Wednesday, January 19, 2011

NFC Championship Preview

Mike McCarthy, in his post-game speeches and in his press conferences, has described how he has talked to his team about playing 16 quarters of football. (For example, here.) They have now finished 8 quarters, and have the opportunity to play another 4 quarters on Sunday. I like this way of putting it. It is, in one sense, just a variation of the old "we play one game at a time" notion, but with two improvements. The first improvement is that it keeps the players' eyes on the ultimate goal - to win the Super Bowl. It is not just about playing the next game, but about completing all 16 quarters. The other thing is: by speaking in terms of quarters rather than games, at least subtly the point is made that you have to play complete games, all four quarters of each of the four games.

I wonder if McCarthy talks about 16 quarters, in part, as a reminder to himself, that he should not go into a shell in the third or fourth quarter with a lead. I criticized him earlier in the year for this, and as recently as the Eagles wild-card game. At some level, I think McCarthy realizes that he has to fight the impulse to go into "protect the lead" mode, and so the "16 quarters" idea also emphasizes to him that he has to make four quarters of play calls in each game, and not just three quarters.

Which brings us to the NFC Championship game. Packers and Bears, for a trip to the Super Bowl. A veritable avalanche of articles and blog posts this week discuss how monumental this game is, and it would be hard to disagree. This is a game we will remember for the rest of our lives, win or lose. Sure would be better to be on the winning side.

The Packers lost to the Bears in week 3, and they barely beat the Bears in week 17. So, not to belabor the obvious, but clearly the Packers could lose this game. But when I try to analyze the teams, I don't see any reason that the Packers should lose this game. The Bears have a better running game than the Packers, although James Starks helps a lot, even if he doesn't even the score. The Bears have better special teams than the Packers. The defenses, even though very different in approach, and with different strengths, could at best be called even, although in reality the Packers' defense has been more productive and more consistent. (Consider that the Bears only scored 16 offensive points against the Packers in their two games, i.e., an average of 8 points per game.) The Packers' passing game is far superior to the Bears, and even though Jay Cutler looks pretty good at times, he is not an elite quarterback, and Aaron Rodgers is. Overall, the Packers' offense is better and much more consistent than the Bears' offense.

The Packers lost the game in Chicago mostly because of a flurry of penalties. They also gave up a punt return touchdown to Devin Hester and a couple of turnovers did not help. Since that game, the Packers have improved dramatically on the penalty front and they at least have a plan (as shown three weeks ago) to keep Devin Hester in check. In the home game three weeks ago, the game may have been close, but it was really only as close as it was by virtue of several overthrown passes, a fumble by Driver, and a great interception by Charles Tillman.

So I think the Packers will win this game, and it might not be close. I would predict a score of something like 24-14. I understand that Willie Davis will be the honorary captain for the Packers. That seems fitting. Both defenses in this game will be important factors in the outcome of the game, and Hall of Fame defensive end Willie Davis was a great Green Bay Packer.


  1. For another viewpoint, consider The Onion!

    Steve Erbach
    Neenah, WI

  2. Judy (my wife) has The Onion feed on her Facebook account, so she showed this to me last night. I loved the final line: "Cutler will play his first postseason game against an opponent with a winning record Sunday."