Monday, December 24, 2001

Packing for the Playoffs

It has been apparent for a few weeks that the Packers would eventually make the playoffs, but it is still welcome news to hear the talking heads use the word "clinched" in connection with the Packers. After all of those years in the 1970's and 1980's when the Packers didn't make the playoffs, you would think that not making the playoffs in 1999 and 2000 would not be so hard to
take. Packer fans should be used to it, after all! But having been spoiled by the Favre-Holmgren run throughout most of the 1990's, it really was difficult for many of us fans. It is so much more fun when the Packers keep playing after the end of the regular season. And now, the Packers are back in the playoffs where they belong.

Unfortunately, the Bears squandered another excellent opportunity to lose a game, this time to the Redskins, and at this point, I am starting to get the idea that they are not going to do us a favor by losing a game. The Bears play at Detroit, and against Jacksonville in Chicago, and they will be substantial favorites to win both games. So I am now getting prepared for the fact that the Packers will not win the division.

If the Packers end up as a wild card, then the issue becomes whether they will be the number 5 seed (and play at the number 4 seed, most likely the 49ers, in the first week of the playoffs), or whether they will be the number 4 seed and thus host a playoff game. I figured that the 49ers might have trouble against the Eagles, especially with Jeff Garcia being injured, but of course they did not. The 49ers have games left at Dallas (which the 49ers should win) and at New Orleans, where it will be more of a toss-up. If the 49ers stumble in one of these games, their likely reward is a trip to Lambeau Field.

Remember the last 49er playoff game in Lambeau Field? Freezing rain in this "mud bowl" game, Steve Young's cracked ribs, Desmond Howard returning one punt for a touchdown, and another punt to the 7 yard line. The Packers won the game, 35-14, and it is a safe bet that the 49ers don't want to make another trip to Green Bay in January, so there is no chance that they will
let down in the last 2 games. They could lose a game, but if they do it won't be as a result of a letdown. All this adds up to the likelihood that the Packers will have to come out to my backyard (San Francisco) for the playoffs. Which makes it a lot more convenient for me to go to the game,
but I sure wish the game would be in Lambeau Field.

Yesterday's game was the kind of day that I have been waiting for since early November, a cold day, with snow flurries at Lambeau Field throughout the game. Favre was sharp, as he always is in the cold, throwing three touchdown passes and no interceptions. But it was really the ground gamethat took control against the Browns. Ahman Green just rolled over the Browns for 150 yards, until he left late in the game after an asthma attack. He was replaced by Dorsey Levens, who continued just where Green left off, gaining another 72 yards rushing, and came up with a picture perfect catch and slide in the snowy end zone to finish out the scoring. It was a play
that was somewhat reminiscent for me of Levens' touchdown catch in the NFC Championship game after the 1996 season.

The defense played an opportunistic game, forcing three interceptions and two fumbles, including an interception return for a touchdown by Tyrone Williams, which also provided an echo of the interception by Williams in that same NFC Championship game. On the negative side, the Packers gave up an awful lot of yards rushing to Jamel White (who?), which is either just a
reflection of the fact that the rushing game has an advantage on a slippery, snowy field, or else it is a continuation of the Packers' habit of making backup players look like one-game hall-of-famers.

And now the Vikings come to town, for another cold and maybe snowy game. The forecast as of Monday is for snow showers and a high of 24 degrees. Of course these are the same Vikings who blew the Packers out of the Metrodome back in November, so they cannot be taken lightly. But the Packers are motivated to get revenge on the Vikings, the Vikings are not a cold weather, natural grass team, the Vikings have not won on the road all year, and the Vikings seem to have checked out for the season several weeks ago. I don't think this game will be close. I'll pick the Packers by a score of something like 31-10.

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