Sunday, September 27, 1998

1998 Packer First Quarter Review

The last two weeks' wins bring us to the one-quarter mark of the season. Where do the Packers stand? And what about the competition?

The good news is that the Packers are 4-0, tied for first place in the NFC Central with the Minnesota Vikings. These first four weeks of the season have been quite reassuring to me, after a mediocre pre-season. I thought that the Packers would lose at least one, maybe two of the first four games. Compared to that kind of pessimism, 4-0 looks pretty good.

The bad news is that the Packers have not looked like world beaters in any of the four games. In the first three games, it was the defense that really carried the load, looking similar to the dominating defense of the 1996 Super Bowl season. The offense, by comparison, looked sluggish, although there were some pretty good reasons for that. Robert Brooks was only available part time due to his back problems, and Dorsey Levens was, at first, rusty, and then injured. The last game is a puzzler to me. The Packer defense gave up 30 points to the Panthers? Who'd have thunk it? And after giving up 30 points, the Packer offense won the game anyway? Despite three interceptions and two fourth down turnovers? Who'd have thunk that? It was delightful to see the Packer offense start to click, to the tune of 5 TD passes from Favre in the Panther game, but what are we to make of the turnovers?

Personally, I'm not going to dwell on the negatives from this game. Turnovers happen. Maybe the familiarity Gil Haskell (Panthers' offensive coordinator) has with the Packers' offense helped the Panthers design a defensive game plan that put them in a position to make the interceptions. Maybe the heat on the field just sapped the Packer defenders more so than the Panther offensive players. Despite those negatives, the Packers won the game. This high-scoring game was in some ways reminiscent of the Colts game last year, but this year the Packers won the game. So let's turn the page and go on.

Now, let's take a look at the competition. The main Midwestern competition is, of course, the Vikings, who are also 4-0. I watched parts of their game on Sunday, and I was not too impressed. They almost lost to the Bears, and didn't look too good in the process. Next week's Packers-Vikings game will be a really big deal, but on Monday night? At Lambeau Field? I say the Packers will win the game.

At 0-4, the Bears are dead, although they look just good enough to win a few games here and there and cause some problems. Let's hope they don't pull off a win against the Packers. If the Lions lose Monday night, as I expect, they will be dead, too (in fact, they are probably dead even if they win). The much-hyped Buccaneers? If they win Monday, they will be 2-2, which will make it a little early to write them off. Still, my basic attitude about the Buccaneers is the same as someone who wrote in to Sports Illustrated, after SI picked the Buccaneers to go to the Super Bowl. This reader said something to the effect that "if the Buccaneers go to the Super Bowl with Trent Dilfer at quarterback, I'll eat my cheesehead."

NFL Rules dictate that someone must win the NFC East, but right now it is not clear that there are any real candidates to do so. Which brings us to my neck of the woods, the NFC West. Both the 49ers and the Saints are 3-0, but I strongly suspect that there is no real competition between the two. The 49ers look like they are on a roll, such that they will end up with a record anywhere between 12-4 and 15-1. I almost said 16-0, but that would mean that they beat the Packers on November 1, which I believe (hope? pray?) that they will not.

The next quarter of the season will be pivotal. The Packers play the Vikings at Lambeau, followed by Detroit on the road, and then home games against Baltimore and San Francisco. If the Packers can win the next four, they will be well on their way to a very special season. Right now, to be perfectly honest, they don't look consistently sharp enough to win the next four in a row. They need to put the pieces together in a more complete fashion, and they need to do it in a hurry. Let's hope that they do.