Monday, August 31, 1998

Three Game Losing Streak

It's only pre-season. I know. They only had one day of practice between the Denver and Miami games. I know that, too. And I could not see the Miami game, so it is a little tough to make very much out of a game I did not see.

But try as I might, I just can't find any reason to feel overly optimistic about the upcoming season at the moment. From what I have seen of the Packers in the pre-season, they are just way too sloppy. Mistakes, turnovers, and penalties. Oh, sure, the Packers will probably be contenders, no matter what. As long as Favre stays healthy, they will win enough games to be in the hunt by the end of the season. And if they straighten things out, maybe that will even turn out to be good enough.

The trouble is, my expectations are so much higher now, and for the last couple of years. I desperately don't want them to stumble out of the gate with a 2-3 or 3-2 record after 5 weeks, looking up at Tampa Bay or Minnesota in the standings. I want to see the Packers just switch it on and start blowing people out, like they did in 1996. We'll see. Maybe these guys are such old veterans that they can just turn it on when needed. The return of Robert Brooks (assuming that he does play in the opener) will certainly help. And now the Packers and Dorsey Levens have some kind of a deal done. His return will help, too, although it seems questionable whether he will play immediately.

The end of a three game losing streak is probably a bad time to pull out the regular season schedule to count up the predicted "Ws" and "Ls," but here goes. I end up with a prediction of 11-5. I have an uncomfortable feeling that the home win streak is going to come to an end this year. In fact, based on the pre-season showing, I can see the Packers losing a couple of games at home this year. If that happens (which I hope it does not), my guess would be that they lose one of the first two weeks (Detroit and Tampa Bay). Probably the Tampa Bay game. And then, and I really hate to say this, but I have a bad feeling about the San Francisco game on November 1.

On the road, I can see losses at Detroit, at Pittsburgh and at Minnesota. That would fill out a 6-2 record at home, 5-3 on the road, for a total of 11-5. Good enough to make the playoffs, maybe good enough to win the division, definitely not good enough to win home field advantage. Good enough to go the Super Bowl and to win it? The truth is, you just can't tell right now. It all depends on momentum and talent at the end of the year, with the extent of injuries and depth figuring into the mix. The Packers might be the best team in the league come playoff time.

Unfortunately, they sure don't look like it right now.

Wednesday, August 19, 1998

Packers Lose to Oakland Raiders?

The questions in the Freeman family in the last couple of days have been "Are the Raiders that much better? Or are the Packers that much worse?" We went to a couple of Raider games last year, including the Packer pre-season game, and believe me, this was one bad team. They had no heart whatsoever, and with the exception of a couple of games, they just seemed to quit when they would get behind in a game. Losing to the 1997 Raiders would definitely not be taken as a good sign.

Well, it is beginning to look as if the Raiders are a much improved team. Jon Gruden may actually do some good things for this team, at least until Al Davis starts to meddle with him. So maybe it isn't quite so horrible to lose to the Raiders as one might expect.

Seriously, I am not too concerned about this loss, for a couple of reasons. In the first place, any time the offense spots the other team 17 points on turnovers, it can be a bit difficult to catch up. A pass bounces off of my namesake's hands, and is returned for a touchdown. TWO fumbles on the center-quarterback exchange. Interceptions like that just happen once in a while, and fumbled snaps are not going to happen very often in the regular season, because one way or the other, the QB and the center will at least be used to working with one another.

The other thing is something I have heard out here, even from Raider fans. The idea is that you have some teams, like Green Bay, and San Francisco, and Denver, who know what they are doing, are very good teams, and have continuity with the team from last year. They would like to win the pre-season game, but they are more interested in seeing how their players perform, and they don't really care. And then there are teams like the Raiders, who were awful last year despite a lot of talent, and who have a new coach, new coordinators, and really desperately want to win the game to make a statement. In other words, I guess, "they wanted it more." I don't completely buy this idea, but I suppose that there is something to it.

Now if you carry out the "they wanted it more" theory to the next game, you would predict that the Packers will beat the Broncos next Monday night in Mile High Stadium, basically because they have a score to settle. Certainly, Mike Holmgren will be all over the team this week because of the poor performance against the Raiders, and they should not need a lot of extra motivation to take things out on the Broncos. And if the Packers really are a better team than they showed in the Super Bowl in January, then with all of these factors working, they should win the game.

OK. Write it down. The Packers will beat the Broncos, and we will all feel a lot better.

Tuesday, August 4, 1998

It's Never Too Soon to Start Worrying

You probably think that I am writing these words as a nervous Packer fan. After all, the Packers barely escaped Tokyo with a 27-24 victory over the Chiefs in the American Bowl Saturday night, after fumbles on the first two offensive possessions led directly to two touchdowns for the Chiefs.

Actually, "It's Never Too Soon to Start Worrying" was the headline of Tim Keown's article in the Monday San Francisco Chronicle, and he was talking about the 49ers. They, too, managed a close victory, also over a quality opponent (the Patriots), by the score of 14-13. Basically, the 49ers offense performed poorly on Sunday, accounting for 7 points in the entire game. If the Patriots' quarterback didn't fumble in the end zone in the second quarter, the 49ers probably would have lost the game.

Of course, who cares about the 49ers game, or for that matter the Packer game at this stage of the "season?" They were just first exhibition games, a week earlier than most teams start their games, and the starters played one quarter or less. Still, the much ballyhooed (at least here in Northern California) new 49er "aggressive offense" was not a smashing success in its debut, and the reserves (at least on offense) did nothing. The 49ers rolled up 13 first downs and only 53 rushing yards, while the Packers had 23 first downs and 225 rushing yards, by contrast.

So, if you want to take anything away from the first week of exhibition games, I think the lesson is that the Packers have very good backups, at least on offense. I have been concerned about the depth of the squad, what with the free agency losses. But the backups impressed me on offense, to the point that I now think the Packers could get by for awhile despite injuries or holdouts of offensive starters.

It is natural for long time Packer fans to feel that "It's Never too Soon to Start Worrying," but I think our West Coast competition has more to worry about right now than we do.