I’m one of those old schoolers who does not like to jinx.
Kind of like a Cubs game where Ryan Dempster makes it to the sixth inning only allowing a pair of walks. On WGN, Pat Hughes goes to painstaking measures to explain what is happening to his audience, ‘The Cubs have six hits, that’s six more hits than the Pirates…’
Meanwhile I scream into my car radio, ‘RYAN DEMPSTER IS PITCHING A NO-HITTER!!!!
This leads me to the Green Bay Packers and their possible historic path.Packers on Historic Path
They have played nine games in the 2011 NFL regular season and have obviously won all nine. If your wish last Christmas Day was for the Pack to go a long time without losing another game, well it’s now been 15-0 since then.
If Green Bay can win their next six games, they would accomplish going through the 2011 calendar year with a 20-0 record – kind of like a Tiger Slam, and barring an expanded season a feat that can never be duplicated.
Never mind that Mike McCarthy, Ted Thompson, and everyone else in the Packers organization would gladly settle for a modest three-game streak starting on January 14th.
Most years there is one team that gets through the first half of the season unscathed, and the speculation/drama mounts whether that team might finally be the one to outdo the 1972 Miami Dolphins. Ultimately, the NFL and/or the law of averages catches up and the last of the unbeaten fall, or such team takes its foot off the pedal once the #1 playoff seed is clinched, choosing to rest players while focusing on the larger picture.
The 2007 New England Patriots were an exception before falling in the Super Bowl. And I am not quite ready to put the Packers on that level yet, not with their below-average running game, 31st ranked pass defense going into last Monday night, and shaky offensive line at times. There were games earlier in the year (at Carolina, at Atlanta) where Green Bay was against the ropes. I continue to believe there will be a game that eventually bites the Packers, and even thought the eventual 45-7 rout of the Vikings was going to be a potential trap.
But on the plus side, Aaron Rodgers has gone from great to absolutely historic – to the point of now running parallel to how Tiger Woods dominated golf a decade ago (a comparison Jim Nantz made on a CBS broadcast earlier this year) or Wayne Gretzky in hockey during the 1980′s. Here are the top three QB ratings in the NFL right now:
3. Drew Brees 101.3
2. Tom Brady 102.0
1. Aaron Rodgers 130.7
Yup, Rodgers has jumped right through the FM dial and has made up for whatever deficiencies the team may have elsewhere in the process.
And that’s good, because the Pack has the unexpected surge of the San Francisco 49ers nipping at their heels.49ers Keeping the Pressure On
Those who actually predicted the Niners to score a playoff berth would had done so because by law, someone HAS to represent the NFC West in the playoffs. Except SF has gone 8-1 while only playing one divisional game, and now plays five of their last seven against the rubbish of the NFC West. This edition of the Niners is reminding many of the outfit that came out of nowhere 30 years ago and started a dynasty under Bill Walsh.
And in essence the one-game difference between the Pack and Niners is more like a half-game considering common opponents NY Giants, Lions, and St. Louis Rams (four games for each team). SF has already done the tough work of defeating New York and Detroit – if Green Bay was to lose any of its two games against NYG or DET, that potential tie-breaker would then go to SF assuming the Niners were to sweep the Rams.
And something has to be said for the much-maligned Alex Smith and his 95.8 QB rating, which is #7 in the league. That should be more than acceptable. However Alex gets dogged needlessly because he was the #1 overall pick in the 2005 Draft, when the Niners chose him over some local schmuck who was playing at Cal-Berkeley. Hindsight being 20/20 the SF organization continues to get trashed over that one.
As the Packers drafted #25 that year my feeling was that if the team was looking for a Favre-successor they should had taken Jason Campbell over Rodgers. Looking at tape heading into that draft, Campbell had a much better arm than the man who only got one Division 1-A scholarship offer coming out of high school.
And there was 24 other teams that passed on AR.
Put the Rodgers comparisons aside, and Alex Smith has developed into a very solid QB after years of adversity and personal tragedy. He doesn’t have the TD numbers, but also does not have the weapons of Rodgers (Jermichael/Jordy/Randall Cobb/etc.). Maybe Alex is not ‘elite’ (as Jim Harbaugh suggests), but he has become steady and solid.
As PA announcer Rex Barney might say, ‘Give That Man a Contract…’
Realistically, I see the Niners finishing 14-2, winning all the NFC West games and splitting in their two remaining games v. the AFC North (v. Steelers/at Ravens), which would force Green Bay to finish 15-1 and ensure each game through Week 16 to be meaningful.
And if the Niners stumble a little and the Packers clinch #1 seed early?? Don’t expect McCarthy to go Tony Dungy with the last couple games. Yes, he may sit Rodgers, but backup Matt Flynn is not to be confused with Jim Sorgi. Another element is McCarthy plays to win and not merely rest players. He proves that even in preseason, in the exhibition finale this year MM told a sideline reporter during halftime that he expected the team to come back to win that game – and they did.
And Week 17 is against the Lions at home, and as much of a resurgence that Detroit has had, they still have not won a game in Wisconsin since 1991 (the entire state is mentioned because that streak of futility goes back to where GB was playing home games in Milwaukee).
Whatever the Packers or Niners finish at – chances are good that the NFC Championship may well be contested between these two franchises, a playoff series which ensued after the 1995, ’96, ’97, ’98, and 2001 seasons. A botched officials call (pre-replay era) cost the Niners a 1996 regular season game when Don Beebe scored after clearly being down by contact while SF scored their only playoff win over the Pack during that era when Terrell Owens scored with :03 remaining in the infamous ‘Jerry Rice Fumbled‘ game.
Is it time to truly start thinking perfection?? Well, a pal of mine is usually the most negative guy I know – and he recently told me that if the Pack can win Thanksgiving in Detroit, then they may truly run the table.
And to ensure two home games in Lambeau in January, the Packers may need to do just that.
TEAMS: Chicago Cubs, Green Bay Packers, Miami Dolphins, New Orleans Saints, New England Patriots, San Francisco 49ers, Oakland Raiders, New York Giants, Cincinnati Bengals, St. Louis Rams
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