University of Pittsburgh
February 2, 2011

Pitt Researchers Find 2010 Packers One of the Unluckiest Pro Football Teams in the Past 30 Years

Analysis of NFL regular-season records since 1978 reveals that the 2010 Green Bay Packers lost their games by the narrowest margins in history, which, by the statistical theory that close games are decided by luck more than skill, makes them the second-most hapless team after the 1999 Oakland Raiders
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PITTSBURGH—As contenders in Super Bowl XLV, the Green Bay Packers are clearly skilled—but are they lucky enough to triumph on Feb. 6? 

Maybe not. 

University of Pittsburgh engineers crunched the regular-season records of every National Football League team since 1978—when the 16-game schedule began—and found that chance has smiled on the 2010 Packers less often than on any other team except the 1999 Oakland Raiders. All six regular-season losses by the sixth-seeded Packers were by fewer than four points, a consistently narrow margin that may denote the handiwork of misfortune more than a shortage of talent, the researchers say. 

Andrew Schaefer, an associate professor of industrial engineering in Pitt’s Swanson School of Engineering, and Pitt industrial engineering sophomore Dylan Davis based their analysis on existing statistical research that suggests that the outcome of a close game—defined as a loss by fewer than 10 points—is most often decided by luck, that unknown or unpredictable factor that tips the game toward one team or the other. 

“By this one particular definition of ‘luck’, the 2010 Packers appear to be the number six seed team through bad luck alone—no other team has lost so many games by such a very narrow margin,” Schaefer said. “Whether one blames bad luck or not, they definitely appear to be one of the strongest 10-6 teams in NFL history.” 

To find the intangible influence of fortune, Schaefer and Davis judged NFL teams from each year since 1978—excluding the nine-game 1982 season—using three criteria: first, every other team since 1978 had to have more wins or a worse single loss; second, the team could not have lost a regular-season game by more than 10 points; and third, the team could not have entered the playoffs as the top seed in its conference as additional wins would not have benefitted them. 

The nine teams meeting the first criterion are listed below, with the team’s worst loss and total regular-season wins included. 

  • The 2008 Detroit Lions with a 37-point loss and no wins.
  • The 1996 New York Jets with a 25-point loss and one win.
  • The 1981 New England Patriots with a 14-point loss and two wins.
  • The 2001 San Diego Chargers with a 10-point loss and five wins.
  • The 1999 Oakland Raiders with a seven-point loss and eight wins.
  • The 2010 Green Bay Packers with a four-point loss and 10 wins.
  • The 2000 Tennessee Titans with a three-point loss and 13 wins.
  • The 1983 Washington Redskins with a one-point loss and 14 wins.
  • The 2007 New England Patriots, who went undefeated with 16 wins. 

The second and third parameters eliminated all other teams but the 1999 Raiders and the 2010 Packers. The Packers were deemed luckier than the Raiders because they advanced to postseason play, unlike Oakland in 1999. 

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