Despite play equivalent of pulling teeth, the Packers should get to the playoffs

Packers Wondrous Woodson Football

By Jake McCormick

There is a guaranteed difference in competition levels between the Pro and All-Pro difficulty levels in Madden. Anyone who has ever binged on that game (as I currently am) could tell you blowouts are much more common against a terribly average computer. Thankfully, the real life Green Bay Packers have hit a stretch of games against Pro-level teams that has allowed them to return from the deathly hallows of underachievement.

With that said, it’s hard to believe that the Green Bay Packers have already eclipsed their 2008 win total and occupy a Wild Card spot that is theirs to lose. A couple weeks ago I was about ready to write off their season, and now I’d argue that they are favorites for a playoff spot.

With an offensive line problem that was more rampant than pork barrel spending in Washington, a defense that bought into the 3-4 about as fast as newspapers bought into online news, and a couple of bad losses to Brett Favre, it looked like Skip Bayless, Bill Simmons, and every other bandwagon follower of Saint Vincent were already drowning with the ship.

But each successive week since the loss to Tampa Bay, the Packers have improved their pass protection and tweeked the playbook to account for the holes in the line, have refocused their defense on winning their side of the battle without worrying about personal statistics, and rattled three wins in 12 days.

I would even say that Green Bay got lucky with the timing of the Aaron Kampman and Al Harris injuries because their opponent the following week, the Detroit Lions, allowed the backups to get used to their elevated roles. Now they are in the top Wild Card spot as of today and most of their competition is dealing with even bigger injury and chemistry concerns.

The Atlanta Falcons are hitting a tough ending to their schedule, potentially without quarterback Matt Ryan and running back Michael Turner. Eli Manning could be out for the rest of the season with a foot injury and the Giants’ defense just plain sucks, especially without Antonio Pierce. The 49ers must play perfect football to even be considered for a playoff spot. Did I mention that the Eagles play all three of the Wild Card outsiders and the NFC East becomes much more incestually competitive over the next few weeks?

Because of the mediocre parity around the NFC, the Packers could very conceivably lose two or three games out of their last five and still make the playoffs. And yes, the losses of Al Harris and Aaron Kampman and the sickeningly bad offensive line have been taken into consideration.

Here are the current NFC standings:

NorthMinnesota Vikings (10-1)
South New Orleans Saints (11-0)
East Dallas Cowboys (8-3)
WestArizona Cardinals (7-4)

Packers Lions FootballWild CardGreen Bay Packers (7-4)

Remaining games: Baltimore, @ Chicago, @ Pittsburgh, Seattle, @ Arizona

Green Bay should beat Chicago and Seattle, and although their schedule looks daunting on paper, Arizona could easily be resting starters the last week of the season and Baltimore and Pittsburgh are good, but dealing with many big issues of their own (Ravens’ pass defense, Steelers’ concussion problems and potentially divided locker room).

Biggest problems: A Swiss cheese-sized hole in the secondary with Al Harris’ season ending knee injury, and replacing OLB Aaron Kampman. This game against the Ravens will be a burden of proof for Tramon Williams, the linebacking corps, and the offensive line.

Prediction down the stretch: 3-2

Wild CardPhiladelphia Eagles (7-4)

Remaining games: @ Atlanta, @ NY Giants, San Francisco, Denver, @ Dallas

Andy Reid owns the Cowboys at the end of regular seasons, San Francisco is 1-4 on the road, and both Atlanta and New York are fading fast. We could be on hand for a couple of very hot Wild Card teams, ladies and gentlemen. However, the Eagles have been less than consistent over the past few weeks.

Biggest problems: Brian Westbrook is pretty much out for the year, but LeSean McCoy has played very well as his replacement. The biggest problem lies in the unknown length of DeSean Jackson’s concussion, but he will be out against the Falcons this weekend.

Prediction down the stretch: 4-1

Still in the hunt:
MattRyanAtlanta Falcons (6-5)

Remaining games: Philadelphia, New Orleans, @ NY Jets, Buffalo, @ Tampa Bay

Biggest problems: Injuries to Matt Ryan and Michael Turner would be like taking Eli Manning out for the Giants and replacing him with David Carr…oh wait. Both players are the motor engine and oil for a working offense in Atlanta, which is not a good situation when the Falcons face the Eagles and Saints back to back.

Prediction down the stretch: 3-2

New York Giants (6-5)

Remaining games: Dallas, Philadelphia, @ Washington, Carolina, @ Minnesota

The Giants are 1-5 in their last six games, and needed overtime to beat Atlanta. The defense’s best performance in that time was surrendering of 21 points in a loss to the Chargers. Their schedule hasn’t been easy, but the Giants have the toughest road to the Wild Card out of any remaining team.

Biggest problems: Eli Manning’s foot injury and the defense is terrible against anything football related. Trust me, I have them in fantasy, and the Bills are scoring higher each week.

Prediction down the stretch: 2-3

San Francisco 49ers (5-6)

Remaining games: @ Seattle, Arizona, @ Philadelphia, Detroit, @ St. Louis

I’m only including the 49ers because this is the NFL; anything can happen. But in all likelihood, their season is done because the Packers hold a tiebreaker and San Francisco won’t win at Philadelphia. They’ll probably win three games, but 8-8 isn’t enough this year.

Biggest problems: A blind monkey in an orange field has a better chance of finding a banana than the Niners do of making the playoffs.

Prediction down the stretch: 3-2

Final Wild Card standings:

x-Eagles 11-5
x-Packers 10-6
Falcons 9-7
Giants 8-8
49ers 8-8

The Packers’ schedule may not look the best on paper, but in reality they have positioned themselves in a place where the control their own destiny and look like they are playing like the team we expected would go to the playoffs.

Seriously? The DEFENSE won a game for the PACKERS?

Cowboys Packers Football

By Jake McCormick

Typically, sports rivalries between states are cyclical, and right now, Minnesota is making me glad I’m still not going to college an hour and a half from their border. But this past weekend gave me a little needed confidence in Wisconsin sports.

Brewers GM Doug Melvin is stockpiling money like Bazooka Joe comics to cash in on some pitching, Bucks rookie Brandon Jennings (to which I was a witness) became the youngest player in NBA history to tally 50+ points in a game, and Wisconsin football is a step closer to double digits wins and a January bowl. Of course, this state lives and dies by the green and gold, and the Packers’ win would’ve been all it took to get Wisconsin’s blood pressure back to stable levels.

It was a win in arguably the most important game of the 2009 season for the entire organization, against a Cowboy team that had rattled off four straight wins and was beginning to put a season of relevancy back together. But as significant as this win might be for the rest of the season, it is almost as confusing as the loss to the Buccaneers.

Until the 17-7 win against the Cowboys on Sunday, the Packer defense had been doing its best Carrie Prejean impression of increasing ineptness against the Vikings and Buccaneers. Just when you thought she couldn’t make herself look even dumber, she opens her mouth on national television and makes Sarah Palin look like a MENSA member. Interesting the maverick of hockey moms is her idol, too. Back to football.

Was the Buccaneer game really the big slap in the face to get the Packer defense to trust their skills and the scheme? The (mostly Chuck Woodson) defensive-led win was the first of its kind since last year against the Colts. All things considered, the players should have some increased confidence now that they know what can happen when they play within their roles. The most interesting tid-bit to come out of this win was the fact that the Packers registered five sacks. Without Aaron Kampman.

Of course, you could make the assumption that rookie Brad Jones was a better option anyways because he is naturally an outside linebacker, and more than a few Packer fans have done so since Sunday. Plus, Kampman is a free agent after this season, and quietly was not happy about switching positions in a contract year. With that said, I find it hard to believe that Kampman’s absence was the catalyst for the defense to pull together and carry the offense.

Cowboys Packers FootballClay Matthews is becoming comfortable as the monster playmaker AJ Hawk was supposed to be, but Hawk made his fair share of big play hits against Dallas. My guess is they must’ve shared the same Muscle Milk regimen and hair stylist leading up to the game. Nick Barnett also looked more comfortable than he has all year. With three natural linebackers flying around and making plays like they were expected to, wouldn’t that free up Kampman to do the same? He very well may walk this year, but Kampman is still a more complete player than anyone the Packers could inject into his spot.

After following up an unexpected loss with an unexpected win, the Packers are only a game out of the Wild Card and very much alive in the playoff race. That makes every game from here on out a must win, much like Sunday’s against Dallas. This is the time of the year where Wild Card teams fizzle or get hot, and Green Bay can still go either way. However, the win against the Cowboys was a step in the right direction and Packer fans can only hope the team understands that they have seven more Dallas games to play if they want to reach the postseason. I think I’ll just close my eyes and hope for the best against Mr. Bugeye Singletary this Sunday.

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