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Thursday, Nov. 4, 2010

It's All Good (or Bad), Except When It Ain't

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Two weeks ago the Packers were in trouble with several major injuries, two straight overtime losses and the prospect of three tough games before their bye week. Three weeks ago the Badgers were in a dicey spot with an early Big Ten loss and their two toughest games coming up.

Worries? What worries? Today the Packers are in command of the NFC North and Wisconsin has a good chance to at least share the conference championship. Then again, just when teams and fans get too confident... Well, the sports gods like to play games, too.


Artie
: Happy Hallo-Win, buddy!

Frank
: And certainly not a hollow win, shutting out the team a lot of people think will be the AFC half of the Super Bowl.

Artie
: And doing it in Jersey, no less. Based on this, I'll be delighted to see the Pack meet the Jets again in February.

Frank
: Gee, this is odd. No matter what happens with the Packers, I expect a little dark cloud of pessimism over your head.

Artie
: Well, the way this season's gone I hold my breath until Tuesday, when we usually find out how many more guys are lost for the season. I didn't see anyone hobbling off the field, so maybe it'll be only one or two this time.

Frank
: Otherwise you've got to be confident. With Dallas losing again, this time to Jacksonville, it'll be a sorry bunch of Cowboys walking into Lambeau this weekend.

Artie
: For a couple of weeks they were "backs against the wall." Now the wall has collapsed on ’em. Clay Matthews might have five sacks with Jon Kitna, a breathing Statue of Liberty, back there instead of Tony Romo.

Frank
: Who, I believe I've heard you say, is...

Artie
: NOT a good quarterback!

Frank
: So the Packers are 5-3 at the halfway point, a game better than they were the last two seasons, and darn likely to be 6-3 going into their bye. They're ahead of the Bears and now 2 1/2 games ahead of the Vikings—who almost really lost Brett Favre this time.

Artie
: Just like last week, I wasn't buying it. He limped around after the game at Lambeau but ran onto the field at New England like a thoroughbred colt in his first race at Hialeah, ain’a?

Frank
: But that shot in the chops against the Patriots looked pretty serious, like maybe a broken jaw. As it was, he needed eight stitches.

Artie
: More Blanche DuBois stuff! He knew they weren't gonna overtake the Patriots, so he got a case of the vapors.

Frank
: Cold, cold stuff.


Artie
: And that ailing jaw didn’t prevent him from giving a three-hour press conference right after the game. But hey, Brett's on a team that doesn't matter. Back to the one that does. I have to say I wasn't super-confident going into the Jets game. But man, that defense played great with all those second- and third-stringers. This nose tackle Howard Green, who arrived from waivers by the Jets on, what, Friday? Nice job, Mr. Green.

Frank
: I have Jets-fan relatives who watched the game together on Long Island, and they felt pretty frustrated by their team's offense. A lot of missed opportunities, penalties at just the worst times.

Artie
: In other words, like the Packers in some of their lower moments. I wish I had a nickel for every time your folks said, "What the hell is going on?"

Frank
: Dom Capers' defense had a lot to do with it.

Artie
: But I'd also say the Pack should give a game ball to the opposing QB, too. On this day he was one of us—Mark Sancheese.

Frank
: An AFC version of Romo, perhaps?

Artie
: Well, you know me. I hate to cast aspersions.

Bucky Ascendant

Frank: Iowa certainly did the Badgers two big favors. First, coming up short against them two weeks ago. And second, taking it out on Michigan State to guarantee that no one will be undefeated in the Big Ten.

Artie
: Now everything's set up for Wisconsin to grab a share of the conference crown. It's a lock if they win out from here.

Frank
: And the schedule isn't too bad. Here's what's left for the one-loss teams:

UW
—at Purdue, Indiana, at Michigan, Northwestern.

Michigan
State—Minnesota, a bye, Purdue, at Penn State.

Ohio
State—a bye, Penn State, at Iowa, Michigan.

Iowa
—at Indiana, at Northwestern, Ohio State, at Minnesota.

Artie
: This means either Ohio State or Iowa has to wind up with at least two losses.

Frank
: In a two-way tie at, say, 7-1, the Badgers would win a tie-breaker with OSU or Iowa for the Rose Bowl spot but lose out to MSU. If there were a three-way tie, the Big Ten website lists all sorts of contingencies. Let's leave it at that for now.

Artie
: The game I'm worried about for the Badgers is Northwestern. The Wildcats beat Bucky last year, 33-31, and they've been a good team under Pat Fitzgerald. But this year the game's at Camp Randall.

Frank
: Any danger against Michigan, with that freshman QB Denard Robinson?

Artie
: I think the Wolverines are fading as teams get more scouting of them. It's better to be facing Robinson later in the year.

Home, Sweet Bradley

Frank: Speaking of how things can turn quickly, Bucks fans can stop panicking. The road losses at New Orleans and Minnesota were disappointing, but the home opener against Charlotte got things right.

Artie
: A triple-double for Brandon Jennings, a big rebounding edge and 85% free-throw shooting—yup, that's living up to the expectations.

Frank
: The rebounding turnaround was especially nice because they got killed on the boards at Minnesota.

Artie
: I've gotta say there were some questionable calls that went the T-Wolves' way. But then again, the same was true for the Bucks on Saturday night. Here's my theory: David Stern sends a memo to the refs reminding them that for the home openers, let's do our best to make sure the hometown fans have something to be happy about, making them more likely to come back.

Frank
: Always a conspiracy involving Stern in your mind. Anyway, we'll know more about the Bucks after this week because they have a pair of back-to-back gigs, the first of them against Portland here and then at Boston.

Artie
: I think fans will be able to breathe easy about the season. After all, it's a long haul. Remember how Brewers fans were ready to jump off buildings within a few weeks in the spring because they thought... Oh, wait a minute, in that case they were right. The season was essentially over by the end of May. But it won't be the same for the Bucks!

It's the Pitching, Stupid

Frank: And baseball gives us another example of how "sure things" ain't so sure. Remember how Cliff Lee was absolutely, positively invincible in the postseason?

Artie
: Not in Game 1 of the World Series. My Giants took it to him!

Frank
: And they got huge games from Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarner in the shutouts that gave them a 3-1 lead. But the Rangers also found another big-time playoff pitcher in Colby Lewis. When I saw him set down the Yankees and then the Giants, I first thought, "I never heard of this guy." But then I realized I'd not only heard of him, but seen him.

Artie
: Right here in Beertown, and with me right next to you. We saw him hogtie the Brewers in June.

Frank
: Sunday game, one of the many daytime tilts the Crew lost. Lewis went 8 innings and allowed just 3 hits, 1 walk and 2 runs.

Artie
: And he got two hits, including a two-run single off Yovani Gallardo that essentially settled things.

Frank
: Lewis was 12-13 in the regular season, but his ERA was 3.72.

Artie
: Which is quite good in the league of designated hitters. I'm guessing the Giants won't fulfill my dream of sending Bumgarner here this winter, but maybe the Crew can grab Lewis instead.

Frank
: Careful what you wish for. A few years ago the Brewers gave a huge contract to a guy who pitched great against them. And his performance here was…

Artie
: I know, I know. Suppan-esque.