Sunday, November 23, 1997

Packers Spank Cowboys - Head for Last Turf Game

I have to admit that I was nervous about the game against the Cowboys. I picked the Packers to win, I felt that the Packers were the better team, I believed that nobody beats the Packers at Lambeau Field.

But still - what if they didn't win? After all, they got beat by the Colts last week. They couldn't stop anybody, including people none of us ever heard of, and gave up 467 yards of offense and 41 points to an 0-10 team. If they could lose to the Colts, surely the Packers were capable of losing to the Cowboys, especially if the breaks went against them. And if the Packers were to lose, the
devastation, at least to the fans, would be total. How would the team react? Would they go into a tailspin, having left it all on the field against the Cowboys?

Fortunately, we don't have to find out. Despite a slow start, during which the Packers wasted good field position on two successive drives, and despite a Deion Sanders interception for touchdown, that allowed the Cowboys a tie at halftime, the Packers rolled like they have not rolled all this year, crushing the Cowboys in the second half. And so they moved into sole possession of first place in the NFC Central, with Minnesota and Tampa Bay looking up at them.

They did this, in my opinion, through a more aggressive approach, especially on defense. Last week, it seemed that after Gilbert Brown went out, the Packers played very conservatively on defense, and perhaps as a result, never got any pressure on Paul Justin. This week, they blitzed, they took chances, and they came through. And they did so even though it seemed as if both Gilbert Brown and Reggie White missed substantial portions of the game.

So one major monkey is off of the Packers' back. And now they get a chance to try to remove the other one. Next week, the Packers travel to Minnesota to try to win for the first time there in the Holmgren-Wolf-Favre era. I'm worried about this game. Heck, I'm worried about every game this year. There could be a letdown factor after the big Cowboy game. There could be funny bounces of the ball, like there always are at the dome. And there is no question that the Packers remain a team built for grass, not turf. But win or lose, this should be the last turf game for the Packers this year, as the last 3 regular season games are all on grass, and the post-season games will be in Green Bay, maybe in San Francisco, and, just maybe, in San Diego.


I've given up on getting the number 1 seed. The 49ers don't seem interested in providing any assistance to the Packers whatsoever. The 49ers will get the number 1 seed. (There, I've said it. Maybe NOW they will go on a losing streak.) So here are my predictions for final records in the NFC:

NFC Central: Green Bay (12-4, DIV); Minnesota (11-5, WC); Tampa Bay (9-7, out).

NFC West: San Francisco (13-3, DIV).

NFC East: NY Giants (10-5-1, DIV); Dallas (10-6, WC); Washington
(9-6-1, WC).

Monday, November 3, 1997

Packers Back on Track / Mid-Season Review

Bye Week Blues

Well, it seems as if the Packers needed the bye week, even if their fans did not. What does a Packer fan living in the San Francisco area do during the bye week, when there is nothing doing locally but 49ers and Raiders? If you are like me, you find a week without Packer football to be a bit tough to take. And believe me, it is worse if you are not in Wisconsin, without all the Packer hubbub that goes on around there.

My family kept busy the weekend of the bye by going to Great America for the last time this year on Saturday, and by going to the Denver at Oakland game on Sunday. An interesting game, but ultimately who cares about a game involving a couple of AFC teams? It's just not the same.

Last weekend, the weekend before the Monday night game, we had to go out of town to a business function, which helped to keep our minds off of the long wait for the Monday night game. And today (Sunday, November 2) we went to scout out the Cowboys and 49ers at 3Com Park, allowing enough time to get home to watch the Packer game. I was doing my scouting in my Super Bowl hat and shirt, but another guy right in front of me was doing the same thing in his Brett Favre jersey. One kid (10-12 years old) saw me driving my car with PACK FAN license plates in the 3Com parking lot, and was nice enough to tell me (very loudly) that "the Packers Suck!" This passes for intelligent football discourse in the 3Com parking lot, apparently, although I have a feeling that he may not have checked the box scores in the recent Packer-49er games.

The Monday night game against the Patriots was great. The Packers looked the best they have looked all year. The only thing that bothers me a little bit is the thought that maybe the Patriots aren't really good enough to be considered a difficult test for the Packers. The Patriots' game today against the Vikings tends to confirm the suspicion.

Tonight's game against the Lions was not very impressive on offense, but the defense was in complete control of the game, and played its second impressive game in a row. It is good to see Fritz Shurmur showing enough confidence in his defenders to take some chances and play aggressively. The defensive players looked like they were really having fun out there.

Contenders' Schedules

I meant to take a look at remaining schedules for the rest of the NFC contenders last week, but did not get around to writing it down until now. The good news is that the Packers have the easiest schedule in the second half of all meaningful contenders, and the 49ers have the hardest schedule. (My thanks to Ross Fleege for crunching the numbers.) Unfortunately, though, the 49ers show little sign that they are about to start losing some games. So the Packers have to just keep winning games, and hope for a little help from someone else somewhere along the way.

Here is a brief review of the contenders' schedules, along with a few comments.

GREEN BAY PACKERS. Currently 7-2, the same as last year at this time. The Packers have home games left against St. Louis, Dallas, and Buffalo, and away games at Indy, Minnesota, Tampa Bay and Carolina. Going 6-1 seems quite possible to me, with a loss likely somewhere (I'm going to "arbitrarily" guess at Minnesota). So I am predicting 13-3 for the final record. This may be a bit optimistic, since they could drop another game somewhere. But they should not end up worse than 12-4.

MINNESOTA VIKINGS. Currently 7-2. Home games left against Chicago, Green Bay, Detroit and Indy. Away games at Detroit, NY Jets, and San Francisco. I am predicting that the Vikings go 4-3, losing the games at Detroit, at the Jets, and at San Francisco. This would leave the Vikings at 11-5. It would be nice to see a late-season collapse here (except when they play the 49ers), but right now they seem to be playing pretty well.

TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS. Currently 6-3. Home games left against New England, Green Bay, and Chicago. Away games at Atlanta, Chicago, the NY Giants and the NY Jets. I see a 3-4 record for the Bucs, with losses to New England, the Giants, Green Bay and the Jets. The Bucs would then end up at 9-7. The Bucs were an interesting story early in the year, but my predictions reflect my belief that the story is now over.

DETROIT LIONS. Currently 4-5. Not really a contender anymore, but I am just including them because they are in the NFC Central with a record better than 1-8. Home games against Minnesota, Indy, Chicago and the NY Jets. Away games at Washington, Miami and Minnesota. I see the Lions going 4-3, losing to Washington, Miami and Minnesota. The Lions would end up at 8-8.

SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS. Currently 8-1. Home games against Carolina, San Diego, Minnesota and Denver. Away games at Philadelphia, Kansas City and Seattle. I see them going 4-3, to finish at 12-4. I predict losses to Philadelphia, Kansas City and Denver. (But I sure wish they had lost today to the Cowboys.) The interesting thing about the 49ers schedule is that they are now all out of "byes," with the possible exception of the San Diego game. Even though I think they will win 4 more games, certainly the Panthers, Vikings and Seahawks are each capable of beating the 49ers. Be that as it may, I hope I am not being overly optimistic in predicting 3 losses.

CAROLINA PANTHERS. Currently 5-4. Trying desperately to crawl back in the race after a miserable start. Home games against New Orleans, Green Bay and St. Louis. Away games at Denver, San Francisco, St. Louis and Dallas. I see a record of 3-4, for a total of 8-8. The losses would come against Denver, San Francisco, Dallas and Green Bay.

NEW YORK GIANTS. Currently 6-3. Quietly becoming a significant contender. Home games against Arizona, Tampa Bay and Washington. Away games at Tennessee, Washington, Philadelphia and Dallas. I predict losses against Washington and Dallas, for a 5-2 record and a total of 11-5.

WASHINGTON REDSKINS. Currently 5-4. Home games against Detroit, NY Giants, St. Louis and Philadelphia. Away games at Dallas, Arizona and NY Giants. I think they will go 5-2, losing to Dallas and the Giants on the road, for a total record of 10-6.

DALLAS COWBOYS. Currently 4-5. Not really a contender anymore, but I had to include them here for frame of reference. Home games against Arizona, Washington, Tennessee, Carolina and NY Giants. Away games at Green Bay and Cincinnati. In making my predictions, I initially came up with a 6-1 record, with a loss only to Green Bay, for a total record of 10-6. But that just can't be right. This team is not good enough to go 6-1. They will find a way to lose 1 or 2 games to teams like Arizona, Carolina, the Giants or Cincinnati. They will end up with a record something like 8-8.

If these predictions come true, the Packers will win the all-important home field advantage. But the 49ers are (to state the obvious) the team with the best shot to knock the Packers out of home field advantage. So root like crazy against the 49ers, every week. The only other serious challenger I see in the NFC is the Vikings. That game on December 1 at the Metrodome could not only have large implications for the home field advantage, it could end up deciding the division winner.