Sunday, November 20, 2011
The Packers Aren't Unbeatable
I don't care if the Packers have a perfect season; I just want them to be perfect in January and February. An unbeaten record would, of course, be awesome and incredible and would be one of the top-20 events of my life --- despite my not, officially, having anything whatsoever to do with it, not counting the good karma from my wearing Packers colours on gamedays --- but, a Super Bowl is infinitely more important.
I'm hedging my bets now since if I was a betting man (which I obviously am, giving that I'm hedging them), I'd say Green Bay will drop at least one game the rest of the season. The team's weakness is the defence, which has a bend-but-not-break philosophy but has been bent really, really far a couple of different times this year. In three of their last four games, the Packers allowed 27 points to Minnesota, 38 to San Diego and now 26 to Tampa Bay, three offences that range from struggling to lousy. GB's ridiculous offense ensured that all three games were still comfortable wins, but even still, a really good team with an above-average offense and who can at least contain Aaron Rodgers definitely has a chance to beat the Packers.
The remaining schedule…
* at Detroit. The Lions' dip in form makes this seem like less of a monstrous game than it did two months ago, but the Lions will still be geeked for this matchup. Thank you, Thanksgiving afternoon scheduling.
* at New York Giants. A big possible playoff preview here. I still have trouble believing this team is actually good, but 6-3 speaks otherwise. New York is a good team that is prone to the occasional stinker (their opening week loss to Washington and their inexplicable home loss to Seattle that sunk many a suicide league pool) but is by and large solid week in and week out. That said, the Giants need 'the good Eli' to show up in top form in order to beat Green Bay since I suspect Rodgers will just feast on New York's garbage secondary. Let's not also discount the fact that if Green Bay beats Detroit in that huge NFC Central game, the Giants could be a bit of a letdown game afterwards. One would think a Super Bowl champion team on a (by beating Detroit) 17-game winning streak would be mentally strong enough to avoid a letdown, but they're only human.
* home against Oakland. And, wins over both the Lions AND Giants would make this one a trap game. The Raiders are tough and can play with anyone but I don't think they're good enough to go into Lambeau Field and beat the Packers.
* at Kansas City. The only gimme left on Green Bay's schedule. Arrowhead Stadium may be a tough road venue and the Chiefs could still be in the playoff hunt thanks to that crappy AFC West, but the Packers shouldn't have any problems winning here.
* home against Chicago. This is the big red flag. The Bears, against all odds, appear to be for real. The 13-3 team that was universally expected to regress has instead stayed tough and are probably a top-five team in the NFL. A Christmas evening game, Green Bay vs. Chicago, mah gawd. The Bears are 6-3 now and another 13-3 record is actually not out of the question -- their remaining schedule is San Diego today, at Oakland, Kansas City, at Denver and the absurd Tim Tebow, Seattle, at Green Bay and then at Minnesota. I doubt they'll run the table but it's at least possible. Wouldn't shock me at all to see the Packers and Bears meet for a third time in the postseason.
* home against Detroit. The rematch against the Lions could be a huge game for both teams, a huge game for just one team or a nothing game that carries bitter feelings for Lions fans. By the time Week 17 rolls around, the Lions could be playing for a playoff spot and the Packers could be playing for a) an unbeaten season and b) home field advantage in the playoffs. Conversely, the Packers could have lost a game but wrapped up home-field so they'd be resting starters against a Lions team gunning for the postseason. Double-conversely, the Pack would have things wrapped up and the Lions could have fallen out of the playoff race altogether. I think only this latter scenario would favour Detroit since even if the Packers had clinched home-field, they'd still want to play hard to keep their divisional rivals out of the postseason.
The other factor for Green Bay: the freakin' 49ers. San Francisco is 9-1 and has this remaining schedule: at Baltimore, at Arizona, at Seattle, home against Pittsburgh and a home-n'-home with St. Louis. Only the Ravens and Steelers games are question marks, so the 49ers look to post (at worst!) a 13-3 record. If they steal just one of those games against Pittsburgh/Baltimore, they'll be 14-2, so Green Bay would have to be at least 15-1 just to get home field. It's possible Green Bay would have the tiebreaker edge if both teams finished 14-2 but I'd rather not leave things up to the vagaries of the NFL's tiebreaking system. Even if the Packers lose the perfect record, they'd still have to play hard for as long as it takes to clinch top spot in the NFC over San Francisco.
With all of this pressure bearing down on them, a perfect record is too much to ask. Not even the most perfect football player ever could help Green Bay go 16-0, not to mention 3-0 in the playoffs. (Unless Curt Hennig could play defense. Which he probably could've, he was perfect, for god's sakes.) I'd almost feel better about Green Bay's Super Bowl chances if they dropped a 'dress rehearsal' game to New York or Chicago, just so the team could focus on resting a few guys and getting 100 percent for their second-round game.
The Super Bowl is the key. It would be absolutely, positively heartbreaking if the Packers pulled a 2007-08 Patriots and went 18-0, only to lose the big one at the end. Hell, if 19-0 is so important, Green Bay has already won 16 in a row dating back to last year --- just win the next three and phone it in against Kansas City. The overall record for consecutive wins is 21, held by the 2003-2004 New England Patriots, but what the hell, let's let the Pats keep that one, Tom Brady doesn't have enough other plaudits. Throw him a bone, which he will pick up with the hand that contains his three Super Bowl rings and his Gisele Bundschen wedding ring. Damn you, Brady.
So there you have it. Even this most fervent of Packer-backers doesn't think an unbeaten season is necessary or even realistic. All that matters is that 14th championship. Mercury Morris and Don Shula can drink more champagne for the time being, Aaron Rodgers and Mike McCarthy just want another ring.
"Mark, was this whole post an elaborate anti-jinx?"