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Eric Goska column: In Packers vs. NFC North, McCarthy is king

Sep. 5, 2012
 
Packers coach Mike McCarthy smiles after a fourth-quarter touchdown against the Lions on Jan. 1 at Lambeau Field. McCarthy's teams are 27-9 against the NFC North over the last six seasons, second-best in the NFL over that span.
Packers coach Mike McCarthy smiles after a fourth-quarter touchdown against the Lions on Jan. 1 at Lambeau Field. McCarthy's teams are 27-9 against the NFC North over the last six seasons, second-best in the NFL over that span. / File/Gannett Wisconsin Media

Division domination

Teams with the best regular-season records against division opponents since 2006.

W-LPct.Team
28-8.778Patriots
27-9.750Packers
26-10.722Chargers
25-11.694Steelers
24-12.667Colts
23-13.63949ers
23-13.639Ravens

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It may not be impeccable, but Green Bay Packers coach Mike McCarthy’s record against divisional opponents is pretty darn good.

Much of the success his team has enjoyed can be traced to the work it does in the passing game — both for and against.

Nothing satisfies like defeating an opponent within one’s division. Pull off a sweep and bragging rights are good for an entire offseason.

But stacking victories provides more than emotional capital. With each successful outing, a winner moves forward in the race for a division title while the loser gives ground.

Based on his record, McCarthy understands this. The fourth-winningest coach in Packers history is second only to Bill Belichick in games won within the division since 2006.

Over the past six seasons, McCarthy’s Packers are 27-9 in games against their NFC North rivals. Belichick’s Patriots own a 28-8 record in the AFC East.

Under McCarthy, the Packers never have lost more than two division games in one season. They’ve gone 4-2 every year except for 2006 (5-1) and last year’s perfect 6-0, a first in team history.

Those six consecutive winners are a franchise record. Mike Sherman fielded winners during his first five seasons (2000-04) at the helm.

Excellence from the quarterback position has fueled much of this success. Sherman had the luxury of Brett Favre at the controls; McCarthy started Favre for two years before Aaron Rodgers took over in 2008.

Last year, Rodgers obliterated the team record for passer rating against division opponents. His mark of 134.7 in five games against the Bears, Vikings and Lions was nearly 25 points higher than the previous best of 109.9 set by Favre during the team’s Super Bowl run in 1996.

When McCarthy shelved Rodgers in the finale against the Lions for safe keeping, Matt Flynn soared. Flynn set a number of team records in fashioning a passer rating of 136.4.

When two quarterbacks combine for a passer rating of 136.6 as Rodgers and Flynn did, victories tend to accrue more easily. Firing 23 touchdown passes against just two interceptions is a recipe for success at any level.

Last season was the fourth in which McCarthy’s quarterbacks surpassed 100 rating points in division games. His passers also did it in 2007 (101.1), 2008 (105.7) and 2009 (108.4).

In 36 regular-season division games since 2006, the Packers have compiled a passer rating of 100 or better 22 times. Green Bay is 20-2 in those games, winning its last nine in a row.

In 2011, the Packers established another first by posting ratings better than 100 in each of their division games. The team’s weakest effort was Rodgers’ 111.4 in a 27-17 win over the Bears on Sept. 25.

As impressive as these numbers are, they tell only part of the story. The team’s defense has been holding division opponents in check as well.

Beginning with last season and going back to McCarthy’s first year, Packers defenders have limited division opponents to ratings of 76.0, 58.6, 67.5, 58.0, 69.9 and 61.9.

While the Packers have routinely hit or exceeded 100 points, the Lions, Bears and Vikings can’t say the same. They’ve done it just four times in regular-season games against Green Bay since 2006.

Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford was the last to do it. His 103.8 rating and five TD throws in the season finale last year were two reasons the Lions stayed with the Packers before bowing out 45-41.

But for as well as Stafford played, Flynn was better. In earning his first victory as a starter, Flynn’s rating was more than 30 points higher than that of his counterpart.

That statistic — the difference between offensive and defensive passer ratings — best explains why the Packers excel. The gap the team has forged against division competition is much wider than what exists between it and other opponents.

In 36 divisional games, the difference between Green Bay’s passer rating (101.9) and that of its opponents (65.6) is 31.3. In games outside the division, the difference between the Packers’ rating (93.9) and the competition (78.2) is 15.7.

All these numbers — both for and against — suggest the Packers save their best, at least in the passing game, for their rivals. They’d do well to continue that trend in 2012.

Extra point

Under McCarthy, Green Bay is 11-1 vs. Detroit, 9-3 against the Vikings and 7-5 when facing the Bears in regular-season games.

Eric Goska is a Press-Gazette correspondent, a Packers historian and the author of “Green Bay Packers: A Measure of Greatness,” a statistical history of the Packers. Email him at aegoska@sbcglobal.net.

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