The Pack are Bad....er, Back
The great thing about being an NFL fan is that you never have to resign yourself to thinking that your team is out of it for seasons at a time. When a baseball, hockey or basketball team blows things up by firing their coach or front office, deals half their roster and does everything but paint the stadium seats a different colour, you can usually count on your club stinking it up for at least the next 2-3 years while it gets back on track.
Not in the NFL. The league's purposeful parity means that it's possible for a team to go from doormats to diplomats in a season -- hell, even within a season. This is why my beloved Green Bay Packers are having one of the weirdest seasons I've ever experienced as a footbal fan, and I'm on the fence about it.
The Packers can make the playoffs if they win on Sunday night and the Giants lose earlier in the day. If the Giants win, a bunch of other things need to happen for Green Bay to qualify. NFL.com outlines the possible playoff scenarios and what each team needs to clinch, and I guarantee you will not read a more eye-glazing document all year (er, pretend it isn't Dec. 29). Nonetheless, the Packers bottom-line need to win to get the most unlikely playoff spot in their team's long history.
I went into the year thinking the Packers could bounce back and be a competitive squad after their dung heap of a 4-12 year in 2005. Frankly, they weren't as bad as their record indicated last season, and given that they had added some new young talent and faced a pretty easy schedule, I thought they had a shot at respectability -- maybe something like a 7-9 or 8-8 record.
Then they lost four of their first five games, and it became apparent to me that the Packers sucked. Not just "well, if they get a few breaks here and there they'll be good," but sucked. I look at their seasonal rankings (9th in the NFL in total offense, 13th in total defense), and I'm blown away at what a total mirage that statistics can be. This team can't create generate points to save its life, and the defense breaks down only at the worst possible times. Ahman Green is washed-up, the receiving corps is barren after Donald Driver and Brett Favre...
Ok, Favre deserves a paragraph of his own. As miraculous as it is that Green Bay is 7-8, they could be 10-5 and have a playoff spot wrapped up were it not for Favre single-handedly blowing three games with some of the worst passing I've ever seen. Favre is unquestionably one of the best quarterbacks in history, but that time is clearly past. I remember writing a Gazette column about how Favre should hang it up THREE YEARS AGO. Since then, Favre has done nothing but blow winnable games due to his habit of throwing the ball away. He's not "trying to make something happen," or "being a gun-slinger," like the announcers claim -- he's just making bad throws that get picked off. If quarterback talent wasn't at an all-time low in the NFL, Favre would be ranked near the bottom of the league.
Nonetheless, Green Bay started winning. To say they won ugly is an insult to ugly. Their last two wins (over the equally putrid Lions and Vikings) were two of the worst football games I've ever seen in my life. Because the NFC is such a horrible conference, however, Green Bay stand alongside four other 7-8 teams in a battle for the last playoff spot. The 'winner' of the spot gets the honour of travelling to (probably) Philadelphia and getting destroyed by the red-hot Eagles.
This is why I'm torn about Green Bay's success. Obviously I want the Pack to get into the playoffs, but for the long-term health of the franchise, it might've been better to see a total bomb of a season. Another 4-12. It would've gotten Favre to retire. It would've gotten coach Mike McCarthy -- who was hired simply because he's an old Packer QB coach and Favre literally said "I'm too old to learn a new system" -- fired. It would've forced the team to actually reload and try something new than to keep fooling itself into thinking it would build another championship team around Favre.
Instead, the fact that Green Bay came close will get McCarthy another year, and Favre will almost surely stick around again for another season -- he's also close to setting the new NFL record for career touchdown passes. And next year, with a tougher schedule and what in all likelihood will be a not-greatly-improved roster, Green Bay will be hard-pressed to match its .500 record from this season.
And on that fun note, go Packers!