Friday, January 13, 2012
(Official Packers.com Twitter picture of shovelers lined up outside Lambeau Field)
Some snow over the last few days led to another one of those charming Packer rituals today - citizens lining up for the chance to help shovel out the stands in Lambeau Field. There were so many volunteers that more would-be shovelers were turned away than were able to actually get in to shovel. Weather should not be a problem for the game, as the forecast is for a high of about 30 degrees, with nothing more than snow flurries.
The weekend of the divisional playoff games has finally arrived, and none too soon for those of us who have been waiting anxiously for the past two weeks. The one must-read article of this week is an ESPN piece on Brandon Jacobs and Tramon Williams, high school teammates in tiny Napoleonville, LA. The overall point of the piece is the astronomical odds of these two kids from the bayou country both earning Super Bowl rings.
The part about Williams is fascinating. He was smart and talented, but a little too small and a little too slow to be the ideal cornerback, and so he didn't attract any attention from college scouts, who only paid attention to his teammate Brandon Jacobs. So he gave up on football and went to college, where he watched the Louisiana Tech team from the stands until he decided he could cover better than the players on the field, and walked on. After college, he wasn't drafted, but spent his rookie training camp with the Texans until he was cut. The Packers' scouting staff, who notoriously take a different approach to scouting, invited him up for a tryout. When Charles Woodson saw him make a play in practice, he said "Holy crap, who is that guy?" And so, Tramon Williams ended up as another one of the free agent miracles found by Ted Thompson and his staff.
The article ends with a detailed look at how Williams made the game-turning interception for a touchdown on the final play of the first half in the playoff game against the Falcons last year. It gave me a greater appreciation for Williams, who may not have had the impact this year that he did last year, but has a chance to do so again in the playoffs. Even if I was not already pumped up for the Giants game, reading this article would have gotten me ready.
It is not unusual for there to be an upset in each of the first two weeks of the playoffs, like last week's upset of the Steelers by the Broncos. But this week, as I look through the list of games, I think all of the favorites will win. The Saints are the only road team that is favored over the home team, the 49ers, and in my view, with good reason. The Saints' offense will be too much for the 49ers, even though the 49ers' defense is vastly improved now that Jim Harbaugh is coach. Or to put it another way, even if the 49ers' defense slows the Saints down a little, I can't see the 49ers scoring enough points. Harbaugh has quarterback Alex Smith on a very short leash, which will not be conducive to keeping up with the Saints.
Tebow time, I expect, will end on Saturday against the Patriots. This game is similar in some ways to the Saints-49ers game. The Broncos have a pretty good defense, although not close to being as good as the 49ers' defense. But their offense is another story. They, too, have a quarterback with a limited set of skills, as compared to most of the other playoff quarterbacks. They will not be able to keep up with the Patriots, who will probably get off to a big lead and never relinquish it.
In the other Sunday game, I don't have much feel for the Ravens and Texans. They both have quality defenses, and offenses that have done better than I would have expected. So, in the absence of better information, I am going with the home team Ravens.
In the Packers-Giants game, there has been an awful lot of coverage focusing on how the Giants beat the Packers 4 years ago in the NFC Championship game, how fearsome their defense is, how powerful their running game is, and how talented the receivers are. All well and good, and obviously there is truth in all of these points. But the Giants are still wildly inconsistent, and for all the talk about how bad the Packers' defense is, the Giants have given up more points than the Packers have, and the Packers have generated far more turnovers on defense than have the Giants. The Packers are as healthy and rested as they have been all year, and as Greg Jennings said earlier this week, they have not forgotten who kept them out of the Super Bowl 4 years ago. We all know that Aaron Rodgers is not as likely to make the game-killing mistake, as his predecessor did in that game.
Finally, there is the wild card effect of the Packer family tragedy this week involving the death of Coach Philbin's son. Analyzing what effect it might have on the play on the field may be cold, but there is a large emotional component to the game of football. The death of Michael Philbin could turn out to be a huge distraction for the team, or the source of enormous motivation. I think back to the Monday Night game in Oakland in 2003, the day after Irvin Favre died. We were lucky enough to be there, and I don't think we will ever forget it. Favre had a stellar game that night, but he certainly did not do it by himself. The offensive line gave him protection like they had not done since 1996. And the receivers went out and caught any ball that was anywhere near them, something they had not regularly done that year. In other words, the other players went out and played beyond their normal level, in an effort to win that game for Brett Favre. My thought is that the 2011 team will play their hearts out, for Coach Philbin.
If everything breaks right for the Giants, they obviously have the talent to beat the Packers. But when you add up all of the factors mentioned above, I think it is much more likely that the Packers will win, and it may not be that close of a game.