and player depth to compete with the Packers this year. But there is one team that looks down and out today but could be the recipient of some good luck and weird outcomes to challenge the Packers in the playoffs – The Philadelphia Eagles!
The Eagles have been the biggest victims of the shortened NFL off season this year. With all of the new talent they acquired, a long steady period of acclimation would have helped them more than most teams in the league. They are also the only NFC team with a losing record to have actually outscored their opponents and even have a healthier point differential than the Giants. My intuition is that this is a team that is playing much closer to the sum of its parts as the season winds down. With league-best talent at virtually every starter position and a quarterback who can be singularly transcendent on any given Sunday, the Eagles are the NFC team I fear the most.
If the Eagles win out over the next three weeks and end up in a two-way tie with the Giants or Cowboys or a three-way tie with both, they win the division and become the 4’th seed in the NFC. Assuming the Eagles do their bit and take care of their business over the next three weeks, the most favorable outcome for the Packers in so that the Eagles don’t make the playoffs is for both Dallas and the Giants to win this week! Both these teams are favored by a touchdown this week and if they can win their games, one of them will finish the season with >8 wins thus eliminating the Eagles for sure. If one or both of them fail to win over their significantly less talented opponents this week, the Eagles may be butterfly effected in to the playoffs and be the stiffest test for the Packers in their dream season. While it would be compelling entertainment like it was the last time Michael Vick visited Lambeau (’02-’03 playoffs), I for one could do without the dream team vs. the dream season!
So if you are a Packer fan and the above resonates with you, please join me in rooting for the Giants and the Cowboys this week. Please let me know what you think as well either via email or in the COMMENTS space below.
Go Pack, Go!