Google+

Saturday, January 26, 2008

December 31st: Packers Beat Lions, Plus NFC North Review

I now know that the Packers will be successful in the playoffs.

How do I know this? How can I say this with such certainty? Because of this: Coach McCarthy refused to take his foot off the accelerator. Even with nothing to gain by a win, he refused to let the team accept a loss as an acceptable outcome.

Look at Indianapolis in past years. They have frequently been among the best teams, posting great records year after year. Yet, for some reason, they lose in the playoffs, even with great players and everything right there for the taking. I have a theory about this: When you don’t put meaning into games at the end of the season, it’s hard to find meaning in the playoffs.

Case in point: In 2005, the Colts were sitting on a record of 13-0. Then San Diego beat them. After that, they played Jim Sorgi extensively and gave everyone extended two week vacations. Result? Early exit from the playoffs in the divisional round.

In 2004, with nothing to play for, the Colts rolled over for the Broncos in week 17, losing 33-14. The result? A loss in the divisional round to the Patriots.

In 2006, however, they played right up until the final bell. The result? A motivated team that won the Super Bowl.

In 2003, they fared well also, playing hard until the end. That was the season that they started as a wild card, and went up against the Patriots in the Championship game, losing to the soon-to-be Super Bowl champions in a hard-fought game.

So, the years where they backed off once they had nothing to play for, they lost in the playoffs. When they fought for every last game, they got much farther.

What does this all mean? The Packers fought for this last game. They sat their starters after the first quarter, but by then, everything was pretty much over. They went out there to win the game, not just rest and relax. This means that they’re sharp and prepared. They have an extra week to rest, but they have an edge going into the playoffs. They proved they can win again after that embarrassing loss to the Bears, and that they can still be productive using their second-stringers.

I mean, we had a Craig Nall sighting, for God’s sake! And he looked good!

The Patriots agree with me, and that’s why they went 16-0. The Cowboys agree with me, and that’s why they didn’t pull Romo until late in the Redskins game. The only team that doesn’t agree with me this year is the Colts. We’ll see how that works out for them.

--

Now that we won’t be seeing any NFC North teams in the playoffs anymore, it’s a good time to assess how they performed and how dangerous they looked at the end of the year.

We’ll start with the Vikings. Their defense was solid, as usual. It all starts with their two guys in the middle, Pat Williams and Kevin Williams. (No relation.) As usual, they were really, really scary. For once, their linebackers are finally keeping pace with their solid line, with guys like Chad Greenway providing 103 tackles.

The offense is the major story, though. That offensive line makes me nervous, and Adrian Peterson is scary good.

(Does it confuse anyone else that there’s two Adrian Petersons in the league? I think we should start calling the Vikings’ Adrian Peterson something different to differentiate. Maybe something like Ädrïän Pëtërsøn. You know, because he’s a Viking.)

Anyway, Ädrïän Pëtërsøn is great, but the run is supposed to set up the pass. When you’re setting up Tarvaris Jackson throwing to Sidney Rice, you’re really not setting up much. They’re definitely doing better, and they’re on their way, but it’s going to take a bit before they really challenge the Packers. The Vikings are an all-around solid team on the way up.

The Bears are next up. Why is it that quarterbacks last all of three weeks in Chicago? It doesn’t matter who they draft, or who they bring in. Every quarterback they bring in turns into Generic Bears Quarterback Part 12, and they need to find another one. They don’t have a decent running back (I’m not sold on Cedric Benson), and no wide receivers to speak of.

Sure they have Brian Urlacher on their defense, but no one else. Mike Brown is now injured by stiff breezes, lollipops and sunshine. Devin Hester returns kicks for touchdowns, but I have a solution to that. Don’t kick to him. There. How hard was that?

And the Bears still beat the Packers twice. So yes, the Bears in a sorry state, but as far as the Green and Gold goes, you have to respect a team that plays terribly all season long, only to get momentarily agitated enough to beat the Packers. Maybe they’re saving their energy for the Packers. Who knows.

Last but least are the Detroit Lions. After seeing his team once again fail to do anything worthwhile, Matt Millen did the honorable thing and fired the person responsible: Mike Martz. Yes, the same Mike Martz that knows offense inside and out and yet still couldn’t make heads nor tails of this rotten collection of castoffs and stowaways for two seasons. He’s the problem in Millen’s mind.

Never mind that there is absolutely no talent across the board on the Lions. Never mind that John Kitna is your Plan A, B, and C at quarterback. Never mind that every year you draft a wide receiver in the first round. And let’s not forget that you’re using the dynamic duo of Kevin Jones and Tatum Bell as your running backs, and yet your most valuable back is Aveion Cason.

(Seriously, if Tatum Bell can’t gain 1,000 yards in Denver, what are you doing bringing him onto your team? I could gain 1,000 yards in Denver.)

In other words, keep up the great work, Matt Millen. Every year you continue your work with the Lions, it’s two fewer games that the Packers have to worry about.

--

One last note: The combined record of opponents that the Packers have beaten is 100-124 (.446). The combined record of opponents that the Cowboys have beaten is 121-135 (.472).

The combined record of opponents that the Packers have lost to is 27-21 (.562), whereas the combined record of those who the Cowboys have lost to is 32-16 (.666). What does this mean? I’ll have the answer on Thursday, along with some Brewers and Bucks talk.