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Thursday, Sept. 9, 2010

If At First Your Picks Recede…

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Makes perfect sense, right? Predicting what will happen over five months in a sport with an oddly shaped ball that takes crazy bounces and thousands of collisions that can wreck a team's season.

SportsIllustrated's NFL preview contains this quote: "I don't have any Super Bowl picks. If anybody does, they're insane." That's from Michael Strahan, who was smart enough to devise an "ignore training camp but still get a Super Bowl ring" game plan with the New York Giants three years ago.

Well, the Observers join with sports bloviators everywhere in saying, "Butt out, Michael." We reserve the right to ignore logic and good sense in declaring what will happen with the Green Bay Packers and their rivals.

No need to thank us. Just don't take any of this to Vegas.
2010-09-09

Frank: When I saw Aaron Rodgers on the Sports Illustrated cover, I said, "This is the kiss of death." But there's more: Magazines do regional covers these days, and SI showed five versions on its contents page. So they've put their hex on five teams! Packers, Chargers, Saints, Jets and Falcons—all doomed.

Artie: It'll take a lot of prayers to St. Vince, but this can be overcome!

Frank: Anyway, the Artie of 2009 is in sync with the SI of 2010, which says the Super Bowl will be Packers vs. Steelers. But SI, namely Peter King, says the Steelers will win, unlike your ’09 forecast.

Artie: Peter King? Then you know that's bogus.

Frank: Yeah, I heard him admit on ESPN that he's terrible at predictions.

Artie: But, like us, he's gotta be true to the vocation of sports blathering. But unlike our insights, whatever he says, run the other way.

Frank: So last year you said the Pack would go 13-3, then run the table in the playoffs.

Artie: And they were only two games away from the Big One.

Frank: Meanwhile, I was brilliantly accurate on the Packers' 11-5 record, but also said the Chargers would beat the Giants in the Super Bowl. The Giants started well but collapsed to 8-8.

Artie: Well, it's a crapshoot. And a long season's worth of crapshoot, at that.

Frank: But as our 2010 chart shows, we're fearlessly forecasting pretty much the same things this year. In the Super Bowl, either the Packers beat the Ravens or the Chargers beat the Falcons.

Artie: Or there's the barest chance we'll both be wrong again. Along with Peter King and almost everyone else.

Frank: As wrong as we were in saying the Brewers would make the playoffs. Still, duty calls.

 

The Packers

Artie: Of course for the Green and Gold to go all the way, a lot has to go right.

Frank: As with any team.

Artie: Al Harris is out for at least six games on the PUP list, "physically unable to perform." He has to come back and contribute, at least as the nickel guy. They've got to find a dependable returner, especially since Will Blackmon's knee landed him on injured reserve. And that special teams coach, Shawn Slocum, has to find a way to cover kicks and punts. That was a problem in every exhibition game.

Frank: And Aaron Rodgers has to stay in one piece.

Artie: They can't afford to lose him for several games, but Matt Flynn looked good in Kansas City working with guys who were destined to be cut. If he has to cover for Rodgers here or there, they'll be OK.

Frank: The receiving corps is sure good enough to help him.

Artie: Another big thing is whether Tramon Williams can step in for Harris. They can help him with the coverages they call and by getting more pressure on the passers.

Frank: Teams will surely go that way more often than if Harris was there.

Artie: You've simply got to get more pressure. And that's another big question. Even assuming Clay Matthews will be healthy—and those hamstring things can linger—do they have someone who can pressure on the other side?

 

The Division

Frank: I think the NFC North will belong to the Packers, if only because things won't go as well for the Vikings as they did in ’09.

Artie: They already aren't. Their top receiver, Sidney Rice, will miss at least six games because of hip surgery. He's on the PUP list and can't practice until the six games are up. Also the Vikings' offensive line and defensive backfield are shaky.

Frank: Percy Harvin keeps getting migraines and it sounds like Brett Favre is more dinged up from last season than we thought.

Artie: We sure didn't see him much in the exhibitions. Who knows how good that post-surgery ankle is? I'm glad to say the Vikings aren't as good as last year.

Frank: The Lions aren't a real threat, but the Bears could be better.

Artie: No! The Bears are terrible.

Frank: Mike Martz as the offensive coordinator isn't the answer?

Artie: Not when he's coordinating Jay "The Next INT Is One Throw Away" Cutler. Besides, they have no receivers and their offensive line is ba-a-a-d. Cutler will have to throw before he even gets the ball to avoid sacks. The Bears will have a very long, difficult season. I'm glad to say that, too.

 

Game By Game

Frank: The Packers' schedule figures to be tougher than in ’09, when they got the Rams, Browns and Seahawks besides the usual two games with Detroit.

Artie: Yeah, but look at this list of teams by "strength of schedule" for 2010. The Packers are 22nd out of 32 teams; their opponents for this year went 125-131 last year. Two other Super Bowl contenders rank even lower, the Saints (120-136) and Chargers (116-140).

Frank: Well, there are really only two games out of the 16 that aren't part of divisional "packages." You play six games in your own division, then four each against a division in your own conference and a division in the other conference. That's 14 games.

Artie: Let's see… In ’09 the Pack played the weak NFC West and the AFC North. This year they play both the East divisions.

Frank: The NFC East figures to be strong with the Cowboys, Eagles, Giants and even the Redskins. And the AFC East has the highly touted Jets and still-strong Patriots, along with the Dolphins and Bills, who were under .500 last year.

Artie: The Pack's strength of schedule is skewed by the two games with Detroit, which was 2-14 last year.

Frank: In the two remaining games the Packers play Atlanta and San Francisco. The Vikings get the champion Saints on opening night and Arizona. 

Artie: Atlanta is a contender; The Sporting News has them at 12-4. And the Niners are on the rise. So the schedule ain't easy. But neither is the Vikes'.

Frank: So the Packers open this weekend at Philadelphia.

Artie: That's a win.

Frank: I guess I agree. I think the Eagles aren't quite settled in with Kevin Kolb at quarterback.

Artie: And there's always Andy Reid, the “Einstein” of late-game clock management. The Packers can win on that alone.

Frank: Then Buffalo in the home opener. No way to lose that one.

Artie: In fact, I see them winning every game through the Oct. 24 Vikings game.

Frank: After Buffalo they're at Chicago, hosting Detroit, at Washington and hosting Miami and Minnesota. I do think they'll beat the Vikings at Lambeau. But I'll say they lose at Washington, just because it's on the road and the Redskins might play tough.

Artie: Oddball things can happen—excessive penalties, special-teams screw-ups, a lucky turnover.

Frank: So through seven games you have them 7-0 and I say 6-1. Then they play the Jets in Jersey.

Artie: A lot of people pick the Jets for the Super Bowl, but I'm not sold on Mark Sanchez, who didn't look good in the preseason. He's no Johnny Unitas. But I'm afraid the Packers will lose in a letdown after whipping Minnesota.

Frank: Me too. To start the second half they play Dallas at Lambeau—for the third straight year.

Artie: But not late enough to make ’em really suffer. December's what we want!

Frank: Last year the Dallas game was a turning point, coming after the Tampa Bay debacle put the Pack at 4-4. But this year I say Dallas will win at Lambeau.

Artie: And I say they'll beat the Cowboys so bad it should count for two wins! The Cowboys are the Jets of the NFC, with everyone saying they're going to the Super Bowl. Forget it! Tony Romo is not a good quarterback. To repeat: TONY ROMO IS NOT A GOOD QUARTERBACK! And their offensive line is poor. They are in trouble!

Frank: After Dallas comes the bye, and then it's at Minnesota and at Atlanta. Do you think they'll win in the Metrodome, too?

Artie: You betcha.

Frank: I say they'll lose that game, which would be three straight losses and a 6-4 record. But I think the Atlanta game will be their 2010 turning point—even though I'm pegging the Falcons to reach the Super Bowl. Go figure.

Artie: Much as it pains me, I think they'll lose in Atlanta after another big high against Favre.

Frank: Then it's San Francisco at home and at Detroit—two wins, even though the Lions tend to be trouble at home. And then at New England, where it could be nasty on Dec. 19.

Artie: Put that down as an "L."

Frank: I agree. Then it's the Giants and Bears, both at home.

Artie: Two wins, ain'a?

Frank: I'm not an Eli Manning fan, so I'll say yes. That makes them 13-3 for you and 11-5 for me, just what we had last year.

Artie: My gut feeling is really 12-4. I'm just not ready to say where that fourth loss will come.

 

The Playoffs

Frank: As our chart shows, we both have major teams missing from the playoff lineup. I think the Vikings will miss out and you feel that way about the Cowboys.

Artie: Did I mention that Tony Romo is not a good quarterback?

Frank: But we agree on the Saints, Falcons and 49ers, besides the Packers. In the AFC, we agree on five playoff teams and think the Steelers will fall short again. As for the Super Bowl winners, we're letting the ’09 picks ride. What's your confidence level?

Artie: As high as it is in any crapshoot or $100 million Powerball drawing. But one thing I'm certain of: TONY ROMO IS NOT…

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