Tuesday, December 11, 2001

Back in First Place

There were lots of milestones in last week's game against the Chicago Bears: (1) Brett Favre became the first quarterback in NFL HISTORY (!) to throw for 3,000 yards, ten seasons in a row; (2) Ahman Green became the first Packer running back since John Brockington to have back-to-back 1,000 yard rushing seasons; (3) the Bears' streak of 20 games without allowing a 100 yard rusher was ended, as Green rushed for 125 yards; (4) Brett Favre extended his regular season home record when the temperature is 34 degrees or lower to 28-0; (5) Favre won his 100th regular season game; and (6) for the first time in the last seven Packer-Bear games, the home team actually won the game, as the Packers ended up sweeping the season series with the Bears.

That means, of course, that if the Packers and the Bears end up in a tie for the division title, the Packers would win the title on the head-to-head tie-breaker. So while both teams are tied at 9-3, the Packers are in first place in the division and, as of now, would be the number two seed in the playoffs, behind only the Rams and their gaudy, 10-2 record. Speaking of records, the Packers have the best December record in the NFL over the last 10 years, so if they can keep up the good work, they should find themselves in good shape for the playoffs.

Two cautionary comments about the Bears. If the Bears decide to get themselves a real, honest-to-goodness NFL offensive coordinator, instead of their present guy (John Shoop), they could be a scary team. Now I suppose that it is possible that Jim Miller, or the Bears' receivers, are simply no good and that is why their offense plays this way. But the way Mr. Shoop calls the offensive plays, it would be hard to tell if that is true or not. After seeing the same, incredibly conservative game plan used by the Bears in the first meeting with the Packers, I would have gone way out on a limb predicting that the Bears would open it up this time. Instead, more of the
same, much to my astonishment, the astonishment of the TV announcers, and the consternation of the Bears fans.

The second cautionary comment is really about the Packers, more so than the Bears. The Packers played a great game against the Ravens in October, only to come back and lay an egg the next week in Minnesota. They beat the Bears for the first time in November, only to lose to the Falcons at home the next week. Now the Packers have four games left, at Tennessee, Cleveland and Minnesota at home, and at the Giants. None of those teams have a winning
record. The Packers will be favored to win every one of those games. The Packers SHOULD win every one of those games. But there are no "gimmes" in the NFL, and if they don't come into each game with the right attitude and effort, they will probably lose at least one of them. One loss will most likely be enough to turn the Packers into a Wild Card team, instead of the
Division Champion.

This is so because, except for this week's home game against the Buccaneers, the Bears play an even easier schedule (at Washington, at Detroit, and a home game against Jacksonville). So it would not be wise to plan on having the Bears lose any more games. In other words, this would be a great time to have a season-ending perfect record (like last year), rather than playing down to the level of the competition, which I am afraid to say, the Packers sometimes seem to do.

The way things look right now, the Packers will probably not end up with home field advantage throughout the playoffs, unless the Rams start losing some games. But the Packers have an excellent shot at the number two seed, and they control their own destiny, as the TV announcers like to say. All they have to do is win their last four games, and they have it, along with the bye week that it brings. The last two times the Packers got a bye in the playoffs, they went to the Super Bowl. The last time they ended up as a wild card, they lost in the first playoff game. There were a lot of factors at play besides the bye week, of course, but an extra week to get healthy
and to plan ahead is a very big deal in the playoffs.

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